Jane Austen

On 19th July 1817, so 200 years ago yesterday, the famous British author Jane Austen died.

As it’s 200 years since her death, there are a lot of activities and celebrations to celebrate Jane’s life and works, possibly the most well-known of which was Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen will also be featured on the new, English plastic £10 bank note that will be coming out later this year, along with a quote from Pride and Prejudice.

Actually, Pride and Prejudice is the only book written by Jane Austen that I have read so far, but I have decided to read another one this month. For those of you who have read her other books, which would you recommend?

Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I went to visit Jane Austen’s house. If you’d like to read aboutwhat we found there, and ind out a bit more about Jane Austen’s life, I wrote an article on my other blog, Unseen Beauty. Please also remember that if you found my blog through a comment that I wrote on a fashion and beauty blog, all of my beauty and lifestyle posts are published on Unseen Beauty, not here.

If you’d like to listen to one of Jane’s books, or in fact any of a wide selection of audio books, don’t forget that I have affiliate links for a free trial of the Audible book service. My links are for people in England and Germany, but if you’re not in one of those countries, go and see if Audible is available there. You can get a free book when you sign up. If you don’t want to continue using the service, you just need to cancel within the first month, and you still keep your book, or of course you can carry on using the service. Further details are below.

Your chance to get a free audio book from Audible

If you’re in the UK or Germany, you can get a free ebook if you sign up for an Audible subscription. Whether or not you continue with the monthly subscription, you get to keep your audio book, and you can choose from 200,000 titles on a wide range of subjects. You can then download the Audible app on your phone and take your book with you wherever you go! (Books have to be purchased on the website – you can’t do it on the app).

Link for the UK
Link for Germany

1. This offer is open to people in Germany and the UK. Remember to use the correct link for your country.
2. You are eligible if you haven’t had a free audio book from Audible in the last year.
3. If you don’t want to pay, you must remember to cancel your subscription within the first month. You will still be able to keep your free book.
4. If you like the service, you will continue to receive a credit each month, which can be used to buy a book. Buying books on subscription is often cheaper than buying them individually.

These are affiliate links, but I only promote things on my website or in my newsletters that I use and enjoy. I am an Audible member and I am very happy with the service.

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Running my business – things I’ve chosen not to do

Being the boss is great! You hear a lot about it in social media groups for small business owners. Some people don’t seem to get past the idea of being the boss – they revel in it and get excited about it. Ok, it is exciting, but as well as the boss, unless you’ve got a team of people working for you, you’re also the finance manager, the marketing manager, the website developer, the coffee maker, the communications person, and the cleaner. So you really don’t have time to strut around like a peacock enjoying the boss aspect of life, because there is actually a lot of work to be done.

Anyway that’s not what this post is about. One of the great things about being the boss is that you get to make the decisions. With power comes responsibility, but you have the chance to say “no, I’m not going to do that!” You don’t have to do things that you know are going to end badly, just because someone higher up the management food chain thought it would be a wonderful idea.

Here are some of the things that I have chosen not to do, even though other small business owners do them. In some cases it’s because I think the idea is genuinely bad. Other things are just not right for me because they don’t fit with my values or the way I want to run English with Kirsty.

What do you think about these things? Are there any that you would add? Let me know in the comments.

1. Any publicity is good

Of course I’m happy if someone retweets my tweets or shares my posts. I do the same for others. It’s good to help people out and share their work if you think it adds value to the network that you’re building.

I’ve also collaborated with other teachers – they share my stuff and I share theirs. All good. Sometimes we make podcast episodes together or contribute to resources that other people are putting together.

The problem is some of the emails I receive asking me to promote things or to have reciprocal links. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right, and in those cases I usually say “no”. To be brutally honest, if I’m linked to a website that’s full of spelling mistakes, it’s more harmful than helpful to my brand. If a site is promoting opportunities for people to work for less than a fair wage, I don’t want to endorse that. If a site is all about activities for kids, it’s not really relevant to my audience, which is primarily made up of people who need English for work. If someone wants me to promote a service or site that I know doesn’t follow accessibility guidelines, I can’t do that, because as a disabled business owner, accessibility and good practice in this area are close to my heart. I may have lost some potential publicity, but overall I think it’s better that way. You have to be clear about who you are, what’s ok for you, and what values you want to promote.

2. Being on social media channels that I don’t enjoy

I’ve tried Instagram. It lasted about a week, but I didn’t enjoy it at all. So I closed the account and have not looked back. I’ve never been on Snapchat and Pinterest with my own account, but I know how the sites work, and I don’t feel that I want to be there.

I know this goes against the grain of some marketing advice that says you have to be everywhere, but in the same way I don’t feel the need to market to everyone, because people have such different needs, I don’t feel the need to be on every social media channel.

I’d rather do a few things well than a lot of things badly. In addition, different types of content work on different channels. For example, you have image-based content, text content, audio content, and video content. I like, and am best at, producing texts, such as blog posts, and audio content. This is why I have a blog and a podcast, and I promote them on the channels that I enjoy using and where I have built a following. After all, if you don’t like a site, you will begrudge every minute you have to spend there, and sooner or later people will pick up on that!

3. Using language that I don’t like

This occurred to me the other day. I don’t mean offensive language – my language can be pretty colourful in my spare time, but I choose not to swear on my blog or podcast because I don’t feel it fits with the professional image that I’m working to create.

I’m talking about words that become popular but that I find offensive. I’ve seen things like “let’s stalk each other” instead of “let’s follow each other on social media”, and I will never adopt this phrase. Anyone who has had a stalker knows that it’s nothing to be trivialised and it’s definitely not fun.

But I keep seeing it – is this a thing now?

I don’t care. There are other examples, but you get the idea. If I think something sounds stupid or offensive, I don’t feel the need to follow the herd and say it just because other people are.

4. Begging for shares before someone has read my content

Why do people do that? In case people forget to share? But how can you share something if you haven’t read it? It might be awful and then you’ll look stupid!

The share buttons belong after the post – not before! At best you can have sharable tweets in the middle, but not at the beginning!

The same applies to the podcast – how can I ask people to share my episodes before I share any content with them? It might be a new listener and the first thing they hear is someone begging for shares. Apart from sounding a bit desperate, that’s not really fair because you haven’t given them any value yet.

5. Follow for follow

I know a lot of people do it, but it’s pointless at best and counterproductive at worst. Ok, it inflates the numbers, but it doesn’t help if you have a load of disengaged readers who don’t care about your subject matter. In fact, on Facebook it’s actually harmful, because Facebook may penalise you for having a disengaged audience. If your audience isn’t interacting with you, the assumption is that your content isn’t very good, so this may reduce the number of people to which it is shown. Oh yes, and your own feed gets filled with irrelevant stuff – wonderful!

So, if you follow my blog, Facebook page or Twitter account, that’s great. If your content is relevant to me and I like it, I’ll follow back. But don’t ask me to. I won’t have a little cry if you stop following me just because I didn’t follow you back. I’d rather put my time into creating content that will attract people who are genuinely interested.

6. I know how you feel and I’ll make you feel worse

Yes, I know how this particular bit of marketing psychology works, and I do understand the value of describing a problem and demonstrating how your products or services can solve it. What I have a problem with is the over-the-top, in-your-face emotional abuse that some people think is ok when it comes to selling something. There’s a line and I think some people cross it. I’m not prepared to do that.

I’m happy to talk about things that I’ve experienced or to address the problems that I know many of my customers have, for example in relation to speaking English at work. But I’m not willing to manipulate people’s minds in the way that some people do. Maybe I’ll get less sales, but at least I’ll be able to sleep at night!

7. Not being clear about the mailing list

Be honest about what you’re using someone’s email address for. I’d rather be up front about the newsletter than some of the sneaky practices I see for harvesting email addresses and not being clear about exactly what people are signing up for. Not cool!

8. Fear of missing out – the newest big thing

In September 2015, it was all about Blab and Periscope. Now, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone talking about Periscope, and Blab doesn’t exist any more. So much for “you absolutely must must must be on these platforms!”

Things move fast in social media. There will always be early adopters and people who hang back to see what happens. If I think something adds value and makes sense for my business, and if it’s accessible (many fantastic new things fall at this hurdle), I’ll give it a go. But only then. I need a good return on investment when it comes to my time, and this doesn’t include running after every shiny new thing!

9. Redundant superlatives

It’s the biggest, greatest, most amazing, new programme and you absolutely, definitely, must come along!

That hurts my ears!

It’s great to be creative with adjectives, but not to the point where you sound like some pushy sales person who is desperate to meet a target.

10. Bugging people for sales!

I didn’t buy a course from someone the other day. I got an email to say there was a day left, one to say it was closing soon, one to say there was an hour left, one to say there was a special price for something related to it, and a final one to ask why I didn’t buy. Ugh! All in the space of a couple of days. I unsubscribed from the list. It was too much!

I probably should send out more emails when there is a special promotion. It’s something I need to look at. But I will never send out a series like the one I’ve just described. I don’t want to become someone with whom I wouldn’t want to do business!

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The idiom page

My idiom posts seem to be quite popular with learners, so I’ve decided to make this index page from where you can access all my idiom lists and explanations.

  1. Idioms about wolves article
  2. Idioms about winter weather (article)
  3. Idioms about summer weather (article)
  4. Idioms about horses (podcast)
  5. Idioms about cows and bulls (article)
  6. Idioms about hands, fingers and thumbs (podcast)
  7. Idioms about food (podcast)
  8. Idioms about dogs (podcast)
  9. Idioms about parts of the body (podcast)

Finally, is it good to learn English idioms? Find out in this podcast episode.

If you can think of any other idiom categories about which you’d like to learn, let me know in the comments!

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Why don’t people do what I’ve asked them to do?

There are so many answers to this question.

You send out an email, having read it multiple times to make sure it was really clear, and still people don’t do what you’ve asked them to, or they only read part of it, or they ask you for information that was in the first email.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. It really is a case of them not taking the time to read things properly. However, I’ve also seen situations in which there were things that the email sender could have done to improve their chances of a positive response, so here are a few questions to ask yourself before you get annoyed with other people!

1. Did you make it easy for the other person to do what you wanted them to?

In a previous job, I took over responsibility for a task which involved collecting information from colleagues. The problem was that every colleague was sent a huge document, which they were expected to read and then give feedback on anything that was relevant. In reality, they didn’t have time to read such a long document, which meant that the request usually got ignored.

I put it into a spreadsheet with a filter, so that I could quickly create customised sheets for everyone that only included the information on which they needed to report. Unsurprisingly, people got on board with the process and I got results much faster!

So, try to make it as easy as possible for people to comply with your request. Don’t make them read lots of unnecessary information or complete a complicated return document that asks for information you could get from somewhere else.

2. Are you being reasonable?

Asking someone to do something that will take them a long time and giving them a really short deadline is in most cases not reasonable. Ok, things happen, and sometimes everyone needs to act quickly to deal with an unexpected situation, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. If you’ve known about something for a long time and then spring it on your colleagues at the last minute, without giving them time to reply to you and do their other work, that’s not fair. If they are not your members of staff, they may not be willing or able to do what you’re asking them to.

3. Is it possible?

Particularly when you’re dealing with people in other teams, make sure you know how things work, or at least ask how things work before making requests. I’ve had requests for data according to calendar year, whereas the system logged it according to the financial year. I’ve had requests for data that wasn’t recorded. I was responsible for our department’s web pages, but when someone demanded a change to the company’s main site, I wasn’t authorised to make it, and the people who were authorised said “no” and gave good reasons! Sometimes you can negotiate or ask someone to manually go through data to get what you need, but sometimes the answer has to be “no” because the thing you want isn’t possible, or is only possible with a lot of work, which may not be possible!

4. Are you asking the right person?

It’s not uncommon to have people with the same first name or surname in an organisation. I never authorised any of the financial requests that came to me that were meant for the other Kirsty. Of course I passed them on to her, but it made the process take longer.

5. Have you been clear about when you want the information and in what format?

Some people process their emails as they come in, but if you’re not clear about when you need information, other emails with deadlines may take priority. Also, if you want people to respond in a certain way so that it’s easier for you to log or sumarise the responses, make this clear before you start getting replies in different formats.

6. Have you explained why?

It’s not always necessary to justify why you want people to do things, but it sometimes helps, particularly if you want a quick reply. You could argue that people don’t need all the background information, but if I was collecting information for a response to a complaint, my colleagues knew that these had to be replied to within a certain number of days, so they would be more likely to prioritise it than if they thought I was collecting data for a general report. If they knew that I wanted feedback for a meeting on Friday, they would be more likely to get their ideas in before Friday so that their ideas would be discussed.

Final thoughts

You can still do all of these things and not get the results that you want, but at least if you are clear about the answers to the questions above, you’ll know that you’ve done what you can to make your request appropriate and easy to understand!

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When did I stop being afraid to speak German?

This article is about speaking German, because German is my second language. When learners tell me that they are worried about speaking English, I know how it feels, because I used to be so nervous about spontaneous conversations in German.

My first ever telephone call to Germany was not an easy experience for me. I wrote down everything I wanted to say, read it to the friendly lady who answered the phone, and then had to say it all over again because she was the receptionist and not the person who could answer my question!

I’ve sat in German meetings and had ideas about what I wanted to say. I understood everything, but by the time I’d put my well-structured ideas together, the moment had passed and I’d said nothing.

I’ve sat next to people at dinner and wanted to chat to them, but not plucked up the courage to start a conversation, so everyone thought I had nothing to say.

It was frustrating.

However that isn’t the case now. I have meetings entirely in German. If someone talks to me, I don’t hope that the floor will open up so that I can crawl away. I do say what I think, and I feel comfortable being myself, and showing my true personality, in German.

Sometimes people ask me when that happened, and the truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t wake up one day full of confidence and a desire to speak German to anyone who would listen! I didn’t stop caring about my mistakes – they still annoy me and although I don’t let thinking about them prevent me from speaking, I still always have a nagging sense that I should have known better. I think my perfectionist tendencies keep me focussed on quality and not getting sloppy, but perhaps I’m better at ignoring that little voice that tells me I can’t do it.

I can’t even tell you how long it took. It was a gradual process and I only realised the progress that I’d made by looking back and seeing how far I’d come.

So I can’t give students exact answers about how long it will take to stop feeling nervous, because everyone is different, and fear of speaking a language affects people in different ways. Also, the speed at which you progress depends on how much of a priority it is to you, and how much time you put into working on your language skills.

Having said that, these are a few things that definitely helped me.

Reading and listening

Getting a clearer understanding of the spoken and written language are not only good for vocabulary, although the more words you know, the more rich your own sentences will be. Doing these activities also helps you to see how native speakers put the language together to form their own sentences. If you are used to reading and listening to a language, your brain will start to notice patterns, and incorrect sentences don’t fit these patterns, so it’ll become easier to spot that something is wrong with them. You’ll find out how people use the language in real life situations, what they do when they need time to think, what words they use to link their ideas, and how they show agreement or disagreement.

Observing how others use language can be a fantastic way to empower you to use it as well.

Take the plunge

Yes, at some point you’ll have to jump into the pool and start using the language yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to dive from the highest diving board into the deepest part of the pool. Start at the shallow end, or even in the children’s pool! Make it easy on yourself! Don’t try to describe a complicated concept in a meeting of 100 people before you’ve had a chat over coffee with an English-speaking friend.

A lot of the confidence that I gained in relation to speaking German was through one-to-one conversations with friends that I’d made online or locally. Sometimes they were face-to-face, but other times they were online. I spent hours talking to friends about all kinds of things. I didn’t really feel as though I were practicing my German, but that is what I was doing. The more I did it, the less scary it became, because I got faster at reacting to questions or ideas in German, without having to translate everything in my head first. I understood jokes and wanted to tell my own stories. I felt safe, and feeling safe is key when it comes to developing your confidence.

These conversations helped me to prepare for times when people wouldn’t be as nice to me as my friends were, or when my getting or losing a contract depended on my ability to speak German.

Showing up, even when you don’t feel like it

Anyone who’s been around on my blog for a while will know that I don’t think much of courses that say you’ll be able to speak like a native in 2 weeks! Learning a language is a long-distance run, not a sprint. I’m not “lucky” that I can speak German. I’m definitely fortunate, because it’s fun, I can converse in multiple languages, and it’s important for my business. But I’m not lucky, like someone who won the lottery. I’ve worked hard to get where I am.


So these are three tips that I’d give to anyone who wants to get over their shyness around speaking. Surround yourself with the language – the more words you know, the better you’ll be able to understand and respond. Take little steps and make life easy for yourself by practicing in low-key situations so it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. Keep showing up and learning – even when you don’t feel like it, because I think the earliest stages of learning a language are the hardest. Once you get past the initial frustrations of communicating on the level of a child again, you can really start to have fun!

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The importance of an agreement when working with learners

I decided to write this article because someone who is thinking about becoming an online teacher asked me about it, and I thought the ideas might help other people in the same position.

I’m not a lawyer, but when I was setting up my business, I decided to write a short agreement that I wanted all new customers to read and consent to before we started working together.

It’s not long, but it covers questions like
How much are the lessons?
What happens if a student cancels a lesson or doesn’t show up?
When am I available to teach? (I don’t mean a diary, but the fact that I work Monday to Friday and you won’t get an answer in the middle of the night).
Is homework included?
Which software options are available for the online meetings?
How long will I wait before assuming that the student won’t show up?
How long are the prices valid?
How can payments be made? (Bank transfer or Paypal for UK customers/Paypal for everyone else)
I decided to do this because I ran into a few issues when providing free training in my spare time, and I wanted to be really clear in setting out boundaries in terms of what I was going to do, and what I expect from my customers. I think many teachers run into problems or frustrations because they don’t set out clear boundaries at the beginning, and then they get frustrated because the learners don’t do what they want them to, even though what they want has never been clearly communicated.

I don’t ask for a signature, but I do ask that people email me back to say that they have read and are ok with the terms set out in my 2-page document. I work in two languages, so I also offer the document in German for German speakers who feel more comfortable with that, or who are beginners and would not understand the document in English. I wouldn’t offer the document in other languages, because I wouldn’t feel confident answering questions about it in any other language. The English version is free from legal jargon, and therefore fairly easy to read and understand.

The main reasons for having the agreement are to be clear about the charges (I have discounts for block bookings, and two rates depending on the time of day), and to be clear that customers understand that I will charge them if they cancel at short notice. In most cases, this is a great way of discouraging people from doing that, as there will be consequences for them. However on the other hand, I want to be fair, because everyone hates services with hidden charges. This in fact isn’t a hidden charge, because the information is on the website too, but at least I know I did my bit in drawing people’s attention to it.

The other reason it’s good to have an agreement is in case you need an exit strategy. In the 5 years that I’ve been working with students, I’ve only ended the arrangement twice, but in both cases it was helpful to be able to refer to the agreement, to which they’d agreed before starting the lessons, and explain why what they were doing was not in line with it.

There were a couple of people who weren’t ok with the terms that I’d set out, because they thought they shouldn’t have to pay if they cancel at short notice because they have busy lives, but I wasn’t sorry to lose these potential customers, as doing so left more time for people who actually value my time! People who want this level of flexibility need to find someone who is willing to offer it, and I’m not that someone!

This maybe sounds a bit more formal and official than some teachers would like, but the truth is that after people have told me their happy with the agreement, we never talk about it again unless there is a problem, which only happens very rarely.

If you’re thinking of setting up an English-teaching business, have you thought about an agreement for students? If you are already working as an online teacher, do you have an agreement? Do you find that it helps?

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Improve your language skills while you study

So, you’ve decided to study in England to improve your language skills and spend some time in another culture. Whether it’s a semester at a British university or a course at a language school – is merely studying in England enough? It’s definitely a good start, but to make the most of your upcoming language experience, there are a number of other things you can do in your free time that will help you to meet new people, practice speaking English, and get an insight into what life is really like in the UK. Here are a few ideas!

1. day to day interactions

Speaking a new language all day every day can be tiring. Having people around you who speak your native language may be a comfort because you don’t have to think about expressing yourself in English, but be careful that you don’t end up in a group of friends who only speak your native language. If you only spend time with these people, you will miss out on opportunities to speak English.

2. tandem partner

A tandem partner is someone who wants to learn your native language. The idea is that they help you with English, and you help them as well, so you both benefit from the exchange.

Tandem exchanges can be really useful because one-to-one conversations are often more in-depth and for many people they are less stressful than big group situations. Also, if you live close to one another, you can meet up to do activities that you both enjoy. If you split the time between both languages, you can help one another by giving feedback, introduce new words, explain about your culture and generally have fun! You’ll be amazed how much you will learn if you’re not concentrating on the act of learning!

I have written another post about how to get the best out of language exchanges. You can find it here.

I have found language exchange partners on local sites such as Gumtree, on specific language exchange sites such as Conversation Exchange, or in language groups on Facebook. There may even be some kind of language exchange programme at your university.

3. meet-up groups

Meetup.com is a site that brings people together. I used the site for meeting new people when I moved to a new area, and it’s a way of finding people who have similar interests to you. Of course there will be clubs and societies at your university, but this is a way of extending your circle of friends and meeting people of all ages.

Some of the groups are for socialising, and the organisers put together a programme of different activities. Other groups are based around a specific topic, such as hiking, photography or languages, and it’s a great way to meet up with people who share your interests. If you feel a bit nervous about speaking English, talking about one of your favourite topics is a good way to make sure that you don’t run out of things to say!

I used to belong to a walking group that was organised on this site. While I was there, a couple of international students came to join us and the experience gave them the opportunity to speak some English and also see something of the English countryside.

I’ve also been on theatre trips and attended Christmas meals – things that are more fun when you do them in a group! Of course you can go to the theatre on your own, but if you have people to talk to afterwards, it’s a good way to share your ideas and maybe make some new local friends as well.

4. Volunteering

I gained a lot of really valuable experience of speaking and writing German, and working in a German-speaking team by doing some online voluntary work for a German organisation. If you’re already in England, it will be even easier to find volunteering opportunities – just make sure that what you are doing is classed as volunteering, not working, because failing to do so could mean that you break the terms of your visa.

For me, the biggest benefit of volunteering was having the chance to work in a team using the language that I was learning. I now use these language skills at work every day, but I gained my confidence in a non-business setting, which made the task less daunting.

5. News and entertainment including podcasts

The internet makes it possible to get information in any language without any problems. However, instead of sticking to media in your native language, try to watch the news, or find films, tv series or podcasts in English as well. This will make it easier for you to talk about news or current events with your new friends, because you will already have been exposed to the vocabulary that you’ll need.

6. Training

Whether it’s one of your hobbies, or something you’ve never tried before, have a look to see if there are any classes that you find interesting. One of my friends spent the summer in Turkey to improve her Turkish, and she signed up for a dance class there. The class was in Turkish, but the visual element meant that she could follow along, whilst at the same time learning some new dance steps and new Turkish vocabulary. This is another way to meet new people.

7. Local events

Let’s face it, many of us spend loads of time on Facebook anyway – why not use it as a tool to help you find things to do? There are a number of groups that bring people together for local events. One of my German friends joined a Facebook group for people who were new to London, and they organised activities together such as visits to art galleries, picnics, sports etc. Finding new friends can be a bit daunting at first, but don’t forget that you are not the only new person in town! Groups on Facebook can help you to meet other people who don’t know anyone yet, and the group element makes it feel a bit safer to start with. You can always decide to meet up with people individually if you get on well.

8. Write a blog, or create a Youtube channel

A lot of these suggestions are about social interaction, but if you want to develop your writing or speaking skills, and at the same time document your time in the UK, why not set up a blog or a Youtube channel? You could of course do this in your native language, but why not give it a go in English? Travel blogs are often popular and you might find other people in the same situation, or just people who are interested in your journey and what you experience in the UK!

Whatever you do, I hope you will enjoy the experience of studying in the UK and that you take every opportunity to speak English. You’re in charge of how much you use the language while you’re here, so why not make the most of it?

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Kirsty working with students