Why is it on Christmas Day but at Christmas time

Ask the wise old owl

Wise Old Owl

Why do we say “On Christmas Day” but “at Christmas”?

Question: I learned that for days of the week, we use “on” – on Thursday etc. Why then do we have to say “at Christmas time”?

Those annoying prepositions!

When we’re talking about days, we use on:
on Thursday
on 23rd April
on Christmas Day
on Good Friday
On my birthday

However, if it’s a more general time, we use at:
at the beginning of August
at Christmas/at Christmas time
at Easter

If it’s a season or a month, we use in:
In June
In winter

If you say “I like to be with my family at Christmas time”, you’re talking about the holiday around Christmas, and not one specific date such as Christmas Day.
I like to eat mince pies at Christmas – this means the time around Christmas.

More articles in this series

If you want to read the rest of the articles in this series, go to the wise old owl’s main page.

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If your question is more specific and you would like one-to-one help, have a look at my lessons page.


Improve your written English by writing a blog

Improve your writing skills by starting a blog

Speaking and writing are two of those skills for which you need to be a bit more proactive. Sometimes you need to find a reason to speak or to write.

Even if you do have a reason to work on them, such as speaking with colleagues or writing emails, it’s great if you can develop your skills when you are not under pressure because of deadlines or your manager’s expectations. Then you can relax a bit more and allow yourself to be creative.

It’s true I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who loves to write. I have this blog, and also a beauty and lifestyle blog that I write in my free time. However, someone who doesn’t enjoy writing business emails might still enjoy writing about their favourite football team or what they’ve cooked recently. Sometimes you just need to find the write topic. Most people have ideas to share.

When my students are looking for ideas about what they can do to improve their English in their spare time, one of the things I suggest is writing a blog.

One of my students didn’t believe that people would blog in languages other than their native language, so I did a bit of research in a couple of blogging groups. I found out that people do indeed blog in other languages – for different reasons, ranging from improving their language skills to reaching a wider audience or keeping in touch with family members.

So, if you’re learning English, here are some reasons to set up a blog in English:

  1. It gives you a reason to write. If you’re writing about something that interests you, you’re more likely to do it.
  2. It makes you think about your words. This means you might have to spend some time working out how to put an idea into words in English. You might have to look words up in the dictionary, which is good for your vocabulary.
  3. You can reach a different, and perhaps bigger audience. You can communicate with English-speaking people all over the world using your blog.
  4. It’s a way to start conversations about topics that interest you because hopefully other people will read and comment on your posts.
  5. It’s a way to practice on your own, without other people in your class or your colleagues watching. Some people feel more confident about expressing their ideas in this way.
  6. It doesn’t have to be expensive – there are free blogging sites out there!
  7. If you have a teacher or a language exchange partner, you can ask for help or feedback about your writing and get suggestions for improvement based on real examples.

I know it takes courage to write in another language. I use German all the time at work, but rarely blog in German! However, when I think about all the other things I’ve done in German, such as commenting in forums or writing on social media sites, most of the time people were really supportive. Even though I have sometimes worried what people would think of my German, there were only a very few instances where people were unkind about it. You can read more of my thoughts on this subject in my what to do if people are unkind about your English post.

So, if you think that this sounds like an interesting idea, why not give it a go? Remember to leave the link to your new blog in the comments so we can check it out and support you.

In the meantime, here are 10 blogs on all kinds of subjects, written by people who don’t blog in their native language. I asked them five questions:

  1. What is your native language and in what language do you blog?
  2. Why did you decide to blog in another language?
  3. What would you say are the benefits of blogging in a language other than your native language?
  4. Have you experienced any language-related difficulties in relation to blogging, and if so, how have you overcome them?
  5. Where can we find you online?
  6. Here’s what I found out!

    1. Sazzy and Joanie

    Our native language is German and we are blogging in English. We wanted to share our interests, loves and experiences with as many people as possible and English being kind of like a world-language gives us the possibility to do so. Also, I just really love the English language and find it to be more ‘aesthetic’ than German.
    I love being able to engage with people from all over the world. Different cultures, different points of views. The opportunities the internet and language are giving us are insane! For example, we are really into watching English youtubers which is not a common thing to do in Germany – especially at our age (21). But it is elsewhere and by writing about our thoughts, we can talk to more people about our opinions. It’s nice being part of a bigger community and making friends all over the world.
    Obviously our English is not perfect. I study English linguistics at uni and J. has given me the task to proof-read her writing. I think I’m doing okay, but I am not a specialist after all. But it is fun, it is fun learning new words when you can’t think of them or learning how to express a certain saying in another language. However, sometimes I want to say something but I am unsure about whether people might think it is offensive or not. I am by no means a rude person but in different languages words have different connotations and that is why, whenever I am not sure about something, I tend to not write it down. But that is also part of being on the internet. So I don’t really overcome that difficulty but if something like that occurs, I usually start googling away to find out how to express myself the right way. Again, it’s a learning process, but I really enjoy it.
    Sazzy and Joanie from The Cozy Den.

    2. Julia

    I’m Polish and it’s my native language. I blog in English. I decided to do so because I feel that English blogs have a much wider audience as most people in the world can understand that. I’ve had views from many countries all over the world and I don’t think it would be possible if I was blogging in Polish. I think that English is the language that has the power to connect people anywhere in the world. I’m fluent in English so it’s my second nature but it doesn’t mean I don’t have any problems with it. Very often I lack the right vocabulary or my sentences get so tangled they don’t really make sense. I also cringe when I proof read myself for some reason. I use online dictionaries to help me or simply ask my English speaking boyfriend or friends for help. It makes it so much easier.
    Julia from The Glass of Class.

    3. Oriana

    This is a bit complicated, technically my native language is Spanish (my mother is Colombian), but I speak French way better and I live in France (my father is French). To blog, I use English only
    I decided to blog in English so every member of my family, either from Colombia and France, would be able to read my blog
    There are many benefits, especially with a blog in English because first : you can communicate with everyone in the world, even from a very different culture. Also, I wanted to improve my English a bit, and be sure that my skills wouldn’t decrease. Blogging in another language really helps, especially concerning the vocabulary !
    I always struggle when I start to write my posts, because I want to write my exact thoughts and I don’t always know how to say something in English. In the end I always have to look up a word into online dictionaries, or rewrite entire sentences because I couldn’t manage to say what I wanted. The worst is when there is no actual translation because of cultural differences… I try to adapt as I can but I’ve realized I made lots of mistakes afterwards !
    Oriana from Oriana’s Notes.

    4. Anca

    My native language is Romanian and my second language is English. I’m blogging in English.
    I moved to the UK and it was a simple choice for me as most of my friends from Romania are fluent in English.
    I’ve adapted my writing for an English audience. I would say that is an improvement as I developed my language skills. I also improved my grammar.
    For example “maybe it’s not the best x I ever had” = this is awful, bleah, horrible. In Romanian, “not the best” means it’s not the best, like average.
    Anca from Anca’s lifestyle & Cookstyle.

    5. Dinah

    My native language is German and I love to write columns and poems in English. I also collect lovely poems written by others, however I will always mention that those are not written by myself. I have published all these here on Facebook under “notes“ as well as on my own website. Sometimes I also use Instagram for writing down my thoughts in combination with pictures.
    Sometimes I’ve got that feeling that I can express my thoughts better in English than in German. Furthermore, I do it because of my enthusiasm referring practising and developing my English language skills. I love the sound of English.
    It’s perfect to get a feeling for the foreign language and as you have got more time to find the right words while writing in contrast to speaking, it’s more relaxed in my eyes.
    I am publishing in the hope to receiving questions from native speakers if anything would have been unclear to them. I am also open to corrections. A few sentences in columns of mine were a bit strange which I only realized years later, so I modified them (I think ;-)
    Dinah from Dinah’s World.

    6. Sebastian

    My native languages are Polish and Silesian, I’m blogging in English. I blog in English because I live, work and do business in the UK.
    It allows to improve communication skills. I also believe that it will give long time benefits as overall improvement of writing style. Writing in English also expose blog to international audience.
    Yes. I’m aware that my vocabulary and ability to use culturally specific expressions is limited. I don’t feel fully comfortable when I want to express myself and can use just subset of this rich language to do that. It is like attempt to play guitar with some strings missing. How to overcome that? A lot of practice. And reading others.
    Sebastian from Fashion but how?

    7. Azra

    My native language is Bosnian. I’m blogging in English, but recently I started writing in Bosnian as well, because most of my audience in Bosnia couldn’t understand English.
    I wanted everyone to enjoy and read my content. Also I really like English as a language, so I decided to improve my skills in writing and just practice more I guess.
    Blogging in English helps me reach more people around the world. It helps me to have large audience, followers from USA, UK etc.
    I’m still not the best with grammar, that was always a weak side of my English. I know vocabulary very well, but grammar is the problem. Still I think I’m doing a lot better than I used to.
    Azra from Simple Serenity.

    8. Lieze

    My native language is Dutch, my second language is French and I am blogging in English I am blogging in English because I am now living in the UK and because I am able to reach more people by blogging in English
    When I visit Belgium, I find that I have forgotten words, but I do not know all English words either
    Lieze from Lieze Neven and Glitter Rebel.

    9. Christian

    I speak Maltese & English. I blog in English because our main audience is in the UK and US
    It helps me develop my writing skills and opens up new opportunities not available in Malta
    Grammar and spelling aren’t perfect but is helped by using the Grammarly Chrome extension. I also sometimes don’t get some English expressions but the other people on the blog help explain them.
    Christian from Fullsync

    10. Shelley-Ann

    German is my native language and I blog in English. I blog in English because my viewers are mainly from the UK.,
    Blogging in English means more readers as many people speak English these days Words and the meanings can be difficult. I sometimes mix up words or can’t find the right word I’m looking for. Just expressing myself correctly is my main issue really
    Shelley-Anne from Shelley Morecroft.

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    Kirsty working with students


What do you want to see in the virtual staffroom?

This post is a question for the teachers who read my blog.

I never set out to write articles for teachers. The first article happened because I was asked a specific question about teaching blind students, but then I had other ideas about posts that I could write.

People interacted with the posts and I received feedback that some of my tips and advice had helped people, so I continued to write.

The teacher posts on my blog fall into two main categories:

  1. Posts about setting up and running an online teaching business
  2. Posts about teaching English, developing activities, getting the best out of students, and helping students with specific needs.

I’ve received a couple of questions since I started writing the articles for teachers – that’s where the idea for the post about finding new students came from.

If I discover something interesting or find something that I want to share, I’ll write about it. However I would also like to know if you have any specific questions or topics that you would like me to cover in the coming months.

If so, please let me know using the form below:

If I don’t know the answer to a question, I am developing my own personal learning network of educators and I may well be able to find someone whom I can interview.

EwK

If you want to see the articles that I have already written, you can visit the teachers page.


Stellen Sie sicher, dass Ihre Nachricht zu Ihrer Zielgruppe passt

(Click here for the English version – make sure your writing style is right for your audience.)

Die Grammatik kann richtig sein, die Nachricht kann großartig sein, aber die Leute können Sie manchmal immer noch falsch verstehen, wenn Ihr Schreibstil für die Zielgruppe nicht angemessen ist.

Aufeine Art ist englisch leichter als andere Sprachen, weil Sie sich keinen Kopf darüber machen müssen, welches “you” für die Situation angemessen ist. Jedoch ist es immer noch wichtig, dass Sie sicherstellen, dass Ihr Schreibstil für Ihre Zielgruppe angemessen ist. Hier sind einige Tipps und Dinge, die es in Betracht zu ziehen git.

1. Seien Sie nicht zu intim

Nichts wirkt so störend wie ein total Fremder, der sich verhält als seien Sie die besten Freunde. Vielleicht ist das weniger ein Problem in anderen Teilen der englischsprachigen Welt, aber im Vereinigten Königreich, und insbesondere, wenn wir über geschäftlichen Informationsaustausch sprechen, werden Sie sehr wahrscheinlich eher lästig wirken anstatt die Situation zu entspannen. Das trifft insbesondere dann zu, wenn die andere Person keine Kenntnis davon hat, wer Siesind. Es ist okay, freundlich zu sein, aber es gibt Linien, die Sie nicht überschreiten sollten. Ansonsten werden die Leute denken, dass Sie entweder zu intim sind oder dass Sie mit Ihrem Informationsstil zu sorglos umgehen und nicht professionell wirken.

2. Seien Sie nicht zu förmlich

Wie bei so vielen Dingen müssen Sie auch hier die richtige Balance finden. Einige Phrasen in einigen alten Büchern für Geschäftsenglisch sind veraltet und viel zu förmlich für unsere schnelllebige E-Mailkultur. Diese zu benutzen könnte Sie überheblich erscheinen lassen!

„Können Sie bitte“ reicht vollkommen aus. Sie müssen nicht „auf ewig dankbar sein, wenn Sie freundlich genug sein möchten, um“. Wenn Sie bei einer neuen Firma anfangen und zum Beispiel nicht wissen, wie förmlich oder zwanglos die Kollegen miteinander umgehen, gehen Sie auf Nummer Sicher und beobachten Sie dies für eine Weile. Dies ist besser als wenn Sie später erfahren, dass die Leute sich über etwas, was Sie gesagt oder getan haben, unwohl fühlen.

3. Benutzen Sie keine Sprache, die Ihre Zielgruppe nicht versteht.

Es ist einfach damit zu beginnen, Abkürzungen und Bezeichnungen zu benutzen, die die meisten Leute in Ihrer Firma kennen, aber wenn eine neue Person in Ihr Team kommt oder Sie schreiben jemanden in einer anderen Abteilung an, könnte es sein, dass diese keine Ahnung davon haben, was Ihre merkwürdigen Buchstabenbezeichnunen bedeuten. Dies könnte dazu führen, dass sie Sie ignorieren und Sie missverstehen oder Ihre Mail einfach auf die Liste „Ich beabsichtige, das später zu erledigen, aber in Wahrheit werde ich dafür keine Zeit haben“ setzen. Sie würden sich sogar zu sehr genieren, um zurückzukommen und Ihnen zu sagen, dass sie Ihre Nachricht nicht verstanden haben.

4. Manche Leute wollen Fakten und Zahlen

Manche Leute sagen, man soll sich total auf die Gefühle konzentrieren und dass dies die Aufmerksamkeit der Menschen erregen wird. Jdoch gibt es durchaus Zeiten, wo es so scheint als wenn das, was Sie sagen, keine Substanz hat.

Wenn ich Ihren Kurs kaufe, dann möchte ich einzelheiten darüber erhalten, was dieser beinhaltet, wie dieser mir helfen kann und was dieser genau einschließt. Ich möchte einfach nicht, dass Sie sich eine Ewigkeit darüber auslassen, wie gut mir dieser tut ohne Bezug auf irgendeine Einzelheit.

Andererseits können sich andere Menschen wiederum mit dem, was ich will, gelangweilt fühlen, weil diese von Ihnen wollen, dass Sie an Ihre Gefühle appelieren.

Sie sollten in der Tat etwas über ihre Zielgruppe wissen oder Ihre Zielgruppe sorgfältig auswählen.

5. Manchmal langweilen sich die Leute bei Fakten und Zahlen

Manchmal können Fakten und Zahlen oder zu viele unnötige Einzelheiten die Leute verrückt machen. Sie brauchen nicht die ganze Unterhaltung zu wissen, die zu der Entscheidung geführt hat; sie müssen lediglich wissen, was entschieden wurde. Sie brauchen nicht jeden Schritt des Prozesses zu wissen, dem Sie folgen. Sie müssen nur wissen, dass Sie die Arbeit ausführen.

Ihre E-Mail zu lesen beansprucht am Tag Zeit von jemandem. Daher verhalten Sie sich nicht wie die Person, die an Ihrem Schreibtisch steht und versucht, eine Unterhaltung aufkommen zu lassen, obwohl sie sehen kann, dass Sie hunderterlei Dinge zu tun haben! Halten Sie Ihre E-Mail relevant. Wenn Sie möchten, fügen Sie Einzelheiten hinzu, aus denen die andere Person mehr Informationen ersehen kann oder sagen Sie, dass Sie mehr Informationen zur Verfügungstellen, falls diese benötigt werden, aber überhäufen Sie die Leute nicht mit Informationen, die für sie nicht relevant sind.

6. Wenn Sie verärgert sind, machen Sie einen Spaziergang

Liebesbriefe und Novellen sind der Ort für leidenschaftliche Gefühle. Geschäftskorrespondenz sollte hingegen im Allgemeinen mehr objektiv sein. Ok, Sie können wirklich sehr aufgeregt sein aufgrund eines neuen Projektes oder wenn Sie glücklich darüber sind, dass etwas zu einem Erfolg geführt hat, aber wenn Sie auf einen Kollegen zornig sind oder Sie möchten jemandem in einer Beschwerde die Meinung sagen, warten Sie, bis Sie sich beruhigt haben, bevor Sie anfangen, zu tippen oder tippen Sie zumindest ein Konzept. Gehen Sie dann einen Kaffee trinken oder spazieren und dann entscheiden Sie, ob Sie das immer noch absenden möchten.

7. Überdenken Sie Ihre Struktur und die Länge des Textes

Überdenken Sie den Grund Ihres Textes, bevor Sie diesen absenden. Ist es klar genug, wenn Sie um etwas bitten, was die andere Person zu tun hat? Wenn Sie sich über etwas beschweren, haben Sie Ihr Problem und Ihre Fakten in einer logischen Weise dargelegt? Wenn Sie über ein Problem sprechen, haben Sie dies ausführlich genug erklärt, sodass die andere Person nachvollziehen kann, was passiert ist, auch wenn sie nicht direkt involviert war? Sind all Ihre Sätze nützlich? Niemand mag Wiederholungen!

6.

8. st das Schreiben die beste Option

Meistens ziehe ich es vor, dass die Leute mir schreiben. Als jemand, der ein Training zur Verfügung stellt, würde es mich nerven, wenn mein Telefon die ganze Zeit läuten würde, selbst wenn es stumm geschaltet ist. Jedoch gibt es Situationen, wo ein Telefonanruf oder ein persönliches Gespräch besser ist. Das trifft insbesondere dann zu, wenn es sich um schlechte Nachrichten handelt, wo es darum geht, mit einem Problem zwischen Kollegen umzugehen oder etwas, was diese Person sehr wahrscheinlich betrüben oder beunruhigen könnte.

9. Was würde passieren, wen andere Leute das lesen würden?

Manchmal ist es besser, wenn die Dinge nicht schriftlich festgehalten werden. Vielleicht habe ich zu viel Zeit damit verbracht, mit Rechtsanwälten zu arbeiten, aber ich bin sehr vorsichtig bei dem, was ich schriftlich festhalte, insbesondere wenn es etwas ist, dass nicht gut aussehen würde, wenn es in die falschen Hände geriete. E-Mailaccounts können gehackt werden. Papiere können in Zügen zurückgelassen werden. Die Leute teilen Sachen, auch wenn sie es nicht tun sollten. Manchmal kann den Leuten nicht getraut werden. Ich spreche dabei nicht von krimineller Aktivität, aber ich tendiere dazu, gewisse brisante Dinge für gesprochene Unterhaltungen zurückzuhalten, weil ich es nicht möchte, das E-Mails von Leuten gegen mich verwendet werden, indem sie ein paar Sätze aus dem Kontext herausnehmen. Dies ist jetzt, wo ich für mich selber arbeite, nicht so relevant, aber es war etwas, was ich in Betracht gezogen habe, als ich noch für eine größere Firmaarbeitete.

10. Wie hört sich die Nachricht an, wenn Sie diese laut lesen?

Auf einer Seite könnte es für Sie okay aussehen, aber wie hört sich das an, wenn Sie die Worte sprechen? Hört es sich für Sie an als ob Sie jemandem Befehle zubellen? Hört sich dies für Sie verwirrend an? Stellen Sie sicher, dass wenn Sie diese E-Mail erhalten haben, Sie bezüglich des Tons und der Formulierung zufrieden sind.

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What to do when you’re the only non-native speaker in a team

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re the only non-native speaker in a team or a meeting? I have! In many ways this experience helped me to grow and develop my language skills, but it wasn’t always easy being the only person who wasn’t communicating in their native language (I was working in a team of German speakers in which the language for communication was German).

Before I started this work, I thought all the difficulties would be language-related, but there were also lessons in terms of interpersonal skills and team dynamics. Some of it was just having a clear enough head to recognise my feelings and know how to channel them into something more positive when things didn’t go so well.

Here are some of the things that I learned and the advice that I would give to other people in a similar situation.

1. find a language mentor

The mentor doesn’t actually need to know that they are your mentor! It’s just good if you can identify one or two people in the team whose language skills are really good so that you can pay more attention to their writing and presentation style. I’m not talking about the content, but the way in which they get their ideas across. People who check their work before sending it off. People who can communicate clearly and who make it easy for other people to understand things.

When I was working in the German team, I was exposed to many different communication styles, and in order to improve my German, I chose a couple of people who I knew spoke their native language well. I didn’t copy phrases from their emails, but I did pay special attention to how they did things. After all, just because someone is a native speaker, it doesn’t mean that they speak their native language well.

Doing this helped me to develop my own writing and speaking skills.

2. talk to people before meetings so they are already on board

I found that building up relationships with people on a one-to-one basis always helped me. This is something I do generally, but particularly when I was the only one working in a language that wasn’t my own, it felt good to know that I had people who wanted me to do well – and that only works if they know who you are!

Also, if you’re new to a team, there may be things that aren’t spoken about in meetings, but people may tell you them on a one-to-one basis if they feel that they can trust you.

I prefer small groups to large meetings anyway, but I found that chatting through my ideas with one or two people first gave me the chance to express my thoughts in German in a real situation, prepare myself for any questions that may come up, and if it was a good idea, I knew that I had someone who would support me when I told everyone else about it. Not that they would take over, but they could also point out the advantages of putting the idea into practice, and explain why it would help them.

3. it’s not always you!

There was one team member who wrote the longest, most rambling emails I had ever seen. I read them several times, hoping to find some kind of clue as to what his main point was, and sometimes I couldn’t. I raised it with another member of the team – a native speaker – and she was just as confused as I was about what he actually wanted. He’d just dumped all of his thoughts into an email, with no structure or clarity!

Sometimes it can be easy to think that it’s your fault if you don’t understand something, particularly if it’s your second language, but sometimes things just aren’t clear and it has nothing to do with your language skills.

4. social situations can be the hardest things

The work that I was doing was mainly online, but we did arrange a couple of face-to-face meetings followed by social events so that people could get to know each other. Whilst I enjoyed meeting people in person, these times were much harder for me than working on the project, and this came as a shock to me. After all, having a chat to people over a meal and glass of wine shouldn’t be that difficult, should it?

But it was! Partly because speaking was initially one of my weaker skills (I much preferred writing), and partly because I had to keep track of the conversations around me in a noisy restaurant. The music and clatter of plates meant that I had to concentrate extra hard on what was being said. Even when I understood the words, there were some jokes that I didn’t understand because they were references to films, tv programmes, or characters that I didn’t know. Someone ordered a drink and I had no idea what it was because we don’t have that in England. If you don’t share the same cultural references as someone else because you didn’t grow up in the same country or you don’t watch the same tv programmes, there will be things that you don’t understand. So you can either sit there feeling left out, use the conversation as a chance to learn, or try to steer it on to something that everyone can talk about.

Out-of-work socialising can be hard, but it is a really good way to get to know people.

5. emails mean you can get your idea out without interruptions

I hate those meetings in which everyone talks at the same time – whether it’s in English or German. I find it really rude and in meetings that I chair, I don’t put up with it. But I wasn’t the chair of all the meetings and sometimes it was really hard to push through and get my voice heard. Email is a great way to get your thoughts out without anyone interrupting you! Of course this only works if people read your emails, but if they do, it’s a good way to set out your ideas and to know that you’ll hbe able to get to the end of what you wanted to share.

6. what you have to say is equally valid

It can be a struggle if you can’t find all the right words. Just because someone can put their views across clearly, it doesn’t mean that their idea is better than yours. Most of the time people were very kind and encouraging to me – that was, until I disagreed with something. I went from being the international colleague whose German was great, to the English person who obviously didn’t understand the discussion because it was in German. I did understand, I just didn’t agree. Rather than making me want to run away and hide, this made me even more determined to explain my reasoning. However I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard.

7. get practice outside of work

I say this again and again to my students, but it’s so true. Whether it’s activities with people who have nothing to do with your team, or it’s a friendship that develops out of the team, don’t get all your practice in when everyone is watching. Go shopping, go to the cinema, have coffee, talk on Skype – whatever you want to do, but build up your confidence away from the big meeting room! You’ll be amazed what a few hours speaking the other language in a setting in which you feel comfortable can do for your confidence!

8. people probably will be nice as long as things are going well

Overall my experience was a positive one. When I did receive racial abuse, and it was only once, it was from service users, not my team, and my team stood behind me and the other non-Germans. I had challenged racist comments in one of the forums, and so the comments were turned on me as well. Bullies don’t like to be challenged!

It annoyed me more than it upset me, but it served as a reminder that this is often the first thing people will go for if they want to verbally attack you. If I’d been German too, no doubt they would have found something else to use against me – my appearance/love of dogs/lack of children – who knows! And to be honest, who cares! Haters and trolls will do their thing unless someone stops them, but if you are in the minority because of your race or native language, it is something that people may choose to use against you if they don’t like what you’re doing, and it’s good to be prepared for that, and to know that you’re working in an environment where that won’t be tolerated.

9. people forget how much effort it takes – especially if they are monolingual

Only someone who knows a second language knows the frustrations involved when you can’t think of how to say something, or you spend a bit longer on deciding in which order to put the words together. Only someone else who has been there can really know how tired you feel after you’ve operated using another language all day! Most people that I worked with did understand this, but it didn’t surprise me that one guy who didn’t, and who made fun of my being quiet, could only speak one language. There’s not much you can do about this unless you feel like pointing it out, but at the end of the day, you are the lucky one because you have access to two languages! So remember that, even if you don’t feel very lucky!

10. sometimes people just don’t listen – or read

Sometimes people have an idea about what you’re going to say, and they read or hear only these things, not what you actually said. I’ve been given 2 coffees when I ordered 3 (because the 3rd person hadn’t arrived). I’ve told someone the same thing in three different ways before they understood. I’ve been asked for information that was already clearly stated in the email that I’d just sent. But people do exactly the same things to native speakers – the problem in these cases wasn’t my German, but the fact that people didn’t read or listen carefully.

11. Proofreading

You will really annoy your colleagues if you ask them to proofread everything for you, but a couple of times, I asked people to read through something before I sent it out. This was either because it would be seen by a lot of people, and I didn’t want simple language errors to detract from the message, or because I was addressing a sensitive issue and I wanted to make sure the tone of the email was ok. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help once in a while! Even if it’s to say “yes that’s fine” – it gives you peace of mind.

12. You don’t always have to contribute

I remember a conversation about finance – which was fine – but then it developed into a conversation about German banks. I had nothing to contribute, because I didn’t know anything about that. That was fine. I could have done my own research, but people already had some information. There will be times when you have nothing to add, whether that’s because the topic is outside of your skill set, or because you don’t know about the market/customs/best city to hold an event in a particular country. That’s ok – you can offer your opinion, but you don’t have to feel under pressure to know something about everything. There will be other areas in which you can take the lead.

How about you?

What have your experiences been like in terms of being the only non-native speaker on a team? Let me know in the comments.

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Kirsty working with students


How to find new students

This is not a post that I would have written without someone asking for it. After all, I’m not an expert in this. I could maybe write it if people were breaking the door down scrabbling for lessons and I had no gaps before next Easter, but as it is, although things are going well for me, people come and go when they have what they need, so I do have some gaps in my schedule and I could take on a few extra clients.

There was a time when I had a waiting list, but that was back in 2013, when my lessons were under-priced and work-life balance wasn’t a thing! I don’t want to go back to those days!

Anyway, when I ask in my newsletter or on my blog what other people want to read about, I do take the suggestions seriously. So when someone asked me to write about finding new students, I decided to share what I know.

1. Do you want to find new students?

I definitely do want to have my own students, and not to work for a school or language site, but some people choose to go down the route of working for others, at least at the beginning. I don’t want to go into all the positive and negative aspects of each option here, but I did write a guest post on whether it’s better to find your own students or work for others. You can find it here.

2. Are there potential students in your network?

Everyone knows people. The first two customers that I got came through people whom I already knew. One was someone that I’d been chatting to in an online forum, and the other was the partner of someone with whom I’d worked in the past.

The people who already know you may well be looking for the service that you offer, but they’ll only be able to tell you that if you let people know about your training. I don’t mean in a pushy way – you don’t want to bore everyone senseless by talking about work every chance you get, but there’s nothing wrong with dropping it into the conversation from time to time.

3. Word of mouth is powerful!

It’s hard to get word of mouth referrals at the beginning, but they really are the best way because you’ve got someone who’s already willing to promote your services. I had one customer who was happy with my work with one of his children, so he asked me to teach his other child too. The same family told one of their friends about me, and through that I got an additional customer. I’ve also had situations where people have told their friends or colleagues about the lessons because they enjoyed them, and then the friends came along too! This is great, because you don’t actually have to sell anything – just make a positive impression on the current customers.

You can also offer incentives for people to tell a friend. I’ve done this before – the referrer gets free credit on their account after introducing a friend (once the friend’s first payment has been received).

Testimonials work too – if people have enjoyed working with you, they may be willing to give you a quote for your website. Ok, it’s not quite like reviews on Amazon, because most people won’t post terrible reviews of themselves on their own site, but comments about your lessons will give people an idea what it’s like to work with you.

4. Where is your ideal customer likely to be?

Think about the various social media platforms, and where the people you want to attract are likely to spend time. Of course, you can only do this if you know who they are. If you say that you want to teach English to everyone and don’t specialise in anything, it will be much harder for you to stand out from the crowd and talk to people in a way that resonates with them, making them want to find out more.

As well as thinking where the customers may be, think about where you like spending time. I don’t like platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, so I don’t use them!

You could use the well-known platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google or Instagram.

You could set up something of your own such as a blog, podcast, or Youtube channel, so that people get to know your content first and hopefully know, like and trust you as a service provider. I don’t give free lessons or trial lessons, but I do make useful information available to people so they can find out about my style and learn something before they have to pay.

Some countries have alternative sites. For example, people do use LinkedIn in Germany, but there is another business networking site called Xing, and as someone who works primarily with German speakers, Xing is a smarter option for me than LinkedIn in terms of reaching people. I believe that other countries have their own social networking alternatives, so if you have the language skills to use those sites, they are an additional way to find people.

You could post adverts on local or national websites.

You could get media interest – journalists are unlikely to be willing to promote your service for free – after all, that’s not news – but if you have an interesting angle on a current story, something which is interesting to the local community, or some knowledge that would benefit their readers, they may be willing to include your website link in their story as well.

You could attend events to promote your services – either local business events, or events where your ideal customer is likely to be.

There are also many online events.

I never had much luck with flyers, but it’s an option if you’re doing something locally, or if you have people in other places who would put them up for you.

5. What makes you unique?

Often, teaching languages is about fixing problems. This could be helping children at school, preparing people for an exam, helping people to feel more confident about using English at work, preparing for a holiday, or making sure that the information people put up on their website is not full of mistakes.

Can you offer a solution to a problem as a package? So not just an exchange of your time for the customer’s money? My business English course does include Skype calls, but it also includes audio messages, factsheets, worksheets and feedback on an exercise to help people complete each module and more importantly, feel confident in each business situation.

In what areas do you shine? I can teach grammar in a way that helps people to understand, whereas other teachers hate doing that. I can’t get excited about language exam preparation, but other teachers focus on this and do a really good job!

Have you experienced problems in any of these areas? I’m sure it helps that I was once really nervous about speaking my second language, but now I do it all the time at work. This helps my more nervous students to understand that I know the struggles they face and have come through them.

Can you think of an idea that is new or somehow quirky? Something that sets you apart? There are people who wouldn’t want to sit down in a classroom, but they would be up for “English for dog walkers!”

Do you have some knowledge from your previous experience or career that would put you at an advantage? I don’t market exclusively to blind people, and most of my students are not blind, but as I have a visual impairment, I know how to create materials that can be used by people with screenreading software, and I can highlight this when I’m talking to potential customers who are blind.

Do you have a marketing budget? Maybe not at the beginning. I put an advert in a magazine and it didn’t work at all, so if you do have a bit of money for advertising, try a couple of things out. Also, is the advertising bringing the right kind of people? New Facebook likes are great, but not so great if they are all people who are only looking for free services. Sometimes the numbers aren’t everything if they aren’t really the people whom you want to reach.

6.How can people get to know you?

Sometimes it’s hard to know which offer to take or which teacher to choose. There are so many people doing this work now. When I started in 2012, online learning was more of a new concept, whereas now plenty of people are doing it.

If you can find some way to let people get to know you, how you work, what you offer etc, and they like it, they are more likely to sign up for things that you offer.

If they love your Youtube channel, were helped by a blog article, or look forward to your podcast every week, it will build up a sense that you aren’t a complete stranger to them. Then, if they need help, you’ll be top of mind.

This is clearly more work than sticking up a few ads, but it’s planning for the long-term. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the first website that gave me a lot of customers changed its rules, which meant that I couldn’t rely on it any more. Facebook pages can be taken down. If you build your own audience on your own platform, you are more in control.

7. Can you offer things at different price points?

Sometimes people can’t afford one-to-one lessons, but they would be able to afford something like a book or a video course. Alternatively, people may want to buy some of the cheaper products before committing to lessons. Have you got something that you could offer at a lower price point?

Some people will tell you to create group programmes or self-study courses. Self-study courses are great, but they’re not really my thing, so I can’t comment on that. I found a reluctance in my audience to take part in group programmes (they tend to be professionals with specific problems that they want to solve in a one-to-one setting), but your audience may be different, so it’s worth considering.

8. Joining communities or building your own

When we talk about things like Facebook, I don’t just mean setting up a page and posting there. Facebook groups are powerful. They give you the chance to meet people who have identified themselves as being in a particular group or having a particular interest.

Some people’s use of Facebook groups is really bad – it won’t work if you just spam every group you can find with an advert about your services. But if you build relationships, give good advice, help people out, share useful information, and become the go-to person for your particular niche, you can grow your network and potential customer base in a way that isn’t pushy or offensive. I don’t usually do things that would require a lot of one-to-one time, but if someone has a quick question, I’ll try to answer. If someone has a more general question, I might answer it in a blog post, and then other people can benefit from it too.

You may also want to set up your own Facebook group. Ok, again this is more work, but it gives you the chance for people to get to know you and what you offer. Sometimes people are more willing to interact in groups rather than on pages, particularly if they are interacting in a language that is not their native language. You just need to be clear about what the group is for (i.e. it’s not for free English tuition!) and whom you most want to help in there.

The other thing to consider is the type of group that you want to join. My first thought was to join groups about learning English. This did work for me on business networking sites, but the ones that I found on Facebook were very big, poorly managed and full of irrelevant content. Sorry if you manage a big Facebook group about English learning – I’m sure there are some great ones out there, but I didn’t find them.

I had better luck when I thought about what other groups my ideal customer would be in. German groups for small business owners are a good fit for me. If you want to teach children locally, is there a parents’ group that you can join? If you train people who are going on holiday, can you find some travel groups? If you offer English for dentists, can you find some dentist groups? Try to get past the fact that people are looking to learn English, and think where else they might be. If you do, you won’t find yourself in a group flooded with other English teachers, and you will stand out, because you might be the only person offering that service in the group.

9. Monitor how people find you

Anyone who knows me well won’t be surprised to know that I have a spreadsheet that monitors where people first heard of me. It updates automatically, calculating how much money each channel brought me, and what percentage of the total income that is. I don’t want to invest loads of time or money in something that clearly isn’t working.

10. It’s ok to work with other teachers

I did a post about working with other teachers but basically, they are not just your competition. If Someone were offering a service that was similar to mine, I probably wouldn’t promote it, but if someone’s doing an event or someone wrote a really helpful post, why not share it? They may do the same for you! Also, if you find someone whose blog or podcast you like, there may be guest opportunities, which can be mutually beneficial, because they get you both in front of new audiences.

11. Things that have worked before may stop working

Facebook pages are a good example of this. I’m not saying that they don’t work any more, because they do, but in the beginning, I knew that most of the people who had liked my page would see my posts. Now, you can still have success with organic reach (people seeing your post without you having to pay for it), but it is harder.

I used to advertise on a site that was bought up by another company and stopped offering adverts for goods and services.

I know a teacher who was using Blab, but then Blab closed down.

Even if you find a “winning formula”, don’t put all your eggs in one basket because things change and you need to adapt along with them, trying new things out, stopping things that don’t work any more, and doing the things that work best for you.

12. You never know who’s watching or who might find you in the future!

I got one customer because one of her friends interacted with one of my Facebook posts. She didn’t know about English with Kirsty before then.
Another customer found me because of a blog post that I had written six months previously. This same customer then went on to refer me to someone else, but I didn’t know that when I put the post up! I didn’t see immediate results! Actually that’s one of the hardest parts when it comes to looking for new students – you can do a load of marketing activities and you may not see any immediate results.

That’s why it’s so hard to write a post like this – like the tortoise in the hare and tortoise story, slow and steady wins the race. There is no easy answer to how to find students, and unless you find people who want to stay for a number of years (I do have a couple of those), finding students will always be on your to-do-list because people go and will need to be replaced.

This has got very long, so I’ll stop here. I hope some of the tips were useful to you. Feel free to add more in the comments.

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Kirsty working with students

Also, if you’re interested in posts for teachers, you can see my other articles about teaching English and running an online language teaching business on my page for teachers.


Win a free copy of my business English book

It’s September, which is also my birthday month, so I’ve decided to do a give-away on each of my blogs.
Firstly, if you are following this blog because of a comment I made on a beauty or lifestyle blog, you’ll probably be more interested in my other blog, Unseen Beauty. I’m running a skincare UK giveaway on that blog throughout September, so if you’re interested, head on over to my Unseen Beauty giveaway post.

If you’re interested in improving your English, I’m giving away a hard copy of my book, “Feel confident using your business English” This is open internationally, and all you have to do is fill out the form below.

FeelconfidentusingyourbusinessEnglishv4 Resized

The questions are to make sure that you are a real person, and they also give me ideas about what people want to learn, and where in the world people are using my learning materials.

One person will win a free copy of the book. If you don’t win and you still want to read the book, you can see where it’s available as an ebook or hard copy on my book pae.

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on Saturday September 30th 2017 and I’ll draw the winner on Monday 2nd October.
  2. 1 entry per person.
  3. The prize is a hard copy of my book. If the winner would prefer an online copy, either for accessibility reasons, or to save trees, this can be arranged. The book is also available digitally on Amazon and iTunes.
  4. I will give each person a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number.
  5. I will contact the winner on 2nd October to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.