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On 1st March we moved to a new blogging system.

The archives of all the student, teacher and staff blogs are still available here to read but commenting has closed.

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We still have student, staff and teacher blogs for you to comment on, however in the new system you do need to register to leave comments.

June 2007

Friday, 01 June 2007

BBC Learning English (1st June already)

Alex, another classic month on the blog. You've provided us with a very amusing time over the last two months and I would like to say a big thank you on behalf of all of us here at BBC Learning English and our blog readers.

I feel unable to say more because your blogs speak so well for themselves. Good luck and our best wishes.

I hope that we will see you and Friday joining in here occasionally over the months.

Now, let me mention our new teacher blogger. As is usual, I'll not say much. In fact I'll only give you her name - Jo Kent.

Welcome Jo and good luck.



Hello, everyone!

Yesterday was Alex’s last day as teacher blogger. I’m sure we’d all like to thank him for his inspired blogs and handy tips on the English language. Cheerio, Alex! Now you can enjoy a bit of a rest.

From today, I’ll be the new teacher blogger. I’d like to say ‘hello’ to everyone, and I hope I can fill Alex’s shoes and help you to improve your English, even if only a little bit!

But first of all I should tell you a bit about myself. My name is Jo Kent and I’m a freelance writer and editor specialising in materials for students of English, or to use the jargon term, ELT (English Language Teaching) materials. You know those textbooks you had to study in school? The ones that contain reading comprehension exercises, writing tasks and grammar explanations? That’s the kind of thing I write. Sorry if I’m responsible for any of you having to do lots of homework!

I live in Hampshire, which is a county in southern England. I don’t live in or near a city. In fact, I live way out in the sticks, near a little village called West Meon. There is very pretty countryside all around me and, thanks to e-mail and the Internet, it’s easy for me to keep in touch with everyone. I lived in big cities for a while, but now I like the peace and quiet of the countryside. The only problem is that if you want to go shopping, you have to get in your car and drive. But I’m not really a shopaholic, so I don’t suffer from cravings.

When people see my name, they often think I’m a man. I’m not! Look at my picture at the top of this web page – I hope I don’t look like a man, do I? If you see the name ‘Jo’ in English, that person will always be female. ‘Jo’ is short for ‘Joanne’, ‘Joanna’ or less commonly ‘Josephine’. The male name ‘Joe’ has an ‘e’ on the end. Native speakers often get this wrong too – I’ve lost count of the number of letters I’ve received addressed to ‘Mr Jo Kent’.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the student blogger and everyone reading out there, and of course answering your questions and reading your comments. This is the first time I‘ve ever written a blog, so I’m pretty excited about it!

Until next time, yours very femininely,



Handy – something that is ‘handy’ is useful.

Cheerio is an informal and friendly way of saying ‘goodbye’. You’ll hear it most often in spoken English.

If you fill someone’s shoes, you try to do something as well as that person has done it.

freelance can be a noun and an adjective. If you work freelance, you are self-employed, and usually work for several clients.

jargon is technical language, often used by a specific industry or group of people.

Someone who lives in the sticks lives in the countryside, a long way away from a big city.

The word shopaholic is a combination of ‘shopping’ and ‘alcoholic’. We use it to describe someone who is addicted to shopping. Another word like this is ‘chocaholic’ (addicted to chocolate).

A craving is a strong desire for something.

Saturday, 02 June 2007

What a welcome!

Hello again!

I’d like to thank everyone for the warm welcome you’ve given me as the new teacher blogger. It’s really nice to e-meet all of you and your comments and questions have given me lots of encouragement already. I’d also like say a special ‘Hello’ to Naheed, our new student blogger.

Naheed, I can see you have a very strong grasp of the English language. In fact, your English is so good I think I can probably take the rest of the month off. Just kidding! I can see that you’ve been studying English for a long time and make only minor mistakes. Well done to you!

Today’s blog had my mouth watering! It is possible to get mangoes here in the UK, but they’re pretty expensive as they are imported. Also, I don’t think they can ever taste as good as mangoes straight off the tree. Just a note about the verbs you use to describe flavours, Naheed. In your delicious description of how to make mango sorbet, you say ‘If it feels sour’, and later ‘it should not feel very sweet’. We use the verb taste when we want to talk about flavours, and the verb feel when we want to talk about things we can touch. This is just a small point – I can still understand perfectly what you mean.

In your first blog, I particularly liked your use of the phrase ‘All’s well that ends well’. But can I make one small correction? This phrase always starts with ‘All’s’, not ‘All is’. This phrase basically means ‘everything will work out well in the end’ and I think I can tell from this that you have a pretty positive attitude!

‘All’s well that ends well’ is actually the name of a Shakespeare comedy. Did you know that Shakespeare coined hundreds of words and phrases that we still use to this day? Some of these words and phrases have the exact same meaning they had when he wrote them hundreds of years ago, and some have changed in meaning slightly. Naheed, you look to me like you’re a student who can handle being thrown in at the deep end, so I wonder whether you can tell me what the current-day meaning of the following words and phrases is – all of them were coined by Shakespeare:

· it smells to high heaven
· full circle
· one fell swoop
· strange bedfellows
· the world’s my oyster

And if you’re feeling really clever, I wonder if you can work one of these into your next blog? Ooooh, aren’t I nasty? I bet you don’t like me so much any more!

Actually, Shakespeare leads me nicely onto your comments and questions about my first-ever blog. Melissa from China wanted to know how to understand the meaning of Shakespeare. This is no mean feat, as Shakespearian language is tricky to understand because it was written so long ago and is very different from current-day language. One thing to bear in mind though is that Shakespeare’s plays were written to be watched, not read. You know, it is much easier to understand what someone means if you can see their face, their gestures and their expression, as well as hear what they are saying. I wonder, is it possible for you to watch a DVD of the Shakespeare you are reading? If you can see the actors and their expressions, it will certainly help you.

Diema from Bulgaria wanted to know what the phrase ‘Yours, very femininely’ means. Sorry, Diema. This was just me being daft! Because I had told you all about me being female and not male, this was just a light-hearted way to end my blog (feminine means ‘having female characteristics’). I expect you’ll get used to my bad jokes over the next few weeks.

Phu of the Netherlands says she’s surprised I like living in the countryside. Maybe I can explain, Phu. First, I'm not that young (I’m 34)! And secondly, I have lots of pets, and I think animals prefer living in the countryside to living in a city. Maybe I can tell you a bit more about my pets in my future blogs, if you are interested.

I’m off to church a little later today. No, I not getting married! I have to go to a rehearsal for the christening of my little niece, baby Sophie. I’ve been asked to be godmother, so the rehearsal is to make sure I know what to do. Actually, I haven’t got a clue what to do as I’ve never been a godmother before, but I guess the most important thing is not to drop the baby! The actual christening is tomorrow, so I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog.

Enjoy your weekends!



If you have a strong grasp of something, you understand it well.

to take time off means to have a rest or go on holiday

Just kidding! You can use this exclamation if you want to say you’re joking about something. It’s very informal.

The verb to coin means to invent. It is commonly used when talking about new words and phrases.

If I throw you in at the deep end, it means I give you something difficult to do, without providing any help.

Ooooh! This is a natural exclamation. You can use it to express a range of emotions like surprise, pain, joy and shock.

If something is no mean feat, it’s difficult to do.

daft means ‘silly’. It’s good to be daft sometimes.

Something that is light-hearted is ‘playful’.

I’m off – this is an informal way of saying ‘I’m going’.

A christening is a formal ceremony in church when a child is given its name.

godmother – according to my dictionary, a godmother ‘represents a child at its baptism’. I think basically I’m supposed to be a good influence – I’ll let you know if this is right!

Monday, 04 June 2007

Baby Sophie’s christening

Hello, everyone!

I hope you all had a good weekend. The weather here in the UK was glorious, so it was just perfect for the christening of my niece, Sophie. I promised I’d tell you a little bit about the christening and my role as godmother. Yesterday morning, all of Sophie’s friends and relatives met at her local church. There, she was welcomed by the vicar, given her name and blessed. The vicar also poured holy water on her forehead to baptise her. She really didn’t like this very much and started to bawl. But you can’t blame her – I’d probably cry too if a stranger poured cold water all over my head when I was dressed in my best frock!

As godmother, I had to promise to give Sophie encouragement to live a good life, and to try to set an example for her. I assume this means I have to set a good example rather than a bad one! After the ceremony, we all went to the local pub for food, cutting of the christening cake and a chitchat. It was a good chance for friends and family to catch up and to celebrate the arrival of a new member of our clan.

You can see a picture of me holding little Sophie on this page. She’s wearing her special christening gown, and next to me is the font. I’m the first to admit I’m not really very good with babies, but at least Sophie didn’t cry when I held her, and I made sure not to drop her! Here I am with baby Sophie on her christening day.

I wonder, what do you all do in your countries to celebrate the arrival of a new baby?

Naheed, many thanks for your kind wishes for Sophie. I’ve been enjoying reading more about mangoes – you really are something of an expert! Now let’s focus on English for a bit. You talk about some of the countries that buy mangoes and say: ‘The main importers are Middle East and European countries’. I just wanted to pick you up on a couple of small language points here.

· European is an adjective
· The Middle East is a noun

First, note that it’s always the Middle East – we always include ‘the’ – not just Middle East. However, you could also use the adjectival form, Middle Eastern. In this case, you would not need to put ‘the’ before it (we only use ‘the’ with the noun form). In terms of style, it’s best to have either all noun forms or all adjective forms in one sentence. So you could rewrite your sentence in two ways:

1) The main importers are Middle Eastern and European countries.
2) The main importers are the Middle East and Europe.

In English, adjectives that describe nationalities commonly end in ‘-an’.



However, this is another area of the English language where there are lots of irregular forms that I’m afraid just have to be learned one by one. For example, I come from England, and I am English. Naheed, you come from Pakistan, and you are Pakistani. I wonder if you can tell me the adjectives that relate to the following nouns:

The Philippines

I should also put you out of your misery regarding the meaning of those phrases coined by Shakespeare. You’ll hear these phrases in everyday English, and most people won’t even be aware that they were invented by Shakespeare. Here goes:

· it smells to high heaven means something is really smelly, e.g.
Tom hadn’t changed his socks for a whole week. They smelled to high heaven.

· If something comes full circle, it returns to the starting point, e.g.
Sarah lost three stone on her mango diet, but then she went on holiday and put all the weight back on again. Her weight went full circle.

· one fell swoop means all at once, e.g.
Yesterday I got offered my dream job. It means I can earn more money, move to the capital and further my career, all in one fell swoop.

· strange bedfellows are things that you wouldn’t think would go well together, e.g.
Mangoes and vinegar might seem like strange bedfellows, but the combination of sweet and sour works well in some recipes.

· the world’s my oyster – you mostly got the meaning of this right, Naheed. It means you can do anything and go anywhere, e.g.
After I finish my studies I’m free to go travelling for a whole year. The world will be my oyster.

Naheed, I look forward to hearing more about your life in Pakistan, and thanks for the mouth-watering descriptions of mangoes. Our traditional summer fruit in Britain is probably the strawberry. Strawberries are coming into season right now, and they go really well with cream. Yum! When you bite into a sweet, juicy strawberry, you know that summer has arrived in the UK. Maybe I’ll buy some later for my dinner.

Bye for now,



If the weather is glorious, you can expect blue skies, warm temperatures and lots of sunshine.

baptise means to welcome into the church, by sprinkling holy water on the head.

Babies bawl a lot – they scream loudly.

A frock is a slightly old-fashioned word for a dress.

When you have a chitchat, you have a friendly, light-hearted talk.

In this context, if you catch up with someone, you find out about all their news and what has been happening to them.

A clan is a family group.

A gown is a dress for a special occasion. You can also talk about a wedding gown and a ball gown.

A font is a receptacle in a church where the holy water sits. Sophie was held over the font when she was baptised.

to put someone out of their misery means to give someone the information they’ve been waiting for.

something that is coming into season is ripe, plentiful and ready to be harvested.

Tuesday, 05 June 2007

In answer to your questions …

Hello again Naheed, and everyone reading!

Firstly, thanks so much for all your kind wishes for my goddaughter, Sophie. It’s very sweet of you all and I have passed your wishes on to Sophie and her parents. I have been reading all the different ways you celebrate the arrival of a baby in your countries, and I have to say it’s fascinating. I had never heard of cutting hair from a baby’s head or making a calligraphy brush out of a newborn’s hair, so you see, I’m learning lots too!

Thanks also to Naheed for telling us more about her life in Pakistan. Naheed, if you want to talk about giving food to animals, you can say ‘I feed the pigeons (with grain) every morning’.

I do a kind of exercise that is very similar to the yoga that Naheed does. Once a week, I take a pilates (pronounced pee-lah-tees) class. It’s all about strengthening the muscles that surround the spine, and stretching. I spend most of my day sitting on my bum, so it’s important I do something active!

It sounds as though you’re doing really well in your studies, Naheed. I’m sure you’ll be very successful! You got all of the adjectives correct in the last homework I set you, and I noticed you used the verb ‘taste’ to talk about flavours too, so well done!

However, there are a couple of the Shakespeare-coined phrases that maybe I didn’t explain very well, as you haven’t got the usage quite perfect. I’ll see if I can explain them a bit better here:

· strange bedfellows – these are things about which you would think ‘they’ll never work well together’, but in fact, they do work well together. For example:
‘The oil industry and saving the environment probably seem like strange bedfellows, but some major oil companies are now investing in green energy sources.’

The meaning here is that you might think about an oil company and the environment, and think ‘these two things can never fit together’. But in fact, they do fit together.

· full circle – I can see you’ve got the right idea about the meaning of this phrase, which means ‘to return to the beginning’ or ‘to return to the original state’. However, your example doesn’t quite work. Why? Because you say 'her efforts to learn to drive' came full circle. It is not her efforts that have gone full circle -- she is still trying hard to progress, to move on. It is the fact that she still does not have a driving licence that has come full circle. She had no driving licence before the test, and she still doesn't have one now. Does that make sense? Here is another example:

‘John was once a homeless man, living on the streets. Then he found a winning lottery ticket. He bought a huge mansion, flashy cars and expensive jewellery. He travelled the world. After just five years, all his money was spent. Now his life has come full circle and he is back on the streets, begging for money.’

The meaning here is that John started out homeless, and ended up the same way – homeless.

So perhaps you could say something like this:
Despite hours of driving lessons, Venus had come full circle. Six weeks ago she didn't have a licence, and today, after her failing her test, she still doesn't have a licence.

One other point I wanted to mention, Naheed, was that you sometimes drop articles like ‘a’ and ‘the’. For example, in the following sentence, there are two missing articles. Can you tell me what they are and where they should go?

‘Father or any member of a family says call of prayer in a baby’s ear.’

This is not a huge problem, as we can still all understand perfectly what you mean, so don’t feel bad – it’s just something to be aware of.

I hope you don’t mind if I use the rest of this blog to reply to your comments and questions. I’m not ignoring you, honestly! Sometimes there is a bit of a time delay between your comments going online and my blog being posted. I read them all and they are very interesting and encouraging. It’s such fun to have a virtual online class with students from all around the world! If I can get on top of answering all your questions here, I’ll be free to blog about something else next time.

First, I have to apologize profusely to Phu of the Netherlands, who for some reason I thought was a woman (he’s not – he’s a man!). Phu, I’m so sorry! After telling you all about how people confuse my name, I did the same to you! I am hanging my head in shame. Violante from Italy challenged me to guess his/her sex. I *think* you might be male – something about Italian words that end in ‘e/o’ being masculine, and words that end in ‘a’ being feminine? Let me know if I’m right.

I know that all of you read very carefully – Adek from Poland (a man!) admits looking at the teacher’s blog to try to find mistakes. I like your style, Adek! And some of you have already found some of my errors. Kirsti from France and Jill from Beijing, you’re right: I missed some words out. I should have written ‘No, I am not getting married’ and ‘I’d also like to say a special ‘Hello’ to Naheed, our new student blogger’. Well done for spotting these! I’d like to say they were deliberate mistakes, but really they were just mistakes. Maybe I was just too excited about becoming a godmother?

Kirsti wanted to know whether ‘have the exact same meaning’ and ‘have exactly the same meaning’ mean the same thing. Yes, they do. There is no difference in meaning. Kirsti also wanted to know why I hyphenated ‘current-day’. This is an example of a compound adjective – that’s jargon again. Here, I have joined an adjective (current) with a noun (day) to form one idea (current-day), which is an adjective. In this case, to make the meaning clear, it’s best to use a hyphen to link the two words.

Ali from Iran wants to know whether it’s a good idea to try to read some Shakespeare. Why don’t you start with something short, like one of his sonnets? Whilst we’re on the subject of Shakespeare, a special ‘well done!’ is due to Katy, Ana Paula and Hyoshil, who did really well getting the meanings of those coined phrases. Oh, and Ana Paula, you can say both learn from you and learn with you!

Wisarut, my favourite Thai food is phad thai – a noodle dish. Do you have the recipe? Yes, the photo was taken in the church, and you got all your homework right!

Paulraj, Sophie is about six months old. I didn’t buy her a gift as I’ve opened a savings account for her instead, which she can have when she’s 18. Ana Paula, the christening cake does not contain any special ingredients – it’s simply the centrepiece of the celebrations. Tomo, I was never christened, so I don’t have a godmother myself!

A lot of you, like Koorosh from Iran and Kailarai from Nepal, want to know how you can improve your written English. Firstly, I want to give you all some encouragement. I can understand the meaning of all your comments, even if they’re not grammatically perfect. Making yourself understood is the most important thing when using a foreign language, so don’t beat yourself up too much about making a few mistakes here and there. Secondly, practise makes perfect. Just keep reading and listening to as much English as you can, and you’ll make steady progress. Be patient! And thirdly, just to make you feel better, remember that lots and lots of native English speakers make mistakes all the time. No one is perfect. For example, here is a comment about my blog, posted by my dear brother, Neil:

“Hi jo - its your brother. Sophie says thankyou for being her godmother yesterday at church. she is too young to write - so I will give it a go. How is my grammar and spelling? X”

Neil may be 38 years old and I may be 34, but I still like to tease him. So, for your next homework, I’d like you all to find at least one grammatical error in the comment written by my brother, who is a native speaker and has been speaking English for 38 years. If you like, you can even rewrite it to make his English better. Good luck!

Next time, I’m going to write about one of my pets. But what kind of animal am I going to write about? Here’s a little riddle. See if you can work it out:

I wag my tail,
But only when I’m angry.
I like to sleep,
Usually during the day.
I’m soppy and cute,
But only when I want to be.
I’m a contrary creature.
What am I?

Until next time, Cheerio!



If you describe someone as sweet, it means they are kind and thoughtful.

calligraphy is a kind of artistic handwriting.

newborn – you can use the word newborn as an adjective and a noun, to refer to a baby.

bum – a slang word for your bottom, the buttocks. It’s pretty mild slang though, so you won’t upset anyone if you use this word.

If something is green, it is good for the environment.

A mansion is a huge, expensive house. I’m a poor writer, so I don’t live in one of these!

You can describe people and things as flashy. It’s a slightly negative adjective. It means you’re showing off about how wealthy you are.

drop – in this context, ‘drop’ means ‘to miss out’ or ‘to omit’.

get on top of – in this context, this means ‘to catch up’ or ‘to get up to date’.

If you hang your head in shame, you are very embarrassed or sorry about something.

sonnets are poems, and they are usually 14 lines long.

a centrepiece is the main object or thing.

If you beat yourself up about something, you make yourself feel bad. This is quite an informal phrase.

tease means ‘to make fun of’.

a riddle is a puzzle.

soppy means sentimental

if someone is contrary, they like to have disagreements.

Friday, 08 June 2007


Hello, everybody!

Today, I’m going to write about my pet, which is an … elephant. Just kidding! No, despite Vijaykumar’s amusing suggestion, I do not own an elephant. My garden simply isn’t big enough. In fact, as most of you guessed correctly, the pet I was describing is a cat, and her name is Scratchy. Virginia, you’re really funny. I laughed for ages when I read your comment about me looking like I was holding a cat when I was holding baby Sophie, and you’re right – I am much better at looking after animals than looking after babies!

Scratchy is seven years old. I adopted her from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Singapore. This SPCA is an animal shelter. I’ve added a link to the website of the SPCA on this page, I hope you can see it. I lived in the Far East for 10 years (Hong Kong for five years and Singapore for five years) and when I came back to the UK I brought my animals with me. I think of them as part of the family, so it wouldn’t be fair to leave them behind when I come home. Glamorous celebrities like Madonna and Angelina Jolie adopt children; I just adopt animals.

I actually adopted two cats from the SPCA, Itchy and Scratchy (anyone who has ever watched The Simpsons will know where those names come from) but unfortunately Itchy got run over by a car when she was about one year old. :-(

Scratchy is very talkative and shouts loudly when she wants her food or her head rubbing. She loves sitting on laps and hates the cold, and brings me home lots of presents like mice, birds, rabbits and even grass snakes. Because Scratchy was my first pet, she’s the boss. She gets to tell all the other pets what to do.

Virginia and anyone else who doesn’t like cats should probably look away now, because here comes a picture of Scratchy:

Scratchy the cat


Definite and indefinite articles
I’ve just read Naheed’s blog, and I think perhaps I could tell you a little bit about articles. Articles (a/an and the) are only small words, but unfortunately using them correctly is one of the most difficult things to master in English. The good news though is that even if you make a mistake using an article it is not a catastrophe, since readers will almost always be able to understand what you have written.

A/an are indefinite articles
The is the definite article

We use articles to talk about things in general (indefinite articles) or specific things (definite article).

For example, if you use ‘the’, you expect the reader or the listener to know what particular thing you are talking about:
Today I went to the doctor in the village. (the reader knows which particular doctor you are talking about)

Today I went to a doctor in the village. (it could be any doctor – the reader does not know which one)

You should also use indefinite articles with nouns that describe a group that someone or something belongs to, or the job it does:

She’s a mango expert.
I’m an animal lover.
You can use mangoes to make a sorbet.

However, sometimes, just to add confusion into the mix, we do not use articles at all. Don’t you just love English?! For example, if you want to talk about people or things in general, you do not need to use ‘the’ with plural or uncountable nouns. For example:

Naheed is an expert on mangoes. (no need for ‘the’ before ‘mangoes’)
I love cats. (no need for ‘the’ before ‘cats’)
Life is great. (no need for ‘the’ before ‘Life’)

Here is the original sentence written by Naheed (hope you don’t mind me using your writing as an example like this, Naheed!):

‘Father or any member of the family says call of prayer in a baby’s ear.’

So, you need to put an article before ‘Father’ and an article before ‘call to prayer’ ('The father', because we know which father we're talking about -- the father of the baby, and the article before 'call to prayer' can be definite or indefinite, depending on whether the reader know which prayer you’re talking about). Like this:

The Father or any member of the family says a/the call of prayer in a baby’s ear.’

OK, that’s enough about articles for today. Naheed, let me know if you have any questions about what I’ve written.

A lot of you had a go at correcting the comment posted by my brother, Neil. To remind you, here is what he wrote originally:

“Hi jo - its your brother. Sophie says thankyou for being her godmother yesterday at church. she is too young to write - so I will give it a go. How is my grammar and spelling? X”

All of you got the first mistake correct – Neil used the possessive form ‘its’ instead of ‘it’s’, which is short for ‘it is’. Also, ‘thank you’ is two words, not one. ‘Jo’ and ‘She’ should have capital letters, because ‘Jo’ is a proper name and ‘She’ starts a sentence. After ‘says’, you could either have a comma and then put what Sophie said inside quotes, or you could add the preposition ‘to’. So it could be rewritten in two ways, like this:

Hi Jo – it’s your brother. Sophie says, “thank you for being her godmother yesterday at church”. She is too young to write - so I will give it a go. How is my grammar and spelling? X


Hi Jo – it’s your brother. Sophie says to thank you for being her godmother yesterday at church. She is too young to write - so I will give it a go. How is my grammar and spelling? X

Before I finish, I’ll quickly answer some more of your questions:

Melissa, I used ‘In answer to your questions’ as the title for my last blog because in that blog I answered all the questions posted in your comments.

Kailarai, auxiliary verbs are ‘helping’ verbs – they help us form a tense or an expression, e.g.
I am going.
She has finished.
I didn’t see you.

Benka, ‘jargon’ is technical language.

Lisa, you’re right, I should have written ‘practice makes perfect’. You see – no one is perfect! This is an idiom and it means ‘if you keep practising, you’ll become successful in the end’.

Ana Paula, Sophie does have a Godfather, who is one of my brother’s closest friends.

Uddhav, ‘have to’ means ‘must’. ‘Need to’ means ‘to be under the obligation’. ‘Have to’ is stronger than ‘need to’.

OK, I think that’s enough grammar for one day. It is Friday, after all! Tomorrow I’m off to the big smoke, London. I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog. What are you all doing this weekend?




Something that is amusing is funny.

For ages means ‘for a long time’.

When you adopt someone or something, you take them home and look after them, as if they were your own.

Animal shelters are usually run by charities. They look after animals that have been abandoned or lost.

Glamorous people are attractive, they use clothes and make-up to make themselves look perfect.

In this context, run over means ‘hit by a car’.

Aaaaaah! You can say this when you think something is cute.

To master means to gain all the knowledge about something.

A catastrophe is a disaster.

If you add something into the mix, you add it in with everything else.

If you have a go at something, you try.

The big smoke – you can use this phrase to refer to a big city, such as London. It is usually used by people living outside of a city.

Saturday, 09 June 2007

Homework from Jo

Woof! Ahem, I mean Hello!

I’m Raffles, Jo’s dog. Do you want to play Frisbee with me? Ouch! Scratchy the cat (my boss) just smacked me and told me to stop messing about.

Jo is not at her desk today, so she has asked me to give you some homework to do. She says it’s to do with idioms. I don’t know what idioms are, do you? Is it a mixture between the word ‘idiot’ and ‘bum’? Maybe an idiot with a big bum? Ouch! (that was Scratchy again.)

Here are Jo’s instructions: ‘Can you tell me, or you can you find out, the meaning of these idioms?’

1) There’s no smoke without fire.
2) Every cloud has a silver lining.
3) You could have knocked me down with a feather!
4) There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
5) Give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile.

I’m going to have a little nap now.

Woofs and wags,

Raffles xxx


Ahem! You can use this interjection to get someone’s attention, express disapproval, or, in this case, give yourself a bit of extra time to think about what you want to say next, because you’ve said something wrong.

A Frisbee is a disc that you throw and catch. A game of Frisbee is great fun – try it!

Ouch! Another interjection. You use this when something hurts.

smack means ‘to hit’

If you mess about, you do not take things seriously.

Idioms are sayings or expressions with special meanings.

A nap is a short sleep.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Back from the big smoke

Hello Naheed, and everyone reading!

The first thing I need to do is say a big ‘well done!’ for the homework. First, ‘well done!’ to Raffles – she managed to concentrate on something for longer than one minute in order to tell you what to do! And secondly, ‘well done!’ to Naheed and everyone who explained the meaning of those idioms correctly. You all did fantastically well. I think I have to give a special mention to Manas, who managed to explain the idioms using examples about my pets – no mean feat – and to James, who explained the origins of the phrase every cloud has a silver lining. I can see that next time I’m going to have to make the homework tougher!

Just in case any of you are still wondering about the meaning of these idioms, here they are:
1) There’s no smoke without fire – this means that if there is a rumour about someone, even if you do not know the truth, that rumour is probably true. You usually hear this when the rumour is a bad rumour, rather than a good one, e.g.
People are saying that John was able to move to a bigger house because he was involved in a bank robbery. The police haven’t been able to prove anything, but I say there’s no smoke without fire.

2) Every cloud has a silver lining – this means that even in a really bad situation, you can always find something good, e.g.
I fell sick and had to go into hospital. I couldn’t get out of bed for six months. But, every cloud has a silver lining – I fell in love with my doctor and we got married last month.

3) You could have knocked me down with a feather! You can use this idiom to say you are really surprised or shocked about something, e.g.
Tony never really seemed interested in school or studies, so you could have knocked me down with a feather when he told me he wanted to go to university.

4) There’s no such thing as a free lunch. This means that you never get something for free. Even if something seems free, you’ll be paying for it in a different way, e.g.
The government has announced it’s going to reduce the tax on petrol. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch – from next month, road tax will increase.

5) Give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile – this means that if you allow someone to take advantage of you this time, next time they’ll be even worse, e.g.
Yesterday, little Tommy refused to eat his peas. His Mum said nothing. So today, he said he wouldn’t eat any vegetables at all. If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Over the weekend, Naheed has been showing us what a talented artist she is and has been making my tummy rumble with descriptions of tea and snacks. I love the sound of the ginger tea, Naheed. I’m a tea addict too (a tea-aholic?). In fact at the end of last year, my doctor told me I was drinking too much tea and it was making my blood pressure low. Oops! I had to cut back. My favourite is Earl Grey tea with milk. If someone comes to visit you at your home in the UK, you would automatically offer them tea, often with some biscuits. Also, if someone is upset or worried about something, most people’s immediate reaction in the UK is: ‘I’ll put the kettle on'. Tea and biscuits have the power to make everything better, it seems. Is it dinnertime yet? I’m hungry!

Naheed, in the last two sentences of your latest blog you got the articles perfect – brilliant! To give you a little extra practice (then I promise I’ll shut up about articles), I’ve given you some options to choose from in the last couple of paragraphs of my blog today (look for the numbers 1 to 5). I want you to decide whether to use an indefinite article or a definite article – or maybe no article at all. Another change you’ll notice in today’s blog is that I’m answering all your questions and comments at the end, after the vocabulary section. I hope this makes it easier for you to find the answers you’re looking for.

So, we know from the homework set by Raffles that you’re all pretty amazing at idioms. Another idiom you may have heard is ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’. This basically means that most British people think their home is very important, and they have the right to do whatever they like inside their own home.

This idea of having your own home and doing what you like inside it brings me onto my trip to the big smoke (London) at 1) a/the weekend. I’m afraid I didn’t go shopping, sight-seeing or for a trip on 2) a/the London Eye. No, nothing quite so exciting, I’m afraid! I went to 3) a/the home exhibition. You see, most people in the UK aspire to own their own home. At the moment, I am renting a house with my other half, Richard. A lot of people in the UK think that if you rent, you line someone else’s pockets. Why pay money to rent somewhere, when you could pay money to buy your own home? The problem is that 4) a/the property in the UK is extremely expensive – the average house now costs more than £200,000. That’s a lot of money! So an alternative is to find a plot of land somewhere and build your own home – that’s what Richard and I are thinking of doing, and that’s why we went to the exhibition in London, to find out more about how to do this. It seems our biggest challenge will be to find a plot of land at all, since space is very tight on this cramped island.

It’s not always been this way in the UK. In the early 1900s, only 10 per cent of people owned their own homes. (5) An/The everyone rented, and you often had generations of families – grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents – all living under one roof. Now, people often leave home at 18 or in their early twenties, and live on their own or with friends. You can’t deny that this means we have greater freedom and independence, but I wonder what this means for the future of our family units?

I’d be really interested to know when (and if) you all leave your parental homes, and whether people prefer to rent or buy their homes in your countries.

OK, Naheed’s made me thirsty. I’m off for a cuppa now.



In this context, something that is tougher is more difficult.

If someone takes advantage of you, they exploit you in an unfair way.

My tummy rumbles when I am hungry.

Oops! – The usual interjection you use when you’ve done something wrong.

cut back means to reduce.

put the kettle on – this means you’re going to heat up some water to make tea. It’s a comforting phrase to hear.

When I shut up about articles, it means I’ll stop talking/writing about them.

If you aspire to do something, you dream of doing it.

When you rent, you pay money to someone who owns a house/flat, so that you can live there.

Other half – you can use this term to talk about your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. Richard and I aren’t married, so he’s my boyfriend, but ‘boyfriend’ seems like a bit of a teenage word to me, so I prefer ‘other half’.

If you line someone else’s pockets, you give them money.

A plot of land is a piece of land.

If space is very tight, there’s not much room.

cramped means overcrowded.

independence means you have the chance to do what you want to do.

a unit is a group.

A cuppa – short for ‘a cup of tea’.

Answers to your comments

Wisarut: I can speak only a little bit of Cantonese, or a siu siu. I have tried cooking phad thai in the past, but I can never make it as well as the phad thai you buy in a restaurant.

Melissa: The second sentence is the most accurate:
Knowing I failed in the entrance exam, I couldn’t help but cry.

James: Your examples of sentences using articles are perfect!

Tomo: Yes, Scratchy is quite naughty. She likes little rabbits best as they are easiest to catch. Raffles is indeed a girl. There is a famous hotel in Singapore called Raffles, and Raffles comes from Singapore, so that’s where the name comes from.

Darsha: It’s quite important to use grammar correctly, as this will help people understand what you want to say. However, I agree that making yourself understood is more important than being grammatically perfect.

Ana Paula: Yes, Raffles is a German Shepherd, but she’s not very brave. That’s why Scratchy can smack her and tell her what to do.

Kailarai: I will try to answer your question about auxiliary verbs in one of my next blogs – I hope you don’t mind being a little bit patient.

Omar: living with an English family would certainly improve your English. I wonder if there are any English teaching colleges in the UAE that have ties with colleges in England? You could ask them for assistance.

David: Maybe, “Aaah!” would be a little bit cute and “Aaaaaaaaah!” would be really cute?!

Rocio: You’re right, Raffles could also have said: “It’s Raffles here.”

Pary: It’s a shame your friends don’t understand those idioms, but it’s great that you can share them with them – so you are becoming a teacher too, now?

Paul: It’s difficult for a perfectionist to learn a foreign language, because it’s almost impossible not to make mistakes! I think you just have to allow yourself to make mistakes and accept that, even if you make a mistake, you will learn from it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Wise words from a dead man

Thanks for all your comments. It seems that no matter where you are in the world, finding somewhere to live that you can afford is very tricky indeed. All of you said that property prices are sky high and Jimmy in Shanghai joked that maybe the only way to afford to buy a home is to rob a bank – I know how you feel, Jimmy!

My best wishes go to Pilar in Spain and Hyoshil, who are experiencing their own housing challenges at the moment. I think probably Manas is right, and it’s easier to think about grammar than to think about property, which is indeed a nightmare.

I won’t give you the answers to the questions about articles from last lesson yet, as I don’t want to spoil it for Naheed, who I’m sure is just desperate to complete those tasks. :-> Just kidding! (Ooh, aren’t I evil, Naheed?)

So, seeing as I have made you all depressed by talking about property and how expensive it is, I feel it is now my duty to try to cheer you up again. I will do this by telling you about a dead man. Bear with me – all will become clear.

I was reading the newspaper a little while ago and I came to the obituaries page. There was an obituary of an American writer called Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve never read any of Kurt Vonnegut’s books (I think he writes science-fiction books?) but something in that obituary stopped me in my tracks. The writer of the obituary was talking about Kurt Vonnegut’s philosophy, and I can’t remember whether it was something Kurt Vonnegut himself said, or something that one of the characters in one of his books said, but it was basically something like this (I’m paraphrasing):

‘Almost every day, you’ll have a moment when you think ‘that’s nice’, or when you feel content. Notice those moments, and think to yourself: if this isn’t happiness, what is?’

This really struck me, because it’s so simple, but it’s so true. I don’t think it’s the big things in life, like flashy clothes, a big house or lots of money, that make us happy. It’s the small, everyday things. I guess Kurt Vonnegut is talking about a kind of constant, low-key happiness – not a wild, ecstatic happiness. I’m trying to remember this idea and build on it.

One time of day when I almost always feel happy is when I’m walking the dog, Raffles. I always see something pretty or something new. For example, this afternoon I went for a walk up to the top of the hill behind my house. And this is the view from there:

View from behind my house.

Isn’t it great?

Also, outside my kitchen window I have a bird-feeder. Every day, usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night, a kind of bird called a woodpecker comes to visit. It always makes me smile to see him pecking away at the peanuts I’ve put out. In this photo, you can see two woodpeckers – the fluffy one on the right is the baby, and the bird on the left I guess is the parent, because it feeds bits of peanuts to the fluffy one.

Woodpeckers outside my window.

So, I’m trying not to think too much about the price of property in the UK. Anyway, I’m not going anywhere in a hurry, because Richard and I will probably need to save for another year before we can afford to get a place of our own. To do this, of course, you’ll need to talk to an estate agent. I don’t know whether it’s the same in your country, but estate agents in the UK have a language of their own. You need a special dictionary to decipher what they say. For example, here is a description of a flat written by an estate agent:

2bd grdflr flat, sea views, new kitchen units and bathrm. GCH, DG, OIEO £190,000. No chain.

It’s gobbledegook, isn’t it? Can you work out what any of it means?

This is an extreme example, but it does bring me on to my language point for today: context. Sometimes it’s not possible to look up words in a dictionary to find out what they mean. However, by looking at the context of an unfamiliar word (by that I mean the text that comes before and after the unfamiliar word), you can probably have a good guess at the meaning. Think about what part of speech the word is (noun? verb? adjective? etc.) and think about the meaning of the text. What is the sentence before and after the unfamiliar word talking about? You’ll probably be able to guess the correct meaning of an unfamiliar word more times than you’d expect. Which is why I’m not giving you all the explanations for the vocabulary listed below – some of them I have left blank, so see if you can work it out from the context – no dictionaries!





If you bear with someone, you wait patiently.

An obituary is an article about someone who has recently died. You’ll usually find an obituary in a newspaper.

stopped me in my tracks

Someone’s philosophy is what they think and believe.

When you paraphrase, you use your own words to explain a meaning or an idea.



Something that is low-key is gentle and restrained.

If you’re ecstatic, you’re extremely happy.

To build on something in this context means ‘to add’ or ‘increase’.



– covered in soft fluff

estate agent – you use an estate agent to buy or sell a home. They advertise properties and arrange viewings in exchange for a percentage of the sale price. They basically put the buyer and the seller in contact.



Answers to your comments

Tomo: Yes, there are still more pets to come. Maybe you’ll meet one of them at the weekend …

Uddhav: I can understand what you mean perfectly. Please keep writing!

Kailarai: I have found this page on the BBC Learning English site, which explains a bit about auxiliary verbs. Let me know if it’s useful.

Friday, 15 June 2007

I’ve got that Friday feeling

Hello, everyone!

It’s nearly the weekend! Hurray! This weekend my best friend and her husband are coming down from the north of England to visit. I’m so excited! Because I’m going to be busy at the weekend, I have asked another one of my pets to blog for me tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind. She’s a little bit – how shall I put this politely? – well-proportioned, because she sleeps all days and loves food. You’ll see what I mean tomorrow.

Naheed has been painting a beautiful picture of her country and it has given me itchy feet. Naheed, you mentioned an area in Pakistan called Baltistan. In the UK, one of my favourite dishes is called a balti. You’ll find it in restaurants specializing in Indian food. All the food is cooked and served in a round bowl. Delicious! Does this have anything to do with the region of Baltistan? If so, am I really eating a Pakistani dish, or an Indian dish? I’m befuddled!

Naheed also asked me about my favourite writers. Hmm, that’s a difficult question to answer. I love Roald Dahl. He’s famous for his children’s books (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example), but he also wrote short stories for adults, which are just weird and twisted. He had an amazing imagination. Charles Dickens is great – I read A Christmas Carol every Christmastime. And I also really like the American author, Sylvia Plath. She was a real wizard with words.

I owe you all a lot of answers today. First, the answers to those questions about articles:

This idea of having your own home and doing what you like inside it brings me onto my trip to the big smoke (London) at 1) a/the weekend.

Here, the correct answer is ‘the’ because you know which weekend I’m talking about – the weekend that’s just gone.

I’m afraid I didn’t go shopping, sight-seeing or for a trip on 2) a/the London Eye.

Again, the correct answer is ‘the’ because I’m talking about something specific (the London Eye) rather than something in general.

I went to 3) a/the home exhibition.

Theoretically, you could use ‘a’ or ‘the’ here. It depends whether the reader knows which home exhibition I’m talking about. However, seeing as you probably don’t know which home exhibition I went to, and as Naheed rightly points out this could be any exhibition, the best choice here is ‘a’.

The problem is that 4) a/the property in the UK is extremely expensive – the average house now costs more than £200,000.

For this one, you could either use ‘a’ (meaning ‘a single property in the UK is expensive’) or you could use no article at all (meaning ‘property in general is expensive’) – it depends which meaning you want to convey.

(5) An/The everyone rented, and you often had generations of families – grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents – all living under one roof.

This was a trick question – no article is needed here. You simply start the sentence with ‘Everyone rented …’, because you are talking in general.

Next, I have to tell you the meaning of those words in my last blog:

tricky = difficult
sky-high = very high
duty = something that you have to do
stopped me in my tracks = I stopped suddenly because I was so surprised
(well spotted Uddhav, this is indeed another idiom)
struck = affect suddenly
everyday = normal, part of your daily life
bird-feeder = a container you fill with bird food
pecking =hitting with a beak
decipher = to work out the meaning of something
gobbledegook = language that is impossible to understand

A couple of you – Steve from Taiwan and Quynh from Vietnam – asked about this phrase in my last blog:

‘Ooh, aren’t I evil, Naheed?’

You wanted to know why I had used ‘are’ rather than ‘am’. You are right, Steve and Quynh, the usual form of the verb ‘to be’ that follows ‘I’ is ‘am’:

I am hungry.
I am thinking of making balti tonight.

And you can also turn the order around when you make a question, like this:

Am I late?
Am I right?

So, why did I write ‘aren’t I?’ The form ‘aren’t I?’ is the form you use in a question tag.

Question tags are short phrases (literally ‘tags’) that we put at the end of a sentence. We use question tags when we want to ask for agreement, or when we want confirmation of something. For example:

You haven’t seen my watch, have you? I’ve lost it.
I left it in the changing room at the swimming pool, didn’t I?

Notice that we always put a comma before a question tag. Also, you need to remember to swap the meaning of the question word so it is the opposite of the statement. By that I mean that if you make a positive statement, the question tag should be negative. For example:

I took it off when I got changed, didn’t I?
(positive statement) (negative question tag)

If you make a negative statement, the question tag should be positive, like this:

I haven’t left it in the locker, have I?
(negative statement) (positive question tag)

You can see from these examples that if the main statement contains an auxiliary verb, this is repeated in the question tag.

I have lost it, haven’t I?

If the main statement does not contain an auxiliary verb, you use ‘do’ in the question tag.

It looks as though I’ll never find it, doesn’t it?

The form of ‘to be’ that goes with ‘I’ is always irregular in question tags. That’s why I wrote ‘aren’t I’. For example:

I’m late, aren’t I?
I’m right, aren’t I?

So really, what I wrote was a kind of shorthand for:

‘Ooh, I’m evil, aren’t I, Naheed?’

I hope that makes sense!

Finally, I’m going to decipher the estate agent’s gobbledegook for you. It’s just like doing a riddle:

2bd (Two-bedroom) grdflr (ground-floor) flat, sea views (with views over the sea), new kitchen units (kitchen has new furniture and appliances) and bathrm (bathroom also has new furniture and appliances). GCH (gas central heating), DG (double glazing), OIEO (offers in excess of) £190,000. No chain (the vendor is not in a chain – that means he/she is selling only, not selling and buying).

I feel it is only right to finish the week with a riddle of my own. On Sunday I’m going to visit a place in the UK that you might have heard of. See if you can work out where I’m going:

It’s in the big smoke
It’s old
It’s also very new
Sing along
Or watch a game
You’ll always be entertained

I’ll tell you all about it on Monday.

Catch you later!



well-proportioned – a polite way of saying someone is overweight.

If you’ve got itchy feet, you feel as though you want to go travelling.

befuddled means confused

Answers to your comments

Mauricio – the view from the top of the hill is only a five-minute walk from my house. I see it every day, because I take this route when I take my dog for a walk.

Uddhav – we use adjectives to describe people and things (subjects/objects):
A young woodpecker.
A beautiful view.

We use adverbs to describe an action – to say how it is done, rather than what it is like:
The bird ate hungrily.
I climbed slowly to the top of the hill.

Kailarai – I hear you! I’m going to write something about auxiliary verbs next week. I hope this isn’t too late for your exam.

Benka – if you want to write words to describe the sound of cheerful laughter, I would use ‘Ha, ha, ha!’. ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ is also OK, but this is traditionally the sound that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) makes in English, so people might imagine you have a white beard and wear a red suit if you use this phrase! ‘He, he, he!’ sounds ever so slightly like evil laughter, as if you have a clever plan to trick someone. And ‘Hi!’ is only used to greet someone, not as laughter.

Wisarut – you’ve got me confused. Which TV programme? Do you know something I don’t?!

Saturday, 16 June 2007


Smokey the cat.

Hmmm? What? It’s time to wake up? Why? Is it breakfast time? Ow! Stop hitting me Scratchy!

Hi! I’m Smokey. If you don’t have something for me to eat, I’m not interested. And if you stroke me for too long, I’ll get grumpy. I can bite, OK? Can I go back to sleep now? Ow! (Scratchy again.)

What’s that? Scratchy says if I give you some homework I can have some food. We’ve got a deal!

I think Jo went to the shop to get me some more food. She says: In my last blog I told you about question tags. Can you complete these phrases with the correct question tags?

1) Naheed is a talented artist, __________________?
2) Naheed draws beautifully, __________________?
3) Today is Saturday, ________________________?
4) You are good at English, ___________________?
5) I am quite a grumpy cat, ___________________?

OK where’s my food? I’d like to chat some more, but I have to catch up on my beauty sleep.




Zzzzzzzzzz! The usual way in English to show that someone is snoring and, therefore, is asleep.

Ow! Like ‘Ouch!’, you can use this interjection when something hurts.

stroke means ‘to touch gently’, usually by sliding your hand over something.

If you’re grumpy, you’re in a bad mood.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Auxiliary verbs and a trip to Wembley

Hello again, to Naheed and everyone reading! Welcome to the start of another week. And thanks to Naheed for telling her funny stories and putting a smile on my face on a gloomy Monday morning. Smokey says ‘thanks!’ for the fish. She bolted them down in about two seconds flat.

It was very interesting to hear that weddings last for three or four days in Pakistan. Here, a wedding lasts just one day. A lot of my friends who have got married say they wish it could have lasted longer, because they spent months and months planning for their big day, and it was all over before they knew it. Perhaps they should have chosen to follow Pakistani tradition!

First things first. Smokey tells me that she stayed awake long enough to give you some exercises to complete at the weekend, about question tags. I’ve got the answers for you here:

1) Naheed is a talented artist, isn’t she?
2) Naheed draws beautifully, doesn’t she?
3) Today is Saturday, isn’t it?
4) You are good at English, aren’t you?
5) I am quite a grumpy cat, aren’t I?

Naheed, you got the answers perfect for these! By the way Naheed, if you have any questions about language that you’d like me to cover in the second half of your month as student blogger, just let me know. But I think your English is already pretty amazing! Keep it up!

I promised Kailarai that I would write something about auxiliary verbs, so this is what I’m going to focus on in this blog. First, I’m going to write a little bit about auxiliary verbs, Then, in the final two paragraphs of my blog, I’d like you to see whether you can identify the auxiliary verbs I use to talk about my weekend and my trip to the big smoke.

So, what are auxiliary verbs, exactly? Auxiliary verbs are ‘helping’ verbs. They help us create the correct meaning. In English, we only have a small number of verb forms (e.g. visit, visits, visiting, visited). So, if we want to expand on a meaning, we can use auxiliary verbs. There are basically two groups of auxiliary or helping verbs:

1) be, do and have
You can use be to make continuous and passive forms:
Is it snowing?
I was trapped in my home by 50cm of snow.

You can use do to make questions, negative forms and emphatic forms:
Do you like the cold?
It didn’t snow for very long.
Do help yourself to something to eat.

You can use have to make perfect forms:
Where have you been this weekend?
I hadn’t realised I was late.

2) modal auxiliary verbs
You use modal auxiliary verbs with other verbs to expand meanings. Usually modal verbs helps us express certainty or obligation, e.g.
May I borrow £50?
I could lend you some money, but I don’t trust you, so I won’t.

The modal auxiliary verbs are: will, shall, would, should, can, could, may, might, must and ought.

Now let me tell you the answer to my riddle from Friday’s blog. As I mentioned, this weekend my friend and her husband came down to visit. We went for a walk with the dog to the local pub, and then yesterday we went to London. We went to a new venue called Wembley Stadium, in the west of London. They’ve only just finished building it, but it looks really great. It’s huge – it can hold up to 75,000 people. But I’m not really much of a sports fan, so I was there for the music. We saw a British rock band called Muse, supported by an American group called My Chemical Romance. Muse were brilliant – there are only three people in the band, but they create an amazing sound. It was a blast to see the new stadium and to experience such a great concert. Here’s a photo of how the stadium looked:

Muse at Wembley Stadium

I think the new Wembley Stadium is a roaring success. A lot of people don’t, though. You see, there were a lot of problems involved in the construction of this stadium. It was completed way over deadline, and way over budget. And of course, people in the UK like to moan. We’re a nation of whingers. Some people say it’s ugly, others that it’s too expensive, and that it should never have been built at all. But I think it makes a dramatic addition to the London skyline. And as a venue for live music, it’s second to none.

See you all next time,



gloomy – dark and miserable

If you bolt something down, you eat it very quickly.

Two seconds flat – you can use an expression of time followed by the word ‘flat’ to mean ‘exactly’.

big day – you can use this phrase to talk about an important occasion, such as a wedding, a christening, the day you get your exam results, etc.

A supporting act is the band that comes on before the main band, to get the audience warmed up.

You can have a blast or saying something is a blast – it basically means it’s great.

A roaring success is a big success.

way over – a lot over

whinger – slang for ‘moaner’, pronounced with a ‘j’ sound

Answers to your comments

Melissa – ‘I’ve got that Friday feeling’. You’ll hear people say this quite often in the UK. It means you’re feeling excited because the working week is almost over, and you’re looking forward to the weekend.

Tomo – you’re right, practice makes perfect! Keep trying and you’ll climb to the top of those walls eventually.

Manas – yes, ‘ain’t’ and ‘aren’t’ do mean the same thing. However, ‘ain’t’ is slang. You’ll hear it when people speak, mostly. ‘aren’t’ is more correct, because it’s simply a contraction of ‘are not’.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

The longest day of the year

Hello, everyone!

Last night we had a big thunderstorm in this part of England. Luckily the power supply wasn’t affected, so I can still post my blog. I think it’s a bit rainy where you are too, Naheed? I read in your blog that you like it when it rains. You said:

‘I like rains because they calm down everything around from scorching weather to unhappy and sad faces.’

Just a small language point here, Naheed. When you talk about the rain in general, as a noun, it is always singular. So, it’s better to write:

‘I like (the) rain because it calms everything down.’

It’s only when you use ‘rain’ as a verb that you put an ‘s’ on the end, in the third person:

‘It rains every day during the winter.’

You also asked me about the phrase ‘it’s second to none’. I believe this is yet another phrase that was originally coined by Shakespeare. It basically means that something/someone is better than anyone or anything else, e.g.
Tom won the gold medal at the Olympics. As a sprinter, he is second to none.

If you use the phrase ‘next to nothing’, it means ‘almost nothing’, e.g.
I bought this handbag for 10p at a second-hand shop. It cost next to nothing.

And yes, you can use the following two sentences in the same way -- they mean the same thing:
1) This weekend my best friend and her husband are coming from the north of England to visit.
2) This weekend my best friend and her husband are coming down from the north of England to visit.

The extra word, ‘down’ in the second sentence just gives a little bit of extra emphasis. It emphasizes the fact that I am in the south, and my friend is in the north. So from my point of view, she will be travelling downwards, from north to south.

OK, that’s enough grammar for this blog. Today, I want to talk about tomorrow.

Tomorrow is June 21st. So what? It’s just another day, right? Wrong! In the northern hemisphere, it’s the longest day of the year – because at this time of year, the sun is nearest to us. Here in the UK, that means the sun will rise at 4.50 a.m., and will set at 9.20 p.m. So most days at the moment, it is still a bit light at 10 o’clock at night. I can’t tell you for sure whether it’s really light at 4.50 a.m., because I’m never up that early, but that’s what it says in the newspaper.

June 21st is known as the Summer Solstice. We don’t have a public holiday (unfortunately) on June 21st, and for most people it is just another day. However, for some people in the UK, the Summer Solstice is the most important day of the year. These people are called druids – Celtic priests. The Celts were the inhabitants of the British Isles before the Romans arrived on our shores. The Celts worshipped nature and prayed to the sun, moon and stars. Really, modern-day druids should be called neo-druids, because they are trying to recreate a religion based on the ancient beliefs of the Celts.

Druids traditionally celebrate the Summer Solstice at a place called Stone Henge. This is a mysterious set of stones in the Wiltshire countryside, about an hour’s drive from where I live. No one knows exactly who made Stone Henge, or how they managed to build it all those years ago – Stone Henge is believed to date back to between 3,000 and 1,600 B.C. I’ve found a picture of it for you:

Stone Henge

(Thanks to Chris Bond for the photo)

At dawn on the Summer Solstice, the rising sun lines up directly with the stones of Stone Henge. For this reason, many people believe that the people who built Stone Henge were some kind of sun-worshipping tribe.

I visited Stone Henge a long time ago, when I was a child. I remember there being a mystical atmosphere, and my small mind was quite impressed with the sight it saw. If you ever come to the UK for a visit and have the time, I’d highly recommend a trip to see Stone Henge.

Do you do anything in your country to celebrate the Summer Solstice?

After the Summer Solstice, the days will start to get shorter again. You’ll often hear people complaining that ‘the nights are drawing in’. In wintertime, it gets light only at about 8 a.m., and then is dark again by 4.00 p.m. And the shortest day, or the Winter Solstice, is December 21st. I don’t mind the long winter evenings that much, as long as I am cosy and warm indoors and have something nice to eat!

I’m not getting up at 4 a.m. tomorrow to watch the sun rise at Stone Henge, because I like my sleep. If you have to get up at this hour, you have my sympathies. Enjoy the longest day of the year (or the shortest day, if you’re in the southern hemisphere)!

Cheerio from a very light UK,



If something is second-hand, it has been owned by someone before. It is not new.

If you give something emphasis, you give it extra importance.

hemisphere – this means half of the Earth, either north or south, either side of the equator.

If you want to talk about when the sun comes up and goes down, you can say ‘the sun rises’ and ‘the sun sets’. You can also use the noun form: ‘sunrise/sunset is at …’

neo – this handy little prefix means ‘modern’ or ‘new form of’

Wiltshire is a county in southern England.

A tribe is a group of people with something in common.

The nights are drawing in. This means the days are getting shorter, and it is getting dark earlier.

Answers to your comments

Maria – A couple of blogs ago, you asked about the difference between ‘ But it brings me on to …’ and ‘But it does bring me on to’. The extra ‘does’ just adds a little bit more emphasis.

Ahmed – You asked: ‘What does last thing at night mean? Does it mean before the beginning of the night (twighlight) or before the night's end( down)?’ It’s a general term, and its meaning varies slightly depending on the context. Its general meaning is ‘at the end of the evening’. Here, because we’re talking about birds, it means before the sun goes down (because birds nest when it’s dark). However, you could also say ‘last thing at night, I brush my teeth and put on my pyjamas’ – and this would probably mean just before you go to bed.

Antonio – you were almost right! Wembley Arena is next door to Wembley Stadium.

Uddhav – ‘as if’ means ‘like’ or ‘as though’. I’m not sure what books would be available in your country, sorry. But if you have access to the Internet you’ll be able to find lots of English language resources – starting of course with BBC Learning English!

Pary – when friends come to stay with us in the UK, the most important thing is to offer them a cup of tea. You do this as soon as they walk in through the door. Of course I also made my friends dinner (homemade pizza) and gave them my bedroom because it is the nicest room to sleep in.

Ana Paula – Muse’s CD is called Black Holes & Revelations. I love it! If you like (soft) rock music, you might like it too.

Tomo – I have been to the Sapporo Dome once, and it was really impressive. I’m not sure if it can hold as many people as Wembley, but the architecture was fantastic. I have heard of natto, but I’ve never tried it. I once saw a travel reporter spit it out, he thought it tasted so bad. Is it really that disgusting? Or was the reporter being a wimp (being pathetic)?

James – Yes, ‘to muse’ does mean ‘to think about’ or ‘to ponder’. I don’t think you would have really been able to ponder anything at Wembley – it was too loud!

Paul – I’m glad you like Muse, too! Only don’t mention Arsenal or Man U – my local team is Portsmouth, or Pompey. So I can’t comment on any other teams!

Benka – ‘slang’ is informal language. Usually, you should only use slang in certain informal contexts. For example, you wouldn’t use slang in an application letter for a job.

Melissa – ‘lol’ usually stands for ‘laughing out loud’, i.e. ‘you are so funny you’ve made me laugh’. I think a facebook name probably relates to the website facebook,

Friday, 22 June 2007

Feeling peckish?

Hello again!

I hope you all enjoyed the longest day of the year! First, I need to apologize to all the druids out there. As Anita so kindly pointed out, ‘Stonehenge’ is more commonly written as one word, rather than two. I hope I haven’t offended any Celts!

And Naheed, thanks for telling us about the lunar eclipse. I didn’t see it myself, but it sounds pretty awesome. I’m glad you take a little nap after your morning prayers. Otherwise surely you’d feel pooped by the afternoon.

Naheed, you wrote beautifully in your last blog. You made very few errors, so I think I’m going to pack up my things and finish work for the week. Just kidding!

There are just a couple of things I can help you out with, and the first one is to do with directions. Naheed, you wrote:

‘…the best thing is that my room’s window is in the east direction’

When you want to describe the position of a room or building, you can use the verb ‘to face’. So, I can rewrite your phrase like this:

‘…the best thing is that my room’s window faces east’

Also, a little further on in your blog, you wrote:

‘As about celebrating the Summer Solstice, there is nothing much about it.’

You’ve used the gerund form, ‘celebrating’, perfectly. However, ‘As about’ isn’t quite right here. The phrase you were probably thinking of is ‘As for’, which means ‘on the subject of’. So, I can rewrite your phrase like this:

‘As for celebrating the Summer Solstice, there is nothing much about it.’

OK, that’s enough grammar. It’s Friday morning here, and I’ve just had a great start to the day because I’ve had my breakfast and read all your comments (thank you – reading your comments makes my day!). Tomo asked me whether we have any stinky food in England, and that got me thinking about our national dishes.

As I said, I’ve just had my breakfast. I usually have fruit and yoghurt with a cup of tea for breakfast. I think that if I at least eat healthily for breakfast, it doesn’t matter so much if the rest of my meals go to pot. I wouldn’t say it’s normal to eat fruit and yoghurt for breakfast in the UK. Most people will have cereal with milk, or toast. The traditional breakfast in the UK is the fry-up – this consists of fried eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, toast, fried mushrooms and fried tomatoes. It’s a meal in itself! Not many people eat a full English breakfast these days, because it’s not very healthy and it takes a while to make. My better half, Richard, sometimes cooks a full English breakfast on a weekend when he has more time. Interestingly, a full English breakfast is also known as ‘the full Monty’ (I don’t know why!) and over time, this phrase has come to be used in general situations, when you want to say ‘everything’, e.g.
Before Sarah gets married she’s going to have her hair cut, dyed and styled, her makeup done, a manicure, a pedicure and an eyebrow wax. She’s going for the full Monty.

What do you traditionally eat for breakfast? And does your country have a famous stinky/unappetising dish?

In terms of nasty foods, the two vilest things I can think of are jellied eels and black pudding. Jellied eels are a traditional dish found in the East End of London. To make the dish, you simply cook the eels, then let them cool. The juices that come out of the eels harden, forming a jelly. Gross! Richard tells me that black pudding actually tastes nice, but I’m a vegetarian and it’s the thought of black pudding that puts me off. Basically, you take some pig’s blood and cook it with some seasoning and breadcrumbs. Then you put it into a sausage skin, and it’s ready to be cooked. So it’s basically a sausage made from blood. Grim! Black pudding is sometimes part of a full English breakfast.

I can’t end on that disgusting note. Instead, I’ve listed below some nicknames that we use in Britain to talk about food. These are informal but everyday words. Do you know what they mean? I’ll explain in my next blog.

1) bangers
2) a sarnie
3) brekkie
4) a chip buttie
5) grub

Have a great weekend!



If you feel peckish, you feel a little bit hungry, as though you’d like a snack.

I’m pooped! An informal way of saying ‘I’m tired’.

I’m packing up my things. You can use this phrase to say you’re putting your things in your bag and getting ready to leave work/college/school.

If something makes your day, it makes you very happy.

If something goes to pot, it goes wrong.

fry-up – a dish of fried food. Usually, this would contain eggs and bacon.

better half – like ‘other half’, this is a term of affection you can use to describe your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend

stinky -- smelly

vile (adjective) – disgusting

eels are long and slippery, a sort of snake-like fish.

Gross! You can use this exclamation to say you think something is horrible.

vegetarian – someone who doesn’t eat meat.

If something puts you off something, you don’t like the idea of it.

seasoning – salt, pepper, and maybe some herbs and spices

Grim! Like ‘Gross!’ this means you think something is disgusting.

Answers to your comments

Uddhav – June 21st is only the longest day if you live in the northern half (hemisphere) of the globe. If you live in the southern hemisphere, like Mauricio in Brazil, it’s the shortest day of the year. And if you live on the equator, the days are the same length all year round.

Mauricio – yes, the closer you get to the poles, the longer/shorter the days get. Qinping Hu in Sweden (further north than where I am) says it is still light there at 10.30p.m. at this time of year. The stones at Stonehenge must be at least 3 to 4 metres tall.

Rocio – good luck for your exam!

Benka – you can say ‘at this time of the year’ or ‘at this time of year’ – both mean the same thing.

Ana Paula – I’m not so busy this weekend, so I’m going to give my pets a rest and blog myself. But you’ll meet another one soon …

Tomo – I went to Japan for the World Cup (even though I’m not a big sports fan). I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, Niigata and Sapporo. I loved it, especially the noodles!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

It’s raining cats and dogs here, too

Hello, Naheed and everyone reading!

I hope you are all well. Naheed, I read on the BBC website that there have been severe thunderstorms in Karachi. I see you’ve already blogged today, so that means you must be safe and sound. I hope your family and friends are all OK, too.

It has been pouring down here as well. It’s summertime in Britain and nearly time for Wimbledon, which means it must be time for heavy rain. This weekend it’s also Glastonbury Festival, a music festival in the southwest of England. All the festival-goers camp for three days and see loads of live bands. Unfortunately, the festival takes place in a valley. There have been torrential downpours and the place has turned into a mud-bath. You can find out more about Glastonbury here: Link to BBC news report on Glastonbury

In summer in the UK, temperatures reach a maximum of 32 degrees Celsius. It’s not really that hot compared to a lot of other countries around the world, but as I said before, we’re a nation of whingers. People soon start moaning if temperatures stay at this level for more than a few days. As for me, when it rains, I like to read the newspaper and have a cuppa. I prefer the autumn, when the sky is blue and the days are crisp and bright.

Naheed, I’ve been a veggi since the age of 16. I think there are probably three reasons why I don’t eat meat. 1) As you know, I’m an animal lover. 2) I never really liked the taste of meat. 3) My grandparents volunteered on a farm, and I remember playing with some really cute pigs when I was young. Then, those pigs were made into sausages. Boo!

Your breakfast of halwa sounds delicious. I think I could get used to Pakistani food! I have tried lassi before and it’s very tasty. Thanks also for the pictures – those buildings are really beautiful. Do you have a favourite building or landmark in Pakistan?

By the way, here are the answers to those informal words we use to describe food in the UK:

1) bangers = sausages
2) a sarnie = a sandwich
3) brekkie = breakfast
4) a chip buttie = a sandwich filled with chips (not very healthy!)
5) grub = a slang word for food in general. You’ll often see signs outside pubs that serve food saying ‘pub grub’.

Now on to grammar. Ruth asked me about the following sentence in my blog about Stonehenge:

I remember there being a mystical atmosphere, and my small mind was quite impressed with the sight it saw.

Ruth wanted to know why I had used ‘being’ in this sentence. I’ll try to explain.

‘Being’ is the gerund form of the verb ‘to be’. Gerunds always end in –ing, and we use them like nouns. However, when you use the verbs ‘remember’ and ‘forget’, there are some special rules to think about:

forget/remember + -ing refers to the past – we use it to talk about things that we have already done:
I’ll never forget visiting Stonehenge at the age of eight.
I remember seeing lots of tall stones.

forget/remember + the infinitive refers to the future – we use it to talk about things that we are going to do, or still have to do at the point when we remember:
Don’t forget to visit Stonehenge when you visit the UK next year.
You must remember to watch the sunrise next June 21st.

I hope that makes sense!

Seeing as it’s Sunday, let’s have a little fun with a quiz. You know that us British love to talk about weather, and with the downpours in Pakistan and the UK, it seems like a good time to introduce you to some phrases that talk about weather. Can you guess what they mean?

1) It’s boiling!
2) Nice weather for ducks!
3) Brrr! It’s a bit parky today!
4) It’s bucketing down.
5) It’s close!

Stay dry!



It’s raining cats and dogs – this means it’s raining very heavily.

safe and sound – safe, uninjured

Wimbledon – the international tennis tournament in south London. People often joke that if it’s time for Wimbledon, it must be time for rain.

torrential downpours – extremely heavy rain

mud-bath – a muddy scene or occasion.

If you describe the weather as crisp, it means it’s a bit cold, but the sky is blue and it’s dry.

veggi – short for ‘vegetarian’.

Boo! – you can use this interjection to express your disapproval of something.

Answers to your comments

Ruth – ‘in terms of’ means ‘on the subject of’. It’s a useful phrase if you want to start talking about a new topic. ‘I’ll be asking’ is the future continuous tense. To form the future continuous tense, you use shall/will + be + …ing. We use the future continuous tense when we want to talk about future events that are fixed or decided.

Rocio – you can say ‘I am greedy’ (where ‘greedy’ is an adjective) or you can say ‘I am a greedy guts’ (where ‘greedy guts’ is a noun). We don’t use ‘greedy’ as a noun.

Ahmed – In the UK, we are on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). However, during the summer, we switch to British Summer Time, which is GMT + 1 hour. It’s not the meridian that affects how late the sun sets – it’s how far away from the equator you are. So, if you live in Norway or Sweden (far from the equator), the sun will set very late in summer and very early in winter. However, if you live near the equator, you won’t notice much difference in the length of the days, no matter what time of year.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Fingers crossed!

Hello, one and all!

At long last, the rain has stopped tipping down and the sky is now blue again. You all did really well guessing the meanings of those words related to weather, and I should say a special ‘well done!’ to Melissa, who got all of them correct.

Here are the answers:

1) It’s boiling = it’s extremely hot
2) Nice weather for ducks! = it's raining really hard, so hard in fact that there are puddles on the ground
3) Brrr! It’s a bit parky today! = It’s quite cold.
4) It’s bucketing down! = it’s raining very heavily
5) It’s close = it’s hot and humid

Thanks also for all your descriptions of revolting food. I don’t think my stomach can stand any more, so let’s move on to a new topic.

Today, I want to talk about superstitions. Manas from India asked me when we can use the phrase ‘touch wood’ and when we can use the phrase ‘keep your fingers crossed’.

You say ‘keep your fingers crossed’ when you are hoping for the best, and want good luck, e.g.
I’ve got my final exam tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

You can also simply say: ‘Fingers crossed!’

‘Touch wood’ is slightly different. You use ‘touch wood’ if you have said something slightly boastful, or if you have been talking about how good life is, e.g.:
I haven’t been sick for two years, touch wood.

Why do we say this? Well, some people think that if you talk too much about how great life is, it’s tempting fate – you’re asking for something bad to happen. So to avoid bad luck, you say ‘touch wood’ and you’ll usually try to touch something made out of wood at the same time, as you say it. I’m not a very superstitious person, but I do always say ‘touch wood’ if I have said something about how fortunate I’ve been. Sometimes it’s difficult to find something wooden to touch at the same time, so I usually tap the head of my fella, Richard. ;->

Years and years ago, some people (Druids, maybe?) used to believe that touching anything wooden would offer you protection, because trees were inhabited by kind spirits. We don’t really believe that these days, but the superstition about touching wood for good luck has remained.

Another phrase you might hear about superstitions is: ‘Your ears will be burning!’. You would say this to someone if you thought another person was talking about them. Superstition says that if your right ear burns (feels hot and goes red), someone you hate is talking about you. If your left ear burns, someone you love is talking about you.

And of course, we have plenty of superstitions about money. For example, if the palm of your right hand begins to itch, it means you’re going to receive some money. If it’s your left palm, you’re going to lose some money.

What superstitions do you believe in?

Of course, we have loads of other superstitions in the UK. Here are just a few – do you know whether they’re lucky or unlucky?

1) A horseshoe
2) Opening an umbrella whilst indoors
3) A new pair of shoes on the table
4) A black cat crossing your path
5) Breaking a mirror

Stay lucky!



one and all – a slightly theatrical way of saying ‘everyone’.

at long last -- finally.

tipping down – raining very heavily.

A puddle is a pool of water.

revolting – vile, disgusting

superstition – a belief that something will bring good or bad luck

boastful – the adjective related to the verb ‘to boast’, which means ‘to talk about one’s achievements with pride’.

If you tempt fate, you encourage bad luck.

tap – to hit very gently

fella – the slang version of ‘fellow’ (man). You’ll hear women describe their husbands/boyfriends as ‘my fella’. It’s another term of affection.

spirit – the supernatural, ghost-like part of a person (not their physical body).

The palm of your hand is the inner surface of your hand (where all the lines are), between your fingers and your wrist.

Answers to your comments

Fulvio – I think you win the prize for the vilest dish. Squashing worms and eating them sounds truly revolting. I think I would prefer just the cheese, without the worms.

Ana Paula – I was interested to read you do a BodyCombat class. I do a class called BodyPump. Are you an expert kick-boxer? Also, you can say ‘I think this book is interesting’ or ‘I find this book interesting’.

Tomo – are you in Kyoto?

Pary – You can find out more about Druids (and see a photo of them) here:

Heinrich – most people stop for lunch at about midday in the UK, and if they’re lucky they’ll have a one-hour lunch break. The older generation does still sometimes have dinner really early – sometimes 5 o’clock! But younger people tend to eat later. Richard and I usually eat at around 7.30 to 8 p.m.

Wisarut – you can use the word ‘Yummy!’ to say you think something tastes good. You can also say ‘Mmmmm!’ if you think something is tasty.

Adil – I used the future tense: ‘I’ll never forget visiting Stonehenge at the age of eight’, because although the action (visiting Stonehenge) was in the past, the sense is in the future – I will never forget for the rest of my life, visiting Stonehenge.

Ruth – I’m glad to be of help.

Muhammad Asim Munir – apostrophe + s can be used with nouns (not just living things) to show possession:
The book’s last page.
Pakistan’s capital.
Naheed’s drawing.

Apostrophe + s is the more common version, while ‘of’ can sometimes sound a bit formal.
Directions are usually lower case when they refer to a compass point: Naheed’s window faces east, but upper case when they refer to a region: Japan is in the Far East.

Paul – there’s not much difference in meaning between ‘the biggest challenge is caused by divorce’ and ‘the biggest challenge has been caused by divorce’. You could argue that the first one gives a more immediate feel (divorces are still happening) while the second one is slightly removed (divorces may or may not still be happening).

Thursday, 28 June 2007

A stitch in time saves nine

Hello, everyone!

Naheed, it was very interesting to read about your superstitions. The one about pregnant women having to be careful around sharp objects was a new one on me. I’ve been trying to think of any superstitions we have to do with pregnant women but I’ve drawn a blank.

However, people do sometimes say that you shouldn’t let a cat near a sleeping baby or it will steal the baby’s breath. That sounds quite evil, doesn’t it? A lot of people seem to have it in for cats. As you guessed correctly, Naheed, a black cat crossing your path is also considered bad luck in the UK. In fact, you got all the answers right. Here they are again:

1) A horseshoe – A horseshoe is lucky as long as it is up ‘the right way’, i.e. with the two ends pointing upwards. If it falls downwards, all your luck will run away
2) Opening an umbrella whilst indoors -- unlucky
3) A new pair of shoes on the table -- unlucky
4) A black cat crossing your path -- unlucky
5) Breaking a mirror – This is so unlucky that you are said to have seven years’ bad luck if you break a mirror

Naheed, just a small point I noticed in a couple of your last blogs. In your blog about superstition, you wrote:

When I was quite younger, my grandmothers both from my mother and father’s side used to advise us that if someone is leaving home never to ask where s/he is going.

And in your blog when you were talking about the landmark Moen Do Jaro, you wrote:

He was quite younger then and often used to cycle there as it was at a mile’s distance from his home.

I just wanted to mention that ‘young’ is the adjective and ‘younger’ is the comparative adjective. Of course you know this already! When you use a simple or comparative adjective with the word ‘quite’, you can do it like this:

I was quite young then.
I am quite lucky.

I was quite a bit younger then.
I am quite a lot luckier.

However, you can’t say:
I was quite younger then.
I am quite luckier.

I hope that's clear. Otherwise, your writing is looking brilliant. Well done!

Naheed, I’ve been mulling over your superstition about milk. I don’t think we have any superstitions about milk like you, but we do have a special saying about milk, which goes:

There’s no point crying over spilled milk.

This basically means that it’s not worth getting upset about small things. Even though I don’t spill milk very often, I think it’s a wise little saying. And this brings me on to another language point: proverbs. Proverbs are little sayings or phrases. They’re a bit like idioms. The difference is that proverbs always contain some message of wisdom. For example:

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

This means that if you have too many people working on the same job, it can make life more difficult.

However, this is somewhat contradicted by the following proverb:

Many hands make light work.

Which means that if you have lots of people working on the same job, it’ll be easier.

Which one is wiser? I dunno! I suppose you can pick the most suitable proverb depending on the situation. Naheed, we’re approaching the end of your time as student blogger (sniff! sob!) so I think it would be nice to give you some words of wisdom. Of course when I say ‘give’, I mean I wonder whether you can tell me what these proverbs mean:

1 The grass is always greener on the other side
2 People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
3 A rolling stone gathers no moss
4 Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
5 Empty vessels make most noise

Yours, still searching for wisdom,


Answers to your comments

:-( I’m hoping there’s something wrong with the BBC’s system – I miss reading your comments!


A stitch in time saves nine – this proverb means that if you catch a problem when it’s small, you’ll save yourself a lot of work.

a new one on me – you use this phrase to say you haven’t heard about something before.

If you draw a blank you don’t find what you’re looking for.

People who have it in for cats are hostile towards cats.

to mull over – to think about

I dunno! – slang for 'I don’t know'.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Au revoir, Naheed

Bonjour, everyone!

Don’t panic, we haven’t switched to a French-learning blog. I’m in France for the weekend. France is a favourite holiday destination for us Brits, because it’s so close and easy to get to. I’m in Normandy, which is in the northern part of France. In my next blog I’ll post some pictures and tell you a little bit more about it.

Today, I have to say farewell to Naheed (sob!). Naheed, you’ve been a great student blogger. Thanks to you, we now know all about mangoes, marriages in Pakistan, life in Karachi, your life, your studies and last but not least delicious Pakistani food. Thanks for sharing a little bit of yourself with us, and for taking my nasty homework on the chin.

Which reminds me, I have to tell you the meaning of those proverbs (which you explained perfectly, Naheed). Here goes:

1 The grass is always greener on the other side – people always think other people are in a better situation than them, when really they should be content with what they have.
2 People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – if you are in a vulnerable situation, you shouldn’t criticize others
3 A rolling stone gathers no moss – If you keep moving about and don’t put down any roots, you’ll have no responsibilities
4 Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth – be thankful for the gifts you receive; don’t criticize them
5 Empty vessels make most noise – people who have little knowledge or understanding of a subject often talk the loudest about it

Naheed, you asked me how you can improve your English and make it more impressive. First, I want to say that your English already is very impressive. I don’t think there was ever a time when I read your blog and thought ‘What on earth is Naheed talking about?’. You can express your ideas very well and you are very fluent. No one will ever have any problems understanding your English. So have confidence in your abilities!

As for what you can do to improve, I would focus on two things: articles and verbs. We already discussed articles a bit in some of our blogs. I explained that articles are small things, and that if you *do* miss them out, people will still understand you. However, if you can master the use of articles, it will make your English seem very natural and fluent.

Secondly, we did talk a little bit about using the most appropriate verbs for the context (i.e. ‘feed the pigeons’, ‘tastes sweet’, ‘my window faces East’). Verbs are really what add ‘colour’ to our language. Compare for example these ‘plain’ and ‘strong’ verbs. By that I mean the ‘strong’ verbs give us greater information and are richer in meaning:

Plain verb
to sleep
to work
to want

Strong verb
to doze
to toil
to yearn

Naheed, if you can pick just the right verb for the context, your English will seem smooth and flowing. Of course, this is easier said than done! To achieve this, you really just need to keep reading lots of English from a variety of sources (newspapers, magazines, books, the Internet). If you notice an unusual or ‘strong’ verb, look it up and make a note of it. Find out what it means and how it is used. Then, next time you write in English, see if you can use it (if it fits into the context of course!).

And remember: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Naheed, good luck in your studies and best wishes for the future. Everyone reading: You’re all stuck with me for another month I’m afraid, so I have to start thinking of some more nasty quizzes and riddles.

I won’t say ‘Goodbye’, Naheed. I’ll use the French farewell, which means ‘until I see you again’:

Au revoir!


Answers to your comments

Hurray! Your comments are back! :-)

Ana Paula – I’m not sure where those symbols came from. I re-posted and they disappeared! I have heard of BodyStep and BodyBalance, but I haven’t tried them. You can say either ‘do BodyCombat’ (more common) or ‘practise BodyCombat’ (less common). Both are fine.

Benka – ‘nosey parker’ is a great phrase, it means someone who gets involved in every one else’s business. If you want to talk about someone who thinks they’re very important and likes to be obeyed, you can use the slang term ‘jobsworth’, i.e.
The park officer told the kids not to play football in the park in case they damaged the grass. He’s a real jobsworth.

Melissa – Hmm, it’s hard to tell you the meaning of that phrase out of context. What is the book about?

Mauricio – ‘quite’ can be used both ways, i.e. to mean completely:
You’re quite right. (you’ve got the answer exactly right)
Or to mean ‘somewhat’:
She’s quite pretty. (she’s fairly pretty)

Fulvio – interesting to hear about the miracle, and yes, you say ‘do a miracle', or ‘do miracles’. No, we don’t have fixed answers for good wishes in the UK. If someone wishes you ‘Good luck!’ we would just say ‘Thanks!’. Boring, isn’t it?!

Wisarut – we don’t really concentrate on earning merit as such. I think most people just try to live a good and honest life.

Uddhav – our unlucky number is 13. I’ll try to talk about if-clauses next week.

Sherzhod – yes, I try to introduce vocabulary items that are commonly understood in the UK. I couldn’t say for sure whether people in other English-speaking countries would use them, but I think they are fairly common.


switch – to change

Brits – (noun) short for ‘British’

last but not least – this means although an item may be last on your list, it is not the least important.

If you take something on the chin, you cope well with a difficulty or challenge.

What on earth – a stronger and informal way of saying ‘what’

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. – another proverb, meaning ‘don’t give up’.

stuck with me – if you’re stuck with someone, you can’t get away from them.

June 2007

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