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Session 4

Emma knows where she wants to have her holiday - and she's writing a postcard to tell everyone. But which articles will she use?

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    Activity 4

St Petersburg

The BBC World Service made a series of My City guides. Let's see one now as we head off to St Petersburg in Russia. Listen to what our guide says, because there'll be something for you to do afterwards. Check out the vocabulary list for help with new words.

Watch the video

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St Petersburg, just three hundred years old but with a history as rich as any ancient city in the world. St Petersburg is my city. A city of great culture - a city of great conflict. A city looking out to the future - a city rooted in the past. St Petersburg has had three different names in the past century, and it is still searching for its real identity.

People here have always enjoyed looking at their city from a different perspective. Some, by taking to the rooftops and viewing the beauty and sometimes the ugliness of the urban panorama.

Mikhail Markevich, local historian
People go up on the roofs because the city can be dominating and unfriendly, it's a chance to conquer the city. You are on top and the city is at your feet. Also, from the rooftops you can survey the beauty and sometimes the ugliness of the city: chimneys, stone walls and sunsets can be a stunning picture, an internal vision.

Today for many young people climbing on the roofs is an adventure. It is an act of defiance and an assertion of independence. It's also a new way of meeting friends.

The heritage of St Petersburg is central to the city's identity.

This is the old tram depot of Vasiliyevsky Island - now a museum housing some of the old vehicles that threaded the streets of the city for more than a century. In 1941 when the city - then Leningrad - was blockaded by Nazi Germany, transport came to a standstill. But within a few months the trams started to run again despite the devastating bombing. Seeing them back on the streets gave people hope of liberation.

Kyrill Nyqvist, Electric Transport Museum director
For many generations trams in St Petersburg and Leningrad had a very special meaning for people. Many had romantic assignations on the trams: they would arrange to meet at a certain tramstop or would go to a park by a certain route. At one time, trams ran through the whole of the city... wherever you travelled, it would be by tram.

Peering into history - the naval strength of the Russian Empire was forged behind these walls, on the island of New Holland.

It was only at the beginning of this century that New Holland was handed over to the St Petersburg authorities and a mysterious and secretive naval base began a new life - open to everyone - as a huge complex for the arts.

Polina Fradkina, musician
When I was a little girl I studied near here, every morning I would walk past it and it was always so attractive and mysterious, it was like a fairy castle, I always wondered what was inside and now I can see a lot of children, happy people, just, normal life going on.

Freedom and rebellion. Memory and hope. Concepts and symbols deeply entrenched in St Petersburg. And its continual search for identity is what ensures the vibrant and imaginative spirit of My City.

To do

Now let's do a comprehension task and see how much you understood.

City guide

9 Questions

What did we learn about St Petersburg? Decide if these sentences are right or wrong and drag them into the correct box.

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

City guide

9 Questions

What did we learn about St Petersburg? Decide if these sentences are right or wrong and drag them into the correct box.

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y


It's your turn to visit St Petersburg and send a postcard home!

Session Grammar

  • Articles: a, an, the, and (-) 'zero article'

    a or an means one person or thing. We use a or an:

    1) before singular nouns: We had a great day and we saw an elephant.

    2) before the name of a job: My sister wants to be an engineer.

    Use a before consonant sounds: a chair, a horse, a laptop. But use an before the letters a, e, i, o, u (except when u is pronounced /j/) an elephant, an uncle; and the letter h when the h is not pronounced: an hour

    We use the:

    1) Before singular nouns that we have already mentioned with a/an: I saw an elephant. The elephant's name was Sambo.

    2) Before singular, plural or uncountable nouns when it is clear which person or thing we mean: Put the money on the table.

    3) Before singular nouns when there is only one of the noun: The sun is hot today.

    4) With countries with plural names or the words 'Republic' or 'Kingdom' in the name: The Maldives, The United Arab Emirates.

    5) Before the names of rivers, seas, oceans and mountain ranges: The Mississippi, The Red Sea, The Andes.

    6) With superlatives: You're the best dad in the world!

    7) With many expressions with 'of': In the middle of the night.

    We use zero article (-):

    1) Before nouns that refer to things in general: I like (-) elephants.

    2) Before the names of most countries, cities and continents: Saudi Arabia, Warsaw and Europe.

    3) Before names of single mountains and lakes: Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Titicaca.

Session Vocabulary

  • rooted
    based on or influenced by

    viewpoint or particular opinion

    take control of (often by using force)

    claim or statement

    terrible; causing a lot of damage

    freedom from control

    (here) created

    (here) group of buildings that have a shared purpose

    (values, views or feelings) held for a long time and difficult to change

    lively and exciting