A tin of mixed fruit and ladyfinger biscuits

Hey folks,

We missed a few at the meeting, but no worries, I hope we will get the go-ahead to run a continuation course after Easter.


So, this happened’. We played Kahoot!’ – it’s fun and a great way to review topics and language. Over the last couple of months, we have seen plenty of new vocabulary. I hope you have found it informative and enjoyed yourselves.

Putting together the quiz, I discovered many images of kitchens from the fifties (the 1950s). Pictures often depicted the housewife preparing a wonderful meal with the help of her new appliances. The husband, dressed in business attire, would look on with pride after a ‘hard’ day at the office. Yes, it was a different time.


However, there were also images of families and friends coming together over a communal meal. It reminded me of the time-honoured tradition of breaking bread, sitting down around the table, having dinner, and talking.

It can be such a positive experience. We connect to our nearest and dearest at dinner and learn about their day. It’s part of my family’s routine, and I would love to continue. Still, it becomes more challenging to sit down with the family with modern living and disjointed work schedules. Nonetheless, we shall endeavour to try.


We discussed the idea of eating for pleasure or necessity. While eating is necessary, food also serves another purpose. When people enjoy a meal together, the shared experience can bring them closer. Food has the power to bring peace, but it can also lead to conflict.

World governments should ensure that their populations have access to food. That is not the case, and millions won’t eat today, which is heartbreaking, considering the world produces enough food for everybody many times over.


On a different note, we spoke about food trends. While some food goes out of fashion and never comes back, other popular dishes come and go with trends. It’s popular to serve nineteen-seventies themed food at parties – dishes like Prawn Cocktail, Baked Alaska, Mousaka and Quiche Loraine. Quiche is one of those classic dishes that people always love, even if you don’t see it on restaurant menus. One of my faves as a kid was my aunty’s trifle – layers of set jelly and custard topped with cream. There would be a tin of mixed fruit and ladyfinger biscuits set in the jelly. Sometimes a tot of sherry. What a treat!

And, who remembers the Tupperware party? Growing up in the United Kingdom, I remember cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks, little sausages, and pickled onions served from the Tupperware ‘Party Susan’.

Stay safe!


 

The Versatility Of Versatile


Hey folks,

Boy, did we crack open the vocabulary box last week. In particular, the lexicon of food and cooking.

It’s crucial to review vocabulary, and I wonder how many of the words you can remember? Let’s have a pop quiz.


I will start you off with an easy question.

  1. If lamb comes from a sheep and beef from a cow, where does pork come from?
  2. What delicious dish would you make with chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon and tahini?
  3. For what might I use a pestle and mortar?
  4. Cumin is a spice. Can you name four more spices?
  5. Name a famous Spanish rice dish often made with seafood but traditionally contains chicken and rabbit.
  6. The famous Spanish rice dish is a rich meal, but how might you describe a boiled egg?
  7. Eggs are versatile. Can you name three more versatile ingredients?
  8. What comes before the dessert but after the starter?
  9. What’s the difference between a cook and a cooker?
  10. How many different items that we cook with in the kitchen can you name? Name them.
  11. We mentioned green beans and runner beans in the meeting on Tuesday, but what other beans did I talk about in last week’s blog?
  12. What’s a colander?
  13. Name four British ingredients that originate from french, e.g. courgette
  14. Do you recall the ingredients to make Yorkshire Pudding batter?
  15. Name three root vegetables.
  16. If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a pescatarian eat?
  17. Why is an aubergine called eggplant in American English?
  18. What type of pan do I need to make a stir-fry?
  19. What’s the difference between spaghetti and noodles?
  20. How do you eat a Cornish pasty?
  21. Name six green vegetables.
  22. What is the ingredient that makes bread rise?

Have a great week and stay safe!


 

Stories Of Lumberjacks And Toad In The Hole

Hey folks,

Thank you for your enthusiastic participation on Tuesday. The meeting was a great success, and it was fantastic to hear stories about your family members. Watch out, Hollywood! The Academy will be calling.

There was a tale of a lumberjack who raised nine children single-handedly after the death of his wife. There was a story of young love in the face of parental disapproval. Then, a simple tale of a girl’s love for the grandmother who never gave up. And, there was the story of the forged will, the girl who stood to inherit everything, and an enigmatic stranger who suspected evil deeds.

The stories provided plenty of great vocabulary. I used the word lumberjack above, but after some digging I discovered that the gentleman in question was a log driver. Click here to learn more. It reminded me of some unusual occupations that are obsolete.

While going through census records for my family tree, I discovered a watchman, a glover, carriage makers, and coal heavers. Click here for jobs that don’t exist anymore.


As we spoke about family, one idea that surfaced* was the connection between family and food. I associate blackberries with my grandfather, my dad’s father, and sausage rolls. I relate slow-cooked roast lamb with my grandmother on my mum’s side. My mum’s lasagna was always a winner, and my dad was a whizz with almost everything. He was a chef and a baker. Perhaps it runs in the blood, but I love to cook, too. 

* If a feeling or information surfaces, it becomes known.

Respond to the following questions

  • What’s your favourite dish? 
  • Who cooks in your family?
  • Can you cook?
  • Are you a good cook?

Next week, I’d like you to describe how to cook something. Use the example below to help you structure your answer.

One dish I love to prepare is a classic British dish, and it’s easy and quick to make. It’s called ‘Toad In The Hole’. Historians believe the meal got its name from how toads wait in their hole or burrow to surprise their prey.

But don’t worry, the recipe doesn’t call for toads or frogs. The food dates back to the 18th century, when some ingredients were expensive. They’d combine meat with cheaper foodstuff to make it go further.

There’s a batter made from flour, egg, and milk. Then you’ll need decent pork, beef or vegetarian sausages. Prepare your batter and leave that to stand; it’s the same batter to make Yorkshire puddings. Place the sausages in a large ceramic or metal pan, and put that into a hot oven. I find an old roasting tin works well. I always add a little oil. Others suggest animal or vegetable fat. The secret is to get your pan hot before you add the batter. After five minutes in the oven, the oil should be sizzling and hazy, and your sausages have started to brown and release a little fat. Then, pour in the batter. Quickly close the oven door to keep the heat in, and the dish will be ready thirty to forty minutes later. It should puff up to double in height and be a golden brown colour. My dad taught me how to cook it, and it’s a heartwarming reminder every time I make it for my family. 

The connoisseurs might serve it with onion gravy, but it’s delicious with a tin of baked beans. Or, dish up a hearty salad to go with it if you’re keeping an eye on the calories.

Have a great week.


 

I am a genealogy nerd. It’s my density.

Dear folks,

Thank you for sharing stories about your family. It’s a great way to learn about people and find friends. We only scratched the surface (do you remember that phrase from last week?), and I would like you to gain more confidence when talking, so we’ll continue focusing on family stories next time.

Indeed, we came across plenty of new words as we discussed our close family. Do you remember what they were and what they meant? – Siblings, childhood, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, great grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, half-brother and half-sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law. Of course, we have first cousins, second cousins and third, fourth and fifth cousins. How many cousins do you have? How many do you know?


I am a genealogy nerd. I am fascinated by my ancestors and their stories, and I spend hours diving into the national archives.

The census documents have led me to discover some family secrets and funny stories. But the best way to learn about your family is straight from the horse’s mouth. I want to tell you just one of them.

My grandfather gave the impression of a Hollywood movie star. In some ways, he reminded me of the actor, Jimmy Stewart. He was pretty tall, and he had brown eyes and thick white hair styled in a quiff.

He had a cheeky smile and a sparkle in his eyes. He worked hard as a chef, a baker, and a window cleaner in his time. A proud man, but generous and friendly. He always thought of himself as a man of the people, and his wish was to emigrate to Australia

My grandfather had a motorcycle with a sidecar, and when he went to work cleaning office windows, he would secure a long ladder between the bike and the sidecar. One day, as he rode to work, a car drove into the side of his motorbike. The vehicle hit the sidecar with tremendous force, trapping my grandfather’s leg between the ladder and the bike, fracturing the leg bones in many places. The accident shattered my grandfather’s dream to travel with his family down under. My grandfather had already made the arrangements and done the paperwork, but fate intervened and stopped the trip. 

Of course, if my grandparents and father had gone to Oz, my mum and dad wouldn’t have married, and I wouldn’t have been born.  

Do you believe in fate? Density or destiny?


Finally, my grandfather was sure that the family descended from one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It’s one of the reasons I became interested in my ancestors’ stories.

Who were they? Click here to learn more.

Until next time!


Shake the family tree and see what falls out!

Hello,

It was excellent to hear you getting to grips with the language in our meeting; when learners adopt phrases and use them in context, vocabulary sticks, so, well done.


In light of the situation in Europe, these last eight days I have been moved by stories of conflict, bravery, and the dire circumstances families face. It’s a poignant reminder. Acknowledging the past and learning about the atrocities and hardships that befell our grandparents and their grandparents are lessons we would do well to remember.


Another idea we’d do well to remember. Studies and opinions illustrate that we are all descended from the same tribe, making us more alike than we sometimes believe. So I think it is important to honour our ancestors and our origins. 

I am fascinated with genealogy, the studying and tracing of ancestral lines. Let’s look at how we talk about our family and our pedigree.

  1. How many siblings do you have?
  2. Do you come from a big family?
  3. How much do you know about your great-grandparents?
  4. What about their parents?
  5. Did your grandparents have many siblings?
  6. From which countries are your ancestors?
  7. Have you ever made a family tree?
  8. Have you done a DNA test to find out more?

My favourite part of genealogy is discovering the stories. I recently learned that one of my ancestors got deported to Australia for the crime of Highway Robbery. His original sentence had been death but then commuted to a life of hard labour in the former British colony. On the flip side, another great uncle was a watchman who patrolled the foggy streets of London. 

  1. Have you discovered anything unusual about your family?
  2. Do you have any nobility in your tree?
  3. Were your family displaced during time of war?
  4. Or did they move to another country for a better life?

Prepare to tell me about your family.

Keep safe!


 

 

Blown away by the special effects and other ways to talk about movies

Hello folks,

Welcome back to another blog entry. It was super to hear about your movie choices. From Grease to Blue Lagoon, the coming-of-age theme struck a chord. It reminded me that movies are an excellent resource for new vocabulary. And not just the phrases we hear in the movie. Talking about movies is another super conversation starter, and I have compiled some here.

Did you know that flick, film, motion picture and feature film are all synonyms for movie?


First up, movies fall into genres.

There’s horror, psychological or bloodfest. Then action, where the hero battles evil villains and almost falls from a helicopter. So, romantic comedies might be your thing or are you a science fiction fan? Then, there’s the movie that crosses several genres, e.g. film critics described ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ as a zomromcom, points if you can guess what it means.

Can you name any other film genres?

What’s your favourite type of film? Why?


Then there’s a great deal of jargon that surrounds the process of making movies. Research the missing definitions online.

  • Script: The written text of a play or movie.
  • Stunt Man:  A person that replaces the actor to perform dangerous stunts.
  • Soundtrack: 
  • Actor: 
  • Producer: The person with the money that manages the show’s production.
  • Director: The person who directs the making of a film
  • Special effect: To create scenes that standard techniques cannot achieve.
  • Blooper: An embarrassing mistake.
  • Box office: the office where cinemas sell admission tickets.
  • Cast: To assign the roles of (a movie or a play) to actors.
  • Critic: A person who expresses an opinion, not often favourable.
  • Flashback: 
  •  Sequel: A continuation or development of a book or film.
  • Cameraman: The person who operates a movie camera
  • Premiere:  The movie’s first public performance.

When explaining a film to somebody, the listener doesn’t want the entire plot. With practice, we can explain most movies in a few sentences. 

SPOILER ALERT!

Grease is a musical romance about a boy and a girl who fall in love over the summer vacation. Fate throws them back together in the same high school. Twelve songs later, Danny and Sandy overcome their attitudes and live happily ever after.

Jaws is a film about a giant shark that terrorises a small coastal community at the beginning of the summer season. One amazing soundtrack later, Sheriff Martin Brody gets his monster fish.


If you love a movie, there are many phrases you can use to express your enjoyment.

  • I have heard great things about this film.
  • Wow! That movie has the best special effects I’ve ever seen.
  • I’m a huge fan of monster flicks. 
  • I have a real weakness for Hugh Grant. He’s such a super actor.
  • This movie is funnier than the other one.
  • I was totally blown away by this feature. It’s a classic.
  • This horror movie is a masterpiece.
  • Without a doubt one of the most influential films of all time.
  • I was so impressed with the script. The writers are brilliant.
  • have a soft spot for historical dramas. I’m a history buff.
  • The film is full of twists and surprises. almost jumped out of my seat when…
  • The documentary was informative. I’m a geek for scientific facts.
  • I love how the film explores controversial topics.

Can you think of other situations where you can use this language?


The phrases can function equally well with minor changes if you don’t like the movie. Please show me how in our next meeting.

Or you could say the following.

  • The acting is terrible.
  • He is overrated as a director.
  • The movie was boring. It bombed at the box office.
  • The sequel was a real letdown.
  • The plot is very complex. I didn’t understand.
  • All of her films are pretty predictable. 
  • No part of the script made sense.
  • That had to be one of the most stupid, senseless and ridiculous movies I have ever watched. And I saw Phantom Menace twice.

Keep safe, and I’ll see you next week.


 

Reaching the summit of Mount Everest and learning English by watching movies.

Hi folks,

Thank you for your participation in Tuesday’s meeting. It was productive and great to hear you tackling a challenging topic.

Do you feel learning English is an uphill struggle?

Climbing Everest is a feat very few people have accomplished. And the mountain would remain unconquered if early pioneers, adventurers, explorers gave up before they’d reached the summit. No, they persevered, they did not give up, and overcame the forces of nature to plant a flag at the top. Though we may not be ready to raise our banner, the group successfully communicated opinions and experiences by overcoming language obstacles. So, while our conversation on ‘how childhood shapes who we are now’ proved challenging, we rose to the occasion.


One of our participants made productive use of her free time and watched a film about a group of climbers attempting an ascent of Everest, hence the title of our blog this week.

Filmmakers don’t usually create movies for English language learners – native English speakers are the target audience. It’s an excellent opportunity to hear accents and, as one of our participants noted, get accustomed to the speed at which native speakers talk. It’s also a superb way to pick up colloquial expressions and idioms. Hearing natives speak will also help improve your fluency. Take note of how the speakers link words together and where they add intonation. Remember how we stress words that carry the meaning.

Lower levels might choose a film they’ve already seen or follow along with English subtitles. That’s helpful to connect what you hear with how we write the language. An article on LinkedIn has some sound advice. Replay parts of the film that you don’t understand, or turn subtitles on just for the crucial scene. If you have time, you can even watch the movie (or part of the film) first with no subtitles, then with English subtitles, and if you still don’t understand fully, you can watch it a final time with subtitles in your language. It is a fun and valuable exercise to practice your English listening skills! 


Sometimes ideas come up at the meeting that we don’t have time to discuss thoroughly.

Do violent movies and video games make you more prone to aggressive behaviour as an adult? Click here for a fascinating but challenging article from Time magazine.

Is growing up easier or more difficult now? Click here to read an opinion piece from the NYTimes.

On a final note, how stubborn are you? Click here for a terrific article on the positives of being stubborn.

Have a fantastic week!


 

Where The Crawdads Sing, And Tearing Down Walls

Hello folks,

What a super first meeting!

Well done on your enthusiastic participation.

The evening got underway by getting to know each other. Excellent that you were able to maintain the conversation. And that’s what the course is all about.

Still, there’s one thing that stops us from participating in a discussion. That’s comprehension. It’s challenging to respond if you don’t understand what somebody tells you. As I mentioned in the meeting, it’s unnecessary to grasp everything as long as we pick out the keywords. Keywords are jigsaw pieces.

The more we have, the easier it is to see the whole picture. But, we don’t need all the details to get a broad idea of the subject matter. That’s why it’s crucial to listen for keywords. These stressed words convey meaning. 

e.g. 

  1. Jack had a blue hat. If I emphasise the word ‘blue’, it suggests to the listener that the colour of the hat is significant.

  2. Jack had a blue hat. Putting stress on the subject ‘Jack’ implies the listener must understand that ‘Jack’ is key, not a Dave or a Jim.

  3. Where do you liveUsually, you’ll only distinguish the words ‘where’ and ‘live’ in this common question. That’s all you need to receive the gist of the question.live in Stockholm. 

What if I change the stress? Take a look at the question below and say it aloud. Emphasise the word in bold.

  1. Where do you live? What is the important idea?

As a listener, being conscious of sentence stress means you’re more likely to hear the keywords, which will allow you to understand more and, with practice, participate more actively in a conversation.

Putting up invisible walls or barriers only impedes comprehension. By walls, I mean the anxiety we feel when we don’t understand what somebody tells us. We want to grasp every word, and we instinctively panic when listening, and not grasping, what native speakers say. And when we get flustered, we don’t give our brains a chance to understand. So, deny your desire to stress over a lack of comprehension, take a deep breath, focus and listen. Break down the walls.

The keywords will surface, and your mind can put together a rudimentary picture from them. Over time, with exposure to the language, you’ll begin to pick up more and more clues, and the image will become clear.

It’s a skill which you can gain, quite simply, by increasing your exposure to the language you wish to learn. In our case, that’s English. Listen to radio broadcasts or internet podcasts, put an English speaking soap opera on in the background, watch TV without subtitles, encourage friends and family to talk to you in English. 

Eastenders is a British soap that’s been running since 1985.


We chatted about early memories, and while some of our recollections are not always positive, these stories form a part of the people we become. That idea connects nicely to a book that one of our participants recommended. ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens is a tale that reminds us that our experience of childhood will forever shape us. Click here to find the book.


We learnt a few new words this evening. 

So, go to Wikipedia for some fascinating facts on dummies, soothers or pacifiers.

Then, click here for some remarkable points on strollers, pushchairs or prams.


Finally, there were a couple of almost unpronounceable words. A quick search on Google will help you enunciate correctly. 

Click here to find out more on the etymology of the word pharmacy.

Click here to find out more on the etymology of the word administrative.

Thank you for sharing. Keep safe.


 

What Do Pandora, The Last Great Auk, And William Murray Have In Common?

Hello folks,

A question to get the ball rolling.

What Do Pandora, The Last Great Auk, And William Murray Have In Common?

They have all taken the blame for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others – often for the sake of convenience. They are all scapegoats.

According to Greek mythology, Pandora was the first human woman – “guilty” for releasing the world’s evils. When humans received the gift of fire from Prometheus, an angry Zeus decided to punish humanity – to compensate for the blessing they had received. Zeus had Pandora created. She is said to have ended the Golden Age of Man – an all-male civilization of immortals who lived in a perfect existence. But man was now subject to illness, decay, and death. So, is Pandora a scapegoat? Pandora was the daughter of Zeus and divinely created for a purpose. And I guess you’ve all heard of Pandora’s Box, a gift to Pandora from Zeus. So indeed, Zeus was at fault, right?


Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) was a species of flightless bird driven to extinction in the mid-19th century. It was common in coastal regions of the North Atlantic. In the 16th century, due to human demand, this distant relative of the penguin became one of the first animals recognised as endangered. In July 1940, on the islet of Stac an Armin, St. Kilda, Scotland, locals killed the last great auk of Britain. A terrible storm resulted in the deaths of several fishermen. In an act of general hysteria, the villagers blamed the bird for the tragedy. After a trial, the locals found the bird guilty of the crime, and the unfortunate auk received the death penalty. Yes, this happened!


Our final scapegoat, William Murray, was a ‘whipping boy’ for the young Charles I of England. The term ‘whipping boy’ originates from the mid 17th century, meaning a boy who’d receive punishment for a young prince’s or other royal’s transgressions. William had the good fortune to receive a royal education, but at a price. The two became friends, and when Charles became King, he kept Murray close. Wikipedia writes that a “whipping boy” is a metaphor that may have a similar meaning to scapegoatfall guy, or sacrificial lamb.

Keep safe!


 

 

Dominoes, Butterflies, Slippery Slopes And Dilemmas

Hello folks,

We had a terrific discussion this week, which gave rise to some awesome language.

Our trigger was the word STRIKE, described by Oxford Languages as ‘a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer’. Throwing caution to the wind, we talked politics – not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was a super opportunity to speak English.

It led us to talk more about the reasons and consequences of such drastic actions. Pressing on, we arrived at the moral dilemma that strikers encounter when weighing up whether to strike or not. Wikipedia describes a moral or ethical dilemma as a situation in which every available choice is wrong or negative.

During our meeting, several other phrases popped up, and I thought I’d share them.


The Domino Effect

Click here for the longest domino line .

A domino effect or chain reaction happens when one event sets off a chain of similar events. If you knock the first domino down, it follows that the next one in line will fall and so on in a linear, predictable fashion.


The Butterfly Effect

Click here for useful facts on the butterfly effect.

It’s the idea that small changes might have dramatic consequences down the road. The events won’t necessarily follow a linear pattern, so it is virtually impossible to predict whether the change will be massive or have no effect.


A Slippery Slope

Merriam-Webster explains a slippery slope as a process or series of events that is hard to stop or control once started. One that often leads to worse or more difficult circumstances.

It is a commonplace to hear ‘slippery slope’ arguments when discussing the big topics of the day. For instance, do video games automatically lead to real-life violence? One might contend there were many root causes for aggression on our streets. Millions of console users worldwide play shooting games – can we say they are all prone to violent behaviour? It’s a slippery slope fallacy.

Click here for an insightful way to counteract  slippery slope fallacy.

Have a great week!