B1 · B2 · culture

Culture quiz: How much do you know about British Christmas?

Trafalgar_Square_Christmas_tree8
Picture from Wikipedia

I say British because Christmas is celebrated almost all over the world and obviously, everybody has their way of doing this. If you’re from a country but you live in another one (like me), you will most probably blend both traditions which means that on Christmas Day you might eat a typical Majorcan soup for starters and have turkey as main dish, just to set an example. It might also mean that you have to behave extra-well if you want both, Santa and the Three Kings to call round, but it will also sound a bit awkward for relatives back in England when you tell them that you are still feasting and celebrating when they have already got back to their daily routine at the workplace and have probably been on a diet for the last fortnight (getting rid of those extra Christmas calories). Anyway, whatever you do and whatever your beliefs are, I think Christmas is a lovely moment to enjoy time with your loved ones and to reach out to those you haven’t seen for some time just to remind them how much you love and care for them. That for me is what really matters at Christmas, don’t you agree?

Here you have a Christmas quiz on some cultural aspects from British Christmas. I hope you enjoy it.

Ho, ho, ho!!!!

culture

50,000!

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This tongue-twisting post is just to say how thrilled I am! A year and a half after having set up this blog for my English classes and it has reached 50,000 visits. Of course, this hasn’t  only been my  students, but people from all around the world and all walks of life.

Many thanks for sticking around as well as a warm welcome to all the new visitors that may find something useful in the blog.

Serena

culture

Viking words

The English language is the result of many different cultures moving into the British Isles throughout history. One of them were  ‘the Danes’. At first, when this new group of people arrived, it was only for the purpose of plunder or rather, ‘to go a viking’ and this is the reason why these people were eventually called Vikings. The people from the British Isles were terrified of the violent attacks that these people from the north raged on them. However, not all the newcomers were violent and many stayed, settled down and farmed the land peacefully. They built towns, brought their own cultural aspects into the new land and of course, their language too. Here’s a very funny video from ‘Horrible Histories’ giving some examples of these Viking words that are in present-day English.

culture · Intermediate B1 listening activity

Listening Intermediate B1 :Why Countries Don’t Use Purple on Their Flags

Ever wondered why purple doesn’t appear on flags, or why there are always four strawberry flavoured yogurts in a packet of eight? I can’t explain the second question, but here’s a really interesting video that explains the reason why countries traditionally didn’t use purple on their national flags. The video is from After Skool Youtube channel. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Advanced C1 listening · culture

Listening Advanced C1: Skara Brae

Skara_Brae

So you thought you  knew all about interior design and comfort at home, right? You thought that we, modern-day humans, had invented comfortable beds, hygienic bathrooms and all those things that make our homes tasteful and cosy. Well I have some news for you, because that is what I thought until I discovered Skara Brae.
Skara Brae is a Neolithic settlement consisting of eight stone-built houses located on the coast of Mainland (the Orkney Islands). Its origin dates from 3180 BC and was occupied by families for about 600 years. The theories that explain why its inhabitants left the village are several.  Some historians say that this was caused by an abrupt climate change, while others claim that a violent storm forced the inhabitants to flee from the village leaving behind many of their belongings.  Whatever the reason was, the result was that the village remained covered with sand and earth for many centuries and was forgotten until 1850 when a severe storm hit Scotland, stripping a large tract of land off the coast and consequently, uncovering the village.
It was then when the locals discovered the settlement that was in such a good state of preservation that it has provided a wide insight into the lifestyle of the people who lived there. Thanks to this, we now know what these people ate and did for a living. We also know that they had stone-made furniture and a primitive form of toilets. These folks really knew about comfort!

Skara Brae gained Unesco World Heritage Site status and is probably older than the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. It is also known as the Scottish Pompeii and is a ‘must visit’ whenever going to Scotland. However, when visiting, have in mind that strict rules are applied to visitors as the settlement is extremely sensitive to the effects of these, which could cause irreversible damage.

The video is from Archaeosoup productions Youtube

culture · Learning English with songs

Midnight Oil ‘Beds are burning’

I was listening to this song launched in 1987 by the Australian rock band Midnight Oil, when I realised that it would be a nice way to introduce the use of present continuous with ‘when and while’  for low levels of English, along with a bit of English and Australian history to explain the meaning of the song (for higher levels). The single, which belongs to the album Diesel and Dust, hit the charts in many countries, however, few were aware that it was a  protest song in support for giving the native Australian people their lands back.

In order to understand this, we’d have to refer to the issue of colonisation, concretely, British colonisation that came into existence during the sixteenth century by the hand of Henry VII. By the time the nineteenth century had arrived, a vast list of territories had been placed under the Crown (or should I say grabbed and forced under it?). Colonisation had actually little or nothing to do with ‘helping the world to become a better place’ as Kipling’s poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’ claims. Rather than this, it was mainly a matter related to economic interests.

Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania came under British rule in 1770 when Captain Cook happened to discover the coast of Australia and claimed it for Britain, however, it must be said that the first European sightseeing of Australia had been by the Dutch.  Up to that moment, the British had been sending their prisoners to the American Colonies, but after the independence of the these, this was no longer possible. One day, some bright spark suggested sending them to Botany Bay (New Wales, Australia) and in 1788, Britain started sending boatloads of convicts to the newly acquired territories. Years later, on gaining their freedom, the British prisoners could not go back to Britain as they lacked the means to do so, and they had nothing to look forward to in their mother country, so they started settling.

As the living conditions for the British colonisers improved, word went round that Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania could offer a better life and farming opportunities to the landless surplus population of the British Isles, resulting in the immigration of thousands of British families. This not only meant important changes to the environment, but also to the lives of the native people who were gradually being forced towards unwanted areas.

It wouldn’t be too long when the white population would heavily outnumber the native people and conflicts on issues such as the distribution of land and the establishment of a common language would result in ethical and political conflicts. Soon, relocation laws were past along with others that aimed to eradicate the indigenous culture through the prohibition to speak native languages and the infamous practice of removing children from their homes to be brought up by white families (Stolen Generations).

Midnight Oil is singing against such policies and is denouncing situations such as the relocation of the Pintube, who in 1984 were forced to leave their traditional way of life. So, the song  means much, much more that a chorus to sing to while headbanging and having a couple of beers. It conveys a message related to human rights which have too easily been ignored and silenced throughout times. Beds are Burning discusses these issues through Peter Rober Garret’s extraordinary voice, who not only is a musician, but also an environmentalist, activist and politician.

You may want to see some comments left about this song on the following link.

http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/16526/

culture · Learning English with songs · Listening

Songs about Holidays

It’s almost time for holidays. Yes, school breaks up and students can relax their neurons a bit. While for others, summer means a lot of work hours and, er… tons and tons of  stress. Because if you live by the Mediterranean Sea, you must already know how crowded with tourist we can get and of course, that means that while some people can enjoy a lovely fortnight lolling on the sandy beaches getting a really nice tan and sipping up cool drinks, others fret about how they are going to cope with long shifts, look after their kids and survive until the tourist season ends. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It’s just one of those things…

Here are some songs about holidays. They were hits when they were released even though you will probably not know them and they may seem a little bit peculiar to you now in the 21st century (or at least to me, when I saw that huge red double-decker driving around France eh!!!???).

Anyway, I think the songs have pretty catchy tunes and words to them, and that you’ll enjoy at least one of them. Good practice and good holidays!

First one coming up for beginners. Scorpions 1979 hit ‘Holiday’.

scorpions

Click for listening

Second coming up for A2 and low B1. Wow! A real golden oldie from 1963. Cliff Richard and the Shadows called this one, Summer holidays and it was one of the soundtracks for a film with the same name. Children frequently sing this song at schools when they are going to break up for the summer holidays and it is also ‘one of those songs you pest your parents or friends with when driving long distances and you want to kill boredom (yeah, sort of like the Spanish song ‘En el auto de papá ‘). If after the video you find out why the driver is served sandwiches twice, you might want to share that bit of information, because I just can’t work it out.

By the way, according to laws concerning cyclist’s safety, Cliff Richard  would have got a hefty fine had he been driving like that nowadays.

Cliff_Richard

Number 3… Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ released in 1983. You can get up and dance if you feel like it ( or not if you don’t, its up to you) 😉

Madonna
B1 · culture · Intermediate B1 listening activity · Listening · vocabulary activity

British culture Pancake Day

pancake

What is Pancake Day? Well, you may not be familiar with this typical British celebration but the matter of fact is that this day, some people (me too, if I get a break I mean) stuff to the point of bursting themselves with pancakes.(ha, ha, ha!!!)

Every year this day is usually celebrated about six weeks before Easter, so it is usually between February and March. This year Pancake Day is going to be on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 (in 17 days) which is a real pity because I would have liked to set up something special with my students for this day. Anyway, what’s the origin of this celebration?

Here are two  activities that you can do as you learn what Pancake Day is all about.  The first one is a vocabulary/grammar activity and the second, is a listening activity. I hope they don’t make you hungry!!!  😉

Have a look  at this video from Youtube .