The BLC Blog

A forum and learning place for British Language Centre students

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Teachers' Day

Today in Spain is Teachers' Day and in honour of that I thought we could talk a little about school.

Can you remember your school years? Were they happy ones? Did you always behave yourself? Were you the teacher's pet? Did you do all your homework and get good marks in school? Were you a swot or did you use to get into trouble a lot with the headmaster? Did you ever skive off (skaive) school or did you always attend your classes?

If you have any interesting comments or anecdotes about your time in school or any of your teachers, either those who you admired or those who you despised, please share them with us!

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Monday, November 26, 2007

English Pantomime

We are coming up to the festive season, the Christmas lights and trees are being put up around the city, people are out buying their presents and soon we will be hearing renditions of 'White Christmas' all over Madrid. This is also the typical time to see a pantomime in Britain. Fortunately, you don't have to go all the way to the UK to catch a panto this Christmas, because the Madrid Players are putting on their annual English-language production right here in the city of Madrid. This year they are offering their version of 'Cinderella', so why not try to get some tickets for the weekend of the 7th to the 9th of December! You can have fun and practise your English at the same time! (Even if you can't go this time, it's worth keeping an eye open for other English-speaking shows they perform throughout the year.)

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Confusing pieces of paper

Students often get very confused about the different names of pieces of paper in English. This confusion is caused by two things, the first being the difference between British and American English, and the second being the problem of false friends or false cognates. This false friend problem is particularly noticeable between Spanish and English. Let's look at some of these confusing bits of paper.

A receipt ( ri'si:t) is a piece of paper that you are given when you buy something in a shop to prove that you have paid, and in case you want to exchange the item at a later date. A receipt is not something that you use in cooking, as that would be a recipe ('resipi), nor is it something that you get from your doctor to take to the pharmacy because that's a prescription.

Now maybe you are wondering what ticket means, since it obviously doesn't refer to the piece of paper you receive when you buy something in a shop. You do receive a ticket when you pay for something, but this is usually for access into a building, a form of transport, or to show that you have paid to take part in an organised game such as the lottery. Also, if you park your car illegally, you will get a parking ticket! The word ticket in Spanish is sometimes 'billete' and sometimes 'entrada', which can lead to further confusion since the word 'bill' exists in English too.

In British English a bill is what you ask the waiter for in a restaurant when you have finished eating and you wish to pay. In American English this is the check. A bill is also the letter you receive notifying you of the charges for a service you have used such as the telephone bill, the gas bill and the electricity bill. A bill in American English can also be the piece of paper that you pay with, for example a five-dollar bill. Although in British English this is known as a note; a five-pound note.

This leads us on to the final false friend for today. If a note is paper money and sometimes just a little message scribbled on a piece of paper, what do you call the numbers on the report that your teachers send to your parents? These are called marks or grades.

So let's practise! What words do you need to use to fill in the following gaps? Answers in the comments box please.

1. Our electricity has been cut off because we forgot to pay the _______!

2. My numbers came up on the lottery but I couldn't claim my prize because my dog had eaten my ________!

3. If you haven't got the ________, we can't exchange or refund the trousers.

4. I followed the _________ perfectly. I don't understand how I messed up the cake!

5. My parents are going to kill me, my _____ are terrible!

6. I'll pay the ______ this time, next time we eat out, you can get it.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the fourth Thursday in November which means that the Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving. Tables all over the US will be laden with roast turkeys, vegetables, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pies and pecan pies as families celebrate all that they have to be thankful for.

If you want to learn more about the tradition behind Thanksgiving celebrations check out this website which includes an interesting video about the history of the festival, interviews with pilgrims and thanksgiving recipes for you to try out at home!

When you have read and learnt a bit more about Thanksgiving you may want to try out some of these games and activities for a little bit of vocabulary fun!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Colour Idioms - The Colour Green

One common expression with the colour green is 'to be green with envy'. This is what we say when someone is really jealous and envious of somebody else.

Ex. When Sally saw my new car, she was green with envy.
Ex. John is going to Brazil next week and everyone at work is green with envy!

A similar expression to the one above is 'the green-eyed monster'.

Ex. Do you think his criticisms of John are justified or is it just a case of the green-eyed monster?

The colour green is not only connected to negative ideas it can also have positive connotations. For example in the expression 'to have green-fingers'. Somebody who has green fingers is someone who is good at looking after plants and helping them grow.

Ex. Jake's garden is beautiful, he really does have green-fingers.
Ex. I definitely don't have green-fingers, I have killed every plant I've owned!

Do you know any other expressions with the colour green? Or do you know the origins of the above expressions? Perhaps there are some interesting expressions in your own language regarding the colour green. If so, we would love to hear from you!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

60 years of marriage

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, have been married for sixty years today, this being their Diamond wedding anniversary. No other royal couple has ever reached such an anniversary, although this does not mean to say that the Queen and her husband have not had their ups and downs.

Here are sixty facts about Royal Weddings one for each year that the Royal couple have been wed.

Here is some video coverage of that special wedding sixty years ago today.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Are you superstitious?

The last blog entry was about the origins of Friday / Tuesday the 13th. Many people are superstitious about those days and a number of other things including black cats, broken mirrors and walking under ladders. Are you a superstitous person? Do you touch wood and cross your fingers? Do you run the other way when a black cat is crossing the road? Do you panic when you see somebody opening an umbrella inside? Do you often find yourself searching the garden for four-leaf clovers?

Some people can be highly superstitious. One example is the Indian man who married a dog the other week. Yes, that is correct, you read right the first time. He married his dog. Read the article here to find out exactly what possessed him to do such a thing!

Do you know of any weird and wonderful superstitions? Are there any supertitions that are particular to your country? Do you know anyone who did something drastic or amusing because they were highly superstitious? Let us know in the comments box!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Which day is unlucky?

Today is Tuesday the 13th and for people in Spanish-speaking countries (and also for Greeks and Romanians) it is considered to be an unlucky day. But why Tuesday? In English-, Portuguese-, and French-speaking countries it is Friday the 13th which is seen to bring bad luck.

The common factor here is the number 13, but why is this number feared by some people? It isn't very clear why but many hotels, hospitals, roads, and buildings miss out the number. There is seldom a floor thirteen or a room thirteen. The phobia even has a name: Paraskavedekatriaphobia. Try saying that! Some people say that 13 is an unlucky number because there were 13 people sat at the Last Supper where Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples ate a meal together before Christ was betrayed by Judas Iscariot - an act which led to the crucifixion of Christ.

Friday is considered to be unlucky by some people because it is the day that Christ was crucified, it is the day on which executions were commonly held in the UK and the day that is commonly cited in the Bible as the day on which bad things happened such as the start of the Great Flood, the temptation of Eve and the destruction of the Temple of Solomon.

Another theory to the origins of the Friday the 13th superstition lies with the Knights Templar as suggested in Dan Brown's popular book 'The Da Vinci Code'. On Friday October 13th 1307 the King of France ordered the arrest, trial and subsequent torture of Knight Templars.

The theory behind Tuesday (martes) being an unlucky day is related to Mars, the God of War which implies death and negativity.

All of this makes sense. It only becomes confusing when you realise that the Italians apparently believe that Friday the 17th is in fact the most unlucky of days. I wonder why?

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Colour Idioms - The Colour Red

In the Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms you can find many expressions which use the colour red. Let's look at a few examples.

If you discover somebody doing something wrong or illegal we say that you have caught them red-handed. (This is often follwed by the -ing form).

e.g. I caught him red-handed trying to break into my car.
e.g. I can't deny stealing the money, my boss caught me red-handed.

The expression a red-herring is used to describe something that takes people's attention away from the truth or objective. It is a kind of diversion.

e.g. Murder mystery books often contain a few red-herrings to keep readers guessing.
e.g. The detective investigated the secret letter but it turned out to be a red-herring.

Another common expression with the word red is used to describe somebody when they get very angry. Imagine your mother when you were naughty, my mother used to turn physically red from the neck up! You could say she saw red.

e.g. I see red when people don't offer their seats to the elderly or pregnant women.
e.g. When he laughed at me, I just saw red.

One thing that causes me to see red in Spain is all the red tape! I mean all the beaurocracy and official rules that don't seem necessary and make things happen very slowly!

e.g. My visa application has been held up by red tape.
e.g. I wanted to get married in Spain but there is too much red tape.

Another place where people can see red, literally though, not figuratively, is in the red-light district. This is an area of a town where people offer sex for money. The name probably comes from the red lights that used to shine out (and sometimes still do) of the windows of those rooms where sex is on offer, for example in the red-light district in Amsterdam.

e.g. The red-light district in Madrid is in the Casa Del Campo and Gran Via areas of the city.

We'll be back later with more colour idioms. In the meantime, if you like the colour red you may be interested in this French movie by the same name, which is part of a trilogy called Trois Couleurs.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

What colour am I ?

Can you guess what colour I am from the following description?
I am a bright colour. I can be seen flying through the air on the wings of the Admiral butterly and slithering across the ground in the markings of the Coral snake. I'm the ladybird scurrying along the garden wall in summer.

You can see me in a glass of fine Ribera and on the lips of children eating chips drenched in sauce. I'm the sweet strawberry and the spicy chilli, the colour of pain and yet the colour of love.

I'm the colour of postboxes and phone booths and double decker buses along the streets of London. I'm the apple that poisoned Snow White.

I'm sexy and I'm dangerous. What colour am I ?

Feel free to leave your answers in the comment box. Perhaps you would even like to submit your own colour riddle?

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There are seven colours (colors - AmE) in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow,,green, blue, indigo, and violet. Other basic colours include black, brown, and white. According to psychologists our preferences regarding colour can say something about our personality and choices. To find out what your favourite colours say about you, do this online Colour Personality Test.

Some people are unable to tell the difference between certain colours such as blue and yellow or red and green (think of the VW Golf Advert (video in English). These people are said to be colourblind. Are you colourblind? Even if you are not colourblind, do you think it is easy to choose the correct colour between two options? I challenge you to try this colour test and find out how you score!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

Today is the day when we commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War when the tradition was created by King George V in 1919. The date is the 11th of the eleventh month to mark the end of WWI in 1918.

It is common for people to wear a poppy (the red flower seen in the photo) on this day. The poppy was chosen as a suitable symbol for Remembrance Day after one of the most famous poems about WWI, In Flanders Fields by John Mcrae, a Canadian military physician. It is said that the red colour of the poppy aptly represents the bloodshed that takes place in wartimes.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae
To see news coverage of Remembrance Day in London this year, go to this video link.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Remember, remember the fifth of November...

Today is Guy Fawkes Night, or as it is sometimes better known, Bonfire Night. Traditionally in England on this night an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burnt on top of a bonfire and children and adults alike enjoy fantastic firework displays in their villages. It is often not very clear, even among the people of England, why this day is celebrated. On this day in 1605 Guido Fawkes and some fellow conspirators plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. They failed and were arrested and executed. There is some confusion as to whether we are celebrating the fact that the plot failed or the fact that the plot almost succeeded.

For more information about the history of this festival with interesting visuals, interactive games and listening practice, check out this link.

Happy Bonfire Night x

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