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Monday, 08 February 2010

How much has changed in 20 years....

Hi everyone!

Isn't technology wonderful? I was reading in a magazine last week that it is 21 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee first had the idea of the World Wide Web. When I started working at the BBC, we had manual typewriters. Then we were given electric typewriters and after that, electronic typewriters. Then came the computer, which completely changed our lives - a machine which could remember what you had written - fantastic. I can remember when we first got internet access in the department. The first person to use it was Hamish Norbrook

- he's the man who started the BBC Learning English site in April 1996. I sat in the office next door to Hamish and at lunchtime we were allowed to go in and "play" with this exciting new invention. The first time we used a search engine we were scared that we would break the computer in some way! How things have changed! Now, at the touch of a button, we can find out anything we could possibly want to know. We "visit" places we've only dreamed of. We can communicate with people on the other side of the world within seconds. We can share information and pictures with anyone and everyone. It was very exciting when, a couple of weeks ago, after my last blog, I had an email from Adriana with a picture of her "little angel": here he is:

Cute, huh?

Anyway, soon after Adriana's photo arrived, one of my colleagues sent me a story. It went something like this:

A self-important college student was walking along the beach, when he saw an old man resting on some steps.

He saw the old man watching him and so went up to him and said "You old people will never understand our generation. You grew up in a different world." He was talking so loudly that people around him began to listen. The old man said nothing. The student continued "Young people today grew up with TV, jet planes, space travel, men walking on the moon. We have nuclear energy, cell phones, computers, internet and many more things than you ever had." The old man sat there for a moment and then said "You're right son. We didn't have all those things when we were we invented them. Now what are YOU going to do for the next generation?" The applause from the people listening was amazing.

The story made me laugh...but it also made me think. Each generation invents something new. Something the previous generation wouldn't have believed was possible. And so I wondered....what would you like to see the next generation invent? Do let me know!

Take care


PS: Hamish has retired from the BBC, but I shall be seeing him on Monday - any messages you'd like me to pass on?

self-important : someone who behaves in a way which shows they believe they are more important than other people

Monday, 11 January 2010

A very late nativity!

Hi everyone,

As promised at the end of the last blog, I now have some photos of the nativity play at our church.

Perhaps I should explain that each year we hold a carol service on the Sunday before Christmas. It's at 5 p.m., so it's dark outside and the church is mainly lit with candles (more about that later!). One year we have a Christingle* service and the following year a nativity play. This year, it was a nativity play. Actually, it's not really a play, but a tableau. The story of the birth of Jesus is read out, and people come forward to represent the characters and gather at the front of the church until there is a full group: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds, angels and wise men.

This year nothing was rehearsed, so it was a bit nerve-racking! The children and adults arrived half an hour before the service and were kitted out with an appropriate costume. Everyone waited at the back of the church until their part of the story was read out and then made a grand entrance.

A shepherd!
A shepherd

An angel
An angel

It was very simple and very special. I think it was extra special this year, because we had a real baby to represent Jesus: and he was perfectly behaved all the way through!

Mary and the baby
Mary and the baby

And candles? Well, there is also a candlelit service on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately this year a candle was left burning after the service. We arrived on Sunday morning to find the candle had burned through a flower arrangement and a wooden window ledge. The fire had travelled up the window alcove and the heat had cracked the glass in the window....but then it had put itself out! How about that for a miracle?

Take care


carols: religious songs sung at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus
tableau: a scene represented by people standing on a stage wearing costumes
nerve-racking: something that makes you tense and worried
to kit out: to provide someone with everything they need at that particular time: in this case, clothes

* Christingle

Thursday, 24 December 2009


Hi everyone!

Just a quick message to you all to wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

All of us here at BBC Learning English would like to thank you for all your support, messages and comments during the year.

I thought you might enjoy a photo of Kerrie and Matthew, who were an angel and a king in our church nativity play last Sunday. We even had a real baby in the crib: if I can I'll post a picture of him!

Take care!


Monday, 30 November 2009


Hi everyone,

Well done for some very accurate guessing! I'm not going to give you all the answers right now, but will reveal each city one at a time. Mean, aren't I? ;-) In fact you will see from the title that by the end of my travels I actually visited a total of 7 cities: that should keep me busy blogging for a while!

So, let's start with the first city. The clue was: a European capital city. A city of fairytales. Everyone correctly guessed that the first city I visited was Copenhagen in Denmark. Why is it a city of fairytales? Well, one of Copenhagen's most famous citizens was Hans Christian Anderson. Hans Christian Anderson wrote probably some of the best-known fairy tales ever. Some are so well known that they have become part of the English language. For example, an "ugly duckling" has come to mean a person who, as a child, may have looked unattractive, but who grew in to a beautiful/handsome adult. If you don't know the story, you can find a translation here. Actually, I visited the Hans Christian Anderson museum and was surprised how many tales I knew - and how many I didn't know. My favourite from childhood was the story of the Wild Swans: although I must have read a very sanitised version as a child, because I have just read the full translation and it's quite gruesome in parts!

One of Anderson's best-loved characters has been adopted as the symbol of Copenhagen. Of course, it's the Little Mermaid - and a statue of her can been found on the edge of the harbour.

I had been warned that she was quite small, but in fact she is 1.25m high - so not too small! The statue was a gift from brewer Carl Jacobsen in 1913. He saw dancer Ellen Price dance in the ballet "The Little Mermaid" at the Royal Theatre and asked if she would pose for the sculpture. At first she agreed, but when she discovered that she would have to take her clothes off, she refused - so the mermaid has her face and the body of the sculptor's wife! Every year on her "birthday" - 23rd August - women jump in to the water around the statue. It was definitely too cold to do that when I was there!

In fact we were lucky to see the Little Mermaid: next year she is going to China for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, from April to November.

Of course, Copenhagen isn't just famous for the Little Mermaid. I was only there for a couple of days and so had to get round as many famous sights as possible in a short time. Here is a whistle-stop tour of the places we saw and what we did:

Amalienborg Palace - this is the winter home of the Danish Royal Family.

Actually there are four palaces built around a square. Two palaces are open to the public. Of the two remaining palaces, one is home of the Queen and one palace is the home of the Crown Prince and his family. Every morning there is a Changing of the Guard ceremony.

As you can see, they all look very smart - but it's definitely not as formal as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace!

Next stop was the Round Tower

It's the oldest functioning observatory in Europe and stars have been watched here since 1642. It was built by King Christian the IV: instead of steps inside, there is a long ramp and I've read that the original plan was to make it wide enough for a coach and horses to be driven up to the top.

And finally, Rosenberg Castle: a real fairytale castle. It houses the crown jewels, although the security guard told us that there isn't actually a coronation anymore - just a proclamation from the balcony of Amalianberg Palace - it's seems a bit sad! The crowns are spectacular and you can get very close: so close, in fact that I nearly set the alarms off. I wasn't really concentrating and lent forward and rested my hand against the glass to take a photo: the guard started jumping up and down and shouting "Madam! Madam!" - you see, sometimes I even almost get arrested in order to take photos for you ;-)

And then I couldn't resist taking this one especially for James and his fans! It's the King's toilet at Rosenberg: pretty, isn't it?

So, that wraps up the first country! I'll try and post again before Christmas and tell you (briefly) country 4....because it has a Christmas theme!

Take care


whistle-stop tour: to travel very quickly, with only short stops - it comes from a style of political campaigning, where politicians travelled by train and addressed the crowds from an open platform, without ever getting off the train.

Monday, 23 November 2009


Hi everyone,

I'm sorry I haven't posted for a while! Maybe you can guess from the title of this blog why I've been so quiet?

I haven't been abroad since last December...and now suddenly, I'll be visiting 4 countries in the space of 6 weeks. If you count England, it's actually 5 countries! Anyway, I promise I will sit down and write about each country properly - but before I do, I thought you might like a little quiz to see if you can work out where I've been (or where I'm going). Here goes:

October: a European capital city. A city of fairytales.

November: another capital city, but on a different continent. A city of Wonders:

November: a different European capital - home of giant mice, ducks and a castle fit for a princess:

December: this one is easy if you look back to December 2008 - shopping, shopping, shopping!

Take care


Comment corner

Asma: Twinkle, twinkle is one of my favourite rhymes too. The actions are so sweet - especially when you see a whole class of small children pretending to be stars!

Marianna: snow already? Here in England we have had very warm weather - and over the last few days a lot of rain and some very bad floods in the north.

Adrianna: they say that there is a book in everyone. An awful lot of people start to write and then never get anywhere. I must say I would like to be patient enough to write a book, but I'm not sure I would be able to sit still long enough!

Rabail: daisies are beautiful - as a child I used to make daisy chains: chains of daisies made by putting the head of a daisy through the stalk of another daisy. We made crowns and felt like princesses.

Tanya: we have a counting rhyme about piggies (that's baby talk for pigs) - it's done counting toes, starting with the big toe:
This little piggy went to market
This little piggy stayed at home
This little piggy had roast beef
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went wee wee wee, all the way home!

Cristina: you made me think: where does the name Bailey come from? Well, it comes from the name of the street and comes from the rampart - also known as a bailey - constructed just outside the wall of the City in Norman times.

Kuldeep: you're right, it is a great way to learn - music and actions definitely help!

Anita: Wow! I'm going to have a go at your rhymes - they look like real tongue-twisters!

Shiny Sue: you write beautifully - your childhood memories are lovely - and a little bit sad.

Filippo: a little bit late, I know, but I didn't dress up for Halloween - did you?

Daria: thank you for the poem - it's still not quite the one I remember, and I'm beginning to think maybe I imagined it!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Childhood II

Hi everyone,

Well, here it is finally: I hope it's worth the wait!

The idea for this blog came to me back in May, when I was on holiday in Cornwall. Walking down a country lane, I saw a field of yellow flowers:

I leant over the gate to take a closer look and saw that the flowers were buttercups:

These pretty little flowers are really weeds - they grow in fields and hedgerows from April until late summer. Who decides what are weeds? I checked the dictionary definition and it said: "A plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden." It seems to me to be very unfair, don't you agree? Just because a gardener wouldn't want them in the garden, they are called weeds!

Seeing the field of buttercups made me think of a nursery rhyme about buttercups and daisies

I started singing it to myself (it's a good job there was no-one else walking along the lane - they would have thought me very strange), but do you know, I couldn't get further than the first few words. The rest of the rhyme had completely gone out of my head! (Now that is very odd, because somehow the brain often stores songs. I don't know about you, but I can hear the first few bars of a song from my teenage years and find I can sing along with the whole song!) Anyway, when I came back from holiday, I checked on the internet to see if I could find the words....and do you know, I couldn't find any! Maybe I imagined it!

Nevertheless, it started me thinking about other rhymes I learnt as a child. Of course there are hundreds, but I thought I would share just a couple of them with you. I'm hoping you'll share some of your nursery rhymes with me too! The first one is a rhyme about London - here it is and I'll explain it afterwards:

"Oranges and lemons" say the Bells of St. Clement's
"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's
"When will you pay me?" say the Bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
"When will that be?" say the Bells of Stepney
"I do not know" says the Great Bell of Bow
"Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head...."

Have you noticed how many nursery rhymes and fairy stories are really gruesome? Have you read any of the Brothers Grimm fairy stories: they are very bloodthirsty! This nursery rhyme is no exception, although as a child, I just thought it was a good song! All the bells mentioned in the rhyme are (or were) in churches in London. I thought I knew where they all were, but do you know, I have been doing some research and discovered I didn't know anything at all! Today I've been out on a voyage of discovery with my camera!

Oranges and lemons" say the Bells of St. Clement's
The rhyme begins with this church because when the Thames was wider than it is today, oranges and lemons from the Mediterranean were delivered by ship just across the street. It is said the church bells pealed when a cargo arrived. There is also a church called St Clement's almost outside Bush House. If you walk by the church at 9 a.m. you'll hear the bells play the tune to this nursery rhyme!

"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's
St Martin's church was almost completely burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The tower and the bell remained. Above you can see all that is left of the church: the tower is now offices in Martin Lane. Martin Lane was once notorious for moneylenders. A farthing is an old English coin.

"When will you pay me?" say the Bells of Old Bailey
The Old Bailey (the Central Criminal Court in London) stands on the original site of Newgate Prison. The 12 bells mentioned in the rhyme hung in a nearby church and the tenor bell in the bell tower was rung on mornings when there was an execution at the prison. The church still has the 'Execution Bell' in a glass case: but it's not used any more!

The Old Bailey

"When I grow rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
Shoreditch was a very poor area of London

"When will that be?" say the Bells of Stepney
The church has ten bells, the oldest of which was recast in 1385

"I do not know" says the Great Bell of Bow
There has been a church on the site since 1070. During the 14th Century a curfew was rung on the Bow Bells every night at 9pm. It is said that anyone born within hearing distance of Bow Bells ringing is a true Cockney.

"Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head...."
Apparently, on the night before an execution, the prison warder would stand outside the prisoner's cell with a candle, at midnight, to let them know that the next day their head would be chopped off!! Hmmm. I'm not sure if that's actually true, but it's certainly gruesome!

The other nursery rhyme I wanted to share is a bit more obscure. It's one my Dad used to say to me when it was bedtime.

"To bed! To bed!"
Said Sleepy-head;
"Tarry awhile," said Slow;
"Put on the pan,"
Said Greedy Nan;
"We'll sup before we go."

Right, that's enough from me! Over to you. Please share your nursery rhymes with us!

Take care


curfew : a law stating that people must stay inside their houses after a particular time at night until a particular time the next morning

Sleepy-head: an affectionate name for a person (usually a child)who is very tired or not paying attention
Tarry: an old fashioned word for "linger"
Nan: Nan is a version of the name Ann. It can also be what you'd call a children's nurse-maid (from nanny)
sup: to eat supper

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Catching up with comments

Hi everyone,

Although I keep promising "Childhood II", I thought I needed to catch up with a few comments first. I love reading all your comments and feel bad that I haven't replied. So, here goes:

The Prince, the Duchess and me
Cris & Naheed: the food at Buckingham Palace was delicious - the trouble is, the plates are very small, so I only ate about 2 mouthfuls of food between breakfast and 7 o'clock in the evening. Fortunately there was plenty of water, juice, tea and coffee to drink!

Ana Paula and Rabail: I found some photos of the Buckingham Palace gardens here

Filippo and Anita: I'd like to say I was cool, calm and collected, but in reality it was very nerve-wracking. One of the Rangers got completely tongue-tied and couldn't remember anything - I suspect that if the Prince had asked her her name, she wouldn't have been able to remember!

Thank you Alessandro - it would be nice to do nothing except sit and blog everyday - but I think you would soon be bored of me! When I was a teenager, I tried to keep a diary every day. I managed for a couple of years - I still have the diaries and looking back they make me laugh! Do you keep a diary?

We are 100
Cris: I admire people who go against the current too - especially when it is for the good of others. You have to be courageous to stand up for something you believe in - it can be very hard to go against convention and traditions. Lord Baden Powell's sister Agnes was the Guide first leader. To ensure that Guiding was considered "acceptable", she is included things like sewing, cooking and laundry, as well as adventurous outdoor activities. Very clever!

Toni: Scouts allowed girls to join almost 20 years ago: I heard recently that there are more girls than boys in Scouts in the UK now: I'm not sure if that is true. However, there are 400,000 Scouts (boys and girls) and 575,000 Guides (girls only), with a waiting list of 50,000 (that's girls wanting to join who can't because there are no spaces available), so Guiding must be doing the right thing! A couple of years ago, 3,200 girls were asked about the issues shaping the lives of their generation: one thing that came out was how much they value the girl-only environment – a place where they can share their feelings, grow in confidence, form strong friendships and know that they have a chance to talk about the issues that matter to them. In the UK we still have a large number of single-sex schools too: not so much for younger children, but for children aged 11-18. Do you have boys or girls-only schools or are all your schools mixed?

Take care


cool, calm and collected: very calm
tongue-tied: unable to say anything because you are shy or nervous

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Missing comments

It seems unusual that there haven't been many comments on any of the blogs on Learning English (the student blog, the teacher blog and the staff blog) recently.

Have you sent us a comment in the last few days (since Monday 14 September) that hasn't been published on our site?

If you have, and it hasn't broken the house rules, please let us know, and re-send your comment using the contact form

Best wishes,
The Learning English team

Tuesday, 08 September 2009

We are 100! (continued)

Hi everyone,

Thank you to Diema, Ana Paula and Cristina for your guesses. The World Service actually started teaching English back in 1943 - so Cristina's guess was the closest - well done!

Ana Paula and Cristina both guessed that Rangers are 100 years old and you were almost right - but Diema was spot on with "Girl Guides". Actually, the first Guide Company was founded in 1910, but the idea of Girl Guides was born on 4th September 1909. This is the story of how it all began.

Back in 1907, Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant-General in the British Army, held a small camp for boys to teach them activities around camping, observation, woodcraft, chivalry and lifesaving. In 1908, the Scout movement officially started and quickly grew. By 1909, so many boys had joined up that on 4 September, Baden-Powell held a rally at Crystal Palace in London. 11,000 boys were there, but in amongst the boys there were a handful of girls. One of those girls was Sybil Cannadine, in an interview* she explained that in the summer of 1909 they saw the boys going off every Saturday afternoon and having fun. She says "The whole of the summer of 1909 we followed the boys...we did all the things that we were told to do in the books: tracking, stalking, bandaging, knotting, law, promise and the flag." But girls were not supposed to do those sort of things - in 1909 they had to wear long skirts and weren't allowed to run or to raise their arms above their heads. That didn't stop Sybil and her friends though. They heard about the Crystal Palace rally and decided they would go. They marched straight through the turnstiles and no-one stopped them. However, Baden-Powell spotted them, went up to them and said "And what the dickens do you think you are doing here?!" One of the girls replied "We want to be girl Scouts." B-P told them that Scouting was only for boys, but the girls clustered round him and begged for "..something for the girls." And so the Girl Guides began. When it officially started in 1910, 6,000 girls signed up.

This is a picture of Guides at camp in 1910 - can you imagine pitching tents, cooking on a fire and running around dressed like that? Things have certainly changed and although we do still cook on wood fires, we no longer have to dig our own toilets!

Back in 1909, many people were shocked by the idea of girls doing all those things, they said it was an "idiotic sport". But, in spite of the critics, the Girl Guide movement continued to grow. Today there are 10 million girls and women involved in guiding in 145 countries around the world: perhaps you are one of them, or know someone (other than me!) who is a involved? Half of all women in the UK today have been in guiding at some stage during their lives!

Last Saturday there was a huge party at Crystal Palace for more than 6,000 girls and leaders (and other parties all around the UK). The girls in 1909 had fun stalking, bandaging and knotting: on Saturday, the girls had fun climbing, learning circus skills, drumming, dancing and learning yoga. They also enjoyed a concert and firework display.

As a permanent reminder of the centenary of Guiding, the famous Crystal Palace maze has been redesigned. The maze was originally created in about 1870 - it was known as a "tea maze" because people liked to stroll through the maze after having afternoon tea! Sadly, in the last few years, it has fallen in to disrepair, so it was fantastic to see it redesigned and full of children last Saturday. It took me about 20 minutes to find the middle: when you get to the centre, this is what you find:

The trefoil in the middle is the symbol of Guiding and represents the three parts of the Guide promise (duty to God or to your religion; duty to your country; keeping the Guide Law). The stalk signifies the love of mankind. Around the outside are the words: "Pause here for a while, listen for the echoes, past, present, future, follow in their footsteps." I wonder whether Sybil and her friends realised what they had started when they asked for "Something for the girls"?

Take care


spot on: absolutely correct
a handful: a few (not literally 5!)
what the dickens: a very old-fashioned exclamation of surprise meaning "What on earth..."

*(which I saw the other day on BBC4, but that was recorded back in 1971)

Sunday, 06 September 2009

We are 100!

Yes, yes. I know. I promised I would write Childhood II, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait just a little bit longer. I'm sorry. Actually, I'm not sorry, because this is the start of an exciting year, which I thought I'd tell you about. You see, we're 100. Not me personally, you understand. Not even BBC Learning English. In fact, to go off on a slight tangent, can any of you guess how long the BBC has been teaching English on the World Service? We haven't always been called BBC Learning English - we've been called: English by Radio, English by Radio and Television and BBC English.

Anyway, back to the title of this blog. "We" were 100 on 4 September. Any idea who the "we" is? Do you know, I'm going to be very mean and see if you can guess. Tonight is Sunday evening. I'll give you until 5 p.m. GMT on Monday to see if you can work it out.... Would you like a clue? Hmmm. OK: well we have 10 million members around the world. Does that help?

So there you go: two puzzles for you:

1. When did the BBC start teaching English on the World Service?
2. Who or what was 100 years old on Friday?

Take care


February 2010

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