5 important lessons about language learning

“Here’s a guest post that I wrote for the blog on Angelika’s German. It’s about my journey as a language learner, and five valuable lessons that I have learned along the way.

You can find the post here.

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Resources about communicating effectively

As I don’t only produce one type of learning resource, I thought I’d bring together some of the articles, audio and video resources on effective communication.

1. Are you confusing your readers?

You may think you provide good information, but that won’t help you if your message isn’t clear. This is why it’s important to make sure that you’re not confusing your readers. This information is available as a podcast.

2. Are you annoying your readers?

Similar to the first article here, your message may be clear, but if it doesn’t come across well, or if you do something that is annoying, people are likely to stop reading or to ignore your message. Listen to more in this podcast episode, or request the pdf from the podcast page.

3. Don’t make these mistakes with dates and times

Sometimes it’s not the complicated sentences that cause the problems, but simple errors with dates and times, or phrases that could be easily misunderstood. Make sure that you avoid these by listening to this podcast episode.

4. How can you persuade customers to trust you?

Getting people to know and like you is a bit easier, but how do you persuade them to trust you? Here, effective communication is key, and this article talks about some things that you can do.

5. Feel confident about contributing to meetings in English

Sometimes it can feel stressful if you know you’ll have to attend a meeting in English, give your opinions, join in the discussion, or share your ideas on a range of topics. In this free webinar recording, you’ll find some tips on how to prepare for such meetings, and things that will help you while you’re there.

6. Feel confident using your business English

If you want a more in-depth look at improving your business English, you will find 50 different topics in my book, Feel confident using your business English. Further details on my book and where you can buy it can be found on the book page.

7. Online presentations – delivering information when you can’t see your audience

Technology has changed the way we present information. Our audience is not always in the same room as us because we can now deliver online presentations – either in realtime, such as webinars or Facebook live sessions, or to be watched at a later date. In this article, you’ll find tips on extra things to consider when presenting to an online audience.

8. Preparing to present information in English

Whether the presentation is online or in person, you shouldn’t just turn up without doing some planning. If you’re presenting in a language that is not your native language, there are some additional things to consider. Find out what they are in this free five-day audio course.

9. Giving presentations – don’t forget the Q&A session

When people have to present information to colleagues, customers or other professionals in their field, they often spend a lot of time looking at their slides and notes, but if there is going to be a question and answer session afterwards, it’s good to think about the types of questions that may be asked, and how you would answer them in English. You can read more about this in this article.

10. 10 networking tips

Maybe presentations aren’t the problem. You’re happy talking about familiar subjects. The problem comes when you have to chat to people and have spontaneous conversations at networking events. My 10-day audio course on networking will give you some ideas on how to make this easier.

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Preparing for presentations in English –answering questions

People can spend a lot of time preparing their English presentations, but often they don’t plan for what might happen in a question and answer session at the end.

It’s true that not all presentations are followed by a question and answer session, but if yours will be, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about the kind of questions that might come up, and how you would answer them – in English.

First let’s look at the reasons why people ask questions after presentations.it could be because they:
1. Want to find out further information about a particular point.
2. Didn’t understand something.
3. Didn’t agree with something and want to challenge you.
4. Want to clarify what you said – to be sure that they understood it correctly.

You can never know exactly what questions will be asked, and you might do a load of preparation, only to find there are no questions at the end, but it’s good if you think about these things beforehand so that you are prepared:

1. Language

You may be able to talk about your topic all day long in your native language, but think about any points that are likely to come up, and make sure you feel comfortable talking about them in English. This means not only the points that you have rehearsed for your presentation, but other issues around the topic, and your ability to talk about it spontaneously. Is there any vocabulary that you need to look up beforehand?

Also, if other people are speaking English and it is not their native language, they may need a bit longer to express their question – so be patient. For some people, speaking another language in front of an audience is a normal thing, but for others it takes courage.

Depending on the size of the group, people may be reluctant to speak in English – could you provide a way for them to submit questions in writing/tweet questions/type them in a chat box if you are using video conferencing software?

Similarly, whether it’s a matter of language or acoustics in a large room, you may need to clarify the question if you didn’t hear or understand it, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. It’s better to check the question than to answer the wrong question!

2. Only answer the question

Today I was sent to a website that had over 2000 links on it an took an eternity to load. I gave up. It’s fine to add detail, but try to give succinct answers to questions. Talking more doesn’t always prove you know your stuff –often rambling on can be counterproductive because people lose interest.

3. Are there any contentious issues?

Are there people in your audience who are likely to disagree with any of your points, or request further information before they believe you? If so, think about how you would deal with this in English.

4. Could people want extra facts and figures?

If they do, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ll provide them later, particularly if it’s information that you don’t have to hand, but if you can anticipate any questions about data that people may ask, you can be well-prepared and have the information with you, even if you don’t choose to include that level of detail in your presentation.

5. You don’t have to answer every question

If someone keeps asking questions, and nobody else can get a word in, you don’t have to let them monopolise the talking time. Similarly, if someone wants to take you down a rabbit hole, with a discussion that is too specific and of little interest to everyone else, it’s fine to say that you will come back to the other person after the presentation. Rather than being rude, this shows that you value everyone’s time and don’t want to take it up with something that is not useful to them. If someone asks something that is too personal or completely irrelevant, you are not obliged to answer that either!

6. What is the audience most likely to be interested in?

It may be a generic presentation, but how much do you know about your audience? Are there particular parts of the presentation that are likely to be more relevant to them and generate questions? What will you do if there are too many questions for the time available? Is there some other way that participants can contact you?

7. What to do if you don’t know the answer

I think it’s often the case that people worry about not knowing the answer. If you don’t know the answer, it’s better to be honest and offer to get back to the person later, than to try and blag your way through, or give information that could later be proved to be incorrect. Nobody can be expected to know everything.

However, this isn’t an excuse for bad preparation – if you don’t know your subject area, it will reflect badly on you! Still, when it comes to more specific or complicated questions, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ll provide further information at a later date.

8. Spending too long on a particular topic

If the whole room wants to go deeper on a specific point, it might be a good idea. However, if it’s only one or two people, you need to be mindful of the time available and check whether there were any other questions or comments.

9. Written information

People process information in different ways. Consider whether you want to give a hand-out or a copy of the slides after the presentation. Then participants don’t need to take notes or check facts and figures, and if you’ve already covered something, you can explain that the details are in the hand-out.

10. What if there are no questions?

This isn’t always a bad thing. It could just mean that the attendees have understood everything. You may want to give them a way of asking questions if they think of one later (email/Twitter etc), but having no questions to answer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might just mean that your presentation ends a bit earlier, or you could prepare a bit of extra information, or a deeper explanation about something on your slides that you could give to fill the time.

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You may also be interested in my post on giving online presentations.


Is it better to work with your own students, work for schools or register on tutor sites?

If you’re interested in the answer to this question, have a look at the guest post that I wrote for the Learn Out Live blog. You can find the post here.

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Teacher Q&A

Hello and welcome to my teacher Q&A post!

I thought it might be interesting to do a kind of “get to know you” post using some of the questions that I’ve been asked about life as an online teacher. I don’t really like doing tag posts, because I never know who will be interested, but if you want to answer any of these questions and share your experiences in the comments, please do so. Also, if you’re a blogger and you want to take part, it would be great if you mention this blog as the place where the questions originated, then feel free to drop the link to the post with your answers in the comments.

1. Why did you decide to become a language teacher?

I’ve always loved languages. English, French and German were my favourite subjects at school, and I have now found a way to combine my love for language with my interest in working with people and my desire to speak German (I work predominantly with German speakers, and some of the organisation and occasional grammar explanations take place in German).

As a child, I always wanted to be a teacher, but not wanting to work with children in a school soon put an end to that idea. Later I realised that adults need training too, and the idea for an online English teaching business was born.

2. What is the hardest thing about your job?

Possibly the marketing of the business – at the beginning I didn’t realise it would be such a big commitment. I thought I’d spend all my time teaching, and that’s not the case. I think the hardest thing about marketing is that you often don’t see results straight away, so it’s hard to measure the effectiveness of each activity until you’ve given it some time to take effect. Still, I like a challenge!

3. What is the funniest thing that has happened in one of your lessons?

One of my students had a bird in the same room as her. He must have got tired of the lesson, because he flew down, perched on the iPad and ended the Skype call. The bird that didn’t like English lessons!

4. Where is the most unusual place that you have given a lesson, or what is the most unusual thing that you have been asked to cover?

I was at home, but one of my students was so eager not to miss a lesson that she logged into Skype from her balcony while she was on holiday in Spain.

5. How many countries have you taught in?

I’ve only lived in England, where most of my teaching takes place, but I’ve also taught whilst on short trips to Sweden and the Netherlands. I’ve taught people in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Turkey, Chile and China. Not as impressive a list as some, but I tend to focus on the German-speaking market.

6. What makes you happy?

Seeing people grow in confidence and use the skills that they learned in my lessons. People who were shy about speaking telling me how they have had a good conversation in English. Polite and friendly students who pay and arrive on time! Oh and being sent chocolate in the post also makes me happy!

7. What is your least favourite thing to teach?

Probably punctuation, because it’s necessary, but more of a challenge to make it exciting!

8. Who inspires you?

That’s difficult. My students inspire me, because some of them are so committed to their goals and enthusiastic about achieving them. Some of the small business owners in the Facebook groups in which I take part inspire me, because they don’t give up, and they keep coming up with innovative ideas to develop their businesses.

9.Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have wasted money on a course for my own development that was not as good as it was marketed to be, but I like to think that I learned some valuable lessons all the same about communication, customer service, reputation management, and the way I want others to see me!

10. Can you think of something that you tried in your business or in a lesson that you’d never done before?

Producing the podcast was a challenge at the beginning because although I’d been listening to podcasts for years, making my own was something I’d never done before. I am glad I tried it though and I’ll soon be producing episode 100!

11. How do you get support from other teachers?

I don’t work in a school with other teachers, but I am in a couple of Facebook groups for online teachers, and I have also connected with teachers on Twitter.

12. What advice would you give to a new online language teacher?

Don’t feel that you have to do everything that everyone else is doing. I am a blogger and podcaster. I do not like making videos. Other people are having real success with videos, but if you hate doing something, it won’t be your best work, and people will see that. Let your business reflect who you are and don’t feel you have to copy other people. Of course it’s great to follow good advice, but stay true to who you are, don’t let people make a pushy salesperson out of you if that’s not what you want to become, don’t be told that you’ll never be successful if you don’t follow the herd. My visual impairment means that I do a number of things differently by default, but as long as I get the job done, who cares that I don’t use the same tools as other people? Everyone needs to work out what is right for them – it’s your business after all!

If you want some more tips, you can have a look at my 15 things I wish I’d known before becoming an online English teacher post .

13. Where do you go when you have questions?

Google is my friend! I’ve learned a lot from my friend Google about web design, social media, tax returns, and how to self-publish a book. If I’m looking for human advice, I have built a network of teacher friends and other people with small businesses. My partner is also a fantastic sounding board for new ideas.

14. What’s your favourite way to connect with people online/where can we find you on social media?

I love it when people comment on my blog, or via the contact form on one of my podcast pages. You can also find me by using my Facebook page or on Twitter.

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Remind and remember

Ask the wise old owl

Wise Old Owl

What’s the difference between remind and remember? ?

The words “remind” and “remember” came up in one of my lessons recently, so I thought it would be good to take a closer look at them.

I sometimes hear things like “please remember me to…” and this is incorrect.

You should remember that your homework is due in on Friday. You should not forget to do it!
Your teacher might remind you that the homework needs to be handed in on Friday.
You can set yourself a reminder so that you remember to do it.

Remember has two meanings:
1. When you think about something that happened in the past:

  • I remember visiting this place when I was a child.
  • I remember taking that photograph.
  • As I was walking home, I remembered that I’d left my keys on my desk.

2. When you don’t forget to do something:

  • Remember that we are meeting for dinner after work on Thursday.
  • I need to remember to put the clocks forward this weekend.
  • I can never remember that man’s name!

Remind is different because it is when something makes you either think about something, or remember to do something. You already knew about it, but it’s a way of making sure you remember.

  • This music reminds me of our last holiday.
  • I reminded everyone about the meeting.
  • I’ll set a reminder on my phone.
  • Please remind everyone that the team meeting will take place in the small meeting room this week because the other meeting room isn’t available.

Hopefully this will help you to remember the differences between these two words. You can use this page to remind yourself how to use them. I can help you to remember, but I can’t remember you anything!

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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I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work

I’d like to say that I value choice. Everyone needs different things and I think it’s good when we know what we want. As a business owner, I know what I want, and what I don’t want. I don’t want to work at the weekend. I don’t work with young children. I have done a few Facebook lives and presentations, but I generally don’t produce video content, because I enjoy creating blogs and podcasts more.

I got the idea for this post because of a conversation I had with someone who wanted to learn English. She said “thank you, but I tried online lessons with another teacher and it didn’t work.”

If someone says “I’m not looking for online lessons,” I usually say ok and wish them well with their search for a teacher. But somehow I couldn’t let this one go without writing something to the effect that I was sorry this lady had a bad experience with someone who couldn’t help her, but online teachers work with a range of methods and are not all the same. Then I wished her success with her English learning and left it. I didn’t expect to hear from her again and I didn’t expect her to change her mind, but the increasing number of adverts that say “no online” or “no Skype” make me wonder what’s going on to give people such bad experiences. I have seen some adverts from online teachers – some of them are great, others are not so good, with mistakes on every line, which doesn’t fill me with confidence in terms of the quality. But isn’t that the same with face-to-face teachers? There are good and bad ones everywhere!

As I wrote in my can I really learn English online article, there are a number of reasons why online learning is not right for everybody, such as a bad connection, no quiet place to work, or just the need to meet with a teacher face-to-face. But somehow the email made me think the problem may have been with the teacher, in which case it’s not really fair to think that all online teachers are the same.

I want to broaden this out a bit, because I don’t want this post just to be about online vs. face-to-face teaching.

One of my former students told me that he’d previously worked with a teacher from the UK, but it hadn’t worked out because the teacher was using the lessons to try to persuade the student to change his religion. I think this is completely unacceptable. I’m glad the student didn’t assume all teachers from the UK were like that!

I had a very bad experience with an online training company in the UK, but I know other people who speak highly of them (I think here the issue is that some departments are better than others, so it really depends on which course you choose).

This doesn’t just have to apply to course providers. I think it can apply to the methods and resources we use for language learning too.

I know that I don’t enjoy learning through tv programmes, so I generally don’t do it. It’s good to know what works for you. I know I prefer online to face-to-face networking, and that’s what I tend to do most.

I also know that there are some Youtube channels that I can’t watch because the way in which the person presents their ideas drives me crazy, even if the message is good. But that doesn’t mean I don’t consume any learning material on Youtube.

I’ve had some strange people contacting me on language exchange sites, but that doesn’t mean that the idea of language exchanges doesn’t work – it was just those individuals that were the problem.

I didn’t enjoy a book that a few of my friends were raving about, but it doesn’t mean I’ll never listen to them again!

What I’m trying to say is that it’s good to work out what does and does not work for you, because we all have different preferences and learning styles. Just don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, an English idiom that means you shouldn’t lose or dismiss something that could be valuable or of use because you’re getting rid of or dismissing something you don’t want. So before you dismiss an idea, training method, or way of learning, make sure it really doesn’t work for you and that you didn’t just have one bad experience.

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