The language you speak changes your perception of time

Time is relative

This post was written by Kendra Pierre-Louis and first appeared on on May 9, 2017.

The shortest unit of time is that period between hitting the snooze button and hearing your alarm go off again. Wait, is that the shortest unit of time or the smallest unit of time?


Shortest versus smallest isn’t actually a question of grammatical punctiliousness. Different languages frame time differently. Swedish and English speakers, for example, tend to think of time in terms of distance—what a long day, we say. Time becomes an expanse one has to traverse. Spanish and Greek speakers, on the other hand, tend to think of time in terms of volume—what a full day, they exclaim. Time becomes a container to be filled. These linguistic differences, according to a published study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, actually affect our perception of time’s passage.

Since the 1980s, when researchers really began to notice that much of language is metaphorical—we say we’re feeling down when we’re sad, that we’re feeling up when we’re happy—research has examined whether how we talk about abstract things affects how we think of them.

“People tend to speak about time in terms of spatial terms,” said lead study author Emanuel Bylund, a professor of linguistics at Stellenbosch University. “But do we also think about it in spatial terms?”

Bylund and his colleagues exposed groups of Spanish and Swedish speakers to a series of psychosocial tasks. In the first, a group of 40 Spanish speakers and a group of 40 Swedish speakers were presented with a computer animation showing one of two conditions.

In one, participants looked at growing lines. “You have one line growing four inches, and it takes three seconds to grow. And then you would have another line that grows, say, six inches, and that one also takes three seconds to grow,” explained Bylund.

Participants were instructed in their respective native languages to estimate roughly how much time it took for the lines to grow. Because the visual overlapped with the way Swedish speakers speak about time, the researchers expected that they’d find it tougher to estimate how much time had passed. And they did. While Spanish speakers knew that three seconds had passed regardless of how quickly the line grew, Swedish speakers tended to think that more time had passed when the line was longer at the end of it. There are limits to this: it’s not as if a Swede would think ages had passed if a line grew super long in just three seconds. But in the mid-time conditions Bylund outlined, they struggled.

“The Swedish speakers tend to think that the line that grows longer in distance, takes longer,” said Bylund. “Spanish speakers aren’t tricked by that. They seem to think that it doesn’t matter how much the line grows in distance; it still takes the same time for it to grow.”


On the other hand, Spanish speakers tend to get tricked by a second condition: rather than using a growing line, the second task showed a container that appeared to be filled from the bottom. This is designed to mimic the volumetric ways that Spanish speakers talk about time. While Swedish speakers had no problem estimating the passage of time whether the container was full or half full, Spanish speakers tended to think that more time had passed when the container was fuller. In other words, the language they spoke affected how they estimated the relative passage of time.

How do we know that language was the primer, and not some other cultural factor?

For starters, Bylund and Athanasopoulos also ran the experiment using 74 adult, bilingual Spanish-Swedish speakers—and the outcomes held. Those given verbal instructions in Spanish had no problem correctly identifying the time it took for a line to grow, but struggled under the volumetric conditions. Similarly, when instructed in Swedish, the participants struggled with the line exercise, but not with the volumetric one. And it’s important to note that overall, the two groups were roughly equal in the accuracy of their time estimates. Groups suffered in accuracy when the conditions didn’t suit their language, but were equally matched when playing to their linguistic strengths.

The researchers also ran the experiment with no verbal prompt at all: participants simply watched the various animations, and were only asked to estimate length of time after the fact. Without language as a factor, Spanish and Swedish speakers were roughly equal, and mostly accurate in their perceptions of how long it took for the virtual containers to fill. But the two groups were also matched in their inaccuracy of time perception in the line test—even Spanish speakers were worse at the line exercise when they didn’t receive any prompts.

“We’re guessing that it’s an experiential bias related to the fact that when we move through space, the longer the distance we move, the longer it takes,” said Bylund. “Even babies who don’t yet master language seem to have an association between physical length and temporal length. It might be something innate and it might be something that we acquire as experience as we move through space.”


In other words, we may be inherently predisposed to think that longer lengths mean longer periods of time. And Spanish speakers may only overcome that misconception when their language prompts them to think of time in a different fashion. Those results suggest that under the right conditions, language can carry more weight than our physical experiences.

“You know, the question of whether the language we speak influences the way we think, people have tended to approach that question in a very binary way, and our results really show that you cannot say language either influences thought or it doesn’t. Under certain circumstances it does,” said Bylund.

There’s an expression, allegedly Polish in origin, that says if you learn a new language you gain a new soul. Bylund, who speaks three languages, does not go so far. He does note, however, “If you speak two languages, then you can sort of inhabit two world views at the same time, and you can flexibly switch between them. As a bilingual speaker, you can have two different time perceptions. That’s fascinating.”



Bilingual children do find it easier to pick up other languages

It is often claimed that bilinguals are better than monolinguals at learning languages. Now, this hypothesis has found support in a new study of brain activity, conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center and published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

“The difference is readily seen in language learners’ brain patterns. When learning a new language, bilinguals rely more than monolinguals on the brain processes that people naturally use for their native language,” says the study’s senior researcher, Michael T. Ullman, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown.
“We also find that bilinguals appear to learn the new language more quickly than monolinguals,” says lead author Sarah Grey, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of modern languages and literatures at Fordham University. Grey worked with Ullman and co-author Cristina Sanz, PhD, on this study for her PhD research at Georgetown. Sanz is a professor of applied linguistics at Georgetown.
The 13 bilingual college students enrolled in this study grew up in the U.S. with Mandarin-speaking parents, and learned both English and Mandarin at an early age. The matched comparison group consisted of 16 monolingual college students, who spoke only English fluently.
The researchers studied Mandarin-English bilinguals because both of these languages differ structurally from the new language being learned. The new language was a well-studied artificial version of a Romance language, Brocanto2, that participants learned to both speak and understand. Using an artificial language allowed the researchers to completely control the learners’ exposure to the language.
The two groups were trained on Brocanto2 over the course of about a week. At both earlier and later points of training, learners’ brain patterns were examined with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes on their scalps, while they listened to Brocanto2 sentences. This captures the natural brain-wave activity as the brain processes language.
They found clear bilingual/monolingual differences. By the end of the first day of training, the bilingual brains, but not the monolingual brains, showed a specific brain-wave pattern, termed the P600. P600s are commonly found when native speakers process their language. In contrast, the monolinguals only began to exhibit P600 effects much later during learning — by the last day of training. Moreover, on the last day, the monolinguals showed an additional brain-wave pattern not usually found in native speakers of languages.

“There has been a lot of debate about the value of early bilingual language education,” says Grey. “Now, with this small study, we have novel brain-based data that points towards a distinct language-learning benefit for people who grow up bilingual.”

This post first appeared online at on November 6, 2017.

The other study co-author is psycholinguist Kara Morgan-Short, PhD, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, who also conducted her graduate work with Sanz and Ullman.
This research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant (NSF-BCS 1124144).




According to Tomlinson (2013:12-15), ‘it is generally accepted that [Second Language Acquisition] is facilitated by:

  • a rich and meaningful exposure to language in use
  • affective and cognitive engagement
  • making use of mental resources typically used in L1 communication
  • noticing how the L2 is used
  • giving opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication in the L2
  • being encouraged to interact
  • being allowed to focus on meaning’

Plus, Tomlinson cites research that suggests language learning is facilitated by motivation, having individual needs catered for, making use of non-linguistic communication and being relaxed (among other things).

Taking the above points as a basis, Tomlinson analysed various popular ELT coursebooks to see whether their contents included principled activities based on accepted SLA research findings. He gave each book a score out of 5 for categories related to the list above. From reading a chunk of Tomlinson’s work I’d say he’s a harsh marker, but there are some really interesting patterns. Including…

  • low scores for affective engagement – Tomlinson suggests materials may be bland, neutral or perhaps learners rarely need to share an emotional response in activities
  • mixed scores for ‘Noticing’ activities – none of the coursebooks score more than 3 out of 5 in this area.
  • all six books scored ZERO for both making use of non-linguistic forms of communication and utilizing mental resources
  • low scores for focus on meaning – none of the coursebooks scored more than 2 out of 5 in this category.


Further general observations on these coursebooks included:

  • they were mostly form-focused
  • they lacked tasks involving creativity and encouraging students to think for themselves
  • reading texts were too short and simple
  • few tasks encouraged extended speaking or writing
  • a focus on practice rather than use, and few tasks recycling language

Tomlinson’s research is a pretty damning critique of these global coursebooks. He suggests that teachers make use of materials based on pedagogical approaches which are underpinned by SLA theory, notably task-based materials or text-driven materials. I’ve written about Tomlinson’s text-driven approach here.

I do really like Tomlinson’s research and his reasons for it, but I think it’s flawed in some ways. Here are some examples…

  1. Some of Tomlinson’s assumptions about SLA are debatable

Take noticing for example. Tomlinson writes…

‘most applied linguists would accept that noticing linguistic features in the input is an important facilitator in language acquisition. The more a learner pays willing attention (either deliberately and consciously or incidentally and subconsciously) to a feature of the language the more the brain is likely to notice that feature as salient in subsequent input and the readier the learner will be for acquisition’

Then later, in a section titled ‘what we would like to know about SLA theory’, he writes about…

‘…the often heated debate as to whether we acquire L2 best through implicit mental processes or from paying explicit and conscious attention to the language we are learning’

This is not contradictory, it just hints that the most effective way of noticing is still debated – should it be incidental or ‘is conscious effort necessary?’ (Schmidt 1990) With this in mind, did Tomlinson distinguish between types of noticing tasks in his coursebook analysis? He assumes that having any noticing tasks in a coursebook is better than having none. This is principled in some ways given that noticing is considered an important part of intake, but what if a coursebook includes a load of noticing tasks that are less effective compared to others? Wait, researchers disagree on which noticing techniques are most effective! Aarrgh!

  1. Was Tomlinson’s approach comprehensive?

I feel it’s really important to know whether Tomlinson analysed things like the teacher notes as well as the coursebooks. He doesn’t state this, he just writes that he analysed ‘six intermediate level coursebooks’. Did he only analyse activities in the coursebooks themselves? If so, how many noticing tasks (for example) may have been mentioned in teachers procedural notes?

It’s too easy to make assumptions about coursebooks if you don’t consider the materials as a whole. I criticised a coursebook I was using last year (Beyond A2+) for many reasons Tomlinson mentioned – the focus on form, poor comprehension tasks, lack of extended writing activities, etc. Some of that criticism was unjust once I realised what was available via online resources and teacher notes accompanying the book.

  1. Other approaches and SLA theory

When Tomlinson mentions ‘other pedagogic approaches which do apply SLA theory to their practice’, he includes task-based materials. I love task-based methodology, but even its proponents concede that it’s not entirely based SLA research:

‘… it would be a mistake to look to SLA for a definitive account of the role that tasks should play in language pedagogy if only because there is, as yet, no agreed theory of how an L2 is acquired’ (Ellis, in Harwood 2010:52)

The value of Tomlinson’s research

I think Tomlinson just has a preference for different approaches – doesn’t every teacher?! His preference seems to skew his research a bit here, but his attempt at a principled analysis of various ELT materials serves a useful model. It may also be a useful tool for informing practice.

It could be valuable to do Tomlinson’s analysis for a particular coursebook unit (including all supporting materials). I can’t see this being really time consuming. Rather than treating the results as a critique of the unit, just use them to tell you what holes need plugging. If there aren’t enough noticing tasks, include some. Not enough cognitive challenge, make some.

This is the type of thing we do in our planning all the time. Tomlinson’s categories just make sure that there are principles underpinning the planning – one’s which relate directly to SLA research. Hang on, didn’t I just suggest some of the criteria were debatable?! Hmmm…


Harwood, N [ed]. (2010). English Language Teaching Materials. Cambridge: CUP

Schmidt, R. W. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied linguistics, 11(2), 129-158.

Tomlinson, B [ed]. (2013). Applied Linguistics and Materials Development. London: Bloomsbury

This post first appeared at on June 7th, 2017.

Five tips for agents looking to expand into the UK


“Make sure that you deliver on your promise. Reputation can be your best asset, or your Achilles heel”

The British Council recognises the usefulness of education agents and consultants, and as well as compiling a database of trustworthy agents for students’ use, it trains agents on best practice and how to operate in the UK. A new tool is now running online to guide professionals through the UK education landscape. 

The Study UK: a Guide for Education Agents, Advisors and Counsellors MOOC, currently open for registration, is free and designed for people interested in starting out in the sector or consolidating their current skills.

Helen Obaje has worked with the British Council for ten years and specialises in the training of agents in the international education sector. She is the designer of a new online course for agents, advisors and counsellors launched by the British Council.

Here are Helen’s top five tips for agents thinking of expanding their business in the UK: 

1.         Keep up to date

Education is not static, nor is it consistent across the UK with different education systems in the country’s different nations. The best agents are those who are consistently in touch with the changes within the areas they operate.

There are a variety of resources from different bodies that can help you keep on top of new regulations and new products: the UK Council for International Student Affairs, StudyUK:Discover You and visa and immigration information from UKVI are among them.

Be sure to stay on top of changes within the institutions that you represent, don’t just assume that because they are your client that you know them inside out. Take advantage of all the support and training that UK institutions provide and keep an eye out for fam trips. These are a great opportunity to get information on the ground so take advantage whenever possible.

2.         Relationships

So much of this job relies on relationships: the ones you have with students, their families and institutions. You need to think long term about what is it that you can do to help build and develop your relationship with the institution you are working with. 

Think about how regularly you keep in touch with people and by what means. There is no replacing quality face to face time, but equally you cannot be everywhere at once, so a balance needs to be struck.

3.         Do you fit?

We are all clear on the importance of matching the student to the right institution and course, but this also applies to agencies. Why should an institution work with you and what do you bring to the table? You need to be able to help the institution meet its goals and ensure that students are happy and successful. A large part of this involves making sure that you and what you offer are properly suited to the organisations with which you are working. Losing track of this is of no benefit to you or your clients. 

4.         Reputation

Make sure that you deliver on what you promise. Your reputation can be your best asset or your Achilles heel. Word gets around the industry swiftly and it is far easier and quicker to lose a good reputation than to rebuild one. Make sure you stay realistic in what you can achieve and never feel pressured into making plans or promising figures that may seem impressive but will never be reached.

5.         Believe in the UK

It is the home of the English language with a reputation for academic excellence and cultural diversity, but don’t just take our word for it. Students are the proof of the quality of a UK education. UUK International reports that satisfaction rates in their 2015/2016 cohort were 91 per cent for undergrads and 90 per cent for postgrads. This is higher than the satisfaction ratings for the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as major European countries.

And on top of the quality of education there are plenty of other factors drawing people to study here such as the culture, society history and infrastructure.

This article first appeared on The PIE Blog on December 15th, 2017.

Pronunciation in coursebooks

In this blog post, Jonathan Marks explores the writing of materials designed to teach pronunciation.


Coursebooks are a powerful influence on teachers’ professional awareness and practice – even, perhaps, for a lot of teachers, the most powerful agent of teacher training. Faced with the day-to-day demands of their work, teachers understandably tend to rely on a coursebook as a short-cut to making decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. Recent years have seen an upsurge in the publishing of supplementary materials for pronunciation work, but as far as coursebooks are concerned there’s still a long way to go.

A paradox of the communicative approach propagated from the late 1970s onwards is that in downplaying the importance of ‘accuracy’ in general (as opposed to ‘fluency’), it somehow overlooked the fact that pronunciation is an immediate barrier to communication unless it’s characterised by a certain degree of accuracy. Accuracy is defined in terms of conformity to some recognised, or at least recognisable, system – ‘recognised’ in the sense of standard, codified, widely-circulated, and ‘recognisable’ in the sense that listeners can tune in and perceive systematicity even if the details of the system are initially unfamiliar.

For example, the teacher’s book for Studying Strategies (1982), the upper-intermediate level of the trail-blazing Strategies series, has only this to say about pronunciation: ‘Obviously, the recorded models provided on the accompanying cassette are invaluable for developing accuracy in stress and pronunciation.’ Similarly, the teacher’s book for Meanings into Words Intermediate (1983) states: ‘The course does not contain any formal teaching of pronunciation or intonation. However, students are given plenty of exposure to spoken English in the form of listening comprehension passages, listening models, recorded examples and the drills.’ It continues: ‘It is assumed that teachers can deal with any particular pronunciation and intonation problems as they arise.’ Such faith in teachers’ abilities was, and is, certainly misplaced.

Do present-day coursebooks do better when it comes to dealing with pronunciation? Well, yes, to some extent, but they could still do a lot better.
During a lesson, a need for a particular focus on pronunciation can arise in three ways:

  1. It can emerge from the ongoing classroom discourse. Example A: A geographical name (Kiev, Haiti, Tehran ….) has turned up in the day’s news, and the class want to know how to pronounce it in English.Example B: In a discussion activity, the words ‘honest’ and ‘honesty’ become important and used repeatedly, and the learners consistently pronounce them with an initial /h/, so the teacher decides to intervene and establish an /h/-less pronunciation.Example A is unpredictable, so teaching materials can’t make any specific provision for it. Example B might be predictable to some extent, and the words ‘honest’ and ‘honesty’ might have been previously introduced and practised, but they might also emerge unexpectedly.
  2. It can be prompted by a persistent difficulty the learners are having during a course with a broader aspect of pronunciation, such as linking words together, contrastive stress, long sequences of unstressed syllables at the end of a tone unit, consonant clusters or the distinction between /p/ and /b/. Some teachers will be able to produce their own practice activities to work on the problem; others will want to search through printed and online pronunciation resources to find something suitable.
  3. It can be directly related to a language point which is being introduced or practised. Here are a few examples:
  • weak forms of ‘as’ and ‘than’ in comparatives;
  • differing stress in members of a word family (e.g. PHOto, phoTOgrapher, photoGRAphic)
  • stress shift (e.g. THIRteen PEOple vs. NUMber thirTEEN, AMnesty interNAtional vs. INternational reLAtions);
  • differing intonation structure in defining and non-defining relative clauses;
  • a fall-rise for backgrounding or given information followed by a fall for new or highlighted information in conditionals, in past continuous + past simple structures, etc.; and
  • stress and intonation of idioms (some idioms, e.g. ‘You must be joking!’ or ‘He’s got a chip on his shoulder’, have characteristic patterns without which they don’t quite ‘work’).

Ideally, such pronunciation aspects as the ones listed under category 3 above should be included as an integral part of the presentation of language points in coursebooks. And to some extent they are, but I think there’s still a lot more scope for coursebooks to offer learners guidance in how to pronounce new language.


When I observe language-focus lessons I often see teachers including a ‘pronunciation stage’, which generally includes some analysis, modelling and drilling, and which is useful to some extent, but which often tends to suffer from some or all of the following drawbacks:

  • It comes too late in the lesson and is dissociated from the initial introduction of the language point.
  • It gets curtailed (or even omitted completely!) owing to lack of time.
  • It’s done rather half-heartedly, the learners don’t really get sufficient opportunity to practise and improve, and the teacher isn’t sufficiently demanding or critical of their efforts.
  • The teacher doesn’t really have any methodology for helping the learners to improve beyond listen and repeat, and repeat again, and again …
  • The information and models given by teachers aren’t always entirely accurate.
  • It contradicts what’s already been done in the lesson, and the learners think, perhaps, ‘We’ve been saying these sentences for quarter of an hour, and now we’re suddenly supposed to say them with contractions, or weak forms, or linking …’

If coursebooks were more consistent in integrating pronunciation into other work, perhaps teachers would be less willing to be satisfied if learners can merely produce the right words in the right order, and perhaps they would have higher expectations of the quality of learners’ pronunciation.

And perhaps learners would feel an enhanced sense of confidence in their spoken English.

Jonathan Marks is a teacher trainer, translator and writer based in Poland. He has also worked in the UK, Germany and Sweden. His publications include Inside Teaching (Macmillan), English Pronunciation in Use Elementary (CUP) and The Book of Pronunciation (Delta Publishing). He has also contributed to coursebooks, monolingual and bilingual dictionaries and online teacher training courses.

This article first appeared at on November 28th 2017.

Where do you draw the line? – Defining correct language usage


It’s impossible to deny that English is now often used as the lingua franca in the worlds of business, trade, tourism and education. And if we are teaching students who aren’t learning English in order to assimilate into an English-speaking country, it’s easy to accept that we ought to prioritise intelligibility and the ability to get meaning across successfully rather than to spend too much time on how one can make a good impression on a native speaker of English. Those who are accustomed to teaching Business English might even question the relevance of the explicit focus on English culture in some General English coursebooks.

However, what do these claims about prioritising intelligibility really mean? How are teachers going about doing this? As one teacher once said, “We’ve still got to teach them something!”

So, what do we teach the learners?


When we begin to examine the list of language items commonly used in ELF communities that do not impede intelligibility, here is where we start to ruffle a few feathers.

Here are some examples of innovative lexicogrammatical usage that have been found to not impede intelligibility (See Seidlhofer, 2004 and Cogo and Dewey, 2012 for further reading).

Do you consider these errors?
How do you deal with them in your classroom? Can you let them go? Or do you flag them up for correction (on-the-spot or delayed) whenever you hear students using them?

1. Use of 3rd person singular zero
e.g. She live in Milan; He deal with foreign investments; It catch my attention.

2. Confusing relative pronouns
e.g. The manager which he works for is extremely bossy; I do everything which I want.

3. Omission of prepositions & shifts in preposition use
e.g. I listen the news every morning; It depends the time; We discussed about the budget; He has to handle the problem and then contact with the client.

4. Innovative usage of articles
e.g. The happiness is the most important thing; He is accountant and is in same department as me.

5. Overusing de-lexicalised verbs e.g. ‘do’, ‘make’, ‘take’, etc.
e.g. He do the organization of the conference very well; She really do a big effort everytime; I’m going to take a coffee in the café; She took an interview but didn’t get the job.

6. Increased explicitness
e.g. How long time do you need to find the blue colour folder?

Are you shifting uncomfortably in your seat yet? Are your feathers ruffled?
Where should we draw the line between what is correct and what is incorrect?
How far can we go before we step in to say “That’s just wrong!”?

Have a look at the following sentences. If you can, have a colleague or friend do this exercise with you. Which would you say are correct and acceptable sentences?


1. She is working less hours this month.

2. Who were you speaking to?

3. I have to quickly finish this job.

4. Come and look at this film with me.

5. He’s been working there since two years.

6. The data is all wrong.

7. $3.6 billion of taxpayer money was poured into finishing the World Cup stadiums in Brazil.

8. The company is liable to make a profit of $5million this year.

9. I was sat there having my dinner when the news came on.

10. He should of listened to my advice in the first place. 

By now, you might have realized that the above ten sentences are spoken/written by so-called native speakers of English.

How many of the ten sentences did you find uncomfortable accepting? Did your colleague or friend share the same sentiments as you did?

(See below for explanations as to why these ten sentences might be considered wrong by some)


It is more than likely that your friend/colleague was more tolerant of some ‘deviations’ than you were while you were probably more accepting of some than they were. But what does our different levels of tolerance say about us?

Should we embrace a more liberal attitude towards the changes and shifts that occur in language, or are we ‘letting standards slip’?

Should grammar pedants be proud of upholding a strict (but prescriptive) standard or should we accept the fact that a language is what a society/community makes of it.

Perhaps the ‘grammar pedants’ and ‘the liberals’ symbolize two ends of a continuum on which we find ourselves plotted along. And our position on this continuum will keep on shifting as language changes and what was once deemed unacceptable becomes part of our everyday language. After all, there was a time when ‘to edit’ was considered an unacceptable verbalisation of the noun ‘edition’, and yet, no one bats an eyelid to the use of that verb today.


Perhaps understanding this is key to helping us accept the inevitable changes there are in language use and in ELF use, and this would enable us to better prioritise our classroom time so as to focus on helping our students become better communicators.

Why some might take issue with those ten sentences

1. Few/fewer is used for countable nouns while little/less is used for uncountable nouns. ‘Hours’ is countable and so the sentence should read ‘She is working fewer hours this month’.

2. The dangling/hanging preposition ‘to’ at the end of the sentence might disturb some grammar pedants, who might insist that the correct sentence should read, “To whom were you speaking?”

3. The split infinitive is often cited as a grammar mistake by those who pride themselves at being purists. This however has been slated for being a residue of Latin rules permeating the English language.

4. ‘Watch’ is often used for moving objects while ‘look at’ is often used for still objects. However, in some English varieties, e.g. Irish English, ‘look at a TV programme’ and ‘look at a film’ is considered acceptable usage.

5. ‘Since + a definite point in time’ e.g. since the 8th August
‘For + a period of time’ e.g. for two weeks

The above is the commonly taught rule in English coursebooks. However, in some parts of Scotland, ‘since + a period of time’ is common usage.

6. Strictly speaking, ‘data’ is the plural of ‘datum’ and so the sentence should read ‘The data are all wrong’.

7. The plural of ‘stadium’ should be ‘stadia’, and the plural of ‘syllabus’ should be ‘syllabi’. But these days, ‘stadiums’ and ‘syllabuses’ have become accepted plurals.

8. The modern use of ‘liable to’ to mean ‘likely to’ seems to irritate some people.

9. The passive structure ‘I was sat’ seems to suggest that someone else has put you in that seat. However, these days, ‘I was sat there’ is often used interchangeably with ‘I was sitting there’, much to the annoyance of some.

10. The construction is ‘should + have + past participle’ but somewhere along the way, the ‘schwa’ used in the pronunciation of ‘have’ started being misunderstood for being ‘of’. I must admit herein lies my limit and this is where I draw the line…



Cogo, A. and Dewey, M. (2012) Analysing English as a Lingua Franca : a Corpus-driven investigation. London: Continuum.
Seidlhofer, B. (2004) Research perspectives on teaching English as a lingua france. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, (24), pp 209-39.

This article first appeared in English Teaching Professional in 2014 and was written by Chia Suan Chong.

Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.


Student services: a one-stop shop but not one size fits all


“Increasingly we are faced with students whose emotional needs are complex. Working in isolation is not a healthy option; collaboration is hugely beneficial both for the student and the college”

In recent times, schools, colleges, and universities have had to accept and adapt to the demands of an increasingly consumer-driven education market, writes Mary Memarzia, director of student services at Bellerbys College. They are embracing, albeit at times uncomfortably, the language of the commercial world.

However, the benefit of this shift has been a renewed focus on the whole student experience.

Creating and sustaining an effective interplay between academic provision and pastoral care lies at the heart of the matter; an effective student service provision is key to a truly student-centred institution. In the business of education, the students’ needs must come first.

A tall order

The responsibility of student services is to identify what those individual needs are and to put in place practical and relevant support. We can only do this if we make sure that the services provided are inclusive, equitable and tailor-made. The challenge is to have close oversight of the individual, whilst also keeping an eye on the context of international education. All members of the team have a vital part to play.

This year the spotlight has fallen particularly on the work of the visa compliance officers, whose knowledge of new regulations needs to be robust, so they can explain and apply them in the most complex of cases.

There is no doubt that the education landscape which international students have to navigate is both unfamiliar and challenging: from the increasingly rigorous visa process, to the practicalities of settling into new accommodation and building a new social circle.

On top of this, differences in course content, assessment methods and teaching styles, as well as language and comprehension, can hold up progress. Alongside high-quality resources for learning and expert teaching, student services provision must be responsive to both individual needs and the ever-changing pressures placed upon young people.

Collaborative working

Student services needs to be clearly signposted as the all-hours one-stop shop for students to pick up relevant information, accessible advice and practical help. The footfall through the student services office can be heavy, so the question is: how to meet and sustain this demand on our services?action-2277292_640

Beyond an accessible and responsive provision, we need to hook up the work of our student services to the wider network of local and national support services. In this way our provision is robust.

Increasingly we are faced with students whose emotional needs are complex. Working in isolation is not a healthy option; collaboration is hugely beneficial both for the student and the college.

Partnerships ensure that students can access specialist services when they need them and they are more likely to engage with those services if the access to them is readily available. It is reassuring for staff to know that we can draw on this support when we feel our own expertise may fall short. When referring, we should not be seen to be turning our customers away, rather directing them onwards.

Looking ahead

In thinking about how to meet the diverse needs of the international student community we need to listen closely to the voices in that community. By engaging students in the conversation and planning, we can ensure that our service is enhanced by the fresh ideas that students bring from their different cultural backgrounds. A service that is adaptive and relevant to changing customer needs is likely to be well-used and appreciated.

Students who feel effectively supported are more likely to reach their goals and have the reserves of time and energy to give back to the community. Students who leave feeling well-served, both academically and personally, will not only look back on their days with us as time well spent but are also more likely to make further investment in education in future

This article first appeared in on November 3rd 2017 


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