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English School in London | Learn English with Bloomsbury International

April 21, 2017
by Bloomsbury International
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Happy Saint George’s Day

Ireland has St. Patrick’s Day, Wales has St. David’s Day, Scotland has St. Andrew’s Day, but what does England have? St. George’s Day.

Every 23rd of April, people in England celebrate St George’s Day. St. George is England’s “patron saint” (a religious person who died and whose spirit protects the country). St. George is also the patron saint of the Caucasian country of Georgia, and the patron saint of the city of Barcelona, which explains why the countries’ flags are so similar (a red cross on a white background).

Strangely, the real St. George never visited England, so why is he the patron saint of England?

St George was born in modern-day Turkey and was a soldier in the Roman Army, but he was attacked verbally and physically for being a Christian at a time when the Romans were still worshipping Jupiter, Venus and Apollo. He was tortured and killed on the 23rd of April AD 303 after he refused to give up Christianity.


St. George was usually drawn killing a dragon, which represented the evil devil. The Italian writer and church leader in Genoa, Jacobus de Voragine first came up with the dramatic story of St George killing a dragon in his book ‘Golden Legend’. A dragon was protecting a well (a hole in the ground where we get water) and in order to get water, villagers had been planning to sacrifice a woman to keep the dragon happy. However, George kills the dragon, saving the village.

Many English soldiers believed that they had seen St George in a vision, fighting next to them, so English people began to view him as the protector of England. He was made patron saint of England in 1415 and the 23rd of April 23 was chosen, the day of his death.

St. George’s Day wasn’t very popular until recently. Many British people wanted to focus on their united British identity, but recently, English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish people are beginning to connect with the identity of their individual countries, rather than the union.

These days, the Mayor of London (currently Sadiq Khan) celebrates St. George’s day by having a special exhibition at City Hall (the Mayor’s office). The exhibition will celebrate London’s history and heritage. Also, on Saturday, there will be the Feast of St George in Trafalgar Square. You will be able to find out about English history, eat traditional English food and see traditional English performers, song, dance and other activities.

April 13, 2017
by Bloomsbury International
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Using mobile technology in the classroom

Mobile technology has transformed the way we communicate with each other. It’s also changed the way we socialise and the way we buy things. Everything is available to us at the touch of a button.

So why do we not use it in the classroom? Why do teachers insist on making you switch your phone off during the lesson? How can you use your phone more effectively?

Teachers are usually happy for you to use your mobile devise if you are using it to help you with learning English in and outside the classroom. However, they are not happy when you are playing Candy Crush or are on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

There are a lot of things that you can do with mobile technology to enhance your learning. Here are some ideas taken from the British Council website which can help you.

Cameras and microphones are useful for learning English

SMART targets are targets which are: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. Don’t just say that you want to “speak better English” or that you want to “get a 6.5 in your IELTS exam”, but mention a specific part of the English language that you want to improve, something that you can measure so that you know when you’ve achieved that target, something realistic and attainable, something relevant or useful your you as an individual and then set a time in which you want to achieve it.

You can use the camera or the microphone to record language around you in and outside the classroom. You can take photos of street signs, menus, advertisements and any other examples of written English that you see around you. You can also take photos of when English is misused or when people make mistakes with spelling or punctuation. This can be shared in class with you teacher and other students.

The camera and the microphone are also good for recording yourself, your friends and teacher (but remember to ask for permission first). It is a good way to go back and listen again to what has been said, and it also helps with pronunciation. You can record conversations with native speakers and replay them for clarification and listening practice. You can record your own personal diary about what you do every day or what you did last weekend. You can share your videos with your classmates.

Apps

There are a lot of apps that can help you learn English. You can try them all and find one that suits you. Apps add variety to the classroom and can support your learning in another form. Here are some you can try :

Site:  www.fluentu.com
iPhone: FluentU on the AppStore
Android: FluentU on Google Play

Site: www.translate.google.com
iPhone: Google Translate on the AppStore
Android: Google Translate on Google Play

For listening practice

Site: www.esl.culips.com
iPhone: English Podcasts on the AppStore
Android: English Podcasts on Google Play

For games

Site: www.zynga.com/games/words-friends
iPhone: Words With Friends on the AppStore
Android: Words With Friends on Google Play

Site: www.studycat.net
iPhone: Fun English on the AppStore
Android: Fun English on Google Play

iPhone: Heads Up! on the AppStore
Android: Heads Up! on Google Play

For grammar

LearnEnglish Grammar (UK ed)

For vocabulary

Memrise
Flashcardlet by Quizlet

*Please remember that you may have to pay for some Apps.

Twitter

You can tweet a summary of a lesson or a text in 140 characters. You can tweet photos of your weekend and of interesting things you’ve seen or interesting places you’ve visited and any interesting people you’ve met. If you share a hashtag, your classmates can join in and follow you.

Writing blogposts

You can create your own class blog and everyone can contribute to it. Writing blogs can help you improve your vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing.

April 7, 2017
by Bloomsbury International
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10 common uses of the word ‘like’


The word “like” is a word which causes a lot of confusion for students partly because it is used so often and also because it has so many meanings.
Like ‘can be used as a verb or as a preposition as well as an interjection and there are several common expressions with ‘like’ that are easy to confuse with each other.

● What does she like?

This use of ‘like’ as a verb is for general preferences. ‘Like’ as a verb is usually followed by the ‘ing’ form of the verb (I like playing tennis), but it can also be followed by the infinitive with ‘to’.

“I like eating ice-cream” means you enjoy the activity and the experience.

“I like to eat vegetables 3 times a day” means that you like the benefits that doing that activity bring you.

● What is she like?

‘What … like?’ Is used as an adverb to ask about the appearance or personality of a person or object and is of a general nature. The response should be an adjective or something that describes the kind of person or object it is, ie. “She’s a lovely person, she’s tall and slim”.

● What does he look like?

‘Like’ is used as a preposition to talk about someone’s physical appearance. In this case, ‘like’ can also mean ‘similar to’ if you are making comparisons with other people. The answer to the above question could be “She looks like

● What would you like to drink?

Another common use of ‘like’ is as ‘would like’ to express desires. It is much more polite to say “I would like” than “I want”. Note that ‘would like’ is followed by the infinitive form of the verb and not by the ‘-ing’ form.

● Some animals, like bears, sleep through the winter.

This word means “such as” and is used to give examples of a category that you have just mentioned.

● He plays like Tchaikovsky

This is the word used as a preposition to compare two things. It means “similar to” and is usually followed by a noun.

● They look like they are having fun.

‘Like’ can be used as a conjunction. It is very similar to the previous usage, but the word ‘like’ is followed by a clause. The above sentence means “They look as if they are having fun”. This use of ‘like’ is very common now, but in the mid-1950s it was a new usage which many people complained about.

● I have many likes and dislikes

This use of the word is as a noun, but is not as common as the above uses. It can also refer to the number of times people have clicked the ‘like’ button on a Facebook post or comment.

● I was like, ‘hey, how are you?’

“To be like” can also be used in a very informal way to mean that someone said something, or acted in a particular way. You can used it to show someone an action that you did, ie. “I was like [shocked face]”, or to say what sound someone or something made, ie. “The car was like, “vroom!”. This use started in California, America, but has spread to almost every country in the English-speaking world. It is usually used by younger people.

● I don’t, like, want to go.

For many young people, it replaces other interjections like “umm” and “err”. It is another very informal use of the word that comes from California and that is used mostly by young people. It is a word that some people use when they are thinking about the next word.

So, all in all, we have 10 common uses of the word ‘like’. Have you ever used the word in this way or heard native speakers using it like this? Do you think it’s fine to use the last two phrases, or do you think the English language should stay in its traditional form?

March 31, 2017
by Bloomsbury International
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April Fools’ Day

April Fools’ Day is usually celebrated on the 1st of April. People play “practical jokes” or pranks and spread hoaxes (lies or fake news).

April Fools’ Day has been celebrated since at least the 14th century. It is even mentioned in the famous book “The Canterbury Tales” written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1392.

In the UK, you usually reveal an April Fools’ joke by shouting “April fool!”. Usually you don’t continue making jokes all day, but stop at midday. If you play a joke after noon you become the “April fool” yourself.

Where did this custom come from? Well, in the mediaeval times, people celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25 in European. The New Year was a holiday which began on the 25th of March and ended on the 1st of April. People who celebrated New Years’ on the 1st of January mocked (made fun of) people who celebrated on the 25th March – 1st April.

In addition to ordinary people playing pranks on each other on April Fools’ Day, there are also a lot of complex and elaborate practical jokes which have appeared on TV, radio and the internet. Some newspapers and magazines even report fake new or false stories which are explained the next day in the following days’ issue.
Some large companies and international corporations have played elaborate tricks on people. In 1957, the BBC broadcast a film showing Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti. Most people in the 1950s didn’t know much about Italian food at the time so the BBC was flooded with questions about how to get hold of these “spaghetti plants”. It was so bad that the BBC had to announce the next day that it was a hoax.

What customs and traditions do you have in your country on the 1st of April?

March 24, 2017
by Bloomsbury International
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Sounds and meaning

In 1929, psychologist Wolfgang Köhler did some psychological experiments where he showed people two shapes and asked them to label one as a ‘takete’ and the other as a ‘baluba’ (also called a “maluma”).

In 2001, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard, two linguists, repeated the experiment but used the words “kiki” and “bouba”.

Between 95% to 98% called the round shape the “bouba” and the sharp, jagged one the “kiki”. There was a great difference in the languages and culture of the two groups, which led them to believe that we naturally associate some sounds with shapes. The round shape might be called the “bouba” because the mouth makes a more round shape to make the sound and the sounds of a K are sharper.

  • In English, words which talk about surfaces in close contact often begin with “cl” (clasp, clamp, clam, clench, clad, clog, close, clot, cleft, cloven, clump, cluster, clutch, club, cling, clinch, clap).
  • Words which talk about the emission of light begin with “gl” (glare, glimmer, glass, glaze, gleam, glimpse, glint, glisten, gloss, glow, glamour, glitz, glory)
  • Words connected to the nose have a tendency to begin with “sn” (snorkel, snort, sniff, snivel, snore, snot, snuff, sneer, snide, snob, snooty).
  • and words meaning tiny pieces or small marks tend to end in “-le“, (bubble, crumble, dapple, freckle, mottle, pebble, pimple, riddled, rubble, nipple, spangle, speckle, sprinkle, stubble, wrinkle).

Do you understand all the words in the 4 groups above? Are there sounds in your language which have a similar meaning?

March 17, 2017
by Bloomsbury International
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How to be a good student

1. Made a study plan

If you study only when you feel like it, you will never study. Making a study plan for the week or month, making sure you schedule in specific skills will help you to keep on task.

2. Set SMART targets

SMART targets are targets which are: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. Don’t just say that you want to “speak better English” or that you want to “get a 6.5 in your IELTS exam”, but mention a specific part of the English language that you want to improve, something that you can measure so that you know when you’ve achieved that target, something realistic and attainable, something relevant or useful your you as an individual and then set a time in which you want to achieve it.

(For example:) Not SMART ☓
I want to…
SMART ✔
I want to…
Specific … improve my English. … learn everyday expressions for conversation.
Measurable … build up my vocabulary. … learn 10 new phrasal verbs.
Attainable … do all the English tenses in my 2 week course. … learn how to use the present perfect in my 2 week course.
Relevant … pass IELTS so I want to practise presentations. … pass IELTS so I want to practise speaking for 2 minutes.
Time-Based … be able to learn Advanced grammar. … be able to use the third conditional by next Friday.

3. Don’t worry about making mistakes

When we are learning a language, we always make mistakes. You should definitely not be afraid of making mistakes in the classroom because the lesson is a “safe space” where you can make mistakes which will then be corrected by the teacher.
However, you should also not be afraid to make mistakes outside of the classroom either. Most people, even native speakers of English don’t have perfect English, so you should focus more on communication and conversation rather than

4. Take every opportunity to practise your reading and listening

Read books and articles on a topic of study, or interest. Whether this is in connection with a course, or just at your own leisure, encouraging yourself to read is a highly effective way to increase understanding of new concepts. Take a trip to the library, or invest in some classics on a topic to provide the best reading materials to self-study.

Watch educational videos to keep yourself actively engaged in a concept. There are many tutorial videos that are intended for teaching people new skills, or educational shows aimed at complementing what students learn in school. Whether you are trying to learn another language, or figuring out how to conduct a science experiment, you can greatly benefit from the audio and visual walk-through.

5. Take every opportunity to practise your speaking

Many students come to the UK and end up only speaking to their teacher and to their classmates. The teacher often speaks more slowly and “grades their language” (adapts their English to the level of the class), and obviously classmates make similar mistakes to those you make.

The only way to really use your English in real-life situations is to go out and meet new people. Meetup.com had a group called “Mammoth Language Exchange” where you can meet new people and practice your English (and you may meet native English speakers who want to learn your language too). Obviously, when meeting strangers, you should make sure you go with a friend and that somebody knows where you are going.

If meeting strangers isn’t your thing, try to have conversations with your home-stay family or roommates about what you’ve learned at school.

6. Have a dedicated study area

A study area is vital to study effectively. You could have an office at home, a desk in your bedroom or you could use the Student Resource Centre at Bloomsbury International. Your study area should have a tidy work space with no clutter or distractions, and should be well-lit.

7. Learn how to take effective notes

Invest in highlighters, coloured pens and sticky notes because they are useful tools to take notes. If you keep notes while you are learning, it will enable you to keep the information in your brain for longer, and it will help you build valuable organisational skills.
This blog post has some excellent ideas for effective note-taking: James kennedy

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”!