Tag Archives: Grammar

Giving Instructions in English, clear but polite, a fine balance.

Being able to give good clear instructions is an important skill to learn both for your career and family life. To avoid having to do everything in life yourself, you are going to have to learn to delegate, but to do that you need to be able to give good clear instructions. If you neglect to tell people how to do something, the chances are that the task will be done in a different way (not necessarily worse I hasten to add) but giving instructions gives you a handle on quality control.

Delegation frees up your time for what you do best.

Coco’s Britspeak Byte

The Brits are a polite nationality, we insist on pleases and thank you’s. We are a little odd; we apologise, even though it was us that got pushed and shoved. We are a generally quite a chaotic nationality by German standards and yet we like to keep things fair by joining a queue in an orderly line. We complain about those very same queues but would never push without asking or sneak in at the front.

We generally try to avoid confrontations and keep to first names because being liked and approachable are seen to be key leadership values. Ultimately being liked and a team player are both more important than being right or first.

Giving instructions and taking on the role of boss can be a real challenge for many Brits because clear instructions are clear and consise, the Brits feel bossy without politeness to protect them and nobody likes a ‘bossy boots’. (A  poem to demonstrate)

The right structures to give easy to follow instructions.

In theory at least, in the English language, we use the imperative form to give directions.

1. “Take the bus to Zoologischer Garten, then walk to the Hop on/Hop off bus stop on Kururstendamm, Keep going until you get to Kaufhaus des Westens. The sightseeing buses stop right there!”

(not ride the bus, that would make it sound like you were sitting on the roof)

2. “Turn left and go straight on.”

3. “Do something in English for at least ten minutes a day, every day!”

4. “Be careful!”

5. “Take your time” can loosely be translated as ‘pay attention to the details’, depending on the situation.

6. “Please take a seat.” Request

7. “May I take your coat” Invitation 

8″Take a seat.” Command

NOT “I take your coat” Daylight robbery 😉

Instructions Vocabulary
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Infinitives first for imperative Instructions

Let’s take a look at how to use the imperative. Firstly, you need to work out what the infinitive form of the verb is (to go, to sit, to take, to drive etc), now just forget about the ‘to’ and you are ready to put that infinitive at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis.

Get ready

Go to the meeting, I’ll join you in there

Try to contact the client again, we need his support with the beta testing by the end of the week if we are to keep to schedule.

 To make it negative, it’s easy, just put a  “do not” or “don’t” before  the  verb.

 Don’t is less assertive or strict than “do not”.


Don’t go to lunch without me, I’m just finishing this email!”

Do not leave your computer on when you leave the office.”


Giving instructions

You might well be familiar with the imperative form if you are the

type of person that reads instruction manuals. In the spoken English

language we also use the same format to show someone how to do

something. Check out the huge range of “How to…” videos to see

how versatile this structure is.

It is helpful in terms of helping someone to get their head around

the bigger picture.


We tend to use “sequencing” words to give details of the steps in the process.



For example “firstly“, “secondly” and”finally” helps a lot.

Even simple instructions can be broken into ‘byte sized’ chunks.

Firstly, open the lid of the printer

Secondly, check which cartridges need changing

Then, unwrap a new cartridge and slot it firmly into position

Finally, close the lid and test the printer.


Watch this How To Video

It’s about how this father to a teenager tries to break down the clearly monumental (huge) instructions of changing a toilet role.


People also say “after that” instead of “then” and “first” / “second”

instead of “firstly” and “secondly”.


Breaking something down into manageable steps will make it much

easier for people to understand the process, making your business

communication more effective.

Tips & Tricks

When you are giving instructions, you can help the other person to

follow your instructions with additional information and advice.

Remember: have the cartridge handy, before you open the printer

Be careful not to … put the empty cartridge down in a way that left

over ink can leak and damage a desk or the carpet.

Try to … have your printer at a height where it is easy to get to

Try not to … change the cartridges unless they are really empty

You need to … check that the paper is correctly aligned too

It’s important to … order more cartridges when there are only two

more in the storage cupboard.

Examples of Imperatives in a Dialogue to provide instructions.

It helps to … get the cartridge before you open the printer

Make/Be sure to … reload the paper at the same time so that any

backlog in printing can be quickly processed without further


Always … check your printer in tray and delete any duplicate print


Never … take the last cartridge without checking that new ones

have been ordered.


Check out the Online Support for this Week’s Blog HERE 

This clarity would make it easy to understand.  Unfortunately, native

speakers like to take the sting out of instructions by adding

colloquialisms without even realising it,

Use adjectives and adverbs.

This adds an element of ‘how to’ to your instructions. Compare.

1. Rehearse your speech beforehand, making notes on your script.

2. Rehearse your speech repeatedly beforehand, read slowly and

clearly and make notes on your script in green so that you can edit

your script to reflect your own personal speaking style.




We can also use the imperative form to give a warning or advice,

and (if you use “please”) to make a request.

The Devil is in the Detail

Subsequently (after you have given the basic instructions) , to be more specific, you might want to use words like simultaneously, immediately, incidentally.

Instructions Made Easy

Big words perhaps, you might think. Is it really necessary to use such complicated words? Well it depends on whether you are giving instructions to your child about how to open a can of sweetcorn or whether you are showing your deputy how to handle the press in a crisis doesn’t it?


Instructions Ask for the Meaning
It is better feel silly for a moment than ignorant for a lifetime

One thing is certain, if the person carrying out the instructions does not understand these words and is not self-confident enough to confirm their meaning, then frustration is inevitable.


Praise – Making people feel valued is the most genuine way to secure their loyalty.


So what is the big deal about praise?

Praise pleases people. The bottom line is (ultimately) that we all feel better about what we are doing if someone notices – somehow it makes it more worthwhile. Praise shows appreciation and that makes a big difference. It’s a key motivator and costs nothing.

Let me give you a classic example: If you are a mum like me, you probably feel like some of the domestic chores that are all part and parcel of having a family are so insanely dull and yet nobody ever comes home and says “Ooh, the kitchen is nice and tidy!” or “Thanks for making our home look so nice on a Friday”. It’s self-explanatory and yet just a kiss would make all the difference wouldn’t it?

You don’t need to ‘spread it on thick’ (exaggerate). That can make people feel uncomfortable and most people see right through it any way . Finding the right balance between ignoring someone’s talents, efforts or personality traits and overdoing it on the compliment front comes naturally for some and less so for others.

Like anything, practice makes perfect and if you are the type of person that would rather run a marathon in the rain than give a compliment or praise someone, the chances are that your relationships suffer as a result. What a shame, keep reading.

So what can I say?

The Americans would say “Great Job!”, “Awesome!” but to the Brits, this would sound patronising, in the UK we might talk to a Kindergarten child that way but not to an adult.

Same language, culturally, a world apart.

Try these for size, say them out loud or in your head

“You must have worked hard on that”
“I appreciate your support today, thanks”
“It looks like you have spent a fair bit of time preparing for that, the time investment certainly paid off.”
“I loved how you handled that guy’s question about…”

Psychologists claim that positive reinforcement works better than punishment. Thank goodness for that! The carrot works better than the stick in other words and after all, we are adults. Punishments for adults just seems so rediculous to me.

IDIOM “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

Meaning that you can give someone an opportunity to do something, but you cannot force them to do it if they do not want to. If they don’t see why there is no guarantee that they’ll want to do it.

With compliments and praise,  it is the same. If you try to make someone feel appreciated or a valued member of the team but they don’t think you mean it, then it won’t have any impact on them and they will not respect you, no matter what you say to them.

Don’t worry about making grammar mistakes.

You really don’t need to worry about getting the grammar right, if your intentions are honest and sincere, the words will be much more important that the grammar or pronunciation.

Coco’s Cultural Insight

I tend to make mistakes with du and Sie in Germany, I understand the rules for it but find it really difficult to be consistent with implementing this. I can manage a couple of sentences but then I go off the rails and make mistakes. It annoys me but evidently not enough to change it, so what’s going on? When I talk about this to my clients or friends they often say “Oh don’t worry, people realise from your personality that you wouldn’t want to offend someone”. Well I certainly hope so.

Confession Time

To be totally honest though,  and I must confess that I thought hard about deleting this part deep down I have been raised (in the UK) to treat everyone with respect. For me, respect has to be earned, whereas here in Germany it is often determined by your age and superiority. I have huge respect for people that are brilliant at what they do or obviously older members of the community but I have serious problems saying Sie to someone who is clearly incompetent, rude, obnoxious and less qualified than I am. I think the Germans do to actually.

This mindset is something culturally ingrained, so I suspect that it is this innermost belief that subconsciously holds me back. You can take a horse to drink (teach them the rules) but you can’t make them drink (obey the rules perfectly). I am working on it! Honest!

Perfectionist Workaround

If you feel the need to get praise grammatically correct, why not write a short handwritten note instead?  It can be a card or letter, (any excuse Corinne!) or it can be something as simple and understatement as a Post-it note. There is something about a compliment in writing that makes people feel special. You can cheat when it comes with the help of ‘grammarly.com’ via Windows. Alternatively, you can cheat with one of the following:

“I noticed how you helped that customer today in a wheelchair, you were so kind and supportive, exemplary customer service, it was a pleasure to watch.”

Or better still, make it more of a casual dialogue, like this…

“That client was firing on all cylinders today wasn’t he?”
“Oh yeah, you mean the guy with the broken cable? Yeah, something got his goat all right (smiling)
“You were so patient, that’s incredible, I find it so hard to control my temper when a customer is being as rude as he was. How do you do that?”
“I dunno, perhaps he was just having a bad day” (Trying to make light of it)
“Well I thought that you handled him brilliantly/well/very professionally”
“Oh, cheers” (goes away feeling kind of proud too even though he might not have thought much about it until now)

Notice how this was specific, you mentioned exactly which behaviour or action you were impressed by and ASAP “today”, don’t make people wait for their regular appraisal, the impact is greater if you ‘strike while the iron is hot’. The sooner you mention something the greater the impact.

Letting someone overhear you praising them is also a great way to praise someone, as too is introducing someone in a flattering way. “Meet Caroline, she is the brains behind our marketing and she’s brilliant at it, she is one of the most organised people I know!”

So how does the brain react to praise?

Now we are getting to my own way of thinking, the neurologists think about praise in terms of dopamine, which is released into the brain when we hear something that we like, or achieve a goal, it’s a powerful chemical. Isn’t that amazing that you don’t have to find a dealer, you can just make someone feel good, to give them a healthy fix.

Low dopamine levels can have a negative impact on your motivation, make you feel exhausted, trigger addictive behaviour, mood swings and memory loss. I think you’ll agree that it makes sense to learn how to increase dopamine naturally.

Here are some dopomine boosting foods that you can eat.

More about the dopamine building strategies here 

Praise as a Talent Retention Tactic.

So if praise is so important,  then surely the easiest way to retain your best talent is to stroke their ego with praise. No need to go overboard, but believe me, a few kind words about performance, go a long way.

But it is not just about saying nice things is it? If it was that easy we could just sign up for regular phone calls like the ones from AwesomenessReminders.com, Ultimately it is not enough to be told that you are good, hard working, efficient, great with clients or a good presenter, you need to really believe it and that is a matter of trust and respect.

That’s a different story altogether.

Try this experiment

Check out the Leadership AdvanEdge Podcast, there John Kenworthy talks about how to earn respect and he had an incredible experiment that I have already done.

The Podcast Details are:

How do I leverage my Influencing Style? The Trust/Respect Matrix


I reckon you should try it out for yourself. Just make a note of all of the people that you would like to respect you more. Perhaps your list includes
a) some existing or potential clients that don’t seem to have as much faith in your abilities as you would like them to have or
b) someone you work with who doesn’t seem to believe that you have their best interests at heart or
c) a member of staff that seems hell-bent or determined on doing things his own way rather than learning from someone who has been there and got the T-shirt or has more experience.

So next to each name, make a note about what you respect or appreciate about them.

Give and you shall receive

The chances are that the names of the people that you would like to have more respect from have nothing next to their name. That’s not a coincidence.

There is a fair deal of reciprocity involved in trust and respect. Have a good hard think about what it is about them that you admire. Perhaps you are in awe of the fact that they keep overtime to a minimum for the sake of their family, or that they have a tidy desk. Whatever it is, find a way of mentioning it. You don’t need to make a ceremony out of it.  Just mention it. If you are not in the habit of doing this, you might get a suspicious look,  but just mentioning it in a genuine way is enough to make someone sit up and take notice. No buts, ifs etc, just the positive mention, smile and that’s it.

Keep it simple and sincere.

The chances are that they will start taking more notice of you and observe you a little closer, they might want to make a better impression and try to return a compliment. Now the aim of the game is not ‘feel-good ping pong’, it is about picking up on everybody’s talents. It is mission critical that your words are genuine, otherwise, you’re heading for disaster. It can be something small or self-explanatory, it all counts.

You will notice that people will appreciate being on your radar and will want to stay on your radar.

So how give praise effectively and authentically?

The top two tips I can share are to be specific and do it as soon as possible. Relating your praise to a particular situation and not just saying good job, but going deeper, makes it more sincere.

By describing what you liked about a specific behavior goes the extra mile. After all it is the impact of that behavior that counts , particularly if it had an impact on the team.

The Five Love Languages

Now those of you that heard my Facebook Live session this Tuesday (28th March) will have heard me talking about the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.As I read, I realised that a lot of it is very transferable to business and leadership.

The five love languages are:

Words of Affirmation (today’s topic)
Physical Touch (clearly something you have to be careful about in a professional situation but even this can be useful if that person is a touchy person themselves)
Receiving Gifts The person at work that puts little chocolates on desks at Easter or Christmas, or brings in cake will relate to this
Quality Time These people will appreciate you taking time to really listen to them and perhaps eat lunch together or go for a walk together
Acts of Service (or little favours)

“If your deepest pain is the critical, judmental words of your spouse, (or boss/colleaugues) then perhaps your love languge is words of affirmation” Five Love Languages”

Who is it in your working environment who struggles with accepting criticism? Perhaps you need to focus your praise efforts on them first.

I won’t go into much detail because the book is a totally worthwhile read and I don’t want to butcher Gary’s theory but you get the idea. We all feel loved or appreciated as a result of different actions. Remember that just because you like to give presents, the person you are giving to might actually be hoping that you’ll just spend some time with them or do them a few more little favours. Read the book. Adapt it to your professional relationships and report back.

Boost your Concentration

If you would like more information about how to boost your concentration then I can highly recommend this article froma blog that I have a soft spot for www.healthambition.com.

soft spot …a sentimental fondness or affection

To summarise about praise then…

So when it comes to praising,  be genuine, don’t wait, be specific and start earning respect by noticing the good things in the people, not just at appraisal time but peppered through your professional life. Little and often is the name of the game.

Praise Giving Tips
Be authentic

Why not come into the Facebook group “Professional English for Women”, where we will be putting together an exhaustive list for a range of different situations.

Facebook "Professional English for Women" - where we get to practice our English

Finally, this is just a part of the lesson

I hope that you are enjoyiimprove your concentration levels and want ng my newsletter and if you haven’t signed up already I feel compelled to tell you what you are missing out on…You see each blog post is just the beginning. Behind the scenes, in my newsletter there is a mini business lesson based on this blog.

I provide such a succinct approach to improving your business English because my clients don’t have time for irrelevant training. I love to make language learning flexible, fun and functional. The 3Fs.

My newsletter provides you with your weekly blast of Business English to keep your skills up to speed and ticking over with new vocabulary, pronunciation tips and tricks, grammar, idioms, quotes, jokes and a healthy dose of motivation. It’s just a taste of how I teach. To sign up, here’s the link. Sign up today to get access to my clients only learning zone on Facebook.


On a personal note:

When I was younger I used to write a lot of poetry – a few lines telling them what I thought it was about them that made them so special. I would try to write one for my friends or family when it was their birthday, (A word of caution, once you start this all of your friends will expect one, so be careful)

I’m no professional so the words didn’t always flow but the appreciation for those poems was touching and inspired me to write more. When I moved to Germany, I still had the same urge, no doubt they are a grammatical minefield but you can tell that people are really touched by the hugs and sometimes tears.

A hand written note has a huge impact, try it out and let me know how it made you feel to write it (a good excuse to get out a beautiful fountain pen) and how it was received. You can do this for a friend, partner, your children, a colleague or a neighbour.

Children love little notes, why not write them little English notes, using words that they will easily understand.

“I love it when you play so nicely with your sister”.

“Thank you for eating all of your salad, I know that you don’t like peppers much.”

“Grandma said that you called her last night, I think that really made her week, that was so thoughtful!”

Native Speaking Trainer Takes You From Procrastination to Professionalism.

You know how it is –  you keep meaning to “do something about your English” but find yourself reaching for your English novel, thinking “Well it’s better than nothing”.

It is.

Continue reading Native Speaking Trainer Takes You From Procrastination to Professionalism.

Business English Conversation from any Device

Have you noticed how this cooler autumn weather makes it is far less appealing to walk around the block mid afternoon – as our energy fades? I wanted to come up with a way that you could take a constructive break at work, one that would boost your English at the same time.

Take a brain break.

Sometimes your brain needs a break but it doesn’t mean that you should have a complete break, you can just switch to another activity. This helps you re-energise. Time to have a conversation, just switch into English.

Networking or Escaping?

You see, it is easy to head off to the coffee machine and linger as you chat with colleagues. Some of those conversations can be classed as informative or relationship building, but a lot of the time – it isn’t, is it? Not really.

I work from home and I often find myself on social media in that late afternoon energy lull and indeed a lot of Twitter Hours are held at that time. It seems I am not the only one.

Business English Conversation via social media.

I wanted to create a regular time and day for people in business or careers to practice their business English or business conversation skills from any device.

In contrast to in-house business communication or business conversation courses, where you are learning with collegaues and team members, I wanted to make it possible to learn from and with people from a wide range of different backgrounds. That makes any conversation richer and more meaningful. I wanted to welcome men and women from all over the world in different time zones, cultures, companies, industries and functions to be a part of this.

It's time to disrupt adult education. Try #BizEngChat to power up your business English. Click To Tweet

Now business conversation without ‘speaking’ or actually saying anything (unless you speak out loud as you type) might seem like an odd concept for some.


Let me explain. If you think about it, engaging in an online conversation or discussion requires you to activate your language learning skills. You’ll be searching for words or vocabulary, terms or phrases. You will be thinking about how to express yourself (grammar) and reading  lots of posts too. Just because you are not physically speaking, does not mean that a conversation isn’t taking place.

If you work with suppliers in India, it makes sense to invite those suppliers to join your online or blended learning business communication course, which worked well for us at #Heidenhain. It takes a special corporate culture and a strong leader to make that happen in reality across time zones.

Make language learning accessible and relevant, it’s not rocket science!

However if getting ‘bums on seats’ or attendance is a challenge and I can see heads nodding, and if time and flexibility are a problem, then a Twitter Hour could be a fabulously simple workaround. Just find one that is relevant to your needs, industry or market it’s practical too, you can take part even if you are travelling, via any smartphone or device.

If you want to work on your business conversation, try #BizEngChat

Set yourself a reminder, it's time to work on your Business English!
Set yourself a reminder, it’s time to work on your Business English!

So what about if you aren’t really on Twitter a lot or at all?

Well only you can decide which social media works best for you. As a former Twitterphobe though, I can assure you that Twitter is worth investing some time in. For me Twitter is like my professional learning playground because I can get inspiration and information, tips and advice from thought leaders and experts. It is the social land of brilliance to my mind. It took some time to ‘get my head around it’ or understand but I am really glad that I made the effort.

Just log in to www.twitter.com and search for #BizEngChat, the hashtag is the life blood of twitter, so don’t forget the funky # symbol.

Some regional or business Twitter Hours have an unstructured format, and are designed to be easy going, where everyone just shows up and chats, you’ll soon see that there is a fair bit of selling going on. I’m not appealed by that.

Teacher Coco
As a language trainer it is important for me to be able to shape the conversation and give you a vocabulary workout. Sure it WILL push you out of your comfort zone and it will get your brain working but isn’t that what success in our business or career always requires?

To really improve your English,  you need to activate or use your English.

Only by actually using your Business English, will your business conversation become more fluent and effective. If you are keen to improve, but don’t have time for classes, then grab your diary.

Set yourself an alarm, online training sessions tend to get overlooked as an appointment. If you are committed to improving your Business English, you should commit to coming regularly. Make it an appointment that is fixed and a part of your commitment to your personal development
Set yourself an alarm, online trainings tend to get overlooked as an appointment. If you are committed to improving your Business English, you should commit to coming regularly. Make it an appointment that is fixed and a part of your commitment to your personal development

After all, someone with your expertise, should be able to talk about their knowledge and experience in English so that you can expand your network and ultimately cross borders, taking your brand to the markets that need it most?

So Thursdays at 3pm is when we meet and I will be trying to get an expert to join us each time, to provide their opinions, examples, lessons learned and much more. If you are an expert in marketing or communication and you want to practice talking about it in English then get in touch.

Women are often doing the school run at some time between 3 and 4pm, but if you can join us even for 10 minutes, that is fine too.
Women are often doing the school run at some time between 3 and 4pm, but if you can join us even for 10 minutes, that is fine too.

But between 3 and 4pm is a bad time for me!

If you can’t make it because you are in a meeting or picking up the children or something, then no problem. You can join us at any time during the hour, it isn’t frowned upon to turn up ‘late’ at all, in fact nobody will really notice.

Often there are more people ‘following’ the conversation than contributing to the discussion anyway. We call these lurkers in the online learning industry but it is fine to do just that at the beginning, it’s like observing from a distance at a networking event. Of course the more you get involved or post, the more practice you get.

After Party

If you can’t make it until after the Twitter Hour then you will be able to read the whole conversation afterwards, just search for #BizEngChat. It is easy to catch up on the conversation later, (less stressful too sometimes). Feel free to add your comments later and the chances are that you will meet other people that would be interesting for you to connect with, so it is a combinination of English conversation and networking. That’s effective time management I say.

What about if I make a mistake?

I can identify with this one, my German is fairly good if I am talking to you in person, but when it comes to writing, I feel like a little girl again, all knotted up with apprehension and fear or making a mistake.

But I ask myself this?
What is the worst that can happen?

If you have something of value to say, people will be more interested in what you have to say than how you said it. In an ideal world we would wait until our foreign language was perfect before we engaged in social media, but what is perfection anyway?

Those of you in business or with a family will know that there is no such thing as the perfect time to do or start anything! Sometimes you just have to start and from there it can only get better – especially if your host is a language trainer.

I will never draw attention to any mistakes via #BizEngChat like they did at school, but those of you working with me will see that I incorporate any of those mistakes into our coaching.

One thing is for sure, I will be there on Thursday at 3pm and I would love you to join me, let’s revolutionise the way that business conversation is ‘taught’.

Let’s learn together via #BizEngChat so that we can get it right when it counts!

How approachability and sharing mistakes, helps English learners to relax.

As promised in my blog ‘Venturing out of my Comfort Zone‘ I will be sharing the teaching reminders I gained from teaching German to three English speaking expatriates in Berlin recently.

The first blog post in this series talks about empathy and being on the same page/wavelength as your learners.
Continue reading How approachability and sharing mistakes, helps English learners to relax.