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February 14, 2019
by Bloomsbury International

The City of Free Museums

London has offered free entry to 23  museums and galleries since 2001.  Most of them are open to the public during the daytime Monday to Sunday with some offering evening viewings.   Here are a few examples of the most popular free museums in London with further details of where they are and what you can see there.

The British  Museum  (Great Russell Street, Holborn Station)

When it first opened in 1759 it was the first national museum to be open to the public free of charge anywhere in the world. The British Museum exhibits the history of ancient civilisations from all over the world including Greece, Rome, Egypt, China and Persia as well as Britain itself from prehistoric times. Its most famous historical object is the Rosetta Stone which translated Egyptian hieroglyphs into ancient Greek, enabling European scholars to rediscover the original history of Egypt.

The National Portrait Gallery

(Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Station)
This was the first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1856.It showcases pictures of famous historical figures and modern celebrities from Britain in many different fields including art, literature, music, science and sport.    Its most famous painting is the Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare and it also exhibits many pictures of kings, queens, princes and princesses from Britain’s Royal Family over 1000 years of history up to the present day.

The Museum of London

(London Wall, Moorgate Station)
This museum holds the largest urban history collection in the world: 6 million objects and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976. It has nine permanent galleries exhibiting the historical development of London during different periods including Roman Britain, medieval England, the Great Fire of London, the British Empire, the Second World War and the Olympic Games.

The Science Museum

(Great Exhibition Road, South Kensington Station)
Founded in 1857 it holds a collection of 300,000 items including the oldest surviving steam engine, the world’s first jet engine, a model of the first ever calculating machine, the earliest documents about typewriters and the blueprints for the design of  DNA. Around 450,000 young people visit the Science Museum every year on educational trips, more than any other UK museum.

February 4, 2019
by Bloomsbury International

America and Britain are two countries divided by a common language. (Bernard Shaw)

Students often ask me whether native British English speakers can understand American English equally well as English spoken in the UK.  For the British, the issue is not normally comprehending American English via television, films, music and social media but being able to employ American alternatives in social conversation. It should be admitted that more and more British people are adopting Americanisms thanks to the globalisation of English but there are still certain words and phrases which are normally only used by Americans and vice versa:  only ever employed by the British.

The most obvious contrast between British and American English is the different accent. This is most apparent in Hollywood movies where British actors often now play American roles as much as American actors used to play British characters.  But both nationalities can struggle to put on the foreign accent of the parts they are playing convincingly – for example, Benedict Cumberbatch   as Dr Strange or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.

For students the main issue is the potential confusion over spelling: there are several words which have American alternative spelling and nowadays when we are writing on Microsoft Word the computer script settings have already been configured to American spelling as this is the most popular form of English used around the world. This means that if you make a spelling mistake it will be autocorrected to American, not British spelling. Although you can reset your computer script to conform to British spelling many people don’t realise that American English is not the only way to write English correctly and are not aware they can adopt this format when they study here. Thankfully, Facebook does give its users the option to choose between US & UK English.

American English tends to be preferred to British English as the medium to be studied at school in many countries around the world especially in the Far East and South America but  European Union students, such as France, Italy, Spain etc still learn  British English in their country . Who knows if this will still be true after Brexit?

Here are some examples of American alternatives to British spelling:

traveling (US) / travelling (GB);  check (US)/cheque; color (US)/colour (GB); organization (US)/organisation (GB)

There are also some words which are normally only used by Americans, not by the British:

metro (US): tube (GB); subway (US): underground  (GB), college (US): university (GB);  jail (US): prison (GB)

There are a few grammatical differences between American & British English as well:

speak with (US)/ speak to (GB); gotten (US)/ got (GB)  appeal (US)/ appeal against (GB)

It should be remembered that the United States was originally a colony of the British Empire and that American English spelling & pronunciation was influenced by Spanish speech as quite a few major states like Texas and California were governed by Mexico (which is nowadays considered to be a Latin American nation). English is not the mother tongue of the United States as it is in Britain; it was adopted as the common language (in Latin lingua franca) by settlers who came from Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, Spain and France as well as from Great Britain.

The question remains:  which should you use: American English or British English? Tell us what you think.

January 17, 2019
by Bloomsbury International

Why does February have 28 days?

Flowers, chocolates and all things Valentine! This is probably what pops into everyone’s head towards the end of January. For me, I prefer to look at other ways to spend my time instead of investing my efforts into a commercialised holiday, (however I welcome any treats and gifts from my loved ones!) I mean, why were we never taught about the history of February’s 28 days? It’s obviously an important part of British history which schools seem to have failed in educating us about. Well here, let me give you short but interesting introduction to the history of February’s 28 days!

Well first and foremost, we can blame the Romans for the quirks of our modern calendar. Or maybe thank them so we can get through the year quicker? It depends on how you see it.   You see, the ancient Romans only had 10 months in their calendar. It began in March and ended in December. If we’d kept this calendar, we’d be wishing each other a prosperous new year on the 1st March which would be incredibly odd considering we now associate March with Mother’s day and Easter.

For some reason, the Ancient Romans didn’t include the cold winter months and experts suggest it was due to their ‘insignificance’. You see the agricultural cycle of planting and harvest was central to Ancient Roman society and couldn’t be carried out in extreme cold weather, so their year was centred on the months they could carry out agricultural activities. They also decided to synchronise their calendar with the moon, which resulted in some months having 29 days and others having 31 days.

However, around 713 BC, King Numa Pompilius added January and February to the calender, giving the year a total of 355 days. Did you know that the name February comes from the Latin word for “purification,” because a purification ritual honouring the dead was performed in that month? Well, now you do. In order to keep the calendar properly aligned with the seasons, it was necessary to add a short extra month after February every 2 to 3 years. So really, February was just a ‘filler’ month where they waited around for March to start and begin their harvest seasons.

There was yet another change to the calender by Julius Caesar. He reformed the calendar again in 45 BC, abandoning the lunar model and following the solar year of 365 days. Extra days were added to January, August, December, April, June, September, and November, but February stayed at 28. Every four years (including in 2012) an extra day is added to February to keep the year in sync with the sun. A year in which February has 29 days is called a “leap year’’. We don’t do anything special on this day; we just mention in passing at work and carry on as usual. I’d suggest making it a bank holiday so everyone has a day off!