Behind The Scenes – Preparing for my student’s intensive English coaching course

Image shows house and bathroom being cleaned.

Here’s a peek behind the scenes to see what happens before my student arrives for an intensive, full-immersion English coaching course with me.

One thing that’s very important is the ‘first impression’. I always spend lots of time making sure my home looks sparkling clean and welcoming.

That means quite a lot of physical work of cleaning, scrubbing, polishing, bed making, as well as shopping for food and drink. Most of this has to be done at the last minute otherwise the ‘just been polished’ look starts to fade away.

It’s quite exhausting but worthwhile, because I also like to live in a clean home!

I also have to get my head back into the teaching headspace, especially if I’ve had a break for a couple of months. Sometimes this can feel a little daunting. But as soon as I start the process of teaching and coaching again, I get right back into the swim of things.

My first student of the year arrived on Sunday evening, 7th January 2024. She came for a fortnight of intensive one-to-one English coaching, focusing on her needs and requirements, to improve her confidence in listening and speaking, supporting her future career path while enjoying good food and conversation in Bristol!

This is what she said about her experience with me:

“I had an incredible 15-day experience at Lucy Tilney’s Bristol homestay tuition, where my English skills flourished through daily 4-hour sessions. Lucy’s personalised lessons were instrumental in my improvement. Beyond the language aspect, her exquisite Ottolenghi meals added a delicious touch to each day.”

Noémie has now got herself a new job in Lisbon, where she lives. She has achieved her objective which was to improve her confidence to allow her to apply for jobs where she would need to speak in English.


Aviation & English

Image from CoolClips


I hosted a series of French air traffic controllers through a language tuition agency. English is the official language for aviation and the French civil aviation association pays for their air traffic controllers to spend one week every three years on a full immersion English course. Obviously it’s important to keep their English up-to-date and refreshed.

It led to some interesting issues. Obviously, there is a slightly specialised vocabulary connected to aircraft, meteorology, airports etc. Here is an unusual word, for example, ‘buffet’. This can be a noun, a verb and an ‘ed/ing’ adjective, such as, ‘a buffeting wind’ or ‘the aircraft was buffeted’. The meanings can be as follows:

buffet /ˈbʌfɪt/


1 (especially of wind or waves) strike repeatedly and violently; batter.

‘rough seas buffeted the coast’

No object ‘the wind was buffeting at their bodies’

1.1 Knock (someone) off course.

‘he was buffeted from side to side’

1.2 (of difficulties) afflict (someone) over a long period.

‘they were buffeted by a major recession’


1 (dated) A blow or punch.

1.1 A shock or misfortune.

‘the daily buffets of urban civilization’

2  Aeronautics 

fifteen degrees of flap induce marked buffet’

another term for buffeting

Finally, above, we see the meaning in aeronautical English!

But this word, with a change in pronunciation, can mean something quite different:

buffet / ˈbʌfeɪ/, /ˈbʊfeɪ/


  • a meal laid out so that guests may serve themselves: a buffet of cold cuts, salads, and desserts.
  • a counter, bar, or table for food or refreshments.
  • a restaurant with such a counter or table.

And here, again, it can be an adjective (before a noun):

  • served from or as a buffet: a buffet supper

So you can see here that what seems like a simple word can actually present quite a complex set of meanings, which can be quite confusing for a non-native speaker or indeed, a native English speaker!


All Latin-based language speakers (French, Italian, Spanish, Catalán etc) find our phrasal verbs very difficult. It’s understandable because with just the change of the final particle (up, on, in, off, through etc) you can change the meaning of a verb completely. Think of ‘get up’, ‘get on’, ‘get in’, ‘get off’, ‘get through’… 

When my students first arrive at my house, I usually suggest a walk to a local destination. I give them a map with my house marked on it and show them where we intend to go. I ask them to direct me to this destination. I find that this is a very good way for the student to start to understand where they are in relation to the rest of the city. If they accompany me, they will not pay attention to the route – that’s normal human psychology. I give them the language they will need: ‘Turn right’, ‘Turn left’ or ‘Straight on’ and indicate the directions with my arms.

While returning home with one of my French air traffic controllers, he directed me ‘Turn right’ and ‘Turn left’. When it came to ‘Straight on’, he was surprised. He asked me if ‘Straight away’ meant the same, as in ‘continue in the same direction’. I explained that it was certainly very different and was an instruction of TIME, not of DIRECTION. Not only that, it’s an urgent instruction and implies that this instruction means IMMEDIATELY, WITHOUT FURTHER QUESTION. He was very surprised. He thought his superiors at work didn’t understand this difference.

 However, if you think about the phrasal verbs, ‘move away’ or ‘get away’, these ARE verbs of movement and direction. So it’s no wonder they find it all so confusing…


I spend a LOT OF TIME and effort, correcting my students’ questions. In many languages, you can ask a question by changing the intonation of a statement. It’s very simple. You change this statement, ‘You like coffee’ into a question by simply changing your intonation to rise at the end of the sentence, ‘You like coffee?’.

However, in English, we have to use an auxiliary (‘do’ or ‘did’), ‘Do you like coffee?’ or invert the subject and verb in questions with ‘be’, ‘Are you hungry?’. The ONLY time we DO NOT do this, is when our question is not really a question but a statement of surprise, ‘You like coffee?! Oh, I thought you hated it.’

Two of my air traffic controllers have told me that they are encouraged to ask questions in the English way when they are speaking to the pilots on the radio. This is for two reasons; one is that it is quite clear that a question is being asked from the beginning of the sentence, because of the auxiliary or the subject/verb inversion. Secondly, it avoids the possibility of the pilot misunderstanding the question as a command. So it is really VERY important. But ALL my air traffic controllers, usually very high-level English speakers, do NOT practise this when they speak English. I was very pleased to learn this, as I it can be embarrassing, constantly correcting these very good English speakers.


5 of my favourite Bristol excursions

Photo to illustrate a visit to Bristol Blue Glass, hand produced blue glass
Benedetta watching Bristol Blue Glass being hand produced

As part of my homestay package, I offer my students two or three afternoon or evening excursions a week. Over the years, I have discovered some great places to visit in this lively city. Often these destinations are free or very inexpensive. Here are some of my favourite places:

Bristol Blue Glass Factory

Blue glass is a special glass that is made by hand in Bristol.  It’s interesting to go to the factory, where you can see the glassmakers produce these unusual dark blue glass items. The work room is extremely hot with several huge furnaces burning fiercely. The young people who produce the items are friendly and will explain their blowing and spinning techniques of the molten glass.

This visit is completely free and provides an opportunity to see artisans working and creating blue glass items. There is also a shop, where you can buy the things that you have just seen created.

The Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

This is another one of my favourite destinations with my students. The building itself is a delight, with an enormous Box Kite bi-plane designed in Bristol in the early 20th century, suspended from the ceiling of the imposing entrance hall. The museum contains several galleries with a range of subjects: Egypt and Assyria; South Western Natural History; Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters; Minerals; a Chinese gallery with the best collection of Chinese glass outside the Forbidden Palace; Pottery and Silver objects and on the top floor, a small Art Gallery of classical and modern art.

This is a free visit with a suggested donation of £5.00.

The Georgian House Museum

This is a fascinating insight into life in a house which was occupied by a wealthy sugar plantation owner and slave owner. The house is furnished as it would have been during that period of history. There is a small section which explains the family history of the owner, John Pinney, and how he profited from slavery on the Caribbean island of Nevis. John Pinney was fond of a cold bath and there is a plunge pool in the bottom of the house. The basement which shows the lives of the servants is the most interesting part of the visit. This visit is free, although they accept donations gratefully.

M Shed

This is a great place to visit to learn about Bristol’s industrial and social history. It’s very interactive and interesting. You can learn about Bristol’s engineering background and why it became the birthplace of the supersonic aircraft, ‘Concorde’, built in collaboration between the UK and France.

 It also has a section which explains Bristol’s connection with slavery, through the ‘Triangular Trade’. This was the name given to the route which went from Bristol to the west of Africa, and then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and back to the UK, as part of the slave and sugar trade. Many Bristol families became fabulously wealthy through this shameful business.

This is a free visit but with a suggested donation of about £5.00

Underfall Yard

Underfall Yard is an area of the Cumberland Basin, part of the Bristol Harbour which you can see from the end of my road. The original hydraulic pumps which used to operate the bridges and sluices of the harbour have been recently restored. These pumps were designed in 1907 and stopped working in the 1970s, and they run the pumps for visitors three times a week. There is also a good café which serves delicious coffee and tasty snacks! After some refreshment, you can walk around the harbour and look at the various different marine businesses and the colourful houses and views of Clifton and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Blog Posts

In Praise of the Diary

In Praise of the Diary

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Oscar Wilde (Irish wit, poet, and playwright 1854-1900)

Student-centred learning

I want to share how I create really effective and meaningful classes for my student. In this blog, I sing the praises of using a diary to help my student in their English learning journey.

I offer one-to-one, full immersion courses to adults who come and live with me for short but intensive periods. We have lessons in the morning, between three and four hours. After that I make lunch for us, with conversation and correction. In the afternoon or evening, we may have an excursion together, with conversation and correction. Every evening, I cook dinner and we have conversation and correction. This type of teaching is very intensive and challenging, but very rewarding for both the student and the teacher. As you can understand, the only time to prepare is before the lesson in the morning, while I’m eating my breakfast. This is where the beauty of the diary starts.

I ask my student to write a simple account of their day; nothing fancy, just an account. This is to be done as homework and I suggest that they go to a café, where they can observe and listen to people speaking English. For this reason, I suggest that they have a book small enough to put in their bag or to carry with them. On the first day, I ask them to write about their journey to me; what time they left home, who took them to the airport, what the flight was like – on time or delayed; their first impressions of Bristol and their new home; what they learned in their first lesson etc.

I ask them to write on every other line to leave space for corrections. The next morning, we go through the diary together. First I ask them to read the complete diary to me. I listen without interruption and get an idea of their writing level and the errors they are making. Then we go through the diary, sentence by sentence. They choose one colour for grammar/vocabulary corrections and another (red) for pronunciation correction into phonemic – this is something I show them and we start using from the second day of their course. Generally, when we write in another language, we create a sentence in our first language and then ‘drop’ the foreign vocabulary in the order of our own language. This means that the teacher can hear the gaps in the knowledge. This activity is a kind of ‘grammar clinic’, and these issues are presented in an organic way. As each error is noted and corrected, it’s an opportunity to give a mini-lesson on the subject. The student listens and makes the correction. The act of correcting their diary for themselves reinforces the learning in a visual and kinaesthetic way, and provides a record of the correction. With the diary, we can look at word order in English sentences; vocabulary; prepositions; the past simple (diaries are usually written in the past); occasionally present perfect, past perfect, past continuous, present continuous for future arrangements; regular/irregular verbs; adjectives; adverbs, gerunds…

For my lower level students, I ask them to make a simple record of their activities: what time they woke up; what time they got up (good irregular verbs, and phrasal verbs for higher levels); what they ate for breakfast; what they studied in class; where they went in the afternoon and then what they ate for dinner with me – that expands vocabulary for food and drink, which is always useful. At a higher level, I ask my student to write something more ‘literary’ and incorporate more conceptual ideas, such as cultural differences they notice: for example, the importance of ritual politeness in British society.

Once the diary is corrected for grammar, it becomes a pronunciation activity. I ask my student to read it aloud and we record it. We do this during the lesson or sometimes my student will do it as part of their homework, after lesson. Then we listen again, checking for pronunciation errors; often it’s the first time my student has listened to themself speaking in English.

This is a student-centred approach to creating material for the lessons. Furthermore, it’s a natural and organic way to address grammar and pronunciation which arise out of a need to communicate. And the real delight is I can learn a lot about my student; sometimes they reveal quite personal things in their diaries.

For my students, it can also be a record of their visit, which may be the first time they have ever travelled alone to a foreign country. Some students like to collect things like brochures or labels from their drinks or till receipts and stick them in their diary, like a scrapbook. Above you can see a photo from a diary kept by Évelin Morano, a Spanish/Colombian woman who came to me for a course of four weeks in July 2019. As you can see, her diary is a delight! She loved writing the diary and told me that re-reading it recently gave her back some of her best memories!