Shortcuts

When thinking about phrasal verbs and idioms it occurred to me that they are just like shortcuts on a computer. Shortcuts are things like:

• Ctrl+C (Copy)
• Ctrl+X (Delete selected item and save a copy to the clipboard)
• Ctrl+V (Paste)
• Ctrl+Z (Undo)

Obviously, when you start learning how to use a computer, you don’t immediately start learning shortcuts. You learn the long version first and when you have reached a particular level of expertise you can then start learning and using shortcuts. People who are very proficient on computers use shortcuts all the time. People who have an elementary level of knowledge usually don’t.

The reason shortcuts exist is that there are certain things which we do over and over again. For example the copy and paste function is one you perform many times daily if you regularly use Word on a computer. Because of the frequency with which we perform the action, it can be tiresome repeating the same actions over and over again, hence the shortcut.
It’s exactly the same in language. There are thousands of ideas which we regularly express to each other. These are specific ideas which may convey a feeling that we have in a particular situation at a particular time. The nuances of the idea may be really subtle and therefore to express it properly might take a lot of words. That’s where the shortcut comes in. Here are some examples of the long version and the shortcut expressing the same thing.

Everybody worked together and therefore saved time and effort – shortcut – We all pitched in

He spoke for a long time about his car. It was really boring! – shortcut – He went on and on about his car

I don’t know where it came from. It might have been stolen – shortcut – It fell off the back of a lorry

From the A1 to the B1+ levels we don’t learn too many phrasal verbs and idioms. It’s really at B2 that this side of the language comes into the spotlight for the learner who then begins to use language in a more metaphorical way. This is a very exciting time for the learner because this is when they feel that they are speaking and listening ‘like native speakers’.

Native speakers of course love and use this type of language all the time. Instead of saying I was very ‘excited and nervous’ before my speech, I was ‘keyed-up’. Instead of saying ‘it is very isolated and nobody goes there’ say ‘it’s off the beaten track’. These little phrases are shortcuts. They are a means of saying a lot with little language. And that is a thing of beauty.

Learners who get good at these shortcuts sound very natural when they speak. They also find it easy to understand native speakers as the language is common and familiar. However, it’s not easy to get there. There are many phrasal verbs and the lists of idioms are long indeed. But it is possible. Here are some more examples of shortcuts:
I said something stupid socially – I put my foot in it.

I managed not to laugh when I really wanted to – I kept a straight face

I am very busy at the moment and probably have to refuse your offer – I have a lot on my plate.

In Englishour, this form of language plays a large part of our syllabus. It’s fun to learn and it’s fun to teach. So in future, when faced with a phrasal verb or an idiom, don’t think of it as ‘hard language to understand’. Just think of it as a shortcut – an easy path to expressing an idea.

Sounding natural in English

Natural English in Englishour

First of all, what is idiomatic English and how does it differ from ‘normal’ English?
Idiomatic language is language which sounds completely natural and with a particular style. Also, idiomatic language often doesn’t translate directly from other languages. For this reason, learners of English often find idiomatic language more difficult as it doesn’t directly relate to their own language. For example, idiomatically you might say he kept me in the dark whereas normally it is he didn’t tell me. Normally you might say I said something embarrassingly stupid whereas idiomatically it is I put my foot in it.
Native speakers of English love using idiomatic English because it’s shorter and the images are often more powerful. For example, I have enough money to survive financially becomes I’m getting by.
In Englishour, the secrets of idiomatic language are revealed making it easy for the learner to speak like a native speaker.
Why not test yourself now and see how much idiomatic English you already know? In the two columns below, try to match the phrases with their idiomatic counterparts:

Normal speak — Idiomatic speak
He has a surprising skill/past— He let the cat out of the bag
He got really angry— He has a lot on his plate
He is extremely lazy— He heard it straight from the horse’s mouth
He (accidentally) told the secret— He hit the roof
He is really busy— He’s a dark horse
He got it from source— He is a couch potato

Idiomatic English is fun and is just one of the elements of language focused on in Englishour. In Englishour, students can expect to be taught all of the skills, speaking, writing, reading and listening in both a formal and informal context. Put simply, when searching for an English course in Dublin, Englishour is head and shoulders above the rest! 🙂

Learning a language – After frustration comes reward!

It is exciting to be able to speak another language. It can of course be frustrating too. Not being able to articulate what you want or how you feel or what your opinion is on something can feel terrible. Being with a group of native speakers and not being able to follow the group conversation can leave you feeling alone.
Many years ago, when I arrived in Spain for a year of teaching English, this was exactly how I felt. When I arrived, my Spanish was nil. I didn’t even know the word for ‘hello’. I had a little Spanish/English dictionary and a notebook, and I started to learn words and phrases, as I needed them. If I were going food shopping, for example, I would pre-learn the words which I anticipated I would need for my shopping expedition. Leaving my house, I would be repeating the words for ‘bread’ and tomato’ and ‘pork chop’ as I wandered down the foreign street surrounded by signs and people I didn’t understand.


I lived in a small flat with two Spanish guys who didn’t speak a word of English. It was perfect for me to immerse myself in Spanish. For the first couple of months we were like three mime artists in the kitchen, acting out what we were going to cook, flapping our arms to show the rent was due and whatever other messages they needed to pass to me or I to them. At that time, I used to go home for lunch every day and sitting opposite Miguel, I would have conversations with him in my broken language but I was only half sure what we were talking about. But every one seeped in somehow and slowly my brain was accepting this new form of communication.
Then I got really lucky. One evening (still early in my time there) while waiting for a friend outside her school (she was teaching an English class) I was watching a television match in a shop window. There was another guy there also watching the match, and it turned out that he was waiting for his girlfriend who was inside and was one of my friend’s students. We started talking in the usual mime/stone age man-type language, and when they came out we all went for a beer together. This marked the beginning of my friendship with Emilio and Maria Jose.


Every Friday they invited me out with their large group of friends. I remember the first ten minutes always going well, everybody sober, talking slowly to me and me listening intently, trying to follow the conversation. Then the beers kept coming and the conversation got faster, the lights got brighter and everything became more garbled. People would look at me and see that I didn’t understand and would stop the group to bring me up to date but I hated that as I felt that I was ruining the dynamic of the group. I didn’t want them to stop just to keep me up to date.


I felt lonely. I was surrounded by friends, but they were friends who I couldn’t really communicate with apart from smiles and a nodding of my head.
I returned to Ireland for Christmas and when I went back in early January and something strange happened to me. I started to understand! It was if my absence for a couple of weeks had given my brain the time to digest all the backlog of new language I had, and it was now able to run past my lips with a degree of fluidity. Words I heard or read began to have meaning and I felt that I was no longer a beginner, but someone on a (slightly) higher rung of the language ladder.
Breaking through this barrier felt so good! I still had many problems understanding and expressing myself of course, but this was peppered with the joy of catching a word, or a difficult expression which I actually understood! I began to feel that their language was now also becoming my language. It was something we shared rather than something that separated us.


This experience informs what I do today in my English classes. I feel that the job of the English teacher is to empower the learner. To give the learner ‘bullets’ for their ‘language gun’. I know the joy of being able to express oneself beautifully in another language (or at least thinking I do) and to be able to understand subtlety coming from someone else’s lips. When that happens, all the frustration and loneliness suffered at the beginning becomes worth it.
Often students say that they feel that they have stopped learning. That they have reached a plateau or even worse have regressed and are now understanding less. This, unfortunately, is the game of learning a language. It’s swings and roundabouts, highs and lows. But like all the great things in life you have to work. You have to suffer before the good stuff comes. And it does come… just ask anyone who has done it!

8 Surprising Things About Dublin

Temple bar dublin

Dublin has more than 1000 pubs!

Dublin is known throughout the world for its unrivalled pubs and nightlife, so it’s not really a surprise that the city has over 1000 pubs. The Brazen Head (just near the Guiness brewery) is one of the oldest pubs in the world, first opening in 1168! The real surprise, however, is that Dublin has the fewest pubs per person than any other capital city in Europe!

Dublin means ‘Black Pool’
Dublin comes from the Gaelic phrase ‘Dubh Linn’, which can be translated to ‘Black Pool’. The name’s thought to originate from the dark, large lake situated between the River Liffey and the River Poddle. The lake’s long disappeared, replaced by Dublin Castle’s Dubh Linn gardens.

If you really want to impress family and friends, though, you could use the official Irish name for Dublin, Baile Átha Cliath, which is translated as ‘Town of the Hurdled Ford’.

St. Valentine is buried in Dublin
If you think Paris is the capital of love, you’re in for a surprise! The remains of St Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, are kept at the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church and you can visit his shrine there, too.

The O’Connell Bridge is wider than long
The O’Connell Bridge’s unique dimensions make it famous throughout Europe, being wider than it is long at an amazing 49metres! Up until 1863, Dublin only had a weak rope bridge, so the city’s come a long, long way.

Dublin is one of UNESCO’s six cities of literature
Dublin has a brilliant reputation for literary excellence, being home to numerous famous authors, including Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.With multiple libraries, publishing companies and literary institutions, bookworms are in heaven here! The other five UNESCO cities of literature include: Norwich, England; Reykjavik, Iceland; Edinburgh, Scotland; Melbourne, Australia and Iowa City, USA.

You’ll never run out of Guinness
Dublin’s most famous brewery is not only Dublin’s oldest business and a tourist attraction you should definitely visit, but you can rest assured there’ll be plenty of time to visit it. The Guinness Brewery is on a leasehold of 9,000 years, which expires in the year 10,759!

Dublin’s twin cities
Whilst you may not think twinned cities provide any benefits, it helps cities maintain good commercial and financial links. Dublin is twinned with a number of cities, including Liverpool, England; Barcelona, Spain and San Jose, California.

Dublin boasts Europe’s largest city park
If you’re looking for the perfect outdoor space to practice your English skills, you’ll be spoilt for choice. With over 2,000 hectares of parkland and miles of cycling and walking paths, Phoenix Park is the largest in Europe. Dublin Zoo is also based here, which is second in size only to New York’s Central Park.