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December 30, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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New Year’s Day in London

New Year’s Day in London
happynewyear2017
Soon it will be 2017, and what better time to look at British New Year traditions!

There are many old traditions which would be very unusual today, but are unique to this country. There are some others which aren’t so historic, but are probably the same around the world.

As in many countries, British people will go out on New Year’s Eve, and stay awake till midnight, when there will be fireworks all over the country. Even if you stay at home, the firework show from central London, near Big Ben and the London Eye, will be on the television.
Some people will invite friends to their houses, for New Year’s parties, which again will be very long and finish a long time after midnight. Here, you’re more likely to see some of the old-fashioned customs, including a famous song.

Auld Lang Syne
This song is a fixture at even quite informal parties. During the fireworks, a group of friends will stand in a circle, cross their arms, and join hands with the people on either side, bounce up and down and sing a song that most of them don’t understand. This is song is written in an old form of English called “Scots”. The lines that we can all remember go-
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never called to mind

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne”.

After singing this, many English people start singing “nan aa nan a nan aa nan a” to cover their memory loss. The lyrics basically mean that we should get together and have a drink, to make sure we don’t forget each other.

This may all sound very strange, and to be honest, lots of British people find it strange too, but it does still happen.

First footing
Another tradition, which might be known in more countries than just the UK, is that the first person in your house in the New Year is very special. In the past, a person would arrange to come round just after midnight, carrying a piece of coal, bread, money, and something green, like the branch of a tree. All these were to bring good luck.

They would be welcomed, and take away a pan of dust, or the ashes from the fire, to symbolise clearing out the old year.
This rarely happens these days, but in some parts of the UK, there are still fire festivals, where fire is carried through the streets to scare away evil spirits.

New Year’s Resolutions
Possibly the most famous tradition, though, is the making of New Year’s Resolutions, and this is still very common. The most typical resolutions last year were-
1. Go on a diet/lose weight
2. Go on a holiday or mini-breaks
3. Travel and see more of the world
4. Read more books
5. Drink less alcohol

Of course, most of these are not kept for very long- often given up in the first week of January.
What traditions are there for New Year in your country? Please let us know in the comments.

December 9, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Travelling around the UK

Travelling around the UK
england
Many students come to the UK to study, some staying for a long time, but don’t leave London. Some Londoners would say “why would they need to?” London has a long reputation of looking down on other parts of the UK. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first English dictionary, made some famous comments that sum up this attitude- maybe the most famous is-
“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Johnson was no friend to other parts of the UK- a lesser known quote is “The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England”. Scotchman, by the way, is an old fashioned phrase which no-one would use today.
Johnson is very famous, and some Londoners may agree with him, but in reality, staying in London for your whole time in the UK would be a waste. Here are some other places which are well worth a visit, and none of them too far away, as this country is also quite small.

Brighton
brighton
This is a seaside city, an hour’s drive or train journey from London. London has no sea-coast, so many Londoners go to Brighton for a day, or weekend. It is well-known as an easy-going city. Apart from the beach, which is rather stony, there are some famous old buildings, including Brighton Pavilion, built for King George IV, and equally famous nightlife.

Oxford and Cambridge
oxford
These cities go together as they are both famous University towns, the oldest universities in England. They have a similar feel and architecture, all historic stone buildings and quiet courts, near rivers. Many tourists come in the summer, and take boats out on the rivers, to punt (move along with a pole pushing on the bottom of the river). This can look easy, but if you want to try it, be careful- it is very easy to fall into the water.

Bath
bath
Another historic city, founded by the Romans, but it became very popular three hundred years ago- Jane Austen, writer of “Pride and Prejudice”, wrote about her characters going to Bath to relax, drink water from the foul-tasting spring to improve their health, and worry about their love lives. You can go there to do all these things if you wish, and enjoy the beautiful buildings.
While you are in Bath, Stonehenge, a world heritage site, is quite near, though there is comparatively little to see there other than the famous stones themselves. Still, in a day that includes Bath, it would be worthwhile.
There are many other places to visit, though in the winter I would recommend these cities, not just the countryside, which is beautiful, but cold. So take advantage of your time here, use a weekend to get out of London and enjoy the rest life has to offer!

December 6, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Problems with Pronouns

Problems with Pronouns
English is unusual among European languages- we only have one word for “you”. In many other languages, there are two words- singular and plural. These are also used as polite and familiar forms of address in most European languages- “Tu”, or “Du” or even “Ti” are singular or familiar, “Vous”, “Sie” and “Chi” are plural or polite. I used French, German and Welsh, but this is true for almost all Indo-European languages.

So why is English the exception to such a general rule? Well, a few hundred years ago, we had two forms of “you” pronouns- “You” and “your” were the plural, formal form, and singular, informal meaning was expressed with “thee” and “thou”. You will meet these words if you ever read Shakespeare.
A few dialects of English still have traces of these forms- older people in Sheffield may greet you with “how’s thee?” instead of “how are you?” For the most part, though, you’re unlikely to meet this language.

Modern Plural Forms

pronounce
What do English people say now when they want to distinguish plural and singular “you”? Singular is normally just “you”, but in some US English, a new pronoun has appeared to fill the gap- “y’all”

This pronoun is used mostly in the southern USA, but has been quoted enough in popular TV shows and films to be common knowledge to English speakers. It may make people see you as “rednecks”, or uneducated country folk, though!

Other options are available- “you guys” is another way of saying this, again coming from the USA, but this time it travels better, and is often used by young people in the UK. “Guys” is normally used for men or women, young or old, without distinction, making it a very useful form.

Speakers of other dialects may use “yous” or more commonly pronounced “youz”. British English people do say this sometimes, though it would be seen as uneducated- a British “Y’all”

Gender Neutrality
The other pronoun problem learners can face is how to talk about one person whose gender you do not know. Should we say “he/she”, “it”, what?

This one is a political issue, as it has been argued that “he” is the historical default, only recently challenged by feminists. This doesn’t seem to be true, though it has been suggested we should create gender neutral pronouns, like “xe”, to allow for uncertainty.

The overwhelming majority of English speakers haven’t started using “xe”, or “she/he”, but “they” is the normal form. This may seem strange to most other languages, but it has been the case in English for a very long time- for hundreds of years, writers used “he” or “they” for this purpose, and speakers too- formal writing specified “he” as correct, but even here, “they” is taking over. Feel free to say “If someone studies pronouns, they will get confused”.

November 21, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Bloomsbury Blog

Building words

Some languages, like German, and Turkish, are organised so that words can be combined to make ever longer words. Naturwissenschaft is a German example. (nature knowledge craft, literally) Does this happen in English?

Not to the same extent, but it is a feature of the language. We create new words mostly by adding set prefixes and suffixes, which may not have meaning on their own, but change the meaning of words in predictable ways.

These are easy to learn, and can help you understand words you didn’t know- a nice example is antidisestablishmentarianism. Not a word that comes up in every conversation, but full of prefixes and suffixes.

VerbsFirst, find the “core” of the word- in this case, the verb establish. Deal with the suffixes first, as they will tell you what part of speech the word is- noun, verb, adjective, etc. Our first step is “ment”- a noun suffix, about a thing which is established. Next, “arian”, a person who does the thing mentioned before. Finally, “ism”, a philosophy or theory about the noun mentioned before. So establishmentarianism is the philosophy of supporting the system that has been established.

We’re not there yet, though- two prefixes, and both negative. “dis” means not, and “anti”, against. So antidisestablishmentarianism is against not having an established system. Or you could say, in favour of the system.

What system was this? Well, briefly, the system of the Church of England, that is, having a church connected to the state. Some people opposed this, others opposed them, and called themselves antidisestablishmentarians! Clearly they wanted people to know them by what they were against rather than what they supported.

Suffixes in Language Learning

The most helpful thing about suffixes is how they can let you know what part of speech you are looking at. There are many lists of these, with examples, but to pick the most common, there are-

Nouns-

Nouns-ment, as in establishment
-ness, as in carefulness
-ship, as in friendship

Each of these makes a noun, but with a slightly different emphasis on what it means- all linked with a state, but –ment is linked to action (movement), -ness is just a state (shyness), and –ship is about having a particular skill or role in life- like a citizen (citizenship) or a partner (partnership)

Verbs-

-ise/ize (British or US spelling) as in memorise
-ate, (activate)
-en, (lighten)

This last is not so commonly taught, but is a basic English suffix, useful to notice in words with many prefixes and suffixes- for example, enlightenment.

Adjectives-

-ful and –less (hopeful, hopeless) having, or not having the quality mentioned
-ate again, as in considerate (thinking about others)
-th, (strength, length) a physical feature of what you are describing, another old style

suffix which is not always taught, and doesn’t exist in other European languages.

This blog is not designed to list all the suffixes in English, but pick out a few common and less common ones, and encourage you to think about how they can help you learn.

November 17, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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London in the Autumn

It’s the time of year many English people dread- up to now, Autumn may have seemed like just a slightly colder summer- with the same mix of sunshine and showers. Now, though, the mornings are misty, leaving you unsure about whether the sun has really come up, and it is dark in the evenings before five. It really starts to get colder, and if it is cloudy, you won’t see the sun very much.

How do British people cope with this situation? In a variety of ways- let’s take a look at them, and how you can join in.

First, find someone else who has a worse situation. In London, that’s not hard to do. We are in the extreme southeast of Britain- everywhere further north is colder than us, and everywhere further west is wetter. It may not seem that way, but actually, you can feel smug that you are staying in London.

Hot DrinkAnother great way is to drink hot drinks and eat comfort food at every opportunity. Maybe this is why English food tends to be unhealthy, as it keeps us feeling warm and happy. You don’t have to eat Fish and Chips to get this effect though- jacket potatoes, cooked in the oven for three hours, and served with different kinds of topping, are just as comforting. Hot puddings were designed for winter weather too.

The lack of light is one of the most depressing things about this time of year, but we have found some ways to counter this. The fifth of November is an important festival- bonfire night! Go to your local park, and there will be an enormous, carefully controlled fire, followed by a fireworks display. In fact, most nights around this date will see fireworks in the sky. When this is finished, in late November, we start thinking about the next important day- Christmas!

Christmas LightsEach shopping street will have a set of lights which are turned on around this time, usually with a little ceremony- even minor towns will find a mini-celebrity to turn on the Christmas lights, and places like Oxford Street have stars such as Kylie Minogue. From this time until January, you can shop while admiring these lights, though the crowds tend to get so bad after work and at weekends that many British people avoid Oxford Street altogether in this period. Some of us cover our houses in Christmas lights instead.

There are lots of other ways to enjoy the winter, do try ice-skating, there are ice rinks across the city in beautiful places, such as Somerset House or the Natural History Museum. Visit Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park for a bit of Christmas magic- and invest in thick coats, hats, gloves, scarves- winter can be cosy and enjoyable with a little preparation!

November 8, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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British English Accents

how_many_accents

How many accents of English are there?
British and American, everyone knows. Any others?

You might think of Australian, New Zealand..

Yet, even though Britain is such a small island, there are many varieties of English here, as you may have noticed!

Even within one small part of the UK, there can be completely different accents. For example, Liverpool and Manchester are only 50 km apart, but sound very different to even a casual listener. Other accents show gentler shading into each other, but are still quite distinctive relatively quickly.

There are too many British accents to list, and if I tried to, it would offend some British people who felt that an accent they especially loved had been left off the list, or that I had included one area with another, when there is local rivalry. The following link gives a quick overview of a few accents, and celebrities who speak with them, to show you some of the variety involved. Youtube- 17 British accents

Even in the comments section, you will notice how many British people mock her accents, but I don’t think they are so bad!

Learner Support

How can learners of English deal with all this variety?

There are a few pointers you can take-
The London accent, which is probably the one you will encounter most often, is quite distinctive. Traditionally, Londoners will-
• Drop the letter “H” at the beginning of words- they don’t say “hat”, but “at”.

• Drop the letter “T” at the end, and sometimes in the middle, of words- they don’t say “get out of my pub”, but “ge’ ou’ o’ my pub!”, and may say “bu’er” instead of “butter”

• “Th” can become “f”, so the word “think” may be pronounced “fink”.

Really broad London accents will have other features, but these three features are fairly common even in the accents of educated people.

england_map

The other broad collection of accents that may be useful to know some features of are northern ones. There is enormous variety here, but a few features in common. Two of these are-

• Short “a” sound in many words- Northerners often say “bath”, Southerners “ba:th”. The sound of the “a” in “ham” is used by northerners in “grass”, “glass”, or “pass.”
• “U” is pronounced as in “book”- rarely ever as in “but”. Even “up” will become something like “uup”.

However difficult an accent may seem, spend enough time in the area, speaking to those who use it, and you will pick it up.

October 7, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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The “Pentametron” and pronunciation

Accidental rhyme and rhythm

One of the many unusual contributors to the online Twitter community is the pentametron, an automated retweeter of others’ posts, found at https://twitter.com/pentametron?lang=en-gb
pronunciation
A seemingly random collection of rhyming one line tweets, which occasionally seem so bizarre that they will make you laugh out loud- for example,

“Tomorrow is already Wednesday, Geez!
But do her elbows really touch her knees?”

Or, by complete fluke, appropriate-

“I need a texting buddy during school
My business law professor is a tool”.

Aside from rhyme, try reading these lines out loud. Each has 10 syllables, and if a native or near native speaker reads these, every other syllable, starting from the second, will be stressed. For example,

“My BUSiness LAW proFESSor IS a TOOL”

Does the flow of these sentences sound quite natural? There might be a reason for that. In poetry, this is described as Iambic Pentameter, the form used by Shakespeare in his plays, and throughout English literature. This should explain the name of the twitter account, and the rather squashed looking face of that poet at the top of the page.

Rhythm and stress

rhythmIt is often said that the rhythm “De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM”, where “de” is a weak syllable, and “DUM” the stressed syllable, is the most natural pattern for English pronunciation. This may not be completely true, as you practice English, you will notice that we often include two or three weak syllables between each stress, but poetry can be a key to unlock the English pronunciation system.

Any poetry with a clear rhythm, or meter, will help the learner to tune in to our habit of alternating strong and weak syllables, and practicing reading these out loud will be particularly useful for those whose first language is not stressed, like English.

The most important element of stress is that each stressed syllable is the same distance apart- this is a beat, and making it regular in any way will make your speech sound like music.

Ways to make stress fun
rap
Poems, Shakespeare or not, are written to be fun to read. Try saying the lines from the Pentametron with clear stress on every second syllable. Many people, hearing poems read out loud, are reminded of rap music- this is not surprising, as rap is the same thing- regularized speaking patterns. Try finding the lyrics of a hip-hop track, and see what I mean!

September 30, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Borrowed but not returned

One of the great strengths of English as a global language has been its ability to borrow words from other languages. I have heard English described as “German with French spelling and Scandinavian pronunciation”, but the case is even more complex than that.

Anglo Saxon
The Anglo-Saxon’s were the original speakers of English. Before the 11th century, the vocabulary of Old English consisted of an Anglo-Saxon base with borrowed words from the Scandinavian languages (Danish and Norse) and Latin. Latin gave English words like street, kitchen, kettle, cup, cheese, wine, angel, bishop, martyr, and candle. The Vikings added many Norse words: sky, egg, cake, skin, leg, window (wind eye), husband, fellow, skill, anger, flat, odd, ugly, get, give, take, raise, call, die, they, their, them. Celtic words also survived mainly in place and British river names (Devon, Dover, Kent, Trent, Severn, Avon, Thames).

Many pairs of English and Norse words exited together giving us two words with the same or slightly different meanings. Examples below:

Norse anger contrasts with Saxon wrath

Norse ill contrasts with Saxon sick

Norse skill contrasts with Saxon craft

Norse scatter contrasts with Saxon shatter
Norse skin contrasts with Saxon hide
Norse skip contrasts with Saxon shift

Norse bask contrasts with Saxon bathe

normans
In 1066, the Normans conquered Britain. Norman French became the language of the Norman aristocracy and added a large amount of vocabulary to English, for example ‘admiral’, ‘government’, and ‘parliament’. More pairs of similar words appeared.

Norman French close contrasts with Anglo-Saxon shut
Norman French reply contrasts with Anglo-Saxon answer
Norman French odour contrasts with Anglo-Saxon smell
Norman French annual contrasts with Anglo-Saxon yearly
Norman French demand contrasts with Anglo-Saxon ask

Norman French chamber contrasts with Anglo-Saxon room
Norman French power contrasts with Anglo-Saxon might
Norman French pardon contrasts with Anglo-Saxon forgive

Because the English underclass raised the animals and cooked them for the Norman upper class, the words for most domestic animals are English (‘ox’, ‘cow’, ‘calf’, ‘sheep’, ‘swine’, ‘deer’) while the words for the meats derived from them are French (‘beef’, ‘veal’, ‘mutton’, ‘pork’, ‘bacon’, ‘venison’).

By the end of the 14th Century English was no longer recognisable. It began to be called Middle English as opposed to Old English. The language kept on adopting new word.

englandCenturies later, during the British Empire the greatest influx of foreign words was seen; ‘kangaroo’ and ‘boomerang’ are native Australian Aborigine words, ‘juggernaut’ and ‘turban’ are from India, ‘barbecue’ and ‘cannibal’ are from Central America. ‘orange’ and ‘checkmate’ are from Arabic through Spanish, and ‘chocolate’ is from Nahuatl (the Aztec language). An innumerable amount of Modern French words and phrases have even been borrowed into English to describe certain concepts; ‘tour de force’, ‘cliché’, ‘hors d’œuvre’, ‘bourgeois’, ‘coup d’état’, ‘aperatif’ among countless others. The list of borrowed words is enormous.

Other languages that have contributed words to English include Greek, German, Hindi, Italian, Malay, Dutch, Farsi (from Iran and Afganistan), Sanskrit (from ancient India), Portuguese, Spanish, Tupi (from South America) and Ewe (from Africa).

The success of English has been partly to do with its acceptance of foreign terms making them English in the process. The vocabulary of English is the largest of any language. English has a large number of synonyms compared to other languages

September 23, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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How do new words make it into the Oxford English Dictionary?

In the current Oxford English Dictionary there are a total of 171, 476 words. That’s more than the population of the city of Oxford itself! And this number is growing year by year…

Every year, hundreds of new English words and expressions emerge, all of which are potential candidates for a place in the OED. However, like an Olympic Games for words, there are a few stages they must pass through first before making the final cut.

So, just how does a new word make its way into this tome? What does a meagre word have to do to qualify for the honour of a place in the Oxford English Dictionary? Read on to find out…

Finding new words

new_wordsOxford University Press has one of the most wide-ranging and largest language research programmes in the world. Their two most important sources of information are the Oxford Reading Programme and the Oxford English Corpus. The Corpus is made up of entire documents, sourced mostly from the Internet, and contains ‘newly coined words’, while the Reading Programme is an electronic collection of sentences or short extracts taken from a huge variety of writing, from the lyrics of songs and popular fiction novels to scientific and peer-reviewed journals. It is comprised of many contributions from an international network of readers who are constantly on the lookout for new words or new meanings.

Keeping track and making choices

keeping_trackThese so-called ‘word hunters’ monitor the Corpus and the Reading Programme to track any new words which come into the English language. When they find that a new term is being widely used in a variety of different places (not just being used by one author or writer) it then becomes a candidate for the dictionary.

All of these new words and phrases have to be recorded in a print or an online source before they can be considered for inclusion: it’s not enough just to hear them in conversation or on television. The OED team then select the words which they think to be the most noteworthy or influential and those which they think are likely to be used for a long time into the future.

Unsurprisingly, the digital age has affected the way the process of selection takes place. A new word used to have to be used over a period of two or three years before the team would consider adding it to a dictionary. However, in the current age of digital sources, the situation has changed drastically. With social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, new words can achieve enormous success with a larger number of people in a much shorter space of time, and people assume that they will find these new words and terms in their dictionaries. This presents an additional challenge to the OED team, who try to assess whether a word is  short lived or whether it will endure in the English language for a long time. For example, the word “twerk” got a place in the OED in 2015, but its popularity has waned considerable since then.

Personal inventions

personal_inventionsIt’s not all hard work for the ‘word hunters though’. They don’t always have to search for the terms by themselves. Members of the public often send in words which they have made up and ask whether they can be added to the dictionary. Unfortunately, most contributions are not accepted, because they are usually words that have been used only for a short time. However, the words they send can be very interesting and funny! Of course, some invented words do become popular and become a part of the English language, either because they fill a gap in meaning (“binge-watch”, which describes watching a show whose episodes Netflix releases all in one go), or because they are describing a new concept ( “vape” which describes the new concept of smoking e-cigarettes).

August 31, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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You say potato & I say ghoughpteighbteau

bloomsbury_blog_fish
Ghoti* and tchoghs* may not seem very appetising to the average student of English; but if most of you realised it were “fish and chips” you might not change your minds.

Yet the spelling Ghoti* and tchoghs* is logical according to how many sounds are written down in English. The sound [f] is written ‘ough’ in the word ‘cough’ and if you look below, you can clearly see how we get all the other combinations of letters to be able to write ‘fish and chips’ as ghoti* and tchoghs*.

  • F cough
  • I women
  • SH nation
  • CH match
  • I women
  • P hiccough

bloomsbury-blog_spell

The strangeness of ghoti* and tchoghs* highlights the problems with English spelling. This has long confused foreigners and natives alike, and may be the reason why the national test results, which were released on 12th August 2008, revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.

If you look at the following possible variation of the word ‘potato’, you can see how ridiculous English spelling can be:

ghoughpteighbteau

  • P hiccough
  • O though
  • T ptomaine
  • A neigh
  • T debt
  • O bureau

bird

One solution to this problem which was suggested by Ken Smith of Buckinghamshire New University, is to accept the most common misspellings as variants rather than correct them and then introduce altered spellings little by little. But why is English spelling so difficult in the first place?

Due partly to its mixed Germanic and Latin origins, English spelling is highly inconsistent. Three things have worsened this confusion.

  • The Great Vowel Shift in the 15th and 16th centuries changed the pronunciation of many words but left their spelling unchanged; and the invention of the printing press in the 15th-century initially used by non-English speakers helped to worsen the problem even further.
  • Second, misguided attempts to make English spelling match with Latin roots (debt and debitum; island and insula) led to the introduction of extra “silent” letters.
  • Third, despite interest in spelling among famous English-speaking linguists, English has never, unlike Spanish, Italian and French, had a central “academy”, or regulatory authority which is able to standardise the language.

There are reasons why spelling reform is difficult to carry out. Written language is more than just a phonetic version of its spoken form: it contains clues to meaning too. So although spelling English more phonetically might make it easier to read, it might also make it harder to understand. In addition, the number of accents and dialects in English mean that introducing a “phonetic” and logical spelling of English would benefit only people from the region whose pronunciation was chosen as the accepted norm. It would also need continual updating to make it match fashionable changes in pronunciation.

Some of the changes may be worth considering. It takes more than twice as long to learn to read English as it does to read most other western European languages, according to a 2003 study led by Philip Seymour of Dundee University. Standardising rules on doubled consonants would be a great help to learners of English. Removing silent letters would also help students. And as George Bernard Shaw said, using fewer letters would reduce the waste of trees and other resources. In this era of climate change, global warming and the disappearance of the poles, that is something that may be worth it.

August 12, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Old English and Beowulf

old_eu_map
The first major historical group of people to live in the British Isles were Celts. Even to this day Wales and Ireland are regarded as Celtic nations, and the Welsh language is a Celtic language. After the Romans left Celtic Britain which they ruled, invaders from northern Germany and Denmark started coming to England in different waves. They spoke different Germanic dialects.

old_english_and_beowulf
Old English is actually a very broad and generic term which refers to different northern Germanic/Danish dialects spoken in England between 450 and 1150. Despite being called “Old English” it would not be understood by a modern English speaker and if it were not for the fact that it is an ancestor of modern English it would be considered to be a different language. Modern English and Old English are mutually unintelligible i.e. speakers of the two languages could not understand each other.

Old English differs from today’s modern English in some fundamental ways including its structure. Old English has far more inflections something quite common in other European languages. An inflection is a group of letters which we add to the original form of the word especially with verbs. They are not very common in modern English. Though most of Old English vocabulary has become obsolete, many of the key words in the English language we speak today date back in origin to Old English, and are sometimes called Anglo-Saxon. These include words such as family, brother, sister, daughter, horse, home, like, eyes and quite a few others.

Perhaps the most famous example of Old English is the classic “Beowulf saga”.

Thanks to the Internet, we are now able to view the original Old English version together with its translation into contemporary English.
Northvegr.org is one such site.

Beowulf has, of course, been made in to a Hollywood film and the language used there is naturally the contemporary English we speak today. The story, in short, is about an Anglo-Saxon warrior and hero by the name of Beowulf who goes to Denmark to help the Danes with a horrible monster by the name of Grendel who terrorizes the locals. It was recited to the Anglo-Saxons of that time in poetic form.

August 5, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Compound adjectives

Compound adjectives, what are they?

compound-adjectives
Well, a compound is when two things are joined together to make a greater unit. Normal adjectives are simply words that describe things so, for example, when we say something is nice, horrible, expensive, cheap, hot, cold, delicious, and so forth that is an adjective.

So compound adjectives are slightly different in that they consist of two words. One of the most famous examples of a compound adjective is good looking. It consists of two separate words i.e. “good” and “looking” but has one meaning: someone who has an attractive appearance. Compound adjectives are often hyphenated; a hyphen is a line separating two words that together make a compound adjective.
English is replete with compound adjectives and they enrich this language, examples include the following:

“mouth-watering”mouth-watering

This means something is so delicious that it makes your mouth salivate at the prospect of eating it. It can also be applied to things other than food. For example in sport, television commentators may speak of a “mouth-watering” prospect of two great teams playing in a match which will enthral spectators.

“nail-biting”nail-biting

This means when something makes us nervous or fills us with suspense that we literally bite our nails as some people do at times when they are extremely excited and nervous. As with the previous example of “mouth-watering” it can be used in a sports context amongst others.

“thought-provoking”thought-provoking_03

When something, for example a book or a film, stimulates us into thinking or pondering deeper over a subject, then that very thing can be said to be thought-provoking.

 

Compound adjectives are often used to shorten sentences and can be seen in newspaper and magazine articles.
Let’s look at the following example:

“Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria and is an actor who is famous all over the world that lives in California which is in the USA- a country where the English language is spoken”.

Now let’s replace it with compound adjectives.
“World-famous, Austrian-born, California-based actor Arnold Schwarzenegger lives in the English-speaking USA”.

We have reduced the word count from 34 words in the first example to 11 in the second. This can be quite useful when a journalist has to fit his article into a specific allocated number of words or sentences in a magazine or an editor has to try and fit it in appropriately to other articles on a page by shortening it.

Compound adjectives and other compounds such as compound nouns (nouns made of two words e.g. driving license, identity card) are a feature of the English language and one of its significant qualities distinguishing it from other languages.

August 2, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Did the Black Death give life to the English language?

roman-cultureThe peoples that lived in the British Isles before the Roman invasion in the 1st century A.D. were Celts. Under Roman rule many of the local Britons adopted aspects of Roman culture; London itself was built by the Romans and called Londinium. After the Romans left in the 5th century, Germanic tribes started invading and conquering Britain. These included the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who are the tribes which founded what we now know as England. Although they spoke different dialects their language was what is now called Old English.

frenchIn 1066 the Normans invaded England. They spoke a form of French known as Norman French and so French became the official language of the state and law. Latin became the language of the church and clergy. The descendants of the Anglo-Saxon invaders and Celts continued to speak their native English which was considered a language of the conquered peasantry. This situation continued for a number of centuries.
It is quite probable that with time French, being the prestige language of the land, would have replaced English. The reason we can speculate that this would have happened is that this is often the case, that a language seen as more “prestigious” or associated with the government and state, or with economic and social advancement often supplants the local vernacular tongue.

14th_century-In the 14th century a plague hit Europe killing millions. It was known as the “Black Death”. It is possible anything between a third or even a half of the population of England died. This led to the death of possibly one million people in England and literally decimated the country. Many of the elite including the Latin-speaking clergy and French-speaking aristocracy died. More of the peasantry who were naturally more resilient to disease given the hard agricultural work they used to do survived. With a lot of the French-speaking class literally wiped out, English became more important. The English peasantry were required to work the land and were now in a more powerful position to make more demands. This also increased the prestige and status of their language.

henry_v In 1362 this situation manifested itself officially with parliament passing a law stating that from then on all pleas would be heard in English and not Norman French.That was just the beginning and half a century later Henry V started writing letters in English and not in French as had been the case before. The importance of English continued until French was seen as an alien tongue of a foreign state. However, the influence of the French language on English due to Norman rule cannot be underestimated and the English language as we know it today is remarkably different from the Old English before the Norman conquest. So, ironically, the Black Death which killed a million Englishmen may have helped their language survive.

July 22, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Britain’s first past the post voting system

britainBritain has one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world. In fact the British Houses of Parliament are often called the “Mother of Parliaments” and legislatures around the world in different countries are based on it.

However, Britain is different from other European countries in that it has a different electoral system. In most European countries politics is based on what is called proportional representation (PR). In its simplest form it means that political parties get the percentage of seats in parliament corresponding to the percentage of votes they received in the national elections. However it is important to note that it is not as simple as that and there are quite a few variations of PR.

In very basic terms, if party X got 25% of the national votes they should get 25% of parliamentary seats and if party Y got 30% they should get 30% of seats.

parliamentary-seatsBritain, however, practises what is known as “first past the post”. What this means is that there are 650 parliamentary seats in the UK called constituencies. Each constituency is supposed to contain around 100,000 people and votes for their own MP. Then after the MPs go to parliament they vote for a prime minister and government.

Hypothetically, if party A won 326 seats with 51,000 votes in each constituency and 0 in all the others they would get 16.6 million votes. If party B won 30,000 votes in all 650 seats but only won 300 seats with a majority they would get a minimum of 19.5 million votes.

Ok….let’s relax for a minute…let’s take a deep breath…and if this is a bit confusing re-read the previous paragraph slowly, word by word, sentence by sentence until you understand it, and it should make sense.

If it doesn’t, imagine there was a school with 13 classes, each class had 20 students. The party which wins the support of the most classes wins control of the school student council. The red party won the vote in 7 classes with 11 students voting for them. They won 0 votes in all the other classes. What’s their total number of votes? Well…the answer is 77. The blue party however won 6 classes with 20 votes in each of these 6 classes BUT 9 votes in each of the 7 classes won by the red party.

votesDo you understand this?

That means out of the total 260 votes in the school, the red party won 77 votes.

The blue party won 183 votes.

The red party won 29.6 of the votes, whilst the blue party won 70.4.

Despite this the red party wins control of the student school council as 7 classes out of 13 voted for them. The overall school wide vote by all students in the school is not relevant.

This is, in simple terms, “first past the post”.

Is it fair?

Some would say, no it isn’t.

On the other hand, “democracy” is in essence what the people say they want and in 2011 there was a referendum in Britain on whether first past the post should be replaced by another voting system (a little bit closer to PR, called the “alternative vote”).

veote_resultBy the way yes, there have actually been elections in the UK when a party won more votes nationally but did not become the government instead the party which won more seats but less actual votes won the elections and formed the government. In 1951 the Conservatives received 13.7 million votes, but won 321 seats, whilst Labour had 13.9 million votes but won 295 seats. So the Conservatives with less national votes became the government.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_1951 

Despite perhaps being unfair, supporters of “first past the post” claim that it produces strong governments with long periods of rule, which is actually true in Britain, in contrast to Europe where PR (proportional representation) often results in weak coalition governments with short periods in power.

So “first past the post” is just one way in which Britain is different from other European countries. We drink tea with milk, we drive our cars on the left and we have “first past the post”!

July 15, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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SMS (text message) English

txt-messageSMS, or text message as it is known in England, stands for ‘Short Message Service’.

There is a belief that the frequent use of English in SMS messages is lowering standards of English amongst students in the UK. Some argue that since they spell a lot of words in a “special way” for mobile phone messages they start to forget the correct formal spelling.

On the other hand, when a student of English lives in the UK, in addition to the Standard English they normally learn from books and on English language courses, they are also exposed to other types of English such as slang, idioms and the language of phone messages or social media messages.

Here are a few most common text message (SMS) abbreviations:

  • LOL = laugh out loud, it basically means “hahaha”text abbreviations
  • U = you…….(easy!)
  • 2mrow = tomorrow
  • L8R = later
  • GTG = got to go
  • TTYL – talk to you later

There are also words or phrases which are slightly more complex and advanced, for example “IIRC” stands for “if I recall correctly” and “AFAIK” stands for “as far as I know”. For a longer list of text message abbreviations, click here.

OK, so we have seen what text message English looks like and some of the common examples of it. However, what about the claims by some that it is lowering standards of literacy amongst native British students in the UK or ‘dumbing down’ literacy levels?

Well, in 2003 there was a BBC article about a 13 year old girl who submitted a school essay which was written entirely in text message English. One part of the essay reads:

” My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.”

shakespeareDo you understand this?

Well, if you don’t, that’s perfectly fine as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens wouldn’t either!

On a more every day level you would not have studied this on any reputable English language course, so there is nothing to worry about.

In Standard English the sentence above would read:

“My summer hols (short for holidays) were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to NY (New York) to see my brother, his girlfriend and their 3 kids face to face. I love New York, it’s a great place.”

To be honest, learning text message English is not that hard if you have an English friend or even if your teacher allocates a part of a lesson to it, especially if he/she gives a list of common abbreviations together with some examples of text message sentences.

text_messagingIt’s not super-important as it won’t get you into university like IELTS will! Nor will it allow you to write a letter to an international English language newspaper or website to express your opinions on a topic you feel very strongly about. However, it will allow you to communicate with friends by mobile phone messages and perhaps, and more importantly, given the ever more regular use of social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) you will be able to communicate with friends or like-minded people around the globe.

Is it dumbing English standards down? This is open to debate, however, in my opinion it doesn’t really have any great threat to the English language because newspapers, official documents and educational courses all require the use of “good” English, and all students in the UK must do GCSE English (the obligatory English exam in Britain during secondary school). However, it can be convenient and fun! So have fun taking some time to learn it if you wish to whilst definitely not neglecting the far more useful and important Standard English!

July 8, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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5 free things to do in London this summer (which you won’t find in travel guides)

It is commonly known that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Whether you are staying short-term to improve your English, or longer-term to experience a new culture, much of your budget will be spent on going out and having fun. With more daylight hours in July and August, you will also want to explore all the attractions the capital has to offer. Having lived here for seven years, I now present you five things you can do without spending a penny. 

  1. FOR THE ROMANTIC: Pergola and Hill Gardenspergola

Created by the architect Lord Leverhulme, the Pergola and Hill Gardens in Hampstead is a fine example of Edwardian extravagance. This secluded secret garden, with its dramatic pathways and overgrown plants is a favourite with wedding photographers. Few places in London evokes this much atmosphere and charm, and walking through the pergola really feels like you are in a movie set. Highly recommended.  

 Tip: Take the 210 bus from Archway Station (towards Brent Cross) and get off at Inverforth House.

  1. FOR THE SHOPAHOLIC: Dover Street Marketdoverstreet

Can’t decide between shopping or an exhibition? Japanese fashion brand Comme des Garcons combines the best of both worlds at its new flagship store on the city’s Haymarket. Dover Street Market is more than just a department store, but also a design and architectural showcase. Each of the represented brands is given a designated space to exhibit their products, in a heritage listed building by Thomas Burberry in 1912.

 Tip: The Rose Bakery on the 5th floor serves some of the best scones and tea in the West End.  

  1. FOR THE COUNTRYFOLK: Kenwood Housekenwood

Recently restored and renovated, Kenwood House on the edge of Hampstead Heath is one of the capital’s hidden gems. The amazing interiors were created by the 18th century architect Robert Adam, and now houses paintings by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. After enjoying the unique art collection, visitors can relax in the Brew House café with one of their homemade cakes.  

Tip: Don’t miss the Great Library, which was restored to its original colour scheme in 2013.

  1. FOR THE LOVER OF HEIGHTS: Sky Gardenskygarden

With 360 degrees views across the city of London, the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street is one of the most exclusive spaces at night. It operates an online booking system for free visits during the day, but most people don’t realise that they have a walk-in policy from 6pm on a weekday and from 9pm at weekends. When they have explored the beautifully planted terraces and landscaped gardens, guests can enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many bars.   

Tip: They have a smart casual dress code in the evening, which means no jeans, trainers, and beachwear.

  1. FOR THE ARTIST: Victoria Miro Galleryvictoriamiro

On display until 30th July, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition of paintings, sculptures and installations at Victoria Miro is wonderful and hypnotic experience. Those who are familiar with the artist’s works will be pleased to see the trademark pumpkins return, in all shapes, sizes and materials.

Tip: Go there on a weekday to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more relaxing experience.

 

June 24, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Interesting Origins of 5 Food Idioms

Idioms have become so common in everyday life that we often don’t realise when we use them! They can be especially difficult for people who are learning English as they usually have a completely different meaning to the actual words in the phrase. For example, the idiom ‘cold feet’ has nothing to do with your feet being cold!

So where did these idioms originate from? Below you will find the meanings, origins and examples of 5 common food idioms:

Spill the beansspill_the_beans

Meaning

To reveal secret information accidentally or maliciously, often ruining a surprise or other plan.

Origin

It is believed that this phrase originated in ancient Greece, where people cast secret votes by putting white or black beans in a jar (a white bean indicated a positive vote and a black bean was negative). If someone accidentally or deliberately knocked over the jar, the beans would pour out and the ‘secret’ would be revealed early, so they would have “spilled the beans”.

Examples

“We’ve arranged a surprise party for Sarah on Wednesday. Please don’t spill the beans.”

“Come on, spill the beans! What did you buy me for my birthday?”

A piece of cakecake

Meaning

Something which is very easy to do.

Origin

It is thought that this idiom originated in the 1870s when it was tradition to give cakes as prizes in competitions. In some parts of the USA at this time, slaves would participate in ‘cake walks’ where couples would perform a dance mocking the mannerisms of their masters. The most graceful couple would receive a cake as a prize. From this, the expression ‘a piece of cake’ started being used to describe something that was easy to achieve.

Examples

“I’m sure the test next week will be a piece of cake for me. I’ve been studying for weeks!”

Jane: “Thank you so much for changing my tyre. I had no idea how to do it!”
Pete: “No problem. When you’ve been a mechanic for 30 years, changing a tyre is a piece of cake!”

Pear-shapedpear

Meaning

When something goes wrong.

(You can also use pear-shaped to describe when something has the shape of a pear – e.g. a pear-shaped vase is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top and a pear-shaped woman has wide hips and narrow shoulders.)

Origin

The exact origin of this expression is unknown but many people believe that it originated in the late 1940s in Britain. Aircraft pilots in the RAF would practice flying in loops but it is very difficult to fly in a perfect circle. Therefore, loops which were not performed correctly were called “pear-shaped”.

Examples

“It looked like they were going to win the football match but in the last 10 minutes it all went pear-shaped.”

“He practiced the song every night for a month but when he got up on stage he got very nervous and it went pear-shaped unfortunately.”

Cool as a cucumbercucumber

Meaning

Extremely calm, relaxed and in control of your emotions.

Origin

This phrase may have originated from the fact that even in hot weather, the inside of cucumbers are approximately 20 degrees cooler than the outside air. Therefore, a person who stays cool, calm and relaxed in a difficult situation can be compared to a cucumber staying cool inside, even in hot weather!

Examples

“I know that Tom was really nervous before his bungee jump but he looked as cool as a cucumber.”

“I don’t understand how you can stay cool as a cucumber when you give presentations to more than 100 people. I get so nervous and I always mix up my words.”

Bite off more than you can chewstressed

Meaning

To try to do more than you are able to do or to try to do something that is too difficult for you.

Origin

There are two possible origins of this idiom; however, we know that it started being used in America in the late 1800s. Some people believe that it originated at the time when many people chewed tobacco. When they were offered tobacco, some people would take a big “bite” of the tobacco – much bigger than they could chew! Others believe that the phrase was created by people watching children stuffing their mouths full of food and not being able to swallow!

Examples

“They offered me the job but the work was so difficult! I definitely bit off more than I could chew.”

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew – you have so many things to do at the moment, why don’t you ask someone else to organise the party?”

June 17, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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5 Ways to use IELTS Practice Tests

IELTS (International English Language Testing System)English exam is mostly used for college, school, university, as well as visa applications. The test consists of four papers, and is designed to measure a candidate’s ability to use the language in an academic context. Many candidates prepare for the IELTS test by buying practice test books or by downloading sample tests from the official IELTS website. However, in our experience, a lot of students do not fully exploit the practice test material. One thing to remember is that on the whole: taking practice tests will not improve your IELTS score. Practice tests are used for checking your IELTS score. So here are 5 practical ways to use your use the test book you’ve just bought:

1. READING TEST: Backwards reading

Instead of just doing the questions and checking your answers, try to find the location of the answers, as well as the reason for the answer. This is especially useful in TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN and YES/NO/NOT GIVEN questions, where they are always presented in the order of the text. Alternatively, simply turn to the answer page, and locate them in the text. This will better your understanding of how the test-writers set the questions, and improve your time management on the day of your test.

2. READING TEST: Predicting text structure

Have you ever tried the technique of ‘sampling’? This is done by reading the first paragraph of a text, then the first sentence of all the other paragraphs. In doing so, you gain awareness of the text structure, and in turn, you may be able to anticipate the location of the answers more quickly. Most reading texts follow one of the structures:Cambridge exam answer sheet


  • Analytic:
    discuss problem and solution, cause and effect
  • Discursive: express different opinions about an issue
  • Narrative: present a chronological sequence of events
  • Descriptive: outline situations, explain how something is done, categorise something

3. SPEAKING TEST: Analysing question type

In addition to doing speaking mock tests, annotate the tests to help you to structure your answers. For example, in the two-way discussion, identify the question type so you can better demonstrate your ideas at length. Does the question require you to compare or contrast? To agree and disagree? To discuss pros and cons? To speculate about the future? To make generalisations? Once you have identified the question, note down set phrases you can use to begin your answer. So if you need to generalise, you can say ‘on the whole’ or ‘generally speaking’. Or if you need to make a prediction, you can say ‘it’s quite likely that’. If you have this information beforehand, you will notice an improvement in your fluency and coherence.

4. LISTENING TEST: Answer dictation

One difficulty with the listening test is that they require you spell your answers accurately. You will not get any credit for the answer if there is a mistake on the answer sheet. If you have a lot of practice test books, find a patient friend and ask them to dictate the answers to the listening test as you write them down. I’m not talking about ‘A, B, C, D, E’ of course, but the ones which are tricky to spell. In section three, the test-writers generally require you to spell words in the context of education, such as ‘assessment, seminar, lecturer’. Thousands of marks have been lost because of misspelt answers!

5. WRITING TEST: Imitating dialoguesEnglish lessons

You don’t necessarily have to write a lot of essays to improve your score, but you should equip yourself with lots of ideas. If you allocate an hour a day to study for the essay, it may be more useful to plan four essays than to write one. Outline your ideas in note form, using topic vocabulary and collocations. Then, instead of writing the essay, have a conversation with someone based on the notes you have made.

If you are studying for your IELTS test at an English language school, ask your teacher for more tips on how to use practise papers and how to do extra self-study at home to maximise your chances of achieving the score you need.

Good luck with your test!

 

June 3, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
0 comments

How to improve your English speaking skills

englishclassWhenever I ask someone who is studying English which skills they would like to improve the most, the answer is usually ‘speaking skills’. However, I know from experience that improving your speaking skills can be quite difficult as it might be difficult to find time or people to practise your speaking with and you also need the confidence to speak in a language you are not fluent in.

My first piece of advice is to be clear about the English you want to speak. This may sound strange; however, with the influence of Globalization, many different ‘Englishes’ have evolved. If your business is international, you may not actually speak to anyone from the UK. A Brazilian may speak to an Italian who then may speak to a German who then speaks to someone from China and so on. Therefore, the kind of English we speak depends very much on what the person we are talking to, does; (they probably won’t be English or come from an English speaking country). With this in mind, learning idioms or slang is not that useful. Acquiring complex vocabulary is also a waste of your valuable time. We need to learn simple yet effective transactional English: to understand what is being said and to be understood.

Here are some tips:english class

  • Don’t speak your language unless you really have to. If you try and speak two languages, your brain has to work very hard to translate from one to the other. Stick to the language you are learning and practise, practise, practise.
  • Find someone to practise English with. If there is no-one local you can practise with, you could find someone to speak to on Skype or you could try to find a language exchange group.
  • Watch as much British/American TV and films as you can. At first, you may not understand much but with time, your brain will become accustomed to the rhythms and intonation of English. You could also watch English TV programmes with English subtitles to begin with and then gradually remove the subtitles.
  • Be hungry!!! Not for food but for more vocabulary and expressions. You can do this by carrying a notebook and writing down anything you hear that you don’t understand then practise saying what you hear.
  • readbooksRead English books, newspapers and magazines. This will really help you to expand your vocabulary. If you find a word that you do not know, you can try to guess the meaning from the rest of the sentence or you can look it up in a dictionary. If you use an online dictionary they often have a button you can press to hear the pronunciation (e.g. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/).
  • Practise the sounds of English, especially, those words which have a th sound such as mouth, breathe, think or a long vowel sheep, beat, treat etc.
  • Be pro-active: on a bus or in a queue, listen to people talk. You can also try to start a conversation with someone by asking the time or speaking about the weather. This will give you natural intonation.
  • Find other English language learners to practise with. Although having a conversation with a native English speaker may be helpful as they will be able to correct your mistakes, it is often easier to build up confidence by speaking to other students as they are in the same boat as you.
  • Join an English language school like Bloomsbury International and practise your English speaking in class and on social activities with your fellow students.
  • Most importantly, don’t be scared to make mistakes! Most native English speakers will be impressed that you are learning a second language and they will often try to help.

Useful articles and websites:learn English

A list of excellent self-study resources

How to improve your English with movies

How to learn English with songs

How to apologise in English

How to speak like the queen

Good luck!

May 27, 2016
by Bloomsbury International
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Explore Camden while studying at a London language school

One of the key benefits of learning English at a centrally located London language school, such as Bloomsbury International, is that you’ll have the opportunity to explore large parts of central London. London is a diverse and exciting city, and each area (called a ‘borough’) has its own unique characteristics and attractions. Bloomsbury International is centrally located in the capital city in a borough called Camden.

 

Camden is a fantastic area to explore while you’re studying at our London language school. Some of the key attractions in the Camden area include the following:

  • The British Library, the second biggest library in the world
  • Camden Market, a very popular market with local people which sells crafts, clothing, antiques and street food
  • The British Museum, a museum dedicated to human history, art and culture
  • Various theatres including Bloomsbury Theatre and the Shaftesbury Theatre
  • London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo
  • St Pancras station, which features an imposing Gothic building that was recently restored
  • and many more.

 

So if you’d like to have easy access to all these Camden attractions while you’re studying at a London language school, then why not choose Bloomsbury International? Not only will you benefit from the best in English language teaching and student support, but you’ll also have all these places of interest right on your doorstep.