I’m often baffled as to why almost everybody in the world speaks English – but why they generally tend to speak it so badly. (see my post specifically about Germans speaking English on

So rather than be Outraged of Tunbridge Wells (actually:  If you don’t know this expression – look it up, see how it’s used and try including it in sentences), I decided to do something about it – hence this post.

Of course it matters where you’re coming from, i.e.the specifics of your mother tongue. If you’re Chinese you will find pronunciation a problem, if you’re Italian it might be the tenses and so on. Still, I think everybody will/might/should benefit from my rather simple but effective language tips.  I assume that you will be relatively proficient already – I won’t be teaching any grammar etc.I just want to give you that last little kick to really make you sound more fluent, and less foreign.

1. “NO!”

It may sound odd, but if you really want to sound English, start eliminating “Yes” and “No” from your vocabulary. Any question you get asked – reply in a different way. (You can always come back to yes and no later, when you feel you’ve got the hang of replying in a more “English” sort of way.) Here are some examples where you first reply in the affirmative, then in the ngative – without using Yes or No.


Q: “Would you like another cup of tea?”  – A: “Oh, I’d love one, thanks very much!”/ “I’m fine, thank you so much”

Q: “Have you been to the supermarket?” – A: Absolutely! Got up really early, and got it all done./”Oh dear, totally forgot, sor-ry!”

Q: “Can I borrow your jumper?” – “Course you can! It’s on the chair/ Sorry, jumper’s dirty, needs washing”

In German for example, it would be absolutely in order to answer simply “Ja” oder “Ja bitte” to those questions. In English, it IS of course possible to reply “yes please” when asked say, the 1st question, but then it very much depends on whether you get the tone right. So, for the First Proficiency Lesson, I suggest you do without yes and no altogether. If you come from a yes/no language this is quite tricky, as your first instinct will always be to reply with a resounding YES, but believe me – it sounds rather weird in English.

See if you can find appropriate replies to the following questions  – avoiding yes and no altogether:

– Would you like to sit next to the hostess?

– Have you got a ticket?

– Can I help you?

I intend to write this as a series of 10 occasional  posts.

If you’d like to co-operate you’re more than welcome!






copyright Margit Appleton 2012



I have to labour a point here (and probably in one of the next Proficiency Lessons, too) : Idioms are what makes English sound English. I may sound like your old English teacher here, but a) he probably didn’t know any and b) he didn’t emphasize enough just how important they are. You will always sound like a foreigner if you don’t use them.

Quite a fun first idiom exercise is to see (and learn!) how many English idioms are taken from the world of sports.

 So let’s start the ball rolling, shall we? Talking of balls (polite laughter in the background) – you have to be on the ball to win in this idioms game. But don’t worry, you’ll soon be able to blow the competition away with a few choice phrases. In English, you can simply let rip, and not fear you’re overegging the pudding.You’ll win hands down if you manage to learn, say 10 idioms per day and get your ducks in a row. Just don’t throw in the towel but stick at it! If you can’t start today, take a raincheck. Just don’t throw in the towel!

Well, okay that was laying it on a bit. (Sorry, can’t stop!) But you get my drift (…:) – sporting idioms are everywhere. So get down to it!

But my actual aim was to point out some specific cricket idioms. You don’t have to be able to understand cricket as such  (very few foreigners do) but you’d be well advised to familiarize yourself with some cricket expressions, as they tend to crop up a lot in everyday speech – e. g.:

I was completely bowled over

– That topic is a bit of a sticky wicket

– I was hit for six, really stumped – didn’t know what to say.

Try and find more cricket/sports idioms and actively use them! But don’t limit yourself to the cricket/sporting side of idioms – there are literally millions of others.

So – I’m sorry to say, that’s not close of play yet when it comes to idioms – more to come!