So you think Polish is hard?

The truth must finally come out. I’ve heard enough of this utter rubbish about how difficult Polish is. If you’ve tried to learn Polish and failed to achieve decent levels of communication and understanding  this means you're either not trying hard enough or are just plain stupid. You can’t just say English is easier, because it isn’t! Sure there are grammatical concepts in Polish that are absent in English but don’t forget this works both ways.

Although some grammar books claim there are 16 tenses in English this isn’t true. It doesn’t make it any easier though as there are two tenses (present and past), four aspects (simple, progressive – also referred to as continuous, perfect and perfect-progressive). This is a formidable combination for foreigners, difficult enough to confuse us along with the very unclear rules surrounding the tense usage. I mean…. There are differences even between BrE and AmE as far as tenses go so are we supposed to get the right ones? Ugh. Now compare that with Polish: three tenses (present, past and future – couldn’t be any more obvious, right?) and two aspects (imperfective and perfective – pretty straightforward and all it takes is to learn the correct verb forms). We like it easy, don’t we?

Foreigners cringe when they hear about seven cases in Polish and I agree this can be a nightmare to grasp for a native speaker of a language that lacks this concept but all it means is that you’ll need to make an extra effort and pay a bit more attention to it while learning. On the bright side Polish has no articles. YES! YES! YES! (I hate articles in English and even though I’m super fluent I still make mistakes when using them).

Stop moaning. People always point to something difficult in every language and the sad ones use it as an excuse for not learning it. Fail! Fail! Fail! What I hate even more are Polish people spreading these rumours about how difficult our language is. No, it isn’t! Put this silly point of national pride behind you. The fact we have lots of consonants is not a problem, we are all humans and if my speech organs are capable of articulating something, yours are too no matter where you come from. I might have struggled with my th in English but here I am pronouncing it like a native. Make the effort! Polish, being almost fully phonetic, is actually easier than English, if you slowly pronounce each and every single letter in a word you’ll pronounce it right (NEVER the case in English, in fact even native English speakers don’t know how to pronounce certain words e.g. schedule).

 No language is hard. Depending on your native language, some languages can be easier for you. However, it doesn’t make them easy for everybody. I would probably find Czech much easier than English and similarly if you’re a native English speaker you will find German easier than Polish.  Lastly, I wanted to say it’s a pleasure to learn Polish. Why? Because most Poles you meet when you come here will be amazed to see you’ve made the effort to try to speak Polish (even if only a little Polish). We’re quite nice chaps, really!

So…. What are you still doing? Get back to studying Polish. I don’t want to see you back around here again until you’ve learnt some more. Good luck!

Second language acquisition

Children who are exposed to two different languages at once are indeed able to acquire both of them simultaneously but certainly the majority of people have only one native language they learnt in this process of "sponging".  Furthermore, the foreign language we learn in later life will be very rarely assimilated to the same degree as our native tongue even if studied for years. The puzzle here is how are children able to acquire languages so effectively and why does this skill apparently die out as we grow older? Why do other mental abilities and systems of knowledge we might be familiar with in our lives only ever develop in adult brains e.g. mathematics, physics, psychology. Children seem to have an unfair advantage, a spark of genius, when it comes to perfecting their first language acquisition. How is this possible?

Learning vs. acquiring
Of course, we may say that learning strategies of adults differ from those employed by children. There is an important distinction between learning and acquiring. Learning a language is an unnatural process and results in knowing “about” language whereas acquisition refers to developing the ability to speak a given language while using it everyday life. The latter normally brings much more success. Even under perfect conditions putting a person into a foreign country and forcing them to interact socially for long periods rarely results in the ability to speak L1 and L2 at matching levels.

Critical Period
There must be some crucial moment in our life, the so-called Critical Period that once passed, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to acquire or learn a foreign language to perfection. To illustrate this point let me introduce the story of Joseph Conrad who, despite not becoming fluent in English until he was in his twenties, went on to write novels at a level remarkably higher than most native English speakers but… until he died he retained a very strong Polish accent in his spoken English. This might make us think about how, perhaps, some features of a language can be acquired more easily i.e. grammar and vocabulary than for example pronunciation.

Emotional Reaction
What I find intriguing is that there is also some type of emotional reaction in adults who are naturally more self-conscious than young children, which seems to reduce the levels of L2 acquisition. This might have to do with fear of pronouncing words and even single sounds that seem strange and unnatural in their native language. This would explain why foreigners often struggle with English th sound and why English speakers of Polish can’t deal with sz or ś sounds. It’s not like our speech organs are built any differently or our tongues are too stiff to explore new ways of positioning. Fear might indeed be one of the reasons or perhaps the inability to acquire a foreign language fully stems from the fact that we consciously or unconsciously dislike a language or its speakers. If we move to another country and don’t align ourselves with its culture and inhabitants or have particularly bad experiences while living there we might be less likely to “pick up” the language on quite the same level as we’d like to in different circumstances.

I recently wrote about first language acquisition and received several interesting comments. I’d love to hear from you this time as well. Do you think that first and second language acquisitions differ from each other and if so, on what terms? And finally, more importantly, what methods of learning simulate first language acquisition in order to improve the effects of our efforts? 

Step by step grammar 7: Conjunctions

Conjunction joins two words or sentences together. A few examples in bold can be found in the sentences below:

Lucy smokes and drinks a lot. Attractive she may be, but nevertheless stupid. Would you really go out with someone like that or rather find a girl you can have a conversation with?

We distinguish a couple of types of conjunctions depending on their function. Some of them join two single items e.g. Tea or coffee? Others introduce a dependent clause to our utterance e.g. He kicked the oven door in fury; therefore, it was then broken.

I hope this was easy. If you haven’t subscribed to English Focused yet do it now as there’s more to come. Next Wednesday we will explain what an interjection is. 

First language acquisition

Some of you might know that I have recently moved into a new flat in sunny Kielce, city in the south of Poland. I still haven’t met all of my new neighbours but I was pleased to find out that there is a married couple next door with three lovely children. Their 8-year-old put a smile on my face, the day I first met him, when he said Jest Pani bardzo ładna (You’re a very pretty lady). I thought it was cute and wondered about how nice it is to be a kid and be able to say exactly what you’re thinking without worrying about social awkwardness. My new admirer’s little sister struggles with language a bit more. I asked her how old she was and she replied with Mam 3 roki (I’m three years old – this should be Mam 3 lata in Polish as plural from yearrok is irregular – lata). Children make mistakes such as that one by logical analogy as normally in similar words in Polish plural would be indeed created by adding –i e.g. smok – smoki (dragon - dragons) or krok - kroki (step - steps). The newest addition to the family – another little girl is still an infant and makes no more than cooing and babbling noises. So… all of them three kids communicate on different levels.

How do we do it?
All normal children, regardless of what culture they are born into develop their language skills at roughly the same time. The theory has been suggested that the language acquisition develops together with learning motor skills and kids first learn words for laying down, sitting up, crawling, being held up, eventually standing up and walking. This means that we learn language as babies while doing physical activities. At the same time, however, studies demonstrate that the child’s early environment has a huge impact on their linguistic development and this indeed differs from one culture to the next. N. Chomsky describes language development as language growth and sees it as growing just like parts of baby’s body. 

Caretaker speech
The fascinating thing I noticed is that the parents next door help their children in their language acquisition by so called caretaker speech – simplified expression of ideas, full of diminutives, rhetorical questions, repetitions and all manner of what we understand as baby-talk. In English it includes words such as daddy, mummy, poo-poo, doo-doo, pee-pee. The difference can be, however, seen in the way my neighbours speak to their oldest son – here their speech is a bit more elaborate as he certainly is able to understand more than his younger sisters and also uses more language. They don’t do it consciously but they change into teachers and are extremely flexible with switching from one level to the next depending on which child they’re talking to. I guess this skill must be buried deep in our brains and we intuitionally know how to mentor our offspring.

Let me know how it’s going!
Without sounding too creepy I’m trying to keep my eye on the family next door as I find it extremely interesting how their children assimilate language. Those were just first few things I've noticed so far and I’m eager to find out more. If you ever wondered about the process of first language acquisition feel free to share your views. I’d especially love to hear from parents about their children’s learning process. Thanks!

Rhetorically Speaking 4: Similes

Similes are when you compare something or someone to something else. The idea being that you choose something to compare to which is renowned for the characteristic you want to describe. For example, you might describe a person, who is very tough, in this way:
He is as hard as nails
(Nails are by their very nature tough)

Many similes make reference to members of the animal kingdom
As stubborn as a mule (mules are characteristically stubborn)
He took to the task like a duck to water (water is the duck’s natural environment)
He was like a bear with a sore head (you might use this expression to describe someone with a bad hangover, bears are supposedly mean and grumpy, and one with a sore head even more so)
The examples so far have used like and as when making the comparison. Not all similes use this construction, here an example from Shakespeare’s writings:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day
When you want to say that something is distinctly lacking in a certain property or the opposite you might use an ironic simile:
It’s as clear a mud
Next week we’ll be looking at a related subject, metaphors.

One for the Road?

The English are very fond of their drink. If you plan on visiting Britain you might want to brush up on some drinking terminology, so that you can “fit in”, so to speak.

First choice to make is the choice of venue, usually at home or pub. Or more accurately where to start drinking, it’s not uncommon to start drinking at home, before going to the pub to get hammered, then on to a nightclub to get completely legless. Of course some people prefer to drink in the street, you can typically spot winos, with their drinks wrapped in brown paper bags drinking in public.

Drinks are commonly bought from the supermarket or a shop that specialises in selling alcohol known as the off-licence, or offy. You might buy some plonk (cheap wine) or maybe some alcopops (sweet-flavoured drinks popular with young people).

You should try to arrive at the pub during happy hour, because there are often special promotions on drinks. In practice this may last longer than an hour, but when happy hour is nearly over it’s not uncommon for people to rush to the bar to get the cheap drinks. Don’t forget that the term bar is not only a name for a posh pub, but also the place where you queue to get your drinks. The person serving you is a barmaid if female and a barman (or bar steward) if male.

There are various levels of alcohol-induced intoxication, pick one before choosing your alcoholic drinks. There is tipsy (only slightly impaired), merry (happy because you’ve had some drink), getting blotto, pissed or shit-faced is usually reserved for those who don’t have jobs to go to in the morning.

If you are driving you will probably want to order a soft drink such as lemonade or cola. If you’re staying for a while you might order a refreshing shandy. This drink is half lemonade and half lager or beer of some description, usually served in a pint glass.

If you want to talk to members of the opposite sex you might need some dutch courage (bravery brought about by drinking alcohol). You might invite someone back to your place for a coffee (usually sex, but not always) or a nightcap (an alcoholic drink before bedtime). In the morning the person you took home might not be the supermodel you thought they were, in scientific circles this effect is known as beer goggles - people look more attractive the more you drink.

Drinks come in various sizes. Beer, cider and lager comes in pints (568ml) or half-pints (halves). The stronger drinks, spirits such as whisky or vodka (voddy), come in what is known as measures. Order a single, a double, a triple or higher. Ordering larger amounts than this is pointless, the bar staff will ignore your order and give you what they see fit, safe in the knowledge that you are too drunk to notice the difference.

Half an hour or so before the pub is about to close (technically known as chucking-out time) you will hear a bell, sounding last orders. This is your last chance to get a drink (or one for the road). When last orders are over, you’ll have a certain amount of drinking-up time, then the staff will be keen to get you out of the pub, shouting “Haven’t you got homes to go to?” and sighing loudly.

Somehow you will find your way home, regardless of how paralytic you are. You may wake up in the middle of the night with a telephone in one hand and a kebab in the other. Do not be alarmed, this is perfectly normal. In the morning you will swear “Never again!”. This resolve doesn’t last long usually and you may be tempted to have the hair of the dog (another alcholic drink in the morning supposed to cure a hangover).

I hope you have learnt some useful phrases and, as they say in the adverts, please drink responsibly.

Step by step grammar 6: Prepositions

A preposition works as a link between other words. It usually indicates some sort of relationship to the object it refers to – whether to do with time or space. Words such as in, on, to, with, under, above etc. are all prepositions.

The flower is on the window sill.
I’ll visit you before Sunday.

It usually occurs inside a prepositional phrase i.e. preposition followed by a noun phrase such as into the city, after the movie. In some circumstances prepositions appear in the construction called preposition stranding where they are not followed by a noun e.g. where are you going to? Come in. There are also certain verbs that are followed by a preposition and we refer to these as phrasal verbs – fixed constructions of single verbs and prepositions - e.g. make up, fall out, switch on.

I hope this was easy. If you haven’t subscribed to English Focused yet do it now as there’s more to come. Next Wednesday we will explain what a conjunction is. 

It's not what you said. It's how you said it.

Intonation provides speech with an amazing degree of expressiveness. We often hear people say ‘it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it’ – intonation allows us to detect sarcasm, helps us to read one’s true intentions and is therefore a crucial element of communication even if hidden beneath a layer of words and phrases. We have pitch, volume and speed as ingredients, and rhythm and pauses as spices for every sentence that comes out of our mouths. These are the auditory properties of sound which don’t show in writing so to express them linguists invented a special transcription.

There are two categories of intonational transcription, analogically to the broad and narrow segmental phonology transcriptions. A broad transcription represents phonological analysis of the speaker’s pitch and in a tonetic-stress marking system a mark is normally placed before the stressed syllable. A narrow transcription on the other hand is represented by a varying series of dots, sometimes a line that corresponds with speaker’s pitch of voice – top and bottom lines represent the pitch range. Each dot on the diagram stands for one syllable where big dots are stressed syllables. This type of transcription is referred to as interlinear tonetic.

Loudness – a nightmare for non-native English speakers
Loudness as a prosodic feature is to do with the stress pattern of a word and can often bring about a change of meaning e.g. record (verb) – record (noun). If you ever heard me speak you would know that I’m not a native speaker of English judging by my mixed up stress pattern. This seems to be a huge obstacle for many speakers of English as a foreign language and is indeed a measure of super fluency. Loudness depends on intensity of energy occurring in a sound and this in turn is related to the pressure of the air coming out of our lungs. What makes it trickier is that in English there are certain influences on intensity and loudness such as with open vowels which always are of greater intensity than close vowels. This, of course, comes naturally for native English speakers whereas foreigners need to adapt to their system.

Functions of intonation
The most obvious role of intonation is of course to express our emotions and attitudes i.e. happiness, sadness, impatience, anger, surprise and practically everything we can think of. Its grammatical function is to help us read whether what somebody said was a question, exclamation or perhaps just a statement. In this case it is a substitute for punctuation. Sometimes intonation can help us achieve our goals, especially if these involve public speaking. Charismatic masters of prosody have a much easier time convincing people or sometimes even manipulating them. In this group we can normally find politicians, preachers, teachers, religious leaders, lawyers and many more.

Guide to Style Guides

Some of the better quality newspapers such as The Guardian and The Times provide style guides for the benefit of their journalists. The idea being that all the articles appearing in their publications should be consistent in terms of punctuation, spelling, capitalisation and use of language. The guides are usually made available to the public in book form and/or on the internet, such as The Times style book. If you’re into this sort of thing it can make for fascinating reading.

Usually the style guide writers also advise on topical issues, such as how to spell Colonel Gaddafi’s surname out of the 32 or more possible options (strictly speaking it’s an alliteration of his name from the Libyan original).

Apart from useful guidance on where to place hyphens and suchlike the style guides often provide a list of “banned words”. This isn't often, contrary to what you might expect, a list of swear words and terms. Instead, it is something that the guardians of good writing practice find far more heinous, namely clichés, tautolgies and sensationalisms such as
Brutal murders - all murders are brutal so that word isn’t needed
Innocent victims - victims are by their very nature innocent
The tone of these style guides can be quite amusing. For example, Americanisms are frowned upon and and so are seemingly politically correct terms such as chairperson. The word “toilet” is on the banned list too, this obviously has lower-class connotations, despite it being the word that you will see on the door of public toilets.

So, the higher quality press has style guides that aspire to keeping their journalistic standards high. Do the gutter press have style guides encouraging sensational headlines, stereotyping and stating the obvious. Do men's magazines provide guidance to their journalists on how to objectify women, relate their tales of excessive drinking and the best way to describe bodily functions. Maybe they do, but somehow I think these are the sort of guides less likely to be made available to the public.

Defending the Queen's English

What is it about American phrases and spellings that some Britons find so offensive?

Extremists (loyalists even?) might refer to British English as “The Queen’s English”.
You lazy Americans are distorting the language and thereby insulting the Queen. Our Queen! Treason! Off with their heads!
Why lazy? Does it really take all that extra effort to type the u in “colour”. Having said that, the addition of that letter u does little to help some of my countrymen pronounce the word correctly. All too often you will hear “culler”, which has an entirely different meaning.

There are occasions when British spellings win out. Take for example “meter” (a measuring device) and “metre” (a unit of distance). Here there is a useful distinction in spelling what are two essentially different, but related, words. Hang on, maybe it’s not so useful after all. Americans favour imperial measurements just as much as the British and will rarely measure distance in metres anyway (aside from the fact that the context will usually tell you what sort of meter we are talking about). The only difference being that the British occasionally get forced to use the metric system by those nasty bureaucrats in Brussels.

Other British objections to Americanisms are also arbitarily unreasonable . Take these two examples that follow a similar structure
Write me (surely that should be write to me?)
Call me (this is acceptable and call to me is a mistake you’ll often hear non-native English speakers make)
The differences between American and British English are relatively few considering the number of words in the English language. There are the obvious choices between words such as “sidewalk” and “pavement” or “elevator” and “lift”. American pronunciation is an area that causes a certain amount of consternation for me. Do I pronounce “schedule” as skedule or shedule? I honestly don’t know any more. I really do watch too many American films and sitcoms.

This is where the American z (zee to Americans, zed to everyone else) can come in useful.
Initializing (American spelling, the letter in pronounced as a z)
Initialising (British spelling, pronounced as a z, but written s, pure crazineness!)
Let’s not get carried away with this useful aid to pronunciation, otherwise it could have far-reaching rezults.

From reading the article so far you might think I am more in favo(u)r of American English than British English. Perhaps, but right now I’m in the United Kingdom, drinking tea and complaining about the weather and advocating the use of British English, original and best!

Rhetorically Speaking 3: Irony

In Search of Irony

A couple of books I’m reading at the moment have made references to “ironic t-shirts”. This got me to thinking, what exactly is an ironic t-shirt and for that matter, what exactly is irony.

It turns out that there are three main types of irony...

Verbal Irony

This is when you say something while implying something else. For example if there's a massive rainstorm outside and you say “What lovely weather we’re having!”. You are being ironic.

Dramatic Irony

When the readers or viewers are aware of a character’s situation and the characters themselves aren’t this is dramatic irony. In “Romeo and Juliet”, for example, Romeo is distraught because he thinks that Juliet is dead. He then kills himself. We as readers know that Juliet is not in fact dead, so that’s dramatic irony.

Situational Irony

Ah, my favourite type of irony. This is when a situation leads to results that would not normally be expected. Classic example
President Reagan was struck by a bullet that bounced off the presidential car. This is ironic because the car was bullet-proof (and probably bomb and missile proof too) and in normal circumstances would protect the president from bullets.
Irony in Popular Culture

In my quest for examples of irony I was led to popular culture and this sketch from Blackadder
Blackadder: Baldrick, have you no idea what irony is?
Baldrick: Yes, it's like goldy and bronzy only it's made out of iron.
Ok, this was just a simple play on words, but amusing nevertheless.

Apparently Americans “just don’t get irony”. Does this extend to Canadians too? Perhaps. You would think that Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” would be a great place to find some ironic scenarios. You’d be wrong. As Matt Sturge points out in this article most of what she mentions in the song is just bad luck/unfortunate timing:
Attempts at describing irony: 11
Successful attempts: 2.5
Irish comedian Ed Byrne showed he really knows what irony is all about: "The only ironic thing about that song is it's called 'Ironic' and it's written by a woman who doesn't know what irony is. That's quite ironic."

Anyway, back to those elusive ironic t-shirts. Ordinary t-shirts may turn out to be ironic if worn in the right situation. Take for example these ironic t-shirts to get arrested in. Strictly speaking artistic irony is when an artistic work refers back to earlier art.

My search for ironic t-shirts led me to this design, "Pop Art is Dead". Maybe this is the ultimate in ironic t-shirt design? The t-shirt is ironic in the artistic sense (referring to the pop art style) and situationally ironic (because it’s using pop art imagery while at the same time saying it’s dead). So it seems that not only is pop art still very much alive, but irony is helping to keep it that way.

Types of comma, and rules surrounding them

The isolating/bracketing commas:

The most common type of commas and they are used to show a weak interruption in the sentence, something we could put in brackets hence the name. They usually occur in pairs although sometimes one of them won’t show.
He was, I thought at the time, a decent enough person.
I never realised, however, how much effort it will take to go to University.
Alfred Charles Gimson, born in 1917, was an English phonetician.
The easiest way to check whether you need commas is to imagine a given sentence without the interruption you’re trying to mark. If it still makes sense – commas should be there e.g. He was a decent enough person is still a sentence even after removing I thought at the time.

A listing comma:

It can be replaced by and or or:
I like eating bananas, watermelons and kiwis. / I like eating bananas and watermelons and kiwis.
I will go to Italy, Spain or Portugal. / I will go to Italy or Spain or Portugal.
A joining comma:

It is used to join two complete sentences into one and is always followed by and, or, but, while and yet.
I went to college, and my husband did as well.
I must have forgotten about my homework, or there was no homework at all.
I loved him, but he turned out to be a psychopath.
She was a good and loyal person, while his new girlfriend is a lying cheat.
The train was running, yet I felt I was stuck in the same place.
A gapping comma:

It is used when omitting words already used in a sentence in order to avoid repetition.
I dyed my hair black, and my sister, red.
Bear in mind the comma before and is a joining comma, whereas the one before red is a gapping comma (used instead of repeating has dyed her hair).

Step by step grammar 5: Adverbs

An adverb is a word that we use when describing a verb. It usually ends in –ly and answers the questions: how? (quickly, carefully) When? (recently) How often? (regularly, weekly) . Most adverbs are formed by simply adding the aforementioned –ly to the end of an adjective e.g. slow slowly, patient patiently, smooth smoothly etc., however, there are exceptions too e.g. good well, fast fast.

We said that an adverb describes a verb. Look at the following examples:
I walked slowly. – slowly describes the verb walked – how did I walk/in what manner did I walk? Slowly.
I recently purchased a new vehicle. – When did I purchase that new vehicle? Recently.
I frequently exercise. – How often do I exercise? Frequently.
I hope this was easy. If you haven’t subscribed to yet do it now as there’s more to come. Next Wednesday we will explain what a preposition is.

I are Hulk, I has no grammar

Some people tend to think that knowledge of vocabulary is key to being able to speak a foreign language and that grammar is of less importance. Let me tell you that this isn’t true. We use grammar in everyday speech, whether we want to or not.  If meaning were to be contained within just the word, then we should be able to understand the following utterance without fail:
Well, we don’t understand it at all, do we? The problem occurs because there is a number of possibilities and every one of us can understand it in a different way.
A spot as a small part of different colour than the main part? A spot as a place? A spot as a small quantity?
We can’t possibly guess which sense is implied without any context given. But linguistically, giving context is giving a sentence and to give a sentence we need grammar.
There was a little black spot on my yellow summer dress. This nightclub we went to turned out to be quite a hot spot! Would you like a spot of tea?
With sentences everything becomes clearer. That means, with grammar everything becomes clearer. We are able to make sense!

We need to study grammar which is by no means of less value than other domain of knowledge, however, it is unfairly looked upon. Language is involved with everything humans do and to understand language is to understand grammar, the very basis of it. With no grammar, language would be like a house with no foundations. No other species has this incredible skill and ability to speak yet we, so often, carelessly neglect it. Furthermore, a first to understanding a foreign language is knowing the grammar of your mother tongue. You will find, that other languages have nouns, verbs and adjectives too and without knowing these terms it’s much harder to understand new linguistic concepts.

There is a significant difference between knowing grammar and knowing about grammar. We all ‘know’ grammar - you understand what I’m saying and you can express what you want to say too. If you are a native English speaker, then you have learnt this grammar unconsciously whereas if you studied English as a foreign language then you not only know its grammar but you probably know about it too. Hence no surprise the latter often know a lot more about the English grammar than the former. If never taught to do so, it is incredibly difficult to explain the grammatical terms and processes as they are plainly abstract ideas. And at the same time - it is just as difficult to understand them.

I used to get really frustrated with people who asked me about Polish and its grammar without having the slightest clue of how their own language works in the first place. They just seem to think there really is a magical pill I can give them so that they will suddenly grasp all of it. Once I started using terminology that is absolutely a must-know when discussing language and which they obviously failed to understand, they would look at me as if I lost my ability to speak at all and was making inarticulate noises instead. Argh! Then of course they’d say I’m showing off. Really awkward and really frustrating. Don’t do that to foreigners! Make a bit of effort instead. Websites such as English Focused are here to help you out. Have a look at our Step By Step Grammar Series, a painless walk through those seemingly difficult grammatical terms. Good luck!