Category Archives: Grammar

The grammar is the nuts and bolts of a language, it’s not enough to know the rules, you need to put the grammar into practice again, and again, and again until it seems like second nature. Practice makes perfect, so keep at it and you will get the aha effect. I promise!

The art of being vague.

Being British I now realise having moved to the land of Lederhosen and Sauerkraut almost 15 years ago that the Brits can be so painstakingly vague sometimes! We use phrases like, “See you at 2ish” – which would be a cardinal sin for your typical punctual type. Or worse still, “See you later”, when in actual fact there are no plans at all to see each other later that day – yup I have to raise my hand to this one. I used to do this. One glance back was enough to make me realise my mistake, as that panic stricken look upon my client’s face looked back at me as they frantically tried to remember when or where that was going to be and why oh why hadn’t they written it down? My vagueness sent them spiralling into the realms of self doubt – that dreaded fear of having screwed up and the associated navel gazing guilt trip that goes with it.

In a product development situation I have seen the Americans and the Brits driving their German team members and to some extent their Austrian counterparts to their wits end as their vague language has exposed many more questions than answers and putting progress on hold. So rather than breaking something down into measurable useful chunks that helpfully demonstrate that we are getting somewhere, you’ll hear terms like ‘testing is moving along nicely’ – I mean, “What the heck is that supposed to say?” Now call me cynical but that could mean just about anything – politicians say that kind of stuff all the time, now does it sound honest and assuring? No not really.

So let’s talk about how to get the specifics out of the ‘vague smooth it over’ types? Now it might seem a little condescending or rediculous getting your clients, colleagues or freelancers to answer specific questions but if you are going to move out of the foggy arena of guesswork into the safe haven of assurance, asking for specifics is going to be your only way forward. After all, as the Germans say, trust is good, but control is better.

Try some of these for size…

“What exactly do you mean by ….(repeating their phrase)?”
“So when you say “…” do you mean that….?”
“Has testing begun already or not?”
“How  many programmers are…?”
“Will we be ready to (insert the appropriate verb) on (date)?”
“Is there anything at all causing a delay?”

Pin em down honey, because it is better to be depressed about progress than dazzled by dodgers!



90% of German women make this English mistake

In the world of work, one of the first things that we get asked about, regardless of gender, age or cultural background is our careers. For those of us with a family, that normally involves explaining a career break when we left work to go and have a baby. Depending on where you live you’ll have been out of action for anything from a couple of days ‘start up babes and self employed tech gurus’ to up to three years, even longer f you had two or more children back to back.

So please ladies, please…ladies ….do me a favour – no wait – DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR and don’t make this mistake

“I became a baby.”

You see you might become lots of things when you get pregnant,
but you don’t become a baby.

Grammatical Explanation
If you become something, then you have changed from being one thing to another, so you might become a mother, or become the boss, or become bored with your job but by saying that you ‘became a baby’, you are saying that you went from being an adult – a fully functioning part of the team to a baby.

You are actually saying that you went from being an adult to being a baby. NOT Good.
Now, I’m not a raging feminist,  but is this really the impression we want to make girls?

So get it right, you must say “I had a baby and when I came back I ….” you didn’t become anything different although you might have developed new skills “I became more patient”.

Ideally to make a professional and authentic impression say,

“I went on maternity leave”.
Go on, say it ten times.

“I went on maternity leave”.
“I went on maternity …”.
“I went on mat…”.
“I went on …”. (pay attention to the preposition here ladies!
“I went …”.
“I …”.

Thank you.
Why not leave me a comment, telling me what you did after your maternity leave.
Typing it and saying it will fix it in your brain!

Rain Idioms to describe your project

As I sit here pondering on the sanity of going camping in the pouring rain, I started chuckling about one of those crazy conversations that I had with my students not so long ago.

You see on a rainy day, on the corporate English circuit as language trainers grab their brollies (umbrellas) to make it across the city for the next group or one to one coaching session, I as a Brit couldn’t help but cringe as I walked in the door to be greeted to some groan inducing remark about ‘typical English weather’. Now being a Brit “Stiff Upper Lip” and all that, I was raised to smile and ignore and don’t get me wrong, I am all for small talk, in fact my students know that I insist on it, and have even been known to walk out of the room for absence of it, but my mid afternoon, the joke’s wearing pretty thin and the need for a coffee is stronger than ever.


So one day in Munich, my last teaching gig of the day was at Roland Berger and I make no qualms about it, these were my favourite students at the time, I used to really enjoy this lesson! It was my favourite afternoon but I was determined to fast track past the ‘typical English weather’ comments, so before anybody could say anything, I said,

“Oh my goodness! It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” to which the mog (affectionate name for cat) loving secretary, whose English wasn’t at it’s best, looked horrified. Now of course there weren’t really cats and dogs falling out of the sky, but the drops were mighty big, like they can be in Munich.

The head of department did me proud and without a bat of an eyelid (without even thinking) said “It never rains, it pours!”, now this was fabulous, I desperately searched my human hard drive for more rain idioms to fuel our silly dialogue and came up with “But, it’s ok, don’t worry about me…”, with a theatrical attempt to get my frizzcharged curls under control, “I’m as right as rain” (meaning I am perfectly fine).

Now, the timing couldn’t have been better, but in came a consultant and said without even realising that we were having a rain idiom banter, “Think we need a rain check on the beer garden idea!” to which I asked, egging him on to go along with our impromptu sketch “But you will let Walther know when you’ll meet, won’t you?” with eyebrows in a frenzy “Come Rain or Shine!” (no matter what, come what may, in any case).

I thought I had escaped but then just as the consultant left, in came another colleague I used to teach and said “Perfect weather for you Corinne!” Agggghhhh. But the tears of laughter mixed with the splashes I had yet to control minimised the groan factor and we went on to talk about other idioms

It turned out that the youngest girl on the team hadn’t saved for a rainy day and was in a fix after her car had failed the MOT or regular safety checks. That tied in perfectly with my topic of the day, conditionals.

In terms of technology it might feel odd using idioms yourself when you are originally introduced to them, I feel the same with German ones, particularly as I don’t want to get the prepositions wrong but as you become more familiar with them and hear them being used more frequently, they won’t sound so unfamiliar and you can have a lot of fun with idioms.

Technology project tasks sometimes have to be ‘put on the back burner’ or put on hold whilst another part of the project takes priority and that is when we are likely to say that we’ll have to take a rain check on going out for a drink after work.


If you want to start using your English more actively without having to join a regular evening class, or ask for training at work, then why not try out an online chat/discussion forum like the one that we have in our facebook group. Even though you are not actually ‘speaking’ English, as you post more often, you’ll automatically start to type faster so you’ll start using a more authentic writing style that makes speaking a lot easier because it is very similar, but you still have the ‘safe haven’ of being to able to go back and edit anything before you post if you want to.

The FB Byte Sized English Bar is a great way to boost confidence in your language skills without anybody at work having to know that you are getting help with your English, so if you want to ask whether the way you have written something is correct, then share it with us and we’ll help you get it right before you send out the email, we’ll find a diplomatic way for you to explain for instance that the project is to far down the line to accept new change requests or that the fees involved are not negotiable. You can also work on your grammar through the regular quizzes and other activities or join in on the career specific discussions that come up.

A lot of the time we are there without an agenda or purpose, it is more like a girlie tech zone for us to be ourselves, communicating and helping each other in English at a time and space to suit us. Why not try it out for just €1 by filling in the form below

If you don’t take a chance, you don’t stand a chance!

You know what, it is easy to do what you have always done.

It is convenient to do things the way you always do them and if you want to try something new, there are always people out there, some of whom will consider themselves to be friends, that seem intent on putting a spanner in the works (to do something that prevents a plan or activity from succeeding). 

But we are all individuals in our own right and can find the energy and determination to do things if we want something badly enough.

When I was too blobby to fit into the wedding dress of my dreams I decided to lose weight – nothing new there I hear you cry, but for me this was the first time ever that I had ever even thought about my ‘diet’ so for me it was a big deal.  A first ever and a tough thing to do when your future husband is away from home and you are planning a wedding at the same time as starting a business. People said I was crazy, but actually, I would have been crazy not to – after all, if fitting into a wonderful wedding dress isn’t a great source of motivation, what is? I knew that I would never get this incentive to do something about my weight again and frankly it was about time.

I went to Finland and learned their language within 9 months because I didn’t want to be floating around like some bubble waiting to burst – there is nothing beautiful about a woman that is silienced into not being herself, chatting, learning, smiling and flourishing. I am proud to say that I was one of painfully few that bothered to learn Finnish, because I wanted to experience everything as close up as possible.

So if you are reading this blog because you know you ought to do something about your English, to give it a bit of sparkle, then think about whether you are ready to take the next step, the step into the byte sized english club, where you can ask any question, resolve any queries, run a sentence past me to see if it is grammatically correct, because you are paying €9,99 a month to do so.


if you don’t take a chance
you don’t stand a chance!

Just go to the Byte Sized English and request access, then I’ll send you payment details by email. Easy.

The Top 10 Grammar Mistakes to Avoid in a Presentation

You know, one of my pet hates is when someone says “Where are you staying?”. I mean give me a break! I have been living here for 15 years and my German isn’t THAT bad. In fact I think most people seem to think it’s good or excellent (if they are telling me the truth), but we all have tired days when our grammar seems to take on a life of it’s own. We all tend to talk too fast when we are nervous and we all have those brain drain moments when that essential word vanishes into thin air.


But don’t beat yourself up about it, do something about it, practice, practice, practice!

I went to a meeting the other day and there were some women giving a presentation and I noticed that for as long as the talk made sense I skimmed the mistakes and zoned in on what they had to say.

However as the presentation lost momentum, and I glazed over, I began to notice every little slip up and it hit me like a tonne of bricks that actually it is the same mistakes that non native speakers make again and again, so here goes:

1. Use conjunctions – don’t expect me to be joining up or finishing your sentence and keep concentrating on what you are saying at the same time, whilst I decipher I am not listening.

2. Get the prepositions right (place, time, subject), it’s a distraction

3. Don’t use the verb ‘nice’ – especially if you are a woman!

4. Word Order. If you make my brain do somersaults to assemble your sentence, I will lose focus on what you are saying.

5. Verb endings ‘Lucy want to know’… STOP it is just one letter, but the ‘s’, really does make a difference.

6. Pronunciation – it’s business not beezness. Lots of dictionaries have audio files now, so use them and listen ‘actively’ to native speakers and mirror them (make a ‘speak’ note if you have to).

7. Terminology – donors give blood, sponsors give money. Get the financial and technical terms right to get big points in terms of credibility.

8. Don’t tell me to do stuff. Remember that I don’t HAVE to do anything, if you speak a direct language then you’ll need to soften it to win the hearts of native speaking funders.

9. Plural/Single. Come on, this is a no brainer, so get it right, please avoid saying things like lots of man, a cash, informations, trainings. 85% of people slip up with this.

10. Weedy words. We are trying to, we want to, we hope to, we attempt … because you know what?  If you want funding, I want to be assured that you can pull this off.

And finally, if you don’t feel confident about your grammar, get it checked by a native speaker that has time to spare or a translator if you can afford it or at the reasonably prices, open all hours Byte Sized English Club on Facebook. Free for my local first 30 members, after that it will be €9.99 per month after a €0.99 trial of 30 days.

Then make the time to learn it off by heart or get familiar with the flow of the text or even read your notes so that you don’t say things like

“I go to good meeting with woman who want to…”
“What I should do now”

Because quite frankly I am a language trainer, so I have built up quite a high tolerance level for these mistakes over the last 14 years, but for a native speaker being asked to fork out their cash,  grammatically gruelling presentations are unlikely to lead to a negotiation.

Harsh but true.

How’s the project Going?

I remember, soon after getting to Germany, being told to use some Vitamin B, which baffled me. After all we would have been talking about my job search endeavours and then they seemed to go off topic and start talking about my health – odd!

The first time, I just glazed over and assumed I had misunderstood or heard them wrong – after all that happens a lot when you are not confident using a language, doesn’t it?

But time and time again, I was being winked at with the term ‘Vitamin B‘.  Now I am as much of a flirt as the next girl, but I didn’t get the impression that these guys were ‘cracking on to me’. 

You know what; I seriously began to worry about looking ill, I would go to the toilets, check that I didn’t look even paler than I normally do – after all, I am partly irish with freckles, but I had a hunch it was something else – well it was, it was an idiom and quite frankly it put me out in the cold. For those of you that don’t speak German, I later discovered that ‘Vitamin B’ means Beziehungen or contacts. So I could relax, I wasn’t on death’s door, but perhaps I ought to draw on my contacts a bit more.

So come back inside, take your coat off and let me share with you some idioms that you might use to explain where you are in terms of getting your start-up or project off the ground.

Now if you’ve got a client just about to sign on the dotted line (sign the contract), then you might well want to ‘keep your cards to your chest‘ and tell people that you are hammering out the details. Well surely a hammer isn’t much good to anyone as a rule in business, but of course it has another meaning. What you are really saying is that you are in the process of working something out or negotiating with someone, in what might have become a rather difficult and energy consuming discussion, often virtually as opposed to in person, with exchanges of emails, skype calls and so on. Now if you are feeling a little more confident about things, and you get the impression that signing is only a matter of time and that the delay is purely technicalities, then you might want to ‘put your cards on the table’ and say ‘we’ve got it in the bag‘.

When it comes to technology, which rarely runs smoothly, then they might talk about ‘ironing something out‘ or ‘fixing a glitch‘.  Now a glitch is not usually a big or key technical problem – hopefully – but it is something that it going to take a little thought (loosely translated to the client as time) to put right, something not immediately obvious in the coding for instance.

The most charming and enjoyable way to become more familiar with idioms is to use English regularly, not recommended with other German speakers though, instead it makes more sense to come in and join us in the facebook group Byte Sized English, where we are constantly stumbling upon idioms as we discuss each other’s projects and plans.  So why not join us, to ‘suck it and see‘.