How did you learn English? An Interview with our EEC Staff

Meet Sahar!

She has worked at EEC for almost one year now as our hard-working, assistant director. She uses both English and Arabic at work, juggling tasks such as liaising with teachers, staff members and, of course, our students. Basically, she’s part of the family here. We decided to find out more about her, and how she came to learn English. What better way to do this than a one-to-one interview?

Hi Sahar, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us.

No problem, I’m happy to help others who are also learning English.

So, how old were you when you started learning English, and where did you start learning?

I started learning English when I was a child but I didn’t like it. It was a hard language for me. However, when I started to grow up I realized how important it was to learn English – in many aspects of life. Therefore, I really started learning 4 years ago. I went to the United States to study English.

Wow! That was a great opportunity for you! Tell us about your time studying in America.

Oh, it was an amazing experience! I went to Minnesota for 10 months and then I moved to Philadelphia, or Philly as we called it, for 9 months. I learned English for Academic purposes, which you might know as EAP. It was effective. I learned the techniques of writing and how to write different kinds of essays accurately. I wrote about various subjects. I made multinational friends and learned more about their cultures. Also, I learned how to adapt to different lifestyles. In terms of the cons, learning English for Academic purposes doesn’t emphasis speaking. Also, the time of the classes was too long so I didn’t have a lot of time to go out and make conversation with native speakers. Other than that though, it was just wonderful.

What is the most challenging aspect of learning English for you?

Speaking with native English speakers is the most challenging part of learning English, although I’m definitely getting more practice from working at EEC. The teachers are from America and Britain, so I enjoy listening to lots of different accents.

How do you study? From books, TV, or something else?

I love to watch TV shows and movies with English subtitles. I usually write down the whole sentence that I hear and try to use them in my conversation.

How has working in an English academy helped you to improve your English?

Before working here, I didn’t like speaking with people in English. I preferred texting them or writing to them. Now that I work at EEC, and because all the employees including the director are native speakers, they help me to improve my speaking and fix the mistakes that I make.

Do you have any advice for students learning English?

First of all, learning a new language is something you can do at any age. You’re never too old! English is the language that you need everywhere, whether at your job, traveling, studying or to order something online. It’s so important.

Also, learn English from native speakers to pronounce the words well and to learn new slang. You will sound more natural.

Lastly, practice your English everywhere and anytime. Make a note of new sentences that you hear or learn and start to use them. Never stop learning.

Thank you Sahar. You’ve been a great help and it was a pleasure talking to you today.

You’re welcome.

Arabic speakers learning English: The most common mistakes

What are some of the most common errors made by Arabic speaking learners of English? Well, as English teachers, we get to teach lots of different nationalities, and each one has unique strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Spanish struggle with pronunciation but can’t stop talking, the Koreans are great at grammar but shy as mice when speaking up in class, the Brazilians have no problems speaking but have trouble constructing sentences on paper. So what about Arabic speakers? Well, over here at EEC we’ve compiled a list of the most common errors, which Arab students see as a challenge. Can you guess what some of them are?

Let’s take a look!

  1. Confusing ‘p’ with ‘b’, and ‘t’ with ‘d’

    I often get asked by students, ‘Teacher, do you have any beds?’ Beds?! Of course I have a bed, I would answer. Why wouldn’t I have a bed? How would I sleep otherwise? My student would then say, ‘You need a bed to sleep at night?’ and this confusing conversation would go on for a few minutes before everything became clear. ‘Bed’ meant ‘pet’! No wonder it seemed strange that I needed my ‘pet’ beside me in order to sleep at night!

    Arab students often pronounce letters in a stronger way than in English – and as you can see, this leads to a LOT of misunderstandings! So, how can you solve this problem? Okay, I want you to try something. Put your lips together as if you are about to say the word ‘bed’ and as you open them, blow out just a little air. Just a little! Remember, you’re not blowing up a balloon, you’re just letting out the tiniest bit of air. Do not press down on your lips. This should make a ‘p’ sound instead of a ‘b’ sound. Try saying the word ‘please’ now. If it comes out sounding like a ‘b’, then you haven’t blown out any air, and you’ve pressed down too hard on your lips. Got it? Keep repeating. Now, once you’ve become good at this, follow the same rule with your tongue. When putting your tongue up to the back of your top, front teeth to say the word ‘dog’ – let a little air out and drop your tongue to let out the air. Don’t press on your tongue. Try it! Do you hear any difference? It should sound like a ‘t’ now, not a ‘d’. Try saying the word ‘table’. Again, if it sounds like ‘dable’, then you’re not blowing out enough air and you’re pressing down too hard. Now, let’s have that ‘pet’ conversation one more time…;)

  2. Over-pronouncing

    Arab speakers are used to pronouncing every single sound in a word, and often in a strong, clear manner. It’s different with English. We don’t always pronounce every letter, and sometimes what we’re saying sounds very different from what is written on paper. My students struggle with this a lot. To make matters even more complicated, we have something called a ‘schwa’. What’s a ‘schwa’?? I hear you ask. Well, are you ready for this? It’s the unstressed vowel that is usually somewhere in the middle of a word. Huh? Don’t worry, we’ve put together some examples for you. ‘London’ is not pronounced exactly as it is written. The second vowel, ‘o’, which is near the end of the word, is dropped, almost like we don’t need it there. When native speakers say ‘London’, it actually sounds like ‘Lundn’. The first vowel sounds more like a ‘u’ than an ‘o’ and the second vowel is a ‘schwa’ – an unstressed vowel. Let’s try another one: ‘Freedom’ – we actually drop the ‘o’ and it sounds like ‘freedm’. Try saying it like that. I bet you sound more natural now. Okay, let’s try one more: ‘pleasant’. We don’t say ‘pleasANT.’ No, we say ‘pleasnt’. Try it! Why don’t we just spell it this way to make life much easier? Well, that’s just how it is unfortunately. Try to learn about the schwa and imitate native speakers. A good way to start is by listening to your teacher carefully and then repeating, watching YouTube videos, or simply listening to the radio. Relax your voice when speaking in English, try not to over-pronounce as you would do in Arabic, and repeat the words over and over until you get it right. Before you know it, your friends will think you just got back from studying in the US or UK!

  3. Reading

    When Arab speakers read English, it’s much more difficult than, for example, Spanish, Italian or French speakers. Arabic is from a different language family entirely, so Arab speakers need more time to process the words correctly. When you are reading, try to slow down. Sound out each letter and use an online dictionary sound button to check the pronunciation, or ask your teacher if you have one. When you read aloud in class (or to yourself), make sure that your tone of voice goes down before each full stop, to tell your listeners that a sentence has ended. This helps break up the reading into small parts so that you can understand it better. It can be difficult for listeners to follow your reading if you don’t change the tone of your voice, and your classmates, and your teacher, might be left confused. Don’t ignore question marks or commas either – raise your tone of voice before a question mark and pause slightly at each comma. Doing this will also help you to process what is on the paper. Most importantly, take your time and read voraciously! What does ‘voraciously’ mean? Well, start by going to Google and instead of using the dictionary or Google Translate (not recommended!), type ‘reading voraciously for English learners’ into the search engine. Find an article. Try to read it, or at least try to read part of it. See if you can guess the meaning of the word from the sentences around it, in other words, the ‘context’. Are you correct? Now you can check the dictionary. By following this kind of system, you not only improve your vocabulary and spelling, but also your reading skills. Remember, low tone at full stops, pause at commas, high tone at question marks, and sloooooooooow down.

  4. Writing

    The most common errors I see in writing are run-on sentences, wrong tenses and spelling. What does all of that mean? Well, run-on sentences means that the writer has not used a full stop when he/she should have. Maybe a comma was used instead and this is a mistake. Take the following example: ‘The dog ate the food, it was delicious.’ Right? Wrong! ‘It’ (the dog) is a new subject here. Of course, we are still talking about the dog but we are making a new statement about the dog. Every sentence in English follows a ‘subject + verb’ pattern, or a ‘subject + verb + object’ pattern in most cases. Whenever you have a new subject, you need a full stop and a new sentence (with a capital letter). Now, you can use linking words such as ‘and’ or ‘but’, but if you don’t want to use a linking word – you need that full stop. Can a comma be used instead of a full stop? The answer is no. A comma is a pause, not the end of the story. When we speak, we often pause for a second and breathe in before continuing our sentence, just for a split second – that’s a comma. For example, ‘I went to the shops, and I bought a dress.’ When you say this aloud, do you notice where you naturally make a tiny pause? It’s right before ‘and’, which is where our comma should go. If you are to say ‘I went to the shops. I bought a dress’ out loud, then the pause is slightly longer isn’t it? That’s a full stop. ‘I’ is a new subject. Let’s go back to the example of the dog and the food. The correct sentence would be: ‘The dog ate the food. It was delicious.’ or ‘The dog ate the food and it was delicious.’ Remember – commas and full stops are not the same thing!

    Another problem in writing is using wrong tenses. If you’re writing about something that happened last week, use one of the past tenses (simple or continuous, depending on the story) and keep using a past tense until the time of your story changes. After each sentence, go back and read it. Do the tenses match the time of your event? Ask yourself if the event has finished, or is repeated often, or is continuing now. Sometimes you’re going to have to use a verb in the infinitive, that is ‘to ask’ for example, even in the past. That’s a special case though. ‘I wanted to ask her to come to the party.’ It’s in the past, but two verbs are sitting together and they cannot both be in the past tense. This is an exception. Make sure that your main verb ‘wanted’ is in the past though. To get examples, try reading some stories set in the past, present and future and pay attention to how the verbs are used. Some might seem like they are in the wrong tense – but is it part of the exception? Try it. Reading is key!

    And finally, the dreaded spelling! So many people have problems with spelling, so you’re not alone. When you learn a new word, break that word down into what we call ‘CVC’ which is, ‘consonant-vowel-consonant’. For example, ‘sister’ would be ‘sis/ter’ s = consonant, i = vowel, s = consonant. Say it aloud. ‘sis’. This is going to help you remember later that it’s an ‘i’ and not a ‘e’ for example. You might need to brush up on your vowel sounds too. I know, I know – you did this in beginner English, or when you were at elementary school, but that was a long time ago now. It is a great idea to go back and practise the vowel sounds again. Arabic speakers have problems with the vowel sounds. Another example is ‘reception’ which would be ‘re/cep/tion’. Read each part aloud. Your brain will visualise the spelling, making it easier for you to remember later. Try it, and see how it works for you.

  5. Using the verb ‘to be’

    The final entry in our list of common errors is the famous verb ‘to be’ or the ‘is/are/am’ verb. Arabic does not have this verb in the present tense, so it’s particularly difficult for Arabic speakers to remember to use it. Of course you need to know and understand the grammar rules behind using the verb ‘to be’, but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier to remember to use it in speaking, does it? The key to solving this problem is not by getting stuck into your grammar books once again, it’s by practising your speaking as much as possible in a relaxed setting. Not all of us have teachers, so if you’re studying English by yourself, use a good website such as and ask the native speaker to correct you when you forget to use ‘is, am, are’. We also have the word ‘do’ which isn’t used in Arabic, and it means that Arabic speakers often make mistakes forming questions. Ask your teacher, friend, or language partner to check your use of ‘do’ as well, and practise by asking lots and lots of ‘Do you…’ questions. Are you describing something? Then you’ll have to use the verb ‘to be’. Are you stating a fact? Again, you will need to use the verb ‘to be’. Asking a question that includes a verb? Here comes ‘do’ again. Get yourself a language partner and start practising!

So, that concludes our list of the most common errors among Arabic speakers. Try applying some of these tips in your next class, study session or conversation – and let us know how you get on!


Eight essential tips to learning the REAL British English!

If there’s one thing I hear from my students a lot, it’s that they often understand American English more easily than British English. After all, most movies come from Hollywood, popular celebrities like Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Angelina Jolie are all American or Canadian, and much of our ‘pop culture’ (modern popular culture) comes from the U.S. However, many of my students desperately want to understand British English better, and they’re always asking for tips. So, how can it be done?

First, let’s forget about those traditional English textbooks you have for just a little while. Switch your focus to using authentic materials such as magazines, online articles, blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts, Netflix and social media. There is a wealth of information out there to help you. Brush up on your understanding of traditional British English first, before moving on to the harder stuff – the ‘slang’! We’ve put together a list of eight essential resources to get you started!

  1. Downton Abbey

    First, you will need to tune your ear to the sounds of the British accent. Get yourself comfortable on the sofa with a cup of English tea and a biscuit, and get started on episode one of this hugely popular British TV show available on iTunes. It’s set in the 1920s, so it’s certainly not going to teach you about pop culture or slang, but it’s an excellent way to get a good understanding of traditional British English before you move on. If you’ve been listening to American English for years and don’t quite understand other accents, this is a good place to begin.

  2. Sherlock

    This fantastic British crime drama focuses on the stories of Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Doctor Watson. British people have been glued to this series since 2010. Not only will it dramatically increase your vocabulary, it’s set in beautiful modern-day London and the stories will have you entertained for hours. Check out your local Virgin Megastore for this DVD series or try to catch it online.

  3. Love Actually

    A modern-day British classic. This film from 2003, available on iTunes, is set in London but will give you a small range of British regional accents as many characters come from other parts of the UK. It’s hugely entertaining, funny, and romantic. Try it with subtitles first, and then watch it again without subtitles once you understand the story. It’s a wonderful blend of formal British English and slang, great for transitioning to modern day English. Have a look on Netflix for this great resource. My students loved it!

  4. ClassFame

    A wonderful website hosted by George and Sheikh, two English teachers working in Saudi Arabia. Their YouTube videos are becoming increasingly popular in Riyadh because they’re funny, easy to understand and always presented in a fun way. Now that you’ve started to get used to the sounds of the British accent, check out their videos on ‘slang’ and ‘British vs. American English’ to move you on to modern day spoken English.

  5. Zoella

    Although this isn’t an English teaching channel, my students really enjoy Zoella’s YouTube videos on all things lifestyle – beauty, chats, cooking, and for the purposes of learning British English, a very entertaining video called ‘British Slang with Joey Graceffa’. If you’ve worked your way through this list then you’ll probably have developed a list of new and strange words by now. Don’t forget to start using them in the classroom!

  1. Teacher Luke

    Luke’s English Podcast is a wonderful listening resource for adapting your ear to British English. He covers lots of British slang words and explains their meanings in a clear and simple way, to help develop that list of vocabulary. Ready for your next trip to London yet?

  2. Twitter

    #Hashtag #Tweet #DM #RT… you know what these mean? If not, you need to get yourself on Twitter! @EspressoEnglish and @WoodwardEnglish are just two of many Twitter accounts to follow if you’re trying to brush up on your English. They’ll post daily tweets and words of the day, along with example sentences. Make sure to search for British English and start following British Twitter users. You’ll even make some British friends!

  3. The Dictionary of Slang and Conventional English, by Eric Partridge

    Get on to Amazon and order this handy little slang dictionary to carry around with you. You can use it when watching British films, TV shows, listening to podcasts and even chatting with other social media users. Just remember though – this definitely is NOT the book to use for those IELTS essays!

So, are you British yet? 😉

Good luck!

How to write a great introduction for IELTS Writing Task 2

How important is it to create a good first impression when meeting friends for the first time?

The opinion formed in those first few seconds sets the tone for the rest of the relationship, and it is exactly the same with the relationship between you and your reader, or in this case your IELTS examiner! Have you ever picked up a book, looked at the cover, read the first two or three sentences and put it straight back down? How long did it take you to decide that you didn’t want the book? Just a few seconds! If your introduction is vague, off-point, incoherent and full of errors, your examiner will already start to form an opinion of your essay – and it won’t be good! Even if the rest of your essay shines out as an example of magnificent writing and clear thought, your introduction will not, unfortunately, be forgotten.

On the other hand, if the opening to your essay is concise, well-structured and clearly states the subject and argument, then you’re off to a great start and you’ll have your examiner smiling already!

So, now that we know how important the introduction is, we need to now how to do it. Is it easy? Actually, once you learn how, and have practiced many times, it should be easier than the rest of the essay!

There are two basic steps to writing a good introduction:

1. Introducing the topic: paraphrase the question, using a general topic sentence.

2. Write your thesis statement: (1) State the argument in relation to the topic, giving your opinion if required and (2) how you will come to your conclusion.

Don’t forget – only give your opinion if you are asked for it and read the question carefully first!

Let’s look in some more detail now…

1. Introducing the topic:

Paraphrasing the question means that you need to repeat what the question asks, but in a different form and in different words. You know what I’m talking about right? Synonyms! Let’s look at some examples..

Essay Question: Crime is a big problem in the world; many believe that nothing can be done to prevent it. To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give your own opinion.

Paraphrase: Crime is unquestionably one of the most prevailing and worrying aspects in any society, and its prevention should be taken seriously.

Note how the writer has used synonyms such as prevailing and worrying instead of ‘big’, then has used aspect rather than ‘problem’, society instead of ‘world’ and its prevention instead of ‘prevent it’. If you cannot think of a synonym, try changing the word form, for example here the writer changed the verb ‘prevent’ to its noun form ‘prevention’. That can work well too.

You should not be giving any details in this first sentence and it should not include your opinion. More importantly, it should be concise and to the point!

2. Writing your thesis statement:

Despite a widely held belief that crime will always exist at current levels, it is my opinion that crime prevention can be executed in various ways, firstly through a sustained honest presence in the community and secondly through international cooperation.

The writer first states the topic argument (that many believe prevention is not possible) and then gives his opinion (he believes that we can prevent crime). He then goes on to say how he will support his answer with reasons (presence in the community and international cooperation). The reasons are a bit like a roadmap to tell your examiner what he or she is going to be reading. There shouldn’t be any surprises later on that weren’t included in the introduction. A good idea is to either write the introduction last, or keep looking back at it to make sure you have covered everything you said you would and haven’t included any new information!

See how powerful a well-written introduction can be?

But what about questions that are slightly different, like problem-solution essays, or cause-effect essays? The formula for a good introduction is still based on the same method: introducing the topic through paraphrasing, then writing a thesis statement by outlining the argument and what your essay will say. The only difference is that in your thesis statement, you may not be dealing with two opposing sides but rather a problem, or cause, and then a solution or effect. Whether you include your own opinion in your thesis statement depends on whether the question has asked you to do so.

Essay question: The Internet has transformed the way information is shared and consumed, but it has also created problems that did not exist before. What are the most serious problems associated with the Internet and what solutions can you suggest?

Introducing the topic: The enormous growth in the use of the Internet over the last decade has led to radical changes in the way that people consume and share information.

Thesis statement: Although serious problems have arisen as a result of this, there are solutions, which this essay will demonstrate.

You are still introducing the topic and then writing a thesis statement just as you would have for an agree/disagree essay. Once you’ve had enough practice, your introduction should only take you a few minutes, leaving you with ample time to focus on the rest of your essay.

Good luck!

How to stay motivated when studying English

Have you ever been so excited to start learning a new language that you immediately buy a bunch of books and get straight to work? Of course you have – that’s what it felt like in the beginning, right? You get past learning greetings and present tense, move up a level or two, start learning a few more difficult words, and then…you just stop. Why do we stop?

It’s extremely common among English learners to hit what we call a ‘plateau’ – a point where we just can’t seem to move forward and we lose interest. So how can we keep our focus and continue to enjoy learning all the way to fluency?

Here are a few tips:

1. Read English material that you find interesting! Do you love to eat well and exercise at the gym every day? Then get your hands on a fitness magazine or find articles online about how to shed calories and treat your body as a temple. Enjoy cooking? Follow blogs and Twitter feeds that give you recipes and cooking tips in English. Maybe you want to know what’s going on in the world, so start reading English newspapers. You’ll be doing two things at the same time – learning something new about your passion and developing your vocabulary!

2. Get hooked on a series or soap opera in English! I don’t know about you, but I love grabbing a bowl of popcorn and watching some Netflix. Many of my best students who speak English very naturally, tell me that they learned most of what they know from TV! But you have to enjoy what you’re watching! Find a show that keeps you engrossed, get to know the characters, and watch it every day.

3. Make friends in English. I know this isn’t easy – especially in Saudi Arabia! How are you supposed to meet people who don’t speak Arabic? Well, the Internet is a wonderful thing. These days there are numerous social media sites where it’s possible to converse with others in English. As you develop new friendships, you’ll find that you want to continue learning so you can speak to them more!

4. Use a study calendar. If you’re like me, you sometimes find it hard to stick to things. My goal is to exercise more and so to keep motivated, I have a calendar where each day I go to the gym, I mark it off on the day that I went. Set a goal for yourself, for example, by the end of the month you’ll have learned 100 new words, or 20 new English idioms. Goals help keep us motivated, but don’t make your goals too high, too soon. Be realistic!

5. Offer to be the English speaker. When you go to a restaurant or the mall with your friends and family, speak confidently in English in front of them. Don’t worry if you make mistakes – just laugh it off. Trust me, they’ll be impressed by your confidence! You’ll want to run home and keep studying so that you can continue to show off – nothing wrong with that!

So grab those dusty English books from the bottom of your cupboard, pick up your pen and keep going – you can do it!!!

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