Tag Archives: language learning

Challenges of teaching English as a foreign language


Welcome to the second blog in our native English series. We’ve been exploring the value in learning English from a native speaker, and how using a native English translator can really affect the quality of your translation. In this edition, we’ll explore the aspects of teaching English as a foreign language that our colleagues found challenging.



English is a notoriously tricky language to pick up, mainly because we have a fair few rules (all with exceptions, of course), oddities and a lot of idiomatic phrases that aren’t used anywhere else.


Idiomatic language


The first hurdles were vocabulary and turns-of-phrase. Idiomatic language plays a huge part in demonstrating the depth of knowledge of a language, but it can be a very tricky thing to learn, as well as teach, as the concepts are often so deeply embedded in culture. A perfect example was, “trying to explain why a task will be ‘a piece of cake’ to a Polish student who doesn’t quite find it ‘a roll with butter’, as they’d say at home!” Although challenging, one of our colleagues found this aspect really rewarding – if a student can use idiomatic language appropriately and confidently, it shows a real command of that language, and helps them understand some of the culture surrounding it.




As English is generally considered to be the international ‘lingua franca’, a lot of our colleagues found themselves teaching students who had been learning and using English for many years already. Sometimes, this meant that the teachers had to undo years of bad habits and try to retrain the students to think about their use of grammar and ‘faux amis’ (or false friends, that is to say a word or expression that has a similar form to one in a person’s native language, but a different meaning). More often than not, bad habits evolve from using English vocabulary in the same grammatical construction as the speaker’s native language. For example, many French speakers will say ‘I have 30 years’, in an attempt to tell someone their age. In English, we use the verb ‘to be’ when discussing someone’s age, so a speaker would say ‘I am 30 years old’, but the French phrase ‘j’ai 30 ans’ uses the verb ‘avoir’ (to have).



One of the most confusing aspects of English is the large difference in meaning between seemingly similar words. One of our colleagues had a very difficult time trying to explain the difference between ‘close’ by (position) and ‘close’ (to shut) to their group of Spanish students – they really struggled to hear and replicate the difference between the s’s. More examples of heteronyms are ‘bow’ (tied with a ribbon) and the ‘bow’ of a ship, or ‘lead’ (for a dog) and ‘lead’ (metal element).




Another interesting hurdle we came across as teachers was tone. When one STB colleague was tasked with teaching English for a business setting, it became apparent that terminology wasn’t going to be the main issue – the students were struggling with “the British way of dealing with things”. By this, we mean lots of apologies, the ‘customer is always right’ attitude, and overly polite expressions that seem to dictate the way we communicate in a professional environment. Other cultures are much more direct, usually arguing why and wanting to explain, leaving no room for ambiguity or mistake. When communicating with a British client, however, the students were taught that they would be expected to explain why, but also offer a solution and most importantly, empathy and understanding. 


Next week will see our final instalment in this blog series – come back to find out the lessons we brought back with us and any advice we’d give to those in the industry. Please contact us at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or on +44 (0)1252 730014 for more information on the services we offer.


Written by Jessica Truelsen

Fun of teaching English as a foreign language


At Surrey Translation Bureau, we’re very proud to be able to provide translations into English by UK-based, native UK English speakers. To highlight the importance of these two criteria, we’d like to share some of our own experiences with English as a foreign language.


Between our staff members, we have over 7 years’ experience teaching English as a foreign language in countries outside of the UK. Some did this through university or alongside studies or other work, and some started on their own, using their knowledge of their native languages to help others. It’s often said that teaching is one of the best ways to learn, and I think it’s safe to say that we all came back having learnt a few lessons of our own.


This is the start of what will be a three-blog series on our collective experience, illustrating the nuances of the English language and the importance of translating into your mother tongue.


Our Translation Project Management Team Leader, Katie Magill, pictured with her students in Sydney, Australia


To begin with, we have the fun stuff. The stories that still make us laugh today when we tell them to our friends and colleagues, and the aspects of teaching English that we enjoyed the most.




Location was definitely one of the most popular perks of the job. All of our collective experience happened outside of the UK, which was lovely, but also ranged from private tuition in Bologna’s finest coffee shops, to teaching vocabulary in a mechanic’s workshop! Learning a language really can happen anywhere and at any time. The more varied the better, as this brings up situations that wouldn’t necessarily occur to teachers in a classroom setting. It was also ideal for the teachers to see first-hand how the students could and would use their English skills.




A second perk of the job was seeing the improvements in students’ abilities. One of our STB colleagues worked with business people and academics to improve their workplace English, to help them with writing emails, using professional greetings and speaking in a meeting environment. Another colleague gave private tuition to students who already had a basic grasp of the language, but had picked up some bad habits along the way. Much to the teachers’ delight, the students came on leaps and bounds in only a few lessons, as they were able to imitate the way in which STB colleagues would naturally construct a sentence, without being affected by outside influences.




Another aspect of teaching English that brought a smile to our faces was the creativity involved. Some of our team used wacky ideas to engage their students and encourage them to use English in a way that felt different to their own native language. One STB project manager focussed on teaching phrases for selling and persuasion, so the class set out pretending to be from different planets and had been sent into space to convince other ‘aliens’ to move to their planet. Other colleagues wanted to give their students a look into pop culture and language, so one class of Spanish teens learnt the words to ABBA’s hit ‘Dancing Queen’ and choreographed a full routine! Nothing says fun like a 70s’ throwback. A group of French boys were also given a gap-fill exercise, that included listening to the best of Arctic Monkeys, the Beatles and good ol’ Wizzard (Christmas edition).


Come back again next week for our second instalment, and find out how we navigated our way through some of the trickier elements of teaching!


Please contact us at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or on +44 (0)1252 730014 for more information on the services we offer.


Written by Jessica Truelsen

A-level results and Brexit: Au revoir to French, but hola to everyone


Yesterday’s A-level results showed that Spanish has overtaken French as the most popular language studied at A-level for the first time, while the number of students taking German and French has fallen by 41 and 36 percent respectively. With Brexit looming in two months’ time, there are question marks over the UK and its future relationship with the EU, with many believing that European languages will become less valuable after 31 October. However, the British Academy warns that decreasing numbers in modern languages could harm the chances of the UK “achieving its strategic goals”, a view that all passionate linguists will agree with, particularly those working for a professional translation agency like Surrey Translation Bureau.




Boris Johnson’s statement earlier this week that “the single biggest deal we need to do is a free trade agreement with our friends and partners over the Channel” shows that the need for professional linguists will not suddenly disappear on 1 November – there will be a period of readjustment, no doubt involving contributions from both translators and interpreters, which will certainly maintain the need for proficient speakers of European languages at least in the short term. Depending on the results of these discussions, this need may even increase.


If, on the other hand, the UK’s ties with its European partners become less relevant in the future, it will need to increase international trade with other non-EU countries. If these countries are in South America or Africa, for example, proficient users of Spanish, Portuguese and French will be required. With this year’s A-level performance and the continued reduction in the overall number of students studying languages, one positive aspect is the increased number of job opportunities, both in the UK and abroad, for the few who do.


Equally, Brexit may create a demand for non-EU language combinations. According to fft education datalab, entries in other modern languages (which includes Italian, Russian and Chinese, among others) have overtaken entries for French, German and Spanish since 2016 – an exciting prospect for linguistic diversity among language enthusiasts.


A'level entries in French, German and Spanish


Even during the first week of my internship at Surrey Translation Bureau, I was surprised and delighted to discover the vast range of language pairs required by their clients for modern international trade from English to German to the more unusual request for English to Brazilian Portuguese.


Learning languages is hard as it requires perseverance and commitment, but doesn’t that make it more rewarding? At any level of study, a language will open up new worlds to you, for both personal enjoyment and for business. The current uncertainty surrounding Brexit means that no one can say which languages will be most sought-after for business in the future, but one thing is certain: in the multicultural professional world and our diverse modern society, learning a language will never be a waste of time.


If you are interested in internship opportunities with Surrey Translation Bureau, please send your CV and a cover letter of what you would hope to gain from the experience to our intern coordinator, Amey Higgon, at A.Higgon@surreytranslation.co.uk.


Written by Natasha Craig (Intern at Surrey Translation Bureau)