Defend yourself in English

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle by Rob the moment profile (Flickr)

This is a big castle. In fact, it’s the second largest castle in Britain.

To reach it, you drive or cycle over Caerphilly Mountain or take a train right through the mountain. As your train leaves Cardiff, it passes through a tunnel and emerges in Caerphilly, giving you a glimpse of one of the most spectacular castles you’ll ever see.

Unusually, there are two moats. So the building was well defended and now offers the loveliest of picnic spots, with grassy banks, fields and lakes stretching into the distance. If you look up at the surrounding hills, it’s easy to imagine an enemy approaching, unaware how strong those defences would be.

During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell attacked this castle and severely damaged a tower. But, over 300 years later, that tower is still standing, even if it looks a bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

During centuries of warfare, Caerphilly Castle was never captured. It had been perfectly planned for its location, and the design was extremely effective.

Now, what does this have to do with your English?

You need a plan. It must be tailored exactly to fit your individual needs.

You’ll want a strong structural understanding of the language, if you are to build your own sentences. Simple, correct English will help you to survive anywhere. Adding more complex phrases will allow you to defend yourself in challenging situations. Perhaps you’ll face emergency dental treatment while on holiday, or need to show an important client around your town.

If you’ve memorised key vocabulary, and used it in real life, the words you require will flow from your lips. They won’t hide, out of reach, in your brain. They won’t sit, frustratingly, on the tip of your tongue, when your mind goes blank.

As long as you’ve had enough practice at using essential English grammar, first adapting phrases to your personal requirements, then applying them in day-to-day life, you won’t suffer from “brain freeze”. You’ll be thinking in English, not translating from your mother tongue.

Making genuine use of new idioms, as you meet them, will enable you to stand tall and confident when speaking.

There are many different ways to reach this level of fluency, just as visitors can choose their own route to the castle.

The important thing is finding out what works for you, and committing yourself to the learning process. The most effective, and most enjoyable, way is through total immersion.

If you’re attending an immersion course, don’t spend your free time with other non-native speakers. Mix with local people. Take every opportunity to ask a question, begin a conversation or respond to a comment from another passenger on the bus.

Remember this. Spoken English, and the castles of Wales, are things of beauty. They are to be enjoyed. “Overseas holidaymakers have ranked visiting castles in Wales as Britain’s number 1 must do activity“.

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Cardiff’s fairy-tale castles can open the doors in your mind and lead you to competence in English. I promise you that the journey will be both fascinating and fun.

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