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July 2007

Monday, 02 July 2007

Hi, Ha!

Hello, Ha! Very nice to e-meet you on BBC Learning English. I see you have a short and sweet name too! I’m looking forward to finding out more about your country, culture and life over the next month. I hope I can give you some useful pointers on the English language, and of course if you have any questions or want me to explain something, just ask! That’s what I’m here for. Oh, and for setting nasty homework of course!

Ha, you say you started learning English at a very young age, and I can see from your writing that you’re very proficient in English. That’s great. You’ve used some nice phrases like ‘deeply impressed’ and ‘I have so many things to tell I don’t know where to start’. Over the next month, I hope I can help you brush up your English even more.

Seeing as it’s your first blog today, Ha, I’m not going to be too mean. I just want to point out a small thing from your first blog:

Did you mean to say ‘defend’ your Bachelor thesis? Do you mean you had to give a speech or presentation about it? We can use the verb ‘defend’ to talk about abstract things like ‘ideas’ or ‘honour’. However, if you mean you had to talk about your thesis, it would be better to say something like ‘Here is a picture of me when I presented my Bachelor’s thesis last year’. And obviously your presentation went well, because you are now a graduate – well done!

OK, I think that’s enough grammar for your first blog. Don’t worry – my tasks will be getting more and more despicable as the month goes on. Today I’m going to tell you a bit about my weekend. I was in Normandy in northern France this weekend. I went over in the car with my fella Richard and Raffles the dog. Yes, Raffles has her own passport too. You can drive through the tunnel under the English Channel to get to France, or you can take a ferry. We went by car and arrived Friday and came back this morning. (Yawn!).

Normandy is a very fertile part of France and it’s famous for its cows. And their milk! Famous cheeses like Camembert and Livarot come from the Normandy area. And you’ll find lots of cream and caramel sweets there too. The other thing that Normandy is famous for is its apples. Farmers make delicious local cider out of the Normandy apples – and sometimes out of pears too. Yum! I think I could put on a lot of weight if I lived in Normandy.

The countryside is really pretty around Normandy and lots of the houses are made from a traditional timber frame, filled in with wattle and daub. Here’s what a traditional house looks like:

It’s nice countryside for walking and for playing Frisbee with dogs in France. Raffles had a whale of a time.

Ah! Where do you like to go for your holidays? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Until next time,


Answers to your comments

Benka – ‘Superstition’ is a countable noun. You could say:

I believe only in three superstitions.

What you noticed was a particular phrase I used. Let me explain. You can use the phrase ‘… says’ to describe the idea of or behind something, e.g.

Tradition says brides in the UK should wear white.

Common sense says you should use an umbrella when it rains.

As you saw from the example in my blog, you always start this phrase with the noun in the singular, and without the article.

Ana Paula – I’ve never been to Giverny but I’d love to go. Are you a fan of Monet?

Wisarut – yes, you’re doing really well, I notice that you are using some of the new vocabulary I’ve been introducing. Well done! And no need to apologize – we all make mistakes sometimes!


short and sweet – small and pleasant

pointers – guidance

proficient – skilled

brush up – to improve

mean – this adjective can be used to mean ‘evil’ or ‘not generous’

despicable – nasty, evil

goes on – progresses, continues

Yawn! – use this if you want to say you’re tired. Or if you’re bored (I’m tired, not bored).

fertile – if an area is fertile, crops will grow there very easily.

wattle and daub – ancient building materials of sticks and clay

if you have a whale of a time, you really enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, 04 July 2007

Studying for a Master’s

Hello again, Ha and everyone reading!

Ha, it was great to read your story about finding your long-lost teacher. It’s an example of how the Internet has made the world a much smaller place, isn’t it? And just think, if it weren’t for the Internet, we wouldn’t be blogging right now! Your teacher must be very proud that his young student has become so successful. I wonder if he realized that he was such as inspiration to you? Your story proves that it really is a small world.

Don’t be scared about making mistakes – we usually learn the most from the mistakes we make. I studied French and German at university, so I know very well what it’s like to make lots of mistakes in a foreign language!

And well done – I noticed you used ‘yawn!’ to show you’re tired and ‘brush up’ for ‘improve’. So you’re already using new vocabulary. That’s great!

But now, no more Mr Nice Guy. It’s time to crack the whip. For your homework, I’d like you to write 1,000 words on … Just kidding! However, there is one thing I noticed in your blog that I want to point out.

Ha, you wrote:

‘I also want to find some scholarships in UK to study for Master …’

and later you wrote:

‘ …he said goodbye to us because he had to go to Poland to pursue his master’.

‘pursue’ is a great verb to use when you’re talking about studying or work, e.g.
I want to pursue a career in medicine.

However, when you’re talking about postgraduate courses in the way you have done above, you should always use an apostrophe +s to describe the degree:
I want to study for a Master’s in the UK.
He had to go to Poland for his Master’s in English.

Of course, the title itself, ‘Master of Nuclear Physics’, does not have an apostrophe, because it contains the word ‘of’.

You should also use this construction to talk about undergraduate courses:
I want to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at Ho Chi Minh University.
She’s just completed her Bachelor’s.

Why do we have to write it this way? Well, ‘Master’s’ is really short for ‘Master’s degree’. And ‘Bachelor’s’ is short for ‘Bachelor’s degree’. So when we use just the first word of the phrase, we should keep the apostrophe + s.

So, Ha, what do you want to study for your Master’s? And where would you like to study?

OK, enough of the grammar. I have got some more photos from Normandy to share with you, from my mini-break at the weekend. This is another example of a traditional Normandy house (from summertime, this time):

And here is a view of the Normandy countryside (in the winter):

Some of you, like Aaron in Beijing, mentioned that Normandy is famous for the battles of the Second World War. That’s very true – in fact you can go and visit some of the famous beaches such as Omaha, where the D-Day troops landed. A lot of the major cities in northern Normandy were razed to the ground in the war. Thankfully some ancient houses like the one above were spared, so we can still enjoy them.

Even though France is just a hop away, the lifestyle there is quite different to in the UK. People still stop for two hours for lunch, and I think the French aren’t quite such workaholic people as us Brits. That’s why British people love to go on holiday to France, because it’s a great place to unwind.

Until next time,



long-lost (adjective) – describes something or someone you haven’t seen for a long time, and thought you might never see again.

It’s a small world – you can use this phrase to say you meet people in the most unlikely places, e.g.
I was on holiday in Vietnam, and guess who I saw? My old next-door neighbour. It’s a small world!

No more Mr Nice Guy – I’m going to stop being nice now.

to crack the whip – to make someone work hard

mini-break – a short holiday

razed to the ground – this phrase is often used to talk about scenes of devastation, after disasters like fires or wars. It means nothing is left.

a hop away – ‘a hop’ is a short distance. You could say, for example, ‘I hopped across the channel to France’.

– relax

Answers to your comments

Fulvio – No, I’ve never visited any castles in Normandy. Which did you visit? I think France is quite famous for its chateaux (castles).

Ana Paula – you can say ‘such a beautiful painting’ (singular) or ‘such beautiful paintings’ (plural). Have you ever seen Monet’s Water Lilies in the flesh (for real)? They are in Paris.

Tomo – Yes, I’ve been to the Mount St Michel when I was young. It’s interesting because you can only get to it at low tide. At high tide, the sea cuts it off and you have to take a boat to get to it.

Melissa – I’m not sure how old the English is you’re looking at but you could try this site for explanations of Shakespearian English:

Adek – Hmm, I see what you mean. I think the closest thing we have in the UK university system is when you sit a ‘viva’, which is an oral exam at the end of your studies. You have to explain your thesis and answer tough questions about it.

Paco – it’s great to be happy where you are, and not to always be thinking that the grass is greener on the other side, because usually it isn’t! Kurt Vonnegut would be impressed.

Mauricio – you can say ‘it must have been quite a holiday’ (very good) or ‘it must have been quite a nice holiday’ (fairly good). Confusing, isn’t it?! Yes, that photo is an old one, from wintertime. The one above is from summer.

Rocio – yes ‘Cuba is calling me’ is the perfect way to say you want to go there. Good luck with your application to study at Loughborough. I hope you’re selected!

Stevieboy: Hmmm, that’s a difficult question. I think my favourite music is probably described as British Indie (independent). I like The Killers, The Feeling, The Kaiser Chiefs, and of course Muse.

Paul – The sentence you quoted is talking about something that could have happened in the past, but that didn’t actually happen. To talk about past possibilities that never actually happened, we use a special structure of could have + past participle:
I could have stayed at home, but I decided to go to France instead.‘could have’ is affecting both verbs in that sentence (‘take’ and ‘be’), which is why they are both in the past (‘have taken’ and ‘have been’).

Ahmed – ‘for the next month’ means ‘during the next 30 or so days’. If you simply say ‘next month’ without ‘the’, you mean the next calendar month (August). The trip through the tunnel takes 35 minutes. Our trip door to door from Hampshire to Normandy took just over six hours.

Friday, 06 July 2007

Getting about in the UK

Mmmmmm! Is it time for dinner yet? Ha, you’re making me hungry. I looooove noodles. But do you have any nice veggi noodle dishes in Vietnam? I don’t eat meat. Or maybe a nice cake or biscuit I could try?

Ha, I don’t know much about scholarships for banking and finance degrees I’m afraid, but I did notice that you used ‘Master’s’ perfectly – twice – in your blog. Excellent! Well done!

The language point I want to mention to you today is the present continuous tense. Ha, in your last blog, you wrote:

‘There are more and more companies invest in Vietnam’.

We use the present continuous tense to talk about things that are happening about now. To form the present continuous tense, we use the verb ‘to be’ + the –ing form of the verb, e.g.
I am blogging now.
I am looking forward to the weekend.

In the example above, you used the bare infinitive ‘invest’ to talk about what is happening in Vietnam now. This is ongoing at the moment, so you should use the present continuous tense, like this:

There are more and more companies investing in Vietnam now.

Oh, and I should also mention that we can also use the present continuous tense to talk about the future. Usually, we use the present continuous tense to talk about things that are going to happen in the future that have been decided, e.g.
I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner on Saturday night.

So Ha, maybe you can write a couple of sentences in your next blog, explaining what you’re doing right now? ;->

That’s enough grammar – it’s Friday! A couple of blogs ago, Aaron in Beijing asked if I would tell you a bit about the traffic and transport in the UK, so you can know a bit more about life in the UK.

Well, the stereotypical image of a British commuter is probably a businessman in a pin-stripe suit with a bowler hat on his head, carrying an umbrella. He then hops onto a red London bus to get to his office.

In London, lots of people do use the famous red buses to travel about. They can also use the tube. A couple of years ago, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, introduced a congestion charge, which means you have to pay extra to drive into the centre of London. The idea was to reduce pollution and congestion, and to raise money for public transport. The scheme has definitely helped to reduce traffic problems in the capital, and the area covered by the congestion charge was recently extended.

However, the population of London is around 7 million, and there are more than 60 million of us the UK. How do the rest of us get about? The simple answer is by car. Not because our roads are so great – there are lots of traffic jams – but because public transport isn’t really that good. Train services have improved greatly over the last 15 years, but it’s expensive. For example, an off-peak return ticket from my house to London, which is a journey of around one hour each way, costs about £23. If you were to do that every day the price would be astronomical. And don’t even mention the buses – they’re always late, crowded or don’t turn up at all. In fact, we have a saying about buses, that ‘you wait hours for one, then two come along at the same time’.

Luckily I work from home so I don’t have to cope with the grind of the daily commute. This also helps to reduce my carbon footprint. You can’t deny that all these people going to work by car every day must be bad for the planet, but I wonder what the alternative is? It’s simply not practical or cost-effective for most Brits to commute by public transport.

How do you all get to and from work/study?

I’m commuting down to the kitchen now for a cup of tea. It’s a hard life!

Oh, and one of my pets has been bugging me to let him blog. So I might ask him to give you some homework over the weekend. Hope you don’t mind!

Catch you later!



stereotypical – (adjective) the common mental image of something

commuter – a person travelling to/from work, the verb is ‘to commute’

pin-stripe – with thin, vertical stripes

bowler hat – a hat with a domed top. You don’t see businessmen wearing bowler hats these days.

hop – to jump lightly

the tube – slang for the London Underground

congestion – overcrowding

get about – move, travel

off-peak – (adjective) not during the rush hour

astronomical – extremely high

turn up – arrive

grind – a chore, something that is unpleasant to do

carbon footprint
– how much impact an individual has on the environment. This is quite a trendy phrase at the moment.

It’s a hard life! – we use this phrase ironically, to mean that actually someone is very fortunate, e.g.
Tom has two cleaners, a cook, a driver, a gardener, and even someone to brush his teeth for him. It’s a hard life!

If you bug someone, you annoy them.

Answers to your comments

Cathy – Ah! You’re so sweet, thank you. I think it’s easier to learn if you have fun at the same time. For explanations on how to use ‘the’ and ‘a/an’, please see my blog dated Friday 08 June.

Naheed – Hi! Nice to speak to you again! Yes, people do live in those houses. There are lots of them in the Normandy countryside.

The Student With No Name – you can say either ‘He said his mother was ill’ or ‘He said that his mother was ill’. Both are correct and there is no difference in meaning. The same with ‘It started to rain’ and ‘It started raining’. Both are perfect and there is no difference in meaning.

Mauricio – If you say ‘at the weekend’, you’re talking about a specific weekend, i.e. the weekend that has just gone, or the weekend that is coming. If you say ‘on the weekend’ it can be any weekend. You can use ‘on the weekend’ if you want to talk about habits, e.g.
On the weekend, I go fishing and read the newspaper.

Ana Paula – Yes, I have seen the Water Lilies and they are amazing. They are so huge in the flesh you really can’t quite believe it. If you ever go to Paris, don’t miss them! As for commas, a good way to put them in the right place is to say the sentence aloud – where do you pause to take a breath? That’s the place you can put a comma.

Stevieboy – ‘fair enough’ is a colloquial (slang) way of saying ‘that’s fair’, e.g.
The boss said I had to work four hours of overtime that night. I said, ‘Can you pay me extra for that, maybe double time?’ He said, ‘fair enough’.

Tomo – Hmm, I’m not sure that I’m a very good photographer but thank you! Yes, I use a digital camera, which is actually quite old now. But it’s made by a Japanese company so it’s the best! ;-> When we take a photo in the UK, to get everyone to smile, the photographer says: ‘Everybody say cheese!’ Then everyone who is being photographed says back: ‘Cheese!’

Jai – please take a look at my blogs dated June 04 and June 09 for more information about phrases coined by Shakespeare and idioms.

Joel – I’m so happy you enjoy reading my blog. I love writing it too!

Michel – so does that make you a North Man? ;->

Ahmed – great use of the words ‘meaty’ and ‘peruse all of them with great relish’. Well done! Yes, you could also say ‘the lifestyle there is quite different to that in the UK’. The version I wrote is a little less formal. Also, Giverny is a place in Normandy. It’s where the painter Monet lived, and the gardens there are what inspired him to paint The Water Lilies.

Sunday, 08 July 2007

Everybody look at me!

Hello, everyone! It’s me! Look at me! My name’s Panther. Jo’s my human. It’s Sunday morning and Jo is asleep in bed. Oops! I’ve let the cat out of the bag! Promise you won’t tell her? Which reminds me – she said I had to give you some homework. And seeing as today’s blog is going to be all about me, me, me, I think the homework should be too. Jo wants to know whether you can work out the meaning of the phrases in italics from the context, without using a dictionary.

Now on to more important things, namely, me! As you can see from the photo above, I’m an extremely handsome chap, aren’t I? What do you think? Eh? What’s wrong, has the cat got your tongue?

I’m the only boy animal in the house and I’m also the most dashing. I’m black, sleek, smooth and sometimes soppy. Quite frankly, I’m the cat’s whiskers. I like it when the other cats wash my head for me. It’s nice to be treated like royalty, isn’t it?

Most of the time I like to sleep on the sofa, but I do go out hunting sometimes. Yesterday I caught a bird and brought it back into the house to play with. Then I ate a bit of it. All the other cats were watching me with admiration. Jo said I looked like the cat who’d got the cream.

I’m also very, very clever. Jo only gives me small amounts of food, because I got quite fat and had to go on a diet. But I don’t believe in pussyfooting it around waiting for someone to feed me. If I’m hungry, I simply break into the food tub and feed myself. So far I’ve broken into five different styles of tubs. I mean, who could keep a cat like me waiting for food?!

Well, I’d love to stick around some more and talk more about myself, but I’ve gotta go. There are other people who need to hear more about me too.

Looking forward to receiving your fan mail,

Panther xxx

P.S. I have never washed Panther’s head. He’s delusional. Scratchy.


chap – man

dashing – handsome and elegant, usually used to describe a male

soppy – sentimental

admiration – the noun which comes from the verb ‘to admire’, meaning ‘regard with approval and respect’

tub – a container

gotta – ‘got to’, informal

delusional – (adj) having false beliefs or ideas

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Hold onto your hats!

Hello, Ha and everyone reading! What’s up?

Ha, I’m very sorry that Panther inflicted homework on you after a busy day. What can I say? He likes everyone to do just what he says. So thanks for having a stab at it, and also for writing a couple of sentences using the present continuous tense. I’ll spill the beans now and give you the meaning of those phrases about cats.

1) to let the cat out of the bag – this means to tell a secret, usually unintentionally, e.g.
John’s going to ask Sally to marry him tonight. Oops! I’ve let the cat out of the bag! Don’t tell anyone!

2) Has the cat got your tongue? – You say this if you want someone to say something, but they are keeping silent, e.g.
What do you want for dinner? Eh? What do you want? Say something! Has the cat got your tongue?

3) to be the cat’s whiskers – to be better than everyone else, e.g.
I’ve got a gold medal for running, I can cook, I’m handsome and I’m rich. I’m the cat’s whiskers.

4) look like the cat who’s got the cream – to be very pleased with yourself about something you’ve said or done. If you say this about someone, you’re probably being slightly critical, e.g.
Lily was grinning from ear to ear because she’d won on the lottery, passed her driving test and got a new boyfriend. She looked like the cat who’d got the cream.

5) pussyfoot (it) around – to be cautious about doing or saying something, e.g.
I didn’t want to upset her feelings so I didn’t ask about her exam. I pussyfooted around instead.

Ha, your challenge, should you choose to accept, is to try to use one of these phrases in your next blog, OK? ;->

While we’re on the subject of homework, I must make a special mention of Benka, who wrote a little story to explain the meaning of those phrases, and Ahmed, who went above and beyond the call of duty by finding a whole load of extra sayings that had cats in them. Great stuff! Panther is very impressed.

Paulraj wrote to say that he was surprised that public transport is not so efficient in the UK. I’m afraid it’s true! I think part of the problem is that our infrastructure is so ancient. For example, the London Underground was built in the 1860s, and our national rail network was built even before that, by the Victorians. Now we have the problem of maintaining or replacing these old systems. Building new ones from scratch would be too expensive, so we just have to patch up what is there, and that’s why our rail system is very inefficient. Certainly, newer rail infrastructures wipe the floor with the UK system. For example, the TGV in France has a top speed of 320mph, the shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan has a top speed of 233mph and the maglev train in Shanghai has a top speed of 260mph. The fastest train in the UK has a top speed of …125mph. Hold onto your hats!

Sometimes being one of the first to do something (i.e. build railways) doesn’t always work out for the best!

OK, now let’s talk grammar. A couple of you have been asking about If- clauses. Let me see if I can explain a bit about them. Really, you could write a whole book about If clauses, but I’m going to focus on just one use today.

Clauses that come after if usually talk about uncertain events or situations, e.g.

Ask Peter if he wants to come to the cinema with us.
(we don’t know whether Peter wants to)
If I have time, I’ll go to the shops after work.
(we don’t know whether the speaker will have time)

You can use the same tense after ‘if’ as you would with other conjunctions. However, if you want to talk about unlikely, imaginary or untrue situations, you have to use special tenses. For the present tense, we use this construction:

Past tense in the if- clause (even though the meaning is present) + would + infinitive:

If I knew her telephone number, I’d call her.
If I had a million pounds, I would go on a trip around the world.

What would you all do if you had a million pounds?

Until next time,



What’s up – What’s happening? How are you? (informal)

inflict – to cause something unpleasant to happen

have a stab at something – to try

to spill the beans – to reveal information

go above and beyond the call of duty – do more than is required

Great stuff! – excellent!

ancient – very old

from scratch – from the beginning

patch up – repair, in a way that probably won’t last very long

wipe the floor with someone – to beat very easily

Hold onto your hats – you can say this if something exciting or thrilling is happening. Here I’m using it ironically.

Answers to your comments

Mr Tran Minh Bon – many thanks for your comment and I’m glad you plucked up the courage to write! I noticed you use some new vocabulary to describe weather in your comment – well done!

Wisarut – Good luck with your presentation. I would say talk very slowly, very clearly, and have some notes on cards that you can refer to. It’s not really necessary to memorize every single word. Try to make eye contact with the audience. And good luck!

Qinping – you can say ‘who cooks food in your house’ or ‘who cooks food at home’ (meaning ‘your home’). Hmm, in London, you could go for a ride on the London Eye, go on a boat down the river Thames and visit the Tate Gallery. Have fun!

Lauren – Welcome, and thanks for your comment! I look forward to reading more from you.

Ana Paula – Your story about your sister made me laugh out loud. So funny! Thanks for the laughs. The poor girl – don’t worry, I won’t let the cat out of the bag by telling her you wrote about her.

Kyar Nyo – I can rephrase that sentence as: ‘7 million people live in London, and 60 million people live in the UK’. In the second example you give, you need to read back to the sentence before. This is what ‘Not because our roads are so good’ is referring to.

Ruth – ‘cost-effective’ means that you get the most profit or service in exchange for your money.

Mellisa – Have you tried pilates or yoga? I find it’s great for backache.

Fulvio – I think most people are far too lazy to use bicycles!

Jai – Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you’re reading!

Sanja – Panther hasn’t yet found a girl who is pretty or clever enough for him.

Benka – ‘who’d got the cream’ is short for ‘who had got the cream’.

Muhammad – Panther says he thinks it’s disgusting that humans don’t wash their whiskers after they eat.

Sarah – Hmm, if you only have a short period of time to brush up your English, your best bet would probably be to live in an English-speaking country. If that’s not possible, are there any language-exchange or language-immersion programmes near to you?

Sherzod – Yes, I’ve heard of Tajikistan, though I’m afraid I don’t know much about it. Maybe you can write and tell me more? No, there are no real regulations about owning pets in the UK. There are some so-called ‘dangerous dogs’ that were bred for fighting that you’re not allowed to keep, but that’s about it.

Harry – please could you give me an example of the sentence containing ‘rather’ that you find confusing? You see, there are several different ways to use ‘rather’ and it would help me to know which one you’re talking about. Thanks!

Paulraj – ‘pay extra’ (no ‘an’) is a phrase that means ‘pay more’.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Many happy returns!

Hello again!

Hi, Ha! Or should I say, Happy Birthday! It must be your birthday, right? In which case, let’s all sing together …

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday dear Ha-aaaaaaah,
Happy Birthday to you!

I hope you have a great day and lots of fun, Ha! If you were in England on your birthday, we would bring out a round birthday cake, which had been hidden from you (it should be a surprise!) as we sing this song. On the cake there would be candles. If possible, one candle for each year of your life (this gets tricky once you get above the age of 20). Then, you would blow out all the candles and make a wish. But – and this is very important – you have to keep your wish secret, otherwise it won’t come true!

Do you have any special birthday traditions in your country?

Ha, I noticed you used the phrase ‘let the cat out of the bag’ correctly in your last blog. Well done! Panther says thank you very much!

However, don’t forget about the present continuous tense – in your first sentence you wrote:

‘I have just finished my dinner and start to blog now.’

You’re talking about something that’s happening right now, so you should write:

‘I have finished my dinner and am starting to blog now.’

In fact, if you ever want to write the word ‘now’ in a sentence, stop and think – are you writing about something that’s happening at that very moment? If so, chances are that you’ll need to use the present continuous tense.

OK, I won’t go on about the present continuous tense any more, I promise!

One more language point, Ha, then I’ll shut up. It’s your birthday tomorrow, after all! You wrote about your lost love (sniff!) and said:

‘I used to fall in love with one guy …’

We use ‘used to’ to talk about habits in the past, i.e. things we did more than once, e.g.

I used to go ice-skating when I was a little girl, but now I don’t have the time.
(I went ice-skating regularly and more than once when I was a little girl)

If you want to talk about a single completed action in the past, you use the simple past tense, e.g.:
I went ice-skating when I was a little girl, but I didn’t like it.
(I went ice-skating once when I was a little girl)

So, I can rewrite your sentence as follows:
‘I fell in love with one guy …’

When I was a little girl, I used to go to dance classes. I also used to play the piano. Can you write a couple of sentences telling me what you used to do when you were young?

OK, enough grammar. Ha, you asked about love. This is a Big Question and I’m sure I don’t have the answer. I’m not sure I believe that there is only one person in this world for each of us. I mean, there are billions of us on the planet. What are the odds of us finding just one single person? And what if that person is on the other side of the world? The most important thing is to be happy with yourself. When you least expect it, your Mr Right will come along, I’m sure. As anyone who has been reading my blogs knows, the love of my life is my fella Richard. (Richard, if you’re reading this, are you blushing?) What do I love most about him? Probably that he makes me laugh. If you can laugh about things, it makes life a lot more fun. Ha, I’m sure you’ll meet someone who makes you laugh soon!

I’ve loved reading your ideas about what you would do if you had a million pounds (notice the If- clause there?). But I’m afraid to tell you it might not be enough. I read an article the other day that said if you really want to live in the lap of luxury you would need at least £10 million. Can you believe that?

Ah well, we can dream …



Many happy returns! A more formal way of saying ‘Happy Birthday!’

round – circular

candle – a stick of wax with a string in it. You light the string to produce a flame.

blow out – push air out of your mouth to extinguish the candle flame

chances are – it’s likely that

go on – in this context, ‘go on’ means ‘keep talking’, usually to the point that the reader/listener gets bored.

the odds – the chances of something happening. If something is ‘odds-on’, it’s very likely.

Mr Right – the perfect man

the love of my life – you use this phrase to describe the person for whom you have romantic love. For example, you wouldn’t really say that your sister is ‘the love of your life’.

– when you blush, your cheeks go red because you are embarrassed

live in the lap of luxury
– have everything you want and need, because you’re very rich

Answers to your comments

Filippo – Yes, ‘So would I’ is the correct way to answer in agreement – excellent!

Jorge – I’m glad you found us, and welcome!

Melissa – I started studying French at the age of 11, and I’m still learning new things all the time. I tell you this not to discourage you from learning English, but just to share with you that if you learn a language, you never stop learning. I’m learning new things about English all the time, too.

Kamran – ‘would that those words had come from the Secretary of State’ is a rather elaborate way of saying ‘If only those words had come from the Secretary of State.’ It’s quite a wordy (using lots of words) style, isn’t it?

Sherzod – good luck with the competition! But even if you don’t win, you can always write in here!

Paulraj – You’re right, we should be proud of our achievements. And yes, you used the idiom perfectly!

Jill – Nice to have you back! Yes, your use of the If- clause was just right!

Leila – thanks for your kind words, and yes of course I have noticed you. I remember you got that estate agent’s description word perfect. :-)

Jai and Eenvy – keeping a note of new phrases is a great idea. I hope I can give you lots more useful vocabulary.

Mavis – Yep, that’s the right preposition! Thanks for your comment.

Ruth – yes, those examples are perfect usage of the phases. Great stuff!

Stevieboy – It would be very nice to meet you on your trip! ‘Now that’ is a conjunction. It means the same as ‘now’, but you’ll see ‘now that’ more often in written language. ‘Enjoying’ (in this context) means ‘having something as a benefit/advantage’.

Maria – If you say ‘should you choose to accept’, it means the same as ‘If you choose to accept’. How did the cake turn out?

Harry – yes ‘I would like to be alone rather than go out with you’ is correct grammar. We use ‘rather than’ to express a preference, e.g.
I would drink tea rather than coffee. (I prefer tea.)
You can also change the word order around in a different way:
I would rather drink tea than coffee.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Lemon squeezy rhyming slang

Hello Ha, and everyone reading!

Ha, I’m glad you had a great birthday. Catching up with friends is a great way to spend your special day. We don’t really go in for karaoke much in the UK. I think we’re all a bit too self-conscious to stand up in front of people and sing. Usually, on our birthday we would go out for dinner or maybe go down the pub for a few drinks and a chinwag.

It’s Saturday today, which means we should do something fun. Today I’m going to tell you about Cockney Rhyming Slang.

As you may know, a ‘Cockney’ is someone who was born in the Eastern part of London. Specifically, a Cockney should be born within hearing-distance of the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow, in Cheapside.

As you may also know, ‘slang’ is informal language. You’ll hear slang a lot when people speak, or when people write informally.

So, Cockney Rhyming Slang is a special kind of informal language first used by people in the East End of London. This slang has spread, and now there are certain phrases that everyone in the UK understands and uses.

How does Cockney Rhyming Slang work? Well, take a word such as ‘feet’. The Cockneys then came up with a phrase where the second word rhymes with ‘feet’. For example:

original word: feet
phrase with second word rhyming: plates of meat

So, if you say ‘my plates of meat are killing me’, it means your feet hurt.

Also, in some very well-known slang phrases, the second word is omitted altogether, e.g.

Original word: look
Phrase with second word rhyming: butcher’s hook
Omit the second word from the phrase: butcher’s

So, the phrase ‘Come and have a butcher’s at this’ means ‘Come and have a look at this’.

Some other common examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang are:

apples and pears = stairs
trouble and strife = wife
china plate = mate
dog and bone = phone

New Cockney Rhyming Slang terms are being coined all the time. One of the newest is:

Pete Tong = wrong
(Pete Tong is the name of a famous DJ in the UK).

You’ll often hear younger Brits moaning that everything has ‘gone Pete Tong’.

So, shall we see whether you can work out what this little story means? I’ve been nasty and included a couple of slang terms that I haven’t explained to you. Can you rewrite this in standard English?

I rushed down the apples and pears. The dog and bone was ringing.
‘Hello?’ I asked.
‘Where are you, you idiot?’
It was the trouble and strife.
‘You were supposed to be at the church an hour ago!’
I’d forgotten about the wedding! Oops!
‘I don’t Adam and Eve it! For God’s sake, can’t you use your loaf for once? Put your whistle and flute on and get here straight away!’

My mince pies are sore from looking at the computer screen, so I’m finishing now.

Enjoy your weekends!



to catch up – to find out about someone’s news and what has been happening to them

to go in for – to be keen on something or interested in something

chinwag – a talk/a chat

come up with – invent

Answers to your comments

Naheed – I think you probably understand my personality very well. If you don’t expect too much, you’re usually pleasantly surprised when good things happen. I’m sure you’ll get the career (and man!) of your dreams. When is your exam?

Maria – a cake made with beer! That sounds like a great idea for a party!

Ana Paula – you can sometimes miss pronouns out, as long as it is the same pronoun that is being repeated, e.g.
I have finished work and (I) am going shopping.
But you couldn’t say:
I am going shopping and is coming with me.
(who is ‘coming with me’? We need to specify ‘he’ or ‘she’)

Stevieboy – you can say ‘historic’ or ‘historical’ – both are adjectives. ‘historic’ is more usual.

Sherzod – Salom! Yes, we do have a strange way of naming floors in Britain. The ‘ground floor’ is the floor at ground level, e.g. you would walk off the street straight into the ground floor of a shop. If you then went up one flight of stairs, you’d be on the first floor. Other countries like Canada though don’t bother with a ‘ground floor’. They start with a first floor.

Jai – the most important thing is to be happy now, right? If you want to say anything about the time before you were married, you can use the phrase ‘pre-marital’, i.e. ‘my parents don’t believe in pre-marital love’.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Welcome to West Meon

Hello, everyone! And welcome to another week. I hope you all had a great weekend.

Over the weekend, Ha told us about Vietnam – thanks for the pictures, Ha! I won’t let the cat out of the bag just yet by telling you the meaning of that Cockney Rhyming Slang. I don’t want to spoil it for Ha. Ha, are you going to give it a go?

Ha took us on a little whistle-stop tour of Vietnam, from north to south, and I just want to remind you about tenses, Ha. I get the impression that you write quickly, and you’re often in a rush, am I right, Ha? It’s difficult to fit everything in, I know! Everyone’s busy, busy, busy these days, aren’t they?

But if you don’t mind me saying, Ha, your particular problem seems to be tenses, so if you can spend just a little time thinking about which tense is right for which context, your English will improve dramatically.

For example, I’ve taken these sentences from your last blog, Ha. Can you tell me which verb (in the right tense!) would fit in these examples?

1) It was very sunny all day so I just stayed at home and ___________.
2) Tourism in Vietnam ____________________ more and more.
3) But I hope that I ____________________ you an overview of my beautiful country.

After Ha’s informative blog about Vietnam, I thought I would tell you a bit about the little village where I live.

My nearest village is called West Meon, and it’s located in the Meon Valley in Hampshire, in the south of England. As you’ve probably guessed, there is also a River Meon, which is why we’re in the Meon Valley. There’s also another village nearby called East Meon.

West Meon is teeny. The population is only about 700, but we do still have a few essentials in our village. For example, the most important part of any village is a pub. Here’s a photo of ours:

The Thomas Lord, West Meon.

The pub is called The Thomas Lord, named after the man who founded the Lord’s Cricket Ground. You can get really nice local food and drink at this pub. It’s a bit posh actually. You could say it’s a gastropub.

We also have a small village shop and post office:

Our post office.

And this is our local church:

Some of our local houses are very old, like this one:

You can see the roof is made of a special traditional building material called thatch. Take a look at the picture below – can you see a couple of shapes at the top of the roof?

I know – you have to really look closely and it’s not very clear! Anyway, these are actually the shape of pheasants, made out of thatch. It’s said that each thatcher has his own personal ‘signature’. In this case, the person who thatched this house ‘signed’ his work with two pheasants. I’ve also seen houses in this area that are ‘signed’ with hares made out of thatch.

Oh, and the house above? It’s just been sold. I thought I’d be a nosey parker and look up how much it was on the market for. According to the internet, the price was £400,000. Aeeuuurrrggggh! (that's the sound of me passing out from shock)

Unfortunately, I don’t live in such an old or beautiful house as this. But maybe one day …

How would you all describe your local village or city?

Until next time,



give it a go – have a try

whistle-stop – (adj) describes a trip with lots of short stops

busy, busy, busy – for emphasis, you’ll sometimes see adjectives repeated three times in written language. It’s quite an informal style.

informative – containing lots of information

– very small

essentials – the things that are absolutely necessary

pub – short for ‘public house’ although everyone uses the short form

gastropub – a pub that serves food that is much better than average.

thatch – can be a verb or a noun. Thatch is usually made of straw or reeds.

pheasant – a large, long-tailed bird that people shoot so they can eat it.

hare – like a rabbit, but bigger and with longer ears.

nosey parker -- someone who is interested in other people's business

on the market – on sale

to pass out -- to faint

Answers to your comments

Salah – yes, ‘fella’ is informal, from the word ‘fellow’. Women use ‘fella’ to describe their husbands/boyfriends. For a female partner, an informal equivalent is ‘the missus’ (i.e. ‘Mrs’).

Sarah (Canada) – yes, you can use the word ‘guy’ in British English. I think it’s probably true that the word originally came from America, but we all understand it now.

Wisarut – Yes, I’ve heard of Doraemon. So you like Japanese cartoons? How about Hello Kitty? ;->

Sarah (Saudi Arabia) – The Cockney Rhyming Slang for ‘husband’ is ‘pot and pan’, which rhymes with ‘my old man’. ‘My old man’ is another common phrase you’ll hear women use to refer to their husbands.

Ana Paula – thanks for the chamomile tea tip! My mincies are fine now, thanks. By the way, I like your new word, ‘mincies’ – maybe we can start creating our own slang?!

Jai – ‘you are supposed to be’ means ‘you should be’. You’re right, you’ll hear it a lot in spoken language.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Town or country?

Hello everyone!

What’s happening? Today I had to drive to Oxford for a meeting. I don’t mind driving so much, but I had to come back during the rush hour, which is not so much fun. Also, I work from home most of the time. The meeting I had was in a big, busy, open-plan office. It was a bit of a shocker to be surrounded by ringing telephones, noisy photocopiers and lots of people talking. I guess I’ve just got used to the peace and quiet of working from home (well, other than my dog hassling me to take her for a walk). Maybe I’m turning into a hermit? But no, I’ve got all of you lovely people to chat with!

Anyway, this, along with some of your questions (thanks Paulraj and Anita for the inspiration!) about life in my village, got me thinking about the difference between life in a busy city and life in the countryside. I lived in big cities for more than 10 years, and I think Hong Kong is probably the most hectic (though also the most exciting) place of anywhere I’ve lived. What are the pros of living in a city? Well, there’s always something interesting to do or go. You can visit art exhibitions, watch plays and go shopping to your heart’s content. Transport is usually very convenient, and there are lots of places to socialise and eat. On the downside, big cities are often noisy, polluted and overcrowded.

Then there’s the countryside. Where I live now is so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. The air is fresh and you get to see the seasons change. However, it’s not very convenient. For example, I would have to drive 10 miles to go to the cinema, and for big shops or art exhibitions I would have to go to the next big city, which is about half an hour away.

Which is best – city life or village life? I think they both have their pros and cons. But for now I like living in the country.

And as for working in an office or from home? There’s no contest. I may miss out on chatting to people at work, but I definitely prefer working from my little office at home. I don’t have to sit through boring meetings, and I can work when I like.

What would you prefer to do – work from home or in an office? And where would you rather live – in a city or in the countryside?

Aaah, work – I suppose we’d better do some, hadn’t we? Farz from Tehran wanted to know how and why we can use the present tense to talk about the future. And Ha, seeing as we need to brush up your use of tenses, I thought this would be a good topic to talk about today.

So, we know we can use the present tense to talk about the present, or about things that are always true (e.g. Water freezes at zero degrees).

However, we can also use the present tense to talk about the future in some certain situations. There are really three situations when we use the present tense to talk about the future.

1) The most common situation is when you’re talking about a timetable or something that is scheduled to happen, e.g.

My train leaves at 5 p.m.
My favourite TV programme starts at 9 o’clock.

2) You’ll also find the present tense used with a future meaning in subordinate clauses – usually after if, until, than, what, where and when, e.g.

I’ll stop working when I become a millionnaire.
I’ll tell you what the doctor says.

3) Sometimes, you use the present tense with a future meaning when you give or ask for instructions, e.g.

Where do I get my ticket?
When you arrive at Heathrow Airport, you go first to immigration.

All clear? If so, see whether you can complete the sentences below. You’ll need to put the verb in brackets in either the present tense or the present continuous tense. Can you decide which is right?

1) The opera _______________ at 7.30p.m. sharp. (start)
2) I _________________! Wait for me! (come)
3) Where ___________ I ______________? (do, pay)
4) You _________________ a blog about the English language. (read)
5) I won’t stop working until I _____________ rich. (be)

OK, I’m finishing work now because a TV programme I want to watch starts at 9.00p.m.

See you next time!



the rush hour – the time when most traffic is on the roads, usually from about 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the UK

open-plan – lots of open space and few walls

shocker – like ‘shock’, but the ‘er’ makes it sound more informal

hermit – someone who stays at home a lot and doesn’t talk to many people

hectic – very busy

pros – advantages

to your heart’s content – as much as you want

so quiet, you could hear a pin drop – silent

cons – disadvantages

there’s no contest – there’s no need to think carefully about the pros and cons

Answers to your comments

Rahul – ‘being’ is the gerund form of the verb to be. We use gerunds like nouns, e.g.
I hate being late.
Being on time is not her style.

Melissa – To say you’re hungry in Cockney Rhyming Slang, you say ‘I’m Hank Marvin’, which rhymes with ‘starving’. However, you don’t hear this one so often – it’s not as common as ‘have a butcher’s’ or ‘trouble and strife’.

Naheed – good luck with your exam. I know you’ll do well, because you work hard and are very bright.

Manas – Yes, ‘Holy cow!’ is slang. Mostly, you’ll hear Americans rather than Brits using it. I supposed the British equivalent would be ‘Oh my god!’. ‘Goodness me!’ is another exclamation which means the same thing, but it’s fairly formal.

Ana Paula – you can say ‘Has the new book already been released’. I think that works best. Are you thinking of the new Harry Potter book? ;->

Leila – I did see your comment from the weekend eventually – thanks! I promise to give you the answers to the Cockney Rhyming Slang this weekend. Glad it made you feel like a saucepan lid!

Monu – ‘nosey parker’ isn’t really an idiom as such. It’s more of a common phrase.

Sherzod – Hmm, our new prime minister is quite new, so we have to give him a bit of a chance. I do notice he makes some funny facial expressions when he talks, though.

Quynhvn – ‘I thought I would’ is a phrase that you can use to talk about your intentions. It’s in the conditional tense. You’re right, you could also use the present tense: ‘I think I will …’

Serena – No, we don’t really have a place for teenagers, which is a shame. Some villages have youth centres (similar to your oratorios?) but we don’t. I’m glad the photos brought back happy memories!

Jill – it’s a good question! I don’t know why thatch doesn’t rot in the rain or the snow. I know that it’s waterproof. How? Maybe someone can tell me!

Anita – Yes, Bournemouth isn’t too far away from me. I’m glad the photos brought back happy memories for you too!

Diego – Sounds like you’ll have a great time on your tour of the UK. Can you give me examples of the sentences containing ‘really’ and ‘indeed’ that are troubling you? The words can be used in different ways, so it will help if I can see what you mean.

Tomo – Glad you’re better, I missed your comments! Yes, we have water from a tap. I’m glad – fetching water from a well would be hard work.

Pilar – thanks for the description and the link!

Friday, 20 July 2007

It's all gone Pete Tong

Hi there!

Sorry if you didn't see th blog below right away. I think something went a bit Pete Tong with the blogging system. Please also check out Ha's new blog from the 19th. Jo

Saturday, 21 July 2007


Hi everyone!

It’s Saturday! That means a nice long lie-in and a leisurely breakfast. How nice!

Ha, glad to have you back with us and sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling so great. I hope your loaf is working better now.

Which reminds me, here are the answers to that Cockney Rhyming Slang:

I rushed down the apples and pears (stairs). The dog and bone (phone) was ringing.
‘Hello?’ I asked.
‘Where are you, you idiot?’
It was the trouble and strife (wife).
‘You were supposed to be at the church an hour ago!’
I’d forgotten about the wedding! Oops!
‘I don’t Adam and Eve (believe) it! For God’s sake, can’t you use your loaf (loaf of bread = head) for once? Put your whistle and flute (suit) on and get here straight away!’

And there were two more sneaky ones: ‘lemon squeezy’ means ‘easy’; and ‘mince pies’ means ‘eyes’.

And Ha, I noticed you used a Cockney Rhyming Slang phrase of your own – ‘a cup of Rosie Lee’ is indeed ‘a cup of tea’. Well done!

Ha, no need to apologize for making mistakes. I think it was Adek who wrote in (Hi, Adek!) and said ‘people who do nothing make no mistakes’. This is very true, isn’t it?

And, in you last blog, you corrected all your tenses perfectly, like this:

1) It was very sunny all day so I just stayed at home and _slept_.
2) Tourism in Vietnam _is developing_ more and more.
3) But I hope that I _have just shown_ you an overview of my beautiful country.

Brilliant! This is great news for two reasons. One, it means that you know what all the tenses are. Two, it means you know how to use them.

Which means Ha, all you need to do to really improve your English is to relax, chill, take it easy, OK? It sounds as though your job is a bit manic, so I understand you don’t have much time to blog. I wonder then, whether you can make your blogs shorter, so that you can spend more time thinking about tenses? I think it’s better to have a short and sweet piece of writing that is grammatically correct, than a long piece of writing containing lots of mistakes. I think this is a good idea for any kind of writing – blogging, emails, or indeed any writing you have to do in English for your job. Do you agree?

Now, a couple of blogs ago, I posted some pictures of my village, West Meon. I also told you how the thatchers ‘sign’ their work with a shape, usually an animal. The picture I took wasn’t very clear, so my chap Richard took this photo so you can see what I mean:

Those are the two pheasant shapes I was talking about.

Jill asked me how it is that the thatch roof doesn’t rot in the rain and the snow. I didn’t know, so I did a bit of googling. Here’s what I found out: the UK has more thatched houses than any other country in Europe. It was used for centuries because it is lightweight, and readily available – people just used whatever material grew near to them. As the top layer of thatch degrades, a new layer is placed on top, but thatch can last for up to 50 years without any problems. Thatch is naturally resistant to water, so it does not absorb water when it rains. Also, a thatch roof should be made fairly steep, so the water can run off it easily. A pro of thatch is that it is a good insulator, but a con is that it can catch fire easily.

So thanks for your question, Jill. I’ve learned a lot!

Enjoy your weekends!



leisurely – in a relaxed way

chill, take it easy – relax

manic – very busy

short and sweet – small but perfect

chap – man, fella

googling – the search engine ‘Google’ now has its own verb, ‘to google’. You can say ‘I googled it and got 55,000 results’.

degrade – to wear out, to erode

insulator – something that traps heat

Answers to your comments

Wisarut – I’m a bit of a tomboy (a girl who likes some things boys like) so I’m not so keen on pink. I think we’re never too old to appreciate cartoons, right? What makes you like Doraemon so much? I like a cartoon called Dilbert. But it’s American, not British. It makes fun of the way big companies work. It even includes a dog, called Dogbert. You can see it here:

Ahmed – I’m so glad you find BBC learning English useful, and thanks for all your comments and your vivid description of your village. You’re right, ‘terrific’ means ‘wonderful’; ‘terrible’ means ‘awful’.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Hello, I’m Socks

Good afternoon! My name’s Socks. I’m Panther’s sister – we’re twins. Do we look alike? I’m the only one of Jo’s pets that you haven’t yet met. Jo’s taking the day off – having a long weekend – so I’m blogging instead.

I’m a very small kitty, but I’m very practical and sensible too. If I’m hungry, I go out and catch a mouse to eat. If I’m very tired, I sleep for two days. And if my socks (my white feet) get dirty, I wash them clean. I like everything to be just so.

If things aren’t just so, I do something clever and inventive to get my own way. For example, when we first moved to this house, we didn’t have a catflap. I couldn’t come and go as I pleased. So I left home for a week. Just disappeared. Jo got really worried, which was my plan. Then I came home again. Jo and Richard were so excited to see me, they decided to put a catflap in the door. So now I can go out or come in whenever I please. I find that it really helps to be small, cute and cuddly if you want things to go your own way. It was a clever plan, wasn’t it? As I said, I’m practical.

And Ha, I have some practical tips for you too. Jo tells me that you’re as busy as a bee at work, and that you often have to write emails in English in your job. So, I’ve got some work abbreviations for you. You can use them in your business e-mails.

ASAP: as soon as possible
BTW: by the way
FTAO: For the attention of (add the person’s name after this)
RE: regarding
Incl. including

Now, there’s one thing I need your advice on. I like to go out for lots of walks, and there’s a big black male cat who lives nearby. He’s a bit of a bruiser. He beats me up a lot. Yesterday he bit my leg. What can a little kitty like me do? I try to fight back, but he’s too strong. Do you have any advice?

Yours very properly,

Miss Socks


a long weekend is usually a three- or four-day break, including Saturday and Sunday.

practical – (adj) describes someone who makes sensible decisions

just so – right, perfect, the way you like it

inventive – the adjective from the verb ‘to invent’, meaning good at thinking up new ideas.

get your own way – to have things as you want them to be

catflap – a small hole in a door that lets a cat come and go out whenever he/she likes.

cuddly – a cuddly animal or person is cute and make you want to cuddle them (give them a hug)

as busy as a bee – an idiom, meaning very busy

a bruiser – (slang) someone big and strong, who intimidates others

Wednesday, 25 July 2007


Hello Ha and everyone reading!

Yeuch! Raffles and I are just back from a damp, soggy walk. We’re not having much of a summer here in the UK. So it was great to read all your comments, which put a smile back on my face. Thank you!

Ha, I’ve just read your last blog very carefully and your use of tenses was *so* much better. Well done! I can see you really understand how and when to use all the different tenses. So taking a little bit of time to check really pays off, doesn’t it?

Which reminds me, here are the answers to those phrases using the simple present tense with a future meaning:
1) The opera starts at 7.30p.m. sharp.
2) I’m coming! Wait for me!
3) Where do I pay?
4) You are reading a blog about the English language.
5) I won’t stop working until I am rich.

However, I’m not giving up on tenses just yet. It’s always good to have a little bit extra practice. So, I want you to look at the tenses I’ve used in the four paragraphs below (look for the words in italics and the numbers 1 to 6). I’ve used the wrong tense for each of these. Can you rewrite them using the correct tense? I bet you can!

Today I’m going to tell you a bit about a local crop from my region. It’s called watercress, and it’s a leafy salad vegetable. It’s got quite a hot taste to it – something like mustard or wasabi, if 1) you ever try either of those foods. So it’s ideal in summer salads, and sometimes you’ll find it together with egg as a sandwich filling.

Watercress 2) was farmed in this part of southern England for over 200 years. As we’ve grown more prosperous, we don’t eat so much of it these days. But there was a time when very poor families couldn’t afford to eat bread, so they’d eat watercress instead. In the 1800s, watercress 3) was sending to the Covent Garden market in London by stagecoach. Later, it went by train, and we have a local railway called the Watercress Line. It’s an old steam train, and these days it’s really a tourist attraction.

Watercress grows in long, flat beds, which 4) are feed by mineral water that comes from underground springs. Here’s what our local watercress bed looks like. It’s just outside my village, West Meon:

Apparently, the Romans 5) believe that watercress was an aphrodisiac. I don’t know if that’s true, but according to the scientists, watercress contains as much vitamin C as oranges and more calcium than milk. It’s a superfood! This region of England is such a hotbed of watercress activity that there’s even a watercress festival in the nearby town of Alresford. Hmm, maybe 6) I make some watercress soup for dinner.

Ha, and everyone reading, what local crops grow near to you?

Feeling hungry,



Yeuch! – like ‘Yuck!’, you use this to say something is nasty/horrible.

soggy – wet and damp

if something pays off, it’s a success

crop – a plant grown for food

prosperous – rich and successful

stagecoach – an old-fashioned coach pulled by horses

spring – water that flows up from underground into a pool or river

an aphrodisiac is a food that makes you sexually excited

superfood – this is quite a trendy word, and it means food that has lots of health benefits

hotbed – a place where there are lots of people involved in a certain activity

Answers to your comments

Ana Paula – Yes, I like the Harry Potter books, though I’m not such a nutter that I queue up all night to buy one. Happy (belated) Friends Day to you too!

Michelle – thanks for your comment. In the two sentences you wrote, there is actually no difference in meaning (although the tenses are different) – they both describe what will happen in the near future.

Fulvio – Guess what? There was an article in my Sunday newspaper about Sardinia. And guess what they described? A local cheese full of maggots!

Marianna – No, Richard and I didn’t study the same thing. In fact, he studied surveying at college and he’s now a quantity surveyor. So our jobs are as different as chalk and cheese (opposite). We did a beginner’s Italian course together before we went on holiday to Italy one year. Richard claims he can’t remember any Italian, but I bet he would be able to remember how to order a beer in an emergency.

Kamran – well spotted! It should have been ‘in your last blog …’ My mistake!

Paulraj – I’ve loved reading your comments, please don’t feel you have to keep them short! It was just a bit of friendly advice for Ha.

Tishka – Hmm, your human doesn’t take your rheumatism seriously? Maybe try stop eating for a whole day. Then she might buy you some nice tuna as a treat. Socks.

Ahmed – great use of idioms. Thank you!

Hualan – welcome! And thanks for your comment. It’s nice to have an Aussie with us.

Jeehye – Oh yes, all my pets are sterilized. There are enough unwanted animals in the world – I don’t want to be responsible for any more!

Mellisa – I am very honoured that you asked me for suggestions for a name for your baby nephew. How about ‘Leo’? It’s the name of a big cat (you know I love cats), and if the baby was born this month, according to western star signs he would be a Leo. Also, a Leo (lion) will be strong and brave.

Susan – sorry, that was just Socks being a little bit silly when she ended her blog with ‘yours very properly’. You see, she like things to be proper, so she was having a bit of a joke.

Kavin – welcome! And yes, you can say ‘working one’s ass off’ to mean really busy. ‘Ass’ is a mild swear word. So, while it doesn’t bother me, you might not want to say it in front of your granny!

Claire – thanks for your comment, and I can understand your English perfectly.

Friday, 27 July 2007


Hi Ha, and all our friends!

Ha, I agree that music is great. I like listening to music when I’m driving in my car. At the moment I’m listening to the latest album of a UK band called The Kaiser Chiefs. I love it.

Ha, there’s a small point I want to pick up on in your last blog. You wrote:

‘I am also fond of listening to Chinese musics’.

I just wanted to point out that you don’t add an ‘s’ onto the end of ‘music’ to make a plural. And in fact ‘music’ is an uncountable noun. So, if you wanted to use a plural meaning, you would have to say something like:

I like many different types of music.

And for a singular meaning, you could say this:

This is my favourite piece of music.

But never ‘musics’, OK?

Ha, you did a great job using the correct tenses in your last blog. Well done. It’s really such an improvement.

Which reminds me – here are the answers to those tenses that you had to correct in my last blog:

It’s got quite a hot taste to it – something like mustard or wasabi, if 1) you have ever tried either of those foods.

Watercress 2) has been farmed in this part of southern England for over 200 years.
(this was a nasty one – we use ‘has been’ because the activity is still continuing today.)

In the 1800s, watercress 3) was sent to the Covent Garden market in London by stagecoach.

Watercress grows in long, flat beds, which 4) are fed by mineral water that comes from underground springs.
(another nasty one – ‘feed’ is irregular in the past tense)

Apparently, the Romans 5) believed that watercress was an aphrodisiac.

Hmm, maybe 6) I’ll/I should make some watercress soup for dinner.

Now, in my last blog I wrote about watercress and explained that its taste is akin to wasabi. Jill asked what wasabi is. So I want to tell you a little story – a true story.

Wasabi is a *very* hot sauce, originally from Japan. It’s green in colour, and you can mix it with soy sauce and dunk your noodles into it. You can also dip sushi into wasabi for an extra kick. Delicious! Of course, you only want to use a touch of wasabi, because it’s very hot (Tomo, have I got this right? Maybe you can tell us more about wasabi!).

Anyway, like Jill, I didn’t know what wasabi was once upon a time. I was in Hong Kong, and I was at a dinner buffet with some friends on Lantau island. The buffet was bursting with delicious dishes – fresh mango, seafood, noodles, sushi, pasta, pizza. You name it, this buffet had it. So I filled my plate with some salad, bread, pasta, avocado and fruit, and I sat down to eat.

How nice the little rice spoon filled with avocado looked! I put the whole thing in my mouth and swallowed.

Except, it wasn’t avocado at all. It was a whole spoonful of wasabi! My eyes streamed, my nose felt like it was on fire, my face went bright red and my nose starting running. I drank a whole glass of water but it didn’t help. And do you know what my so-called friends did? They laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I was crying from the pain, and they were crying because they were hysterical. Ah well, at least I provided some entertainment for the evening!

Luckily this experience hasn’t put me off wasabi. But these days, I only eat very small amounts of it.

OK, I’m finishing now because – can you keep a secret? – I’m going to bake a carrot cake for Richard. It’s his birthday tomorrow. Don’t let the cat out of the bag!

Enjoy your weekends!



to pick up on – to mention

akin to – similar to

dunk – dip into something wet. For example, you can ‘dunk’ a biscuit into a cup of tea.

for an extra kick – more impact, more excitement

a touch – a small amount

bursting with – full to overflowing

my eyes streamed – if your eyes stream, you can’t stop tears falling out of them

when your nose runs, a thick wet substance (the impolite word for it is ‘snot’) comes out of it – not nice!

Something that puts you off discourages you

Answers to your comments

Nameless of Tehran – ‘take up’ means ‘absorb’ in the following sentence: ‘More CO2 will build up in the atmosphere instead of being taken up by plants’.

Mani – how to get an excellent score in an exam? If I could make the formula I would be very rich. The most important thing is to study hard, get lots of rest, eat well and try to stay calm. Good luck!

Jill – yes, it should have been ‘eat’, not ‘each’. Thanks! I changed it so I didn’t confuse anyone else.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

A confession …

Hello Ha and all our friends!

It’s Sunday today and the sun has finally come out after weeks of rain in the UK. The weather today is glorious!

Yesterday it wasn’t so sunny but at least it stayed dry, which was a good thing because it was Richard’s birthday. During the day, we went to a very pretty part of the county I live in (Hampshire). The area is called The New Forest and it’s a National Park, which means it’s protected. It was established in about 1080 by the king William the Conqueror, who used it for hunting.

The New Forest is fantastic for walking, and one of the unique things about it is that local commoners have the right to graze their animals on the land, for free. For this reason, you’ll see lots of horses and donkeys just walking about – even on the roads. You can only drive at 40 miles per hour in the New Forest because there are animals roaming free everywhere. Here’s a picture of some we saw:

And here’s a picture of the landscape:

Then in the evening, we went to the pub for dinner. It was a lovely day. (Oh and the cake turned out OK too – thanks for keeping my secret!)

Ha, the end is nearly with us … You asked what you can do to improve your spoken English. I agree, speaking a foreign language is the most difficult skill – much more difficult than writing or reading, for example. I have some tips for you, and I hope they’ll help. Here goes:

1) Researchers say that when we communicate face to face, the way we understand what another person is saying is 50 per cent body language and 50 per cent what they say. So getting your body language right is very important. Remember to make eye contact with the person you’re speaking to, and use things like hand gestures and facial expressions to help get your message across.
2) Speak slowly and speak clearly. Sometimes it can be difficult to speak slowly, especially if you’re nervous. But give it a try.
3) Record yourself speaking. You’ll probably cringe at first when you play the recording back, but it can really help you notice problems in terms of pronunciation and language use.
4) Practise speaking in front of a mirror. Your family might think you’re a bit of a loony, but don’t worry about them. What is your body language like? How could you improve it?
5) Is there someone you think speaks English very well, and who you admire? An actor/actress or a teacher, for example? Study how they speak and the body language they use. Then copy them.

Ha, I hope that helps. Remember that as long as you make yourself understood in spoken English, this is the most important thing. Even native speakers, when they speak naturally, make mistakes and go back and correct themselves. So focus on getting your listener to understand your message, rather than thinking too much about grammar.

Now, we’ve been together for two months, friends, and I think you know me well enough and I know you well enough to share a little secret with you. You see, I have a confession to make.

Before I began writing this blog two months ago, I really couldn’t see the point of blogs. Blogs contain the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ more than any other kind of writing on the web, did you know that? I though that blogs were just for self-important people who wanted to talk about themselves all the time. How boring! But, I thought I should give the blog a try to see for myself.

However, my time as teacher blogger has made me do a u-turn. Thanks to this blog, I have:
* learned all about life and culture in Pakistan and Vietnam
* made friends with people all around the world
* shared some tips on the English language
* chatted with people from all over the globe
* learned about food, travel, christenings, work and many other things from around the world.

It’s really been an education. And it’s another reminder never to judge a book by its cover.

I’ll be back on Tuesday to bid you farewell. Until then, enjoy the rest of your weekends!



protected — in this context, this means you can’t just go fishing or hunting in an area – there are certain rules you have to follow when you visit a national park.

commoners – people who don’t belong to a royal or noble family

graze – to put animals somewhere they eat grass

face to face – in person

cringe – feel embarrassed or ashamed

a loony – a mad person

a confession – a statement of truth which is difficult to make because people might be disappointed in you, or you are embarrassed

see the point of something – understand the advantages or benefits of something

self-important – describes people who like to be the centre of attention and talk about themselves

do a u-turn – go in the opposite direction

never judge a book by its cover – an idiom meaning you can’t tell the quality or characteristics of something or someone just by looking at it/them.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007


Hello everyone! The day has arrived … today is my last post as teacher blogger. :-<

I have had a ball (a great time) over the past two months and am truly sorry to say goodbye to you all.

I would like to say a big thanks to Paul Scott, for giving me the opportunity to be the teacher blogger, and to Caroline Dunton, for getting rid of all the spam so we can read each other’s comments easily and for sorting out the blogs when it all went a bit Pete Tong.

I want to say ‘Well done!’ to my two student bloggers: Naheed, who worked so hard and completed my nasty homework (even when it was my pets who set the homework), and Ha, who blogged for us even though she had lots on at work. I wish you both well in your studies, career and future life. I hope you’ll both be very happy.

Last but not least, thanks to everyone who has sent in their comments. I can honestly say I have been overwhelmed by your responses, which have made me smile, laugh, and brought a tear to my eye every now and then. I have learned a lot from you all, and it’s been such fun chatting to people from all over the world.

So I’ll now pass you on to the capable hands of Paul, who will introduce you to your next teacher blogger.

Keep learning English, and take care!


(and Richard, Scratchy, Smokey, Raffles, Panther and Socks)

With thanks to: Aaron (Beijing), Adek (Poland), Adil (India), Ahmed (Morocco), Ali (Iran), Amanda (Beijing), Amnui (Thailand), Ana (Poland), Ana Paula (who commented on every post – thanks Ana Paula!), Angelina (Poland), Anita (Slovakia), Antonio (Belgium), Benka (Serbia), Bo Hu (China), Carlo (Windsor), Carlos (Portugal), Cathy (China), chelapila santakar (India), Celio (Brazil), Claire, Clara (Romania), Darsha (India), David (Peru), David (Taiwan), Dejan (Serbia), Diego (Italy), Diema (Bulgaria), Dusan (Slovakia), Eenvy_Mee (Denmark), Elena’s cat Tishka (Russia), Enuju (South Korea), Ernesto (Arica), Etelvina (Brazil), Farz (Tehran), Filippo (Italy), Franko (Italy), Fulvio (Italy), Gaetano (Italy), Gloria (Hong Kong), Ha (Vietnam), Ha Na (France), Harry (Australia), Hassan (Dubai), Heinrich (Brazil), Hualan (Melbourne), Hyoshil (Lincoln), Jai (India), Jameel (Smakieh), James (Taiwan), Jeehye (Seoul), Jens (Germany), Jill (Beijing), Jimmy (Shanghai), Joel (Hong Kong), Jorge (Brazil), Julio (Brazil), Kailarai (Nepal), Kamila (the Czech Republic), Kamran (Iran), Katy (Iran), Kavin (China), Kirsti (France), Koorosh (Iran), Kyar Nyo (Myanmar), Lana (Italy), Lauren Lin (Liverpool/China), Leila (Finland), Lisa (Hong Kong), Mai Anh (Vietnam), Manas (India), Mani (Tehran), Maria (Bulgaria), Maria (Spain), Marianna (Slovakia), Maru (Argentina), Mauricio (Brazil), Mavis (South Africa), Meera (India), Melissa (China), Meoww (Vietnam), Michel (France), Michelle (China), Monu (India), Muhammad Asim Munir (Pakistan), Naheed (Pakistan), Nameless (Tehran), Nas (India), Nastia (Russia), Nhoc_rua (Ha Noi), Nuray and cat (Turkey), Omar (UAE), Oscar (Peru), Pary (Iran), Patrizia (Italy), Paul (India), Paulraj (India), Phu (the Netherlands), Pilar (Spain), Qinping Hu (Sweden), quynhvn (Vietnam), Rahul (UK), Rocio (Spain), Ruth (China), Salah (Libya), Sanja (Serbia), Santiago (Argentina), Sara (Saudi Arabia), Sarah (Canada), Seomon (China), Serena (Italy), Sevinc (Türkiye), Sherzod (Tajikistan), Stevieboy (China), Steve (Taiwan), Suchi (Nepal), Susan (Ho Chi Minh), Tanuja (India), Tomo (Japan), Mr. Tran Minh Bon (Vietnam), Uddhav (Nepal), Vanessa (Taiwan), Vijaykumar (India), Violante (Italy), Virginia (Hong Kong), Wendy (Taiwan), Wisarut (Thailand), Xu (China), Yojiro (Japan), and apologies to anyone I’ve missed.

Miaow (Goodbye)

From BBC Learning English:

Jo, Jo, Jo - so good I've named you three times. How our mornings will change now that you've gone. You livened us up, shown us another side to animals - who would have thought that they would enjoy teaching - and as for wasabi... well, actually I've eaten it too, the right way ;-)

So, off you go and have some holidays. Enjoy them, you deserve it!

And for everyone else - have we got a surprise for you!

You're so good we've got not one, but two teachers. Yippeeeeeee!

Starting tomorrow for a special period of 5 whole days we have our own in-house ELT teacher, recently back from Bangladesh, Catherine Chapman. Sadly, we don't have a banner for Catherine, so if you want to see her you'll have to visit the 'Meet the team' page - look at the left hand nav.

To get you all excited and ready for the second teacher, we're letting you see her banner from tomorrow (August 1st). The second teacher starts on 6th August, her name is Amy Lightfoot and she lives in India!

Welcome to both and good luck.

Now I really must go and lie down.



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