That’s not what I learned at school!​

    Spotlight 13/2022
    Lehrer und Schüler an der Tafel
    © Georg Lechner
    Von Vanessa Clark

    If you used some of the standard English coursebooks in circulationUmlauf​circulation in the past, you will probably remember that “Betty’s dog is called Barker” and that “the cat sat under the table”. Learning sentences like these was certainly a good start, but how does your school English stand up to the real-life test of being in an English-speaking country? Do people really speak like they do in the coursebooks?​

    Of course, books can give only one standard way to say things – one easy, straightforward, simple way to speak. And if you learn those phrases, you can’t go wrong. As a teacher and a coursebook writer myself, I’m in favour of giving one simple way to say things. Why make life more complicated? But as a native speaker living in the UK, I also notice that my own day-to-day English often doesn’t to match up with etw. übereinstimmen​match up with the language in coursebooks.​

    So, here are a few examples that I’ve noticed from my own experience, where there’s a difference between “classroom English” and real life.


    I’d like…

    Can I get…?
    Could I get…?
    Could I have…?

    The phrase “I’d like...” is perfectly fine – it’s ideal, in fact! But if you sit in a restaurant with native speakers, you’ll probably be the only one using it. It’s the same with the question form “What would you like?”. It’s great, but you’ll more likely hear “What can I get you?”.



    Be careful!

    Mind out!
    Watch out!

    If you hear a shout of “Mind out!” or “Watch out!”, look for possible danger. Like Vorsicht! in German, it’s a warning. Don’t get it confused with “Take care”, which is a friendly way to end a conversation or an e-mail, another way to say “Goodbye”.




    He invited me to a restaurant.

    He asked me out to a restaurant.
    He asked me out to dinner.

    “Invite” is fairly formal in English. You’re in­vited to a wedding or to another special event, but for informal arrangements, you just “ask someone out” or “ask someone to come for a meal at your house”.



    We visited our friends.
    We visited my aunt.

    We went to see some friends.
    We went to my aunt’s.

    “Visited” certainly exists, but sounds rather formal. We usually “go to see someone” or “go and see someone”. Other informal options include “go round to someone’s” or “go over to someone’s”.



    He helped me to do it.

    He helped me do it.

    The “to” is usually dropped in everyday speech.



    I’m very well, thanks.
    I’m fine, thanks. I’m good.

    Good, thanks.

    In the past, teachers used to get frustrated when their German students answered the question “How are you?” with “Good”, translating directly from the German gut – but now, since about the year 2000, “good” is … good!


    Find more examples of the difference between “classroom English” and real life in Spotlight 13/22.

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