B1 · B2 · Vocabulary

Something on idioms

You could spend a lifetime learning English, but when visiting an English-speaking country, you’d be almost horrified to realise that its people seem to be blurting out whole sentences of stuff you have never heard in your life; not to mention that you don’t even know what they are talking about. So you consequently sigh to yourself and politely pretend that you’re deep in the conversation, smiling when your interlocutor smiles and frowning when you believe this is the correct face expression one should adopt at that moment. Meanwhile, you’ll surely be planning  a future visit to the bathroom where you’ll  look up those new terms on your mobile phone. It won’t be until then when you discover that what they said was something called ‘an idiom’ As if you weren’t having a hard time already with all those phrasal verbs!!!!! Then you may suddenly become suspicious of the English, wondering if they are deliberately making ‘your learning’ of ‘their language’ as complicated as possible for some strange reason you fail to grasp.

Idioms form part of everyday speech and they are extremely  productive. Meaning by this, that even if you speak the language very well, you can quickly become obsolete concerning the vast idiom repertoire if you don’t live among English-speaking people. There isn’t much we can do about it, rather than watch TV, read books or mix with British tourists.  On my behalf, I’m reading Zadie Smith’s latest novel, and yes, I have to  consult the meaning of many of the expressions I come across (fortunately, I have an e-book, so this isn’t such a tedious job). But even Zadie Smith’s narrator acknowledges that having been away from Britain for a certain amount of time, means that she no longer can keep up with the amount of idioms that are being constantly fired at her by Londoners.

Anyway, idioms are fun, and somehow say a lot about the British mentality. However, they usually belong to a colloquial register and will seldom appear in a piece of writing such as an essay  so, just to keep on the safe side, careful using them in formal writing.

There are idioms about almost everything, some of them are quite old and others are of recent usage, but what’s really interesting about them is that they don’t have to rely on an official organism, to become part of everyday speech. Fancy learning some just for a laugh and a cultural note?

To begin with, today we’re going to see a couple of food idioms and you’ll be surprised to find out that the meaning of them, doesn’t have much to do with food.

It’s not my cup of tea


Meaning that we are not really interested in  something or somebody.

‘I suppose Jane’s new boyfriend is nice, but he’s not really my cup of tea.’

‘As a writer, he’s really not my cup of tea’

To spill the beans

If somebody spills the beans, they have told somebody a secret or something that should have been kept private.

‘Trust Maria to spill the beans about Jane’s surprise party!’

Not a sausage


If somebody says that there wasn’t a sausage somewhere, they mean there was nothing or nobody there.

‘A- Did you go to that new restaurant across the road last night?’

‘B- Yes, but there wasn’t a sausage and so we had to leave early.’

The best thing since sliced bread


Means that you think something is very good and interesting

‘I think electric cars are the best thing since sliced bread.’


To know which side your bread is buttered


Meaning that you know how to get an advantage for yourself.

‘John always stays at work until late. He knows which side of his bread is buttered.’



A2 · B1 · B2 · culture · songs

Midnight Oil ‘Beds are burning’

I was listening to this song launched in 1987 by the Australian rock band, Midnight Oil and then realised that it would be a nice way to introduce the use of present continuous with ‘when and while’  for low levels of English and 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 of 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 (Henry VII), but 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?). 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 imperialism in 1770 when Captain Cook happened to discover the coast of Australia and claimed it for Britain (the first European sightseeing of Australia was by the Dutch).  Up to that moment, the British had been sending their prisoners to the American Colonies but after the independence of the colonies, 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. Years later when these prisoners were released, they obviously couldn’t go back to Britain so they started settling and pushing the Aborigines off their lands.  During this time, settlements were established and, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, would become the home to thousands of British families in search of  farming opportunities and a better life. This meant important changes to the environment but also to the lives of the native people who were being gradually pushed towards unwanted areas.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,  policies forced and relocated groups of native people to different areas while laws were passed to eradicate the indigenous culture. That is,  people were not allowed to speak their native languages and children were taken from their parents 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 when dancing or having a couple of beers. It conveys a message related human rights which have been easily ignored throughout times and  have been put forward here through the voice of Peter Robert Garrett 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.



B1 · Listening

Strange Tudor Laws

It’s time for a laugh and a little history. This listening activity deals with the times of Elizabeth I who was Henry VIII’s second daughter and who reigned after her elder sister, Mary I, and her very young brother Edward VI (who ascended to the throne at the age of nine). Am I boring you? Yes I think so…

Anyway, during the 16th century, Elizabeth was queen and nobody’s fool. Her sister, Mary had had her locked up for many years in a tower so, by the time she reached the throne she knew very well how dangerous the Tudor times were. There were lots of laws and rules to follow concerning, religion, trade and security because European countries in those times were always at war and plotting against kings and queens, for some reason or another. This  video from Horrible Histories deals with some of these laws in a hilarious way.I hope you enjoy it!

Click to activity

B1 · B2 · culture · Listening

The Mistletoe Bride


I’ve always thought that knowing the culture of the country of a language we are learning, will help us improve our linguistic skills, as well as adding interest to something that is sort of becoming compulsory, such as learning a language or two (or three if you like).

Well, here’s the first part of this project I’m into now, which is basically, telling very old stories related to the culture of the British Isles. This is the first one, and hopefully, won’t be the last although, it has quite a few things that need to be improved like background sounds of lorries driving past my window, a cat miaowing  and a creaky chair. I really apologise for this, but hope you enjoy the story anyway.


B1 · culture · Grammar activity · Listening

British culture Pancake Day


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 .

Click to vocabulary activity

Click to listening activity


Listening · songs

Henry VIII and his six wives

Divorced, beheaded and died. Divorced, beheaded and survived…

Henry VIII is one of the most famous kings in English history. He was most famous for his six wives and for having caused a breach with the Church of Rome.

This is a famous song about his six wives that talks about what happened to each one of them. The song is quite humorous even though, I agree on the fact that none of Henry’s six wives may have found the song particularly amusing.

Here’s a link to the song by Horrible Histories and if you are interested in learning some British history, I have also included a link from the BBC website.

Click for song

Click for history