Englishour and the IELTS exam

What is IELTS? 

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and it is an English language exam designed by Cambridge, The British Council, and IDP.

Who is the exam for? 

The exam is suitable for English Students at all levels, and even native English speakers often take it as part of immigration requirements.

You cannot fail IELTS. It is scored on a scale of one to nine. If you have prepared enough for the exam itself, then your score will reflect your level of English.

Why do the IELTS? 

IELTS is an internationally recognised certificate. The exam is usually taken by students who are interested in emigrating to Canada or Australia, or who want to study in a university that accepts IELTS.

How long is the IELTS certificate valid for? 

Every organisation has its own rules for how long it accepts exam scores for, and the same rules tend to apply to all the exams it accepts, regardless of whether it is IELTS, CAE or another exam.
The official “expiration date” of the certificate usually doesn’t matter. So, it’s important to find out what the policies are of the place where you want to apply. 

What does it involve?

There are four sections: listening, reading, writing and speaking. The first three of these are always done on the same day in one sitting while the speaking test may be on a different day.  

How is it different from other exams? 

IELTS was originally designed to be an English language exam for prospective university students, and so it tests skills that are relevant to university students. For example, in the reading test you must be able to read a long text quickly to find specific information on a given subject, and in the listening test you must be able to catch information in a lecture that you only hear once.  

How do I prepare? 

First you learn English, then you learn the exam. 


There are three texts of about 900 words each and you have 60 minutes to answer 40 questions. The first section is easiest and then they become increasingly difficult, but every question is worth equal marks. As with any exam, you improve your reading score by improving your English level. Key IELTS preparation skills to focus on for the reading exam include time management and scanning the text for specific information.


The listening test lasts 40 minutes. There are four listenings. Like the reading test, they increase in difficulty as you go on. Part 4 is always a lecture on an academic topic. Key skills to focus on include reading exam questions quickly to find key words and understanding different accents. There is usually Australian accent and an English accent, but along with those you could hear any accent in the world.


The writing test lasts an hour, there are two writing tasks.  

Task 1 asks you to describe an image of some kind. It could be a map, a diagram, a bar chart, a pie chart, a table, a trend graph, or a combination of any of these. You must write around 150 words in 20 minutes. It is worth 33% of your score so it should take up 33% of your time. Key skills to focus on include usage of academic language, summarising factual information and usage of language for comparing and contrasting.  

Task 2, is always a formal essay where you explain a viewpoint or viewpoints. You must write about 250 words in 40 minutes it is worth 66% of your score. Key skills to focus on include usage of academic language and organising a persuasive essay.


The speaking test lasts about 14 minutes. It is just you and the examiner, and there are 3 parts. In Part 1 the examiner asks you questions about yourself and in Part 3 they ask you questions about society and the world at large. In Part 2 you are given a topic that you prepare for 1 minute and then talk uninterrupted for about for 2 minutes. This topic is always on something personal from your own life. For example, an area of natural beauty you have visited. Key skills to focus on include presentation skills and pronunciation.

I’m in an intermediate class, but I need an IELTS 6.5! What do I do? 

Study like crazy! Even if you need an advanced score, it’s never a good idea to try to skip an English level. An intermediate level mistake will have more of a negative impact on your score than an advanced level mistake. You won’t be able to get a 6.5 if you do not have a very good grasp of elementary, intermediate and upper-intermediate grammar and vocabulary. 

 What is “General IELTS”?

All of the above was written with the original IELTS in mind, which is now known as “Academic IELTS”. A second version of IELTS has been developed, and so now both “General IELTS” and “Academic IELTS” exams exist. However, the “General IELTS” exam still tests academic reading skills (e.g. finding information quickly rather than intensive reading for understanding), and the listening and speaking sections are identical. The difference is that the texts on the General IELTS reading are chosen from less academic topics, and that the writing task 1 is a letter or email instead of a description of a diagram.  

 I’m convinced! How do I sign up for IELTS preparation?

Englishour has regular IELTS preparation integrated into its syllabus, as well as teaching you essential skills throughout your course. If you would like to do a practice test at any time you can enquire at the office or by emailing exams@englishour.ie

Can I book my IELTS exam? 

Email exams@englishour.ie for extra information or support around IELTS, or to talk about booking an exam.  

By Rebecca Bourke.

Englishour competition – the winner

In our ‘How has the pandemic affected us?’ competition, our winner was this short film by Ana Martin.

We chose this film as our winner as it had the biggest impact on us from the entries received. We felt that the film was beautifully shot and very creatively done. We liked the voiceover Ana did, and the content of her script. We felt the the film illustrated very well how the pandemic felt to young people living in Dublin during this time.

Englishour Competition

People and nature

In February, we had a competition open to all Englishour students.

The title was ‘How has the pandemic affected us? Perhaps not at all’. We asked students to submit art on this theme, an essay, a poem, a song or a film. We were thrilled to receive such talented entries and the judging process was not easy.Here, you can see our second place entry, ‘How we look at nature’ by Dana Heine. We chose this delicate watercolour as our second prize winner, because it was so beautiful and also because it said so much about the target theme.

The 12 idioms of Christmas

The 12 idioms of Christmas: popular English phrases explained

People all over the world use ‘idioms’ to express everyday thoughts. Here we explain some of the more common – and fun – ones used in English at Christmastime


“Has the cat got your tongue?” “Yes, when pigs fly!” “It’s all Greek to me!”


Idioms are short phrases in English and other languages that don’t actually mean what they say, but convey a very different meaning. You have probably heard the above phrases before, but do you know what they mean? (We’ll tell you at the end of this article if you don’t.)


For example, if your friend says, “Let’s paint the town red!”, he or she does not mean you should buy red paint and brushes and sneak around Dublin painting all the buildings red. It means: “Let’s go out and have some fun.” (The term comes from the times when celebrating included lighting fires outside at night.)


Another fun example is if someone says it was raining cats and dogs last night – an idiom you might hear in Dublin a lot. It doesn’t mean that there were family pets falling from the sky, but that it was raining very heavily.


As you can see from the above examples, idioms often tend to be fun. They are also really good to know if you want to become a better English speaker. Idioms are something we focus on in our classes here in Englishour.


Here are some English idioms and other common phrases you might hear in Ireland at Christmas:


  1. Like turkeys voting for an early Christmas: This means that someone is choosing to do something which will not be good for them. After all, where do turkeys end usually end up on Christmas Day in Ireland?


  1. Good things come in small packages: If something or someone is small, they can still be very good. In other words, size is not important. This applies to Christmas presents too.


  1. Stocking stuffer/filler: This is a small Christmas gift brought by Santa Claus which can be put in the traditional stocking left at chimneys by children on Christmas Eve. It has nothing to do with women’s legs and tights!


  1. To beat the holiday blues: Often at times like Christmas, people feel lonely or sad (‘blue’) because they miss family or friends. ‘Beating the holiday blues’ means cheering yourself up by doing positive things.


  1. Deck the halls (with boughs of holly): This means to brighten up your home or workplace with Christmas decorations. Holly is a bush with green leaves, white flowers and red berries whose ‘boughs’ (branches) are used as decoration at Christmas.


  1. It’s the thought that counts: This refers to Christmas presents you receive. It means that it is not the value of the gift that matters, but the fact that someone bought you one in the first place.


  1. Kissing under the mistletoe: Mistletoe is a green plant which, like holly, is used as a decoration at Christmas. People used to kiss under it in ancient times as a way of welcoming someone. Now it is just for lovers!


  1. To light up like a Christmas tree: This means that someone has dressed up in their fanciest clothes. These days, in Ireland, as you may have noticed people tend to light up like a Christmas tree by wearing Christmas jumpers.


  1. Tis the season to be jolly: This phrase is used at Christmas to make people feel happy or jolly. The month of December is about celebrating the past year and looking forward to the next one.


  1. ‘Bah! Humbug!’: This is a way of complaining about someone who doesn’t ‘enter into the Christmas spirit’. The phrase was most famously used by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. A ‘humbug’ is an unpleasant, deceitful or grumpy person; ‘Bah!’ is a way of dismissing them.


  1. The 12 Days of Christmas: In Christian tradition, this is the period of time between the birth of Jesus (December 25th) and the arrival of the Three Wise Men or ‘Magi’ (January 6th). It is also the title of a famous English carol (Christmas song or hymn).


  1. To ring in the New Year: This refers to the sounds of bells that are heard at midnight on December 31st as the coming of the New Year is celebrated.

And finally: ‘Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last’ is not an idiom but a line from the famous Christmas song, Fairytale of New York, sung by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl. The male protagonist is fighting with his partner, saying he can’t be happy with her at Christmas (‘arse’, a crude term for bottom, is here used like a curse) and hopes they break up.


But don’t worry! The song ends on a happier note as he sings to her:


“Can’t make it all alone,

I’ve built my dreams around you.”


Happy holidays to all our students, past, present and future!


And those idioms from the start:

“Has the cat got your tongue?”: Used when someone is refusing to talk or make a comment on a situation.

“Yes, when pigs fly!”: Used when something will clearly never happen.

“It’s all Greek to me!”: Used when someone can’t understand anything.


To find out more about studying in Dublin and the opportunities offered by Englishour, go here. You can also phone the school on +35318786333, email us on info@englishour.ie or click here.

Correcting Errors in English Grammar

Correcting Errors in English Grammar Image

Accuracy is obviously an important part of speaking a language. A lot of English teachers would say that not making mistakes is important but at the same time students shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as their mistakes don’t affect understanding. Students though don’t really accept this idea (they want to speak correctly!) and I think rightly so. Let’s have a take about correcting errors in English Grammar.

People care about the impression they make when communicating

After all, people worry about the impressions they make. Whether it’s a good impression in a first meeting or the impression you give people generally, we have an image of ourselves which we want to portray. And this image is generally positive. We want to be seen as educated, dynamic and/or successful people, not as someone who makes mistakes. The result of this in the English classroom students often say ‘please correct me’ to the teacher.

For the teacher there is a little bit of a dilemma here. On one hand they want to correct the learner to promote accuracy in the language. On the other hand they don’t want to undermine the learner’s confidence and correct too much. Correct to a point and let the other stuff go. Tomorrow is another day.

So as teachers, we don’t want to correct students every time we hear a mistake. But there are times we most certainly do correct. And one of those times is when we hear the habitual mistake. These are mistakes which are engrained into learners (often) of particular nationalities. They are mistakes which the same (nationality) learners make again and again.

Here are a few examples of common mistakes necessary to address while correcting errors in English Grammar:

The last week I went to Cork. This is a common habit with the words next and last. Basically, there is no the when next or last refers to now. Last week I went to Cork is correct.

One means not two…

I want one coffee please. Here, the problem is one. In English, one means ‘not two’. What that means is that you only say ‘one’ when the listener is expecting you to say ‘two’ (or ‘three’ etc). Imagine you have been in a bar with your friend for a couple of hours ordering and drinking beer. Every time you order another round you ask for ‘two beers’. Your friend now however, doesn’t want another beer. You decide to have one more for the road. You call the barman over. What does he expect you to say? Two beers! Of course, as this is what you have been ordering all night. But you ask for ‘one beer’. One means not two, and in this case it’s correct. Usually you ask for a beer. Therefore the correct version of the sentence above is I want a beer please.

He’s 19 years. Here, you have an option. You can either say he’s 19 years old, or just simply, he’s 19.

Thanks for all. This is not correct. It should be ‘thanks for everything’. The word all is a modifier used before nouns to mean everything. But it is not a noun itself. All the money, all the world, all Dublin…is correct. Without the noun, you need to say everyone or everything etc.

Active voice or passive voice?

I cut my hair. Although this is possible it probably isn’t correct. Here you should use the passive form to have/get something done. The idea is that there are things we don’t do ourselves but rather we pay someone to do them for us. Perhaps we don’t do it because we are lazy (I get my grass cut every week) or we don’t have time (I have the dog walked in the evening) or we don’t have the necessary skill to do it (I’m getting my car serviced tomorrow.

I want that he comes to the party. When you want a person to do something the structure is want+person+to+verb…I want him to pay me. She wants me to help her. Therefore, the correct version of the sentence above is I want him to come to the party.

Next week I will come back to Italy. Here, the problem is come. Basically you always come here and go there (except on the phone!). Come is to where you are and go is to all other places. When in Ireland, Italy is there, and so the sentence should read next week I’m going back to Italy. I have also changed the tense to the present continuous as it is a planned arrangement (I have the ticket).

So what mistakes should teachers consider for correcting errors in English Grammar?

The great thing about correcting the habitual mistake is that it opens doors which have some very interesting language items to explore on the other side. Open the door, take some steps (how many according to the level you are teaching) and then go back and move on. This makes for an interesting and dynamic class.

Another error to correct is when the learner makes a mistake using the target language being dealt with in the class. If the class has a grammar theme, for example future forms, the teacher should be dealing with issues which arise around this area of grammar. Again, level plays a key role in what to correct and how far to go with it.

With these errors in mind, how should we as teachers go about correcting them?

There are of course a variety of ways. Some teachers can correct as they hear them and some will gather them for a language focus session at the end of the class. Some teachers will advocate peer correction and some will create a task around them for the next session. All ways are valid. The important thing is that the teacher promotes understanding in the learner. They must present the language in context and show the learner why one form is used and another is not. The key then is once the learner has understanding the teacher then facilitates the learner to use the target language as much as possible through tasks, eliciting or homework. The key to language learning is production on the learner’s part.

In my experience of observing teachers, I have found that the most successful ones are the teachers who ‘sit’ on the target language. How long you sit and how deep you dig depends on the learner’s level. In the classroom, the teacher is the filter. Some things pass and others are stopped and dealt with. Through the teacher, the learner can develop their communication skills to the point where they are making language choices which are appropriate to the situation within which they are communicating.

After all, this is what the learners want isn’t it?

The post Correcting Errors in English Grammar is articulated by John Ryan. Check also Deciding a Cheap English School in Dublin.


English History Facts: How the Black Death saved phrasal verbs

English History Facts: How the Black Death saved phrasal verbs Image

To understand the English we use today, we need to walk through some of English History Facts

It is a story of death and elitism but from these murky beginnings sprang the language we love today.

A thousand years ago, there were two main influences, the Normans from France and the Saxons who were a Germanic people. The meeting of these languages and cultures were to form the English language we speak today.

From the battle of the Hastings (1066) England was ruled by French speaking kings and the land was comprised of the aristocracy and those who they ruled, the poor serfs. French was the language of the aristocracy and by extension, the language of the law and commerce. Therefore, if you were ambitious and wanted to get ahead in these fields, French was the language you needed.

Today, the same is true. However, it is not French you need but rather the side of the English language which has evolved from French. This is what we call Formal English. It often looks similar to other Latin-based romance languages.

The Norman influence was set to dominate the language but the Saxon side (informal language, like phrasal verbs) was saved by the Black Death in the 1340’s as this killed a lot of people in built up areas (the cities were largely French speaking they were seats of Government and other institutions). Peasants living off the land and Saxon speakers were not killed in such quantities as they were living in isolated areas.

There is a very interesting among English history facts and that is we have the Black Death to thank for the uniqueness of the English language today.

Today, English speakers naturally ‘switch’ their language depending on where they are or more accurately, in what situation they are in, formal or informal. What the native speaker does is use language in a particular context, depending where they are, who they are communicating with and what they are doing. That means that the speaker, in any given situation, does not sound too formal or informal but rather just right. This is what we focus on in Englishour.

Context will dictate how we speak:

For example on the telephone:

Could I speak to John please?Is John there?
This is heThat’s me
Thank you very much. Goodbye.Cheers. Take it easy!

We can apply this to many different situations. Like in the office:

To whom should I send this?Who should I send this to?
Are you attending the party?You’re coming to the bash I hope?
A preposition at the end of a sentence signals informality

‘Bash is an informal version of party. It would be unsuitable in a formal context.

I love this musicI’m really into this music
Phrasal verbs are often the informal equivalent.
The economic situation in the aeronautical industry is improvingThe air industry is looking up


So, we see that spoken English uses short forms more. And idioms and prepositions.

TranslationIdiomatic version
He told me the gossipHe dished up the dirt
You’re guessing and you have no ideaYou’re clutching at straws
I stopped smokingI gave up smoking
Let’s continueLet’s press on
He gave me €2 and it was not enough for me and I wasn’t happy.He fobbed me off with €2
I am beginning to like this productI’m getting into this product
They loved itThey lapped it up
He ate everythingHe polished it off
I am visiting him for a short time laterI’m popping in later
They all entered at the same timeThey all piled in
It will not happen due to unforeseen circumstancesIt’s fallen through
I have an excellent relationship with himWe get on
I am leavingI’m off
He is pretending to be sickHe’s putting it on
They made a careless mistakeThey slipped up


Of course, both sides are equally important for learners to focus on. The formal language promotes accuracy and allows understanding in reading and listening in formal situations. The informal side is wonderful because it is so rich in connotation and it can express so much using so few words! We need a strong foundation in formal language of course but by bridging the gap between ‘translation’ and ‘spoken English’ we can start switching between the two.

So switching means that the learner can CHOOSE whether to say

I’m leaving, which may be appropriate in one circumstance or,

I’m off.

The key is to explore options of the same message. Learn how to say the same thing in different ways and base your choice on your surroundings.

These are some of the English history facts noteworthy to mention. Do not forget to check our post for Future in English Grammar.

John Ryan

Nous faisons tous des erreurs!

Englishour classroom

Nous faisons tous des erreurs ! – un guide pour corriger les erreurs

La précision est évidemment une partie importante lorsque l’on parle une langue.

Beaucoup de professeurs d’anglais diront qu’il est important de ne pas faire d’erreurs mais en même temps, les étudiants ne devraient pas trop s’en soucier tant que leurs erreurs n’affectent pas la compréhension.

Les étudiants n’acceptent pas vraiment cette idée (ils veulent parler correctement !) Et je pense à juste titre.

Les gens se soucient de l’impression qu’ils donnent lorsqu’ils communiquent

Avant tout, les gens se soucient de l’impression qu’ils donnent. Que ce soit une bonne impression lors d’une première rencontre ou l’impression que l’on donne aux gens en général, nous avons une image de nous-mêmes que nous voulons représenter. Et cette image est généralement positive. Nous voulons être perçu comme des personnes éduquées, dynamiques et / ou prospères, et non comme des personnes qui faisons des erreurs. On s’en aperçoit notamment lorsqu’en cours d’anglais, les étudiants répètent souvent ‘please correct me’ aux professeurs.

C’est un dilemme pour les professeurs. D’une part, ils veulent corriger l’étudiant pour favoriser l’apprentissage exact de la langue. D’une autre part, ils ne veulent pas que l’étudiant perde confiance en lui, en le corrigeant trop.

En tant qu’enseignants, nous ne voulons pas corriger les étudiants chaque fois que nous entendons une erreur mais nous le faisons lorsque nous entendons des “erreurs habituelles”. Ce sont des erreurs ancrées chez des étudiants (souvent) de nationalités particulières. Ce sont des erreurs que des étudiants de mêmes nationalités font encore et encore.

Voici quelques exemples d’erreurs courantes

The last week I went to Cork. This is a common habit with the words next and last. Basically, there is no the when nextor last refers to nowLast week I went to Cork is correct.

The last week I went to Cork. C’est une erreur fréquente avec les mots next et last.

Fondamentalement, il n’y a pas the lorsque next ou last se réfère à maintenant

La phrase correcte est: Last week I went to Cork 

Un ne signifie pas deux…

I want one coffee please. Ici le problème est one. En Anglais, one signifie “pas deux”.

Cela veut tout simplement dire que l’on dit seulement “one” lorsque la personne à qui vous vous adressez s’attende à ce que vous dites « deux » (ou « trois », etc.).

Imaginez que vous avez été dans un bar avec votre ami pendant quelques heures pour commander et boire de la bière. Chaque fois que vous commandez une autre tournée, vous demandez « deux bières ». Cependant votre ami ne veut pas d’une autre bière. Vous décidez d’en commander une de plus pour la route. Vous appelez le barman. Qu’attend-il de vous ? Deux bières ! Bien sûr, car c’est ce que vous avez commandé toute la nuit. Mais vous demandez “une bière”. Un ne signifie pas deux, et dans ce cas c’est correct. Habituellement, vous demandez “beer”. Par conséquent, la version correcte de la phrase ci-dessus est : I want a beer please.

He’s 19 years. Ici, vous avez également la possibilité de dire he’s 19 years old, ou tout simplement, he’s 19.

Thanks for all. Ce n’est pas correct. On devrait dire ‘thanks for everything’. Le mot all est un modificateur utilisé avant un nom pour dire everything. Mais ce n’est pas un nom en soi. All the money, all the world, all Dublin…c’est correct. Sans le nom, vous devez dire everyone or everything etc.

Voix active ou voix passive ?

I cut my hair. Bien que cela soit possible, ce n’est probablement pas correct. Ici vous devez utiliser la forme passive « to have/get something done”. L’idée est qu’il y a des choses que nous ne faisons pas nous-mêmes mais nous payons quelqu’un pour nous les faire. Peut- être que nous ne les faisons pas car nous sommes trop fainéants (I get my grass cut every week) ou alors que nous n’avons pas le temps (I have the dog walked in the evening) ou encore que nous n’avons pas les compétences nécessaires pour les faire (I’m getting my car serviced tomorrow).

I want that he comes to the party. Lorsque vous voulez qu’une personne fasse quelque chose, la structure de la phrase doit-être la suivante : want+person+to+verb…I want him to pay me. She wants me to help her.

Par conséquent, la bonne version de la phrase ci-dessus est: I want him to come to the party.

Next week I will come back to Italy. Ici le problème c’est « come ». Fondamentalement, vous venez ici et vous partez là-bas (sauf au téléphone !). Come s’utilise lorsque c’est l’endroit où vous êtes et go s’utilise pour tous les autres lieux. Lorsque l’on est en Ireland, l’Italie est là-bas donc la phrase correcte devrait être :  next week I’m going back to Italy. J’ai également changé le temps au présent continu car c’est un événement planifié (I have the ticket).

Alors, quelles sont les erreurs que les professeurs devraient corriger ?

Le point positif dans la correction des erreurs habituelles et que cela ouvre les portes à des éléments de langage intéressants à explorer.

Ouvrez la porte, montez quelques escaliers (autant que le niveau que vous étudiez) ensuite repartez et passez à autre chose. Cela rend les classes intéressantes et dynamiques.

Une autre erreur à corriger c’est lorsque l’étudiant fait une erreur de langue qui sera traitée avec la classe. Si la classe étudie la grammaire, par exemple le futur, l’enseignant devra s’occuper des problèmes qui se posent autour de ce domaine de la grammaire. Encore une fois, le niveau de l’étudiant joue un rôle clé dans ce qu’il faut corriger et dans quelle mesure.

Avec ces erreurs en tête, comment en tant qu’enseignants pourrions-nous les corriger ?

Il y a bien sûr plusieurs moyens d’y arriver. Certains enseignants peuvent corriger les erreurs au fur et à mesure qu’ils les entendent et certains les rassemblent et organisent une séance de discussion linguistique à la fin du cours. Certains enseignants préconiseront de corriger les erreurs dès qu’elles apparaissent et d’autres créeront des exercices autours des problèmes rencontrés lors de la prochaine session.

Toutes les méthodes sont justes. La chose la plus importante est que le professeur facilite la compréhension chez l’étudiant. Il doit présenter l’utilisation de la langue dans son contexte et montrer à l’étudiant pourquoi une forme est utilisée et une autre ne l’est pas.

La clé est que le professeur doit être compris par l’étudiant, ce qui lui facilitera l’utilisation de la langue à travers ses devoirs, ses tâches. La clé de l’apprentissage des langues dépend de l’implication de l’étudiant.

De mon expérience à observer les professeurs, j’ai trouvé que les professeurs qui ont le plus de succès sont ceux qui « s’assoient » sur la langue.

Le temps que vous prendrez pour aider à la compréhension d’un sujet dépendra de l’étudiant. Dans la classe, le professeur est le filtre. Certaines erreurs passent et d’autres sont arrêtées et traitées. Grâce à l’enseignant, l’étudiant peut développer ses compétences de communication au point de faire des choix de langue appropriés à la situation dans laquelle il communique.

Après tout, c’est ce que veulent les étudiants, n’est-ce pas ?

By John Ryan


Out – towards the darkness or towards the light! – Phrasal verbs in English.

Bright English Language School Dublin

Understanding phrasal verbs with ‘out’

‘Out’ means ‘outside’. There is a journey from inside to outside, a journey which takes you into the light, or into the darkness.

Let’s say you have a problem, like a maths problem. The solution is hidden deep in the problem. Your job is to work it out. Here, the image is slowly removing the answer from a dark hidden place into the light. When you’ve worked it out, the solution is there, in the light. You can see it!

Jim and Mary are trying to work out their marriage problems. By talking through their problems they begin to see solutions.

Likewise, you can also figure something out. Again, figuring out a problem means thinking about it until the solution can be seen.

I couldn’t figure out how to open the door.

It took me ages to figure out the complicated bus timetable.

When you figure it out, you can see the light!


Another case is to  find things out. This involves bringing information into the light.

Sometimes you can find out accidentally:

I just found out that Mary is going to have a baby!.

I went on the internet and found out that the company doesn’t exist!

 For working out, figuring out and finding out, a solution sees the light.


To come out can simply mean ‘come outside’.

Are you coming out tonight? Possibly to the pub, or the cinema etc.

Come out also means to reveal that you are gay. The idea here is that it is a secret. When someone is secretly gay, they are ‘in the closet’. Then one day, they tell their friends or family or the world that they are in fact gay. This is when he/she comes out.

Elton John came out years ago.

Again, the secret reaches the light.


To make something out means to be able to see or hear something under difficult circumstances. It is often used with ‘can’. For example, if something is far away and you can see it or read it:

I can’t make it out. A car registration for example or a bus number.

I can’t make out the signature. Here, it’s not far away, the quality is bad.

You can also use it for things you can/can’t hear, usually because of the clarity of the sound.

I find heavy metal lyrics difficult to make out.

I couldn’t make out what he was saying because of the noise.

When you can make something out, there is the lightbulb moment of throwing light onto the unknown.


Sometimes friendships can fall into darkness:

People can fall out. It means that they are no longer friends. They usually fall out over something:

Myself and Peter fell out over the money he owes me

They fell out over a stupid argument


Here are some more verbs which mean ‘go into the darkness, away from the light’:


The first is literal. To blow out a candle or a flame.

He made a wish and blew out his birthday candles.                     


What do you do with a finished cigarette? You put it out. (extinguish it)


Or when the room is too hot, or your blood pressure is very low? What can happen? You can faint. Lose consciousness and fall onto the floor. You can pass out.

When you pass out, what do you see? Darkness!


As well as flammable material, people can burn out. This is due to excessive stress, usually in work:

He was a stock broker, but burnt out after five years.

When you burn out, you’re finished!


We often hear of governments trying to stamp out crime. (destroy it)


Sometimes, they will phase something out.

At the moment they are phasing out free medical care. (little by little it will be gone)

When you close the curtains, you block out the light. You can also block out sounds.

Some people try to block out bad memories.


Out can be also associated with negative experiences:

If you decide to stick it out, you decide to remain in a bad situation:

I hate my new job, but my friends have advised me to stick it out, at least for another month.


Sometimes, you can stop a negative experience:

We talked him out of doing it. We persuaded him not to do something we viewed as being bad.

He was going to sell the company, but we talked him out of it.


The purpose here is to show that there is a logic and a clear line of thought running through seemingly unrelated phrasal verbs. This logic is, I believe, contained in the preposition. If you can unlock the meaning of the prepositions, you can understand better the idiomatic side of the English language.

Good luck!

Learning a language – After frustration comes reward!

Learn English in Ireland

Learning a language can be frustrating

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.

New friends can appear in surprising places

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.

Learning a language can be lonely

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.

Speaking another language feels wonderful

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!

By John Ryan