Time for the Taking of Toast and Tea

Recently, I was asked to address a group of Chinese students on the subject of all things British. In my talk, I covered subjects as diverse as education, the economy, social change and entertainment, but the most interesting set of questions came in the informal Q&A right at the end and related to the custom of drinking ‘afternoon tea’. Apparently, many students had been taught that we all stop for tea and cakes – eaten off our best porcelain – at 4.30 every afternoon.
 
 Afternoon-Tea-at-Llangoed-Hall
I hope that this little piece, which is based on an article by Devin Smith, goes some way to dispelling that myth
 
Afternoon Tea, High Tea, Cream Tea and Elevenses: Not only is tea a popular drink of choice whether it be hot or cold, day or night, but the British have designated specific pairings of tea and eats. Although every combination includes a pot of tea, the variations are derived by the accompanying cuisine. The most widely known of these variations is, without a doubt, the Afternoon Tea. Changing the fare turns this tradition into a variety of different meals from different regions of Great Britain such as High Tea, Cream Tea, and Elevenses.
 

Afternoon Tea: This quintessentially British tradition is a light meal served during the mid-afternoon hours consisting of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and cakes. Dating back to the early nineteenth century, this custom has proved it is here to stay and can be enjoyed not only in Great Britain but also in many parts of the world.

High Tea: Although often confused with Afternoon Tea, High Tea is traditionally completely different than the famous light and sweet mid-afternoon meal. High Tea gets its name from the high tables it was originally served upon to the working class at the conclusion of the long and laborious workday. This meal is more closely related to supper than Afternoon Tea, consisting of heavier, hot, and savory dishes such as meat pies or fish with sides of vegetables and breads.
 

Cream Tea: Focused only on tea and scones with clotted cream and jam, the Cream Tea is a much simpler yet no less satisfying version of Afternoon Tea. For someone like me who swoons over scones, this is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up for you. Less formal, less expensive, and faster than the three-course traditional fare of Afternoon Tea, it can be enjoyed on a more regular basis and can be found in many cafés and coffee shops throughout Great Britain.

One county, in particular, holds the Cream Tea close to its heart, believing this light meal originated within its borders. The Devonshire Tea or Devon Cream Tea hails from the county of Devon, where they prefer to split their scones into two halves, spread each half with clotted cream, and top each half with strawberry jam.

Elevenses: This late morning snack gets its name from the time it is usually enjoyed, around 11:00 a.m. It typically consists of a cup of tea accompanied by a piece of cake or a few biscuits. Serving as a mid-morning pick-me-up, this is a custom I have adopted into my workday in the form of green tea and a snack!

As you can see, tea has steeped its way into many different occasions, crossing social classes, counties, and countries. Whatever time of day you decide to take your tea and whichever fare you choose to accompany it, you can derive a sense of pride from carrying on a tradition that is sure to persist for centuries to come.

 

The Return of the Horrorists

I was going to write something about the riots which took place in Paris last week, following the victory parade by Paris Saint Germain, and how they had been caused by a group of extreme football fans and criminals who used the celebration to attack the police and loot shops in the centre of the city.

But, yesterday, as I was trying to think what to write, I heard the news about the attack on a soldier in Woolwich, in South East London. Later, I watched as one of the attackers – his hands covered with blood – raged at the cameras of passers-by in a well-heeled London accent.

Was I more shocked because this happened here in Britain, rather than in Paris? Was the perpetrator more terrifying because he wasn’t a refugee or some unnamed migrant ‘foreigner’?

My son posted a message on Facebook when this happened, entreating others to refrain from racist comments, as this attack had been professionally designed to cause the maximum of terror and unease around the world.

With their multitude of weapons and manipulation of visual impact, these attackers played on fears stimulated by years of Hollywood horror. If the ‘9/11’ attacks in New York were inspired by 1970 disaster movies, last night’s visual iconography owes more to the Hammer House of Horror, and all the zombie movies so much beloved by my daughter’s generation.

But it is time now to come out from behind the sofa. While it is tragic for the family of the victim, the killers have been caught and they will be tried in a court of law. That is how we work.

An attack like this poses many questions – about society, security and safety of our soldiers – but it also prompts us to ask whether those bystanders could have done more than just watch and take photos on their phones.

The more we become passive watchers – dominated by the impact of image – the more horrifying such a dramatic attack becomes. And, consequently, the more attractive such an atrocity becomes. Those images will have been flashed around the world, making a real tragedy into a horrifying justification for more suffering.

It is only by activity that we will be able to counter these attacks. Active engagement between communities and individuals brings people together – as fellow citizens and human beings – to say that the horror of attacks like these cannot prevail.

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Season’s Greetings

2012 Xmas Card

English in India: a strange alliance.

English in India

Recently, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an excellent documentary on the privileged status of the English language in India (1).

Unlike China, India has no single homegrown national language of government. Hindi, the official unifying national tongue, is an artificial 20th century construct and remains largely unspoken.

Consequently, English has retained a powerful position in the civil service, upper judiciary, academia, national media and corporate business.

Love/Hate Relationship

The presenter, Zareer Masani, described how India, which claims the world’s second largest English-speaking population (after the USA), has a true love/hate relationship with the language of the British Empire.

While chauvinists and Nationalists have tried to ban its use, dalits (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) have united with privileged elites to adopt English as the language of a new meritocratic India. Enrolment at vernacular national schools has declined, while private English language schools thrive.

A Strange Alliance

The increasing popularity of private English-medium schools shows a coming together of two quite different social groups, and mirrors changes taking place in the Indian economy. Now, the elite and the dispossessed are using them as a means to empower their children.

For rich and poor alike, the acquisition of good English is an important issue. It is the passport to white collar jobs, and the lack of it will hold their children back in their chosen careers.

But, the results are mixed. Predictably, the English spoken by those attending the best schools is excellent and almost indistinguishable from that of educated native speakers. However, at the Anglican schools favoured by the aspiring poor, Hindi is mixed with English to produce Hinglish a hybrid unintelligible to you and me.

Dreadful or Different

Of course, the claim of 125 million English-speakers in India is a distortion of the facts. So many speak Hinglish that a truer figure might be a fraction of that number, making India an also-ran in the English-speaking stakes.

Or does it? If we think of our huddled masses in Glasgow, Liverpool or Newcastle, perhaps we shouldn’t be too sniffy about those who speak different forms of English.  After all, who amongst us speaks perfect English? I’m not even sure if I  know what it is!

Raising the Standard

The truth is, of course, that you get what you pay for.

No matter where you are, if you want your child to have a good education, you make sure that they have highly-educated, professional teachers, who love teaching and are passionate about their pupils’ progress. And, for this to have any real impact, you must choose a school with small class sizes.

Great teachers and small classes cost money, so it is no surprise that the privileged elites opt for the excellence that comes from 1-to-1 classes with professional teachers, so that they get the greatest benefit.

Of course, this is what we offer at HELLO English. We are extremely well-qualified, professional English teachers and our reasonable rates and high success rates mean that it won’t cost you the Taj Mahal, either.
(1) Masani Z; ‘English or Hinglish – Which will India Choose?”; BBC Radio 4; 27/11/12 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20500312)

The BDSM Approach to English.

Looking through some language advertisements recently, I saw one I hadn’t been expecting: Free English Lessons! Now, I know that the world and their best friend are offering English lessons in these troublesome times, but free lessons? I had to find out more.

On further reading, it turned out that the advertiser was offering English conversation classes free to anyone who was prepared to walk up and down on his back while wearing high heels! This is certainly a novel approach to pedagogy, but not one that I would advocate for the serious student of English.

So, with so many people offering to teach English, what should a student look for when choosing where to study?

There are two types of factors to consider: those that cannot be controlled (your location, age or budget) and those where you have a real choice: the qualifications, experience and professionalism of your teachers.

For example, on the one hand, the students who come to HELLO English do so because they either live here, or were happy to come here for their course. On the other, they chose to come to us because they liked our combination of qualifications, maturity, professionalism and commitment to teaching English.

What our competitors don’t have, and what our students won’t see, perhaps, is our fantastic range of qualifications in foreign language pedagogy, including up-to-date language qualifications (CELTA 2012) and post-graduate studies in linguistics and philology.

Let’s be clear, though. You do not need to be an expert in grammatology or onomastics to speak sparkling, crisp English. But, if you want to teach students how to use such elegant expression, and to enable them to spring from stumble to fluency, then some serious qualifications in language and teaching will be needed.

On my philology course, we learned about phonetics, poetics, syntax and semantics, among other things, and I use this knowledge every day as an English teacher. But, do I really need to know the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammars in order to teach about the present continuous tense?

Well, yes, actually. If you want to be able to answer your students’ questions with more than a simple ‘…because that is what the book says…’, you need to know as much as possible about the English language. You should be so fascinated that you live and breathe intelligent insights to convey to your students.

So, students should take care to choose not just cheap teachers (cheap at what cost?) but, rather, teachers who are experienced, well qualified, professional and committed to teaching English.

Elegant English is much like a swan. A great deal of hard work has to be done before you can glide gracefully through the choppy waters of linguistic life.

If you would like to swim smoothly through your English lessons, choose someone who really knows their subject. Talk to HELLO English today about conversation classes or Cambridge exams, IELTS or A-levels.
http://www.hello-english.co.uk

Women Bishops, Noah and Christmas Pud.

Amongst the media bombardment about Middle Eastern rockets and women priests, I notice that today is traditionally the day on which Noah is held to have entered the Ark.

Given the weather we have had this year, I imagine that there are many who feel like copying him, although perhaps without the complete domestic menagerie he brought along.

It is also about now, my almanac tells me, that Stir-Up Sunday falls: the last Sunday before Advent on which the Collect begins “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of the faithful…” which was taken as a reminder to stir-up the mixture for Christmas puddings and pies, in order to allow them time to mature.

It was parodied thus:
Stir up, we beseech thee,
The pudding in the pot,
And when we do get home,
We’ll eat it piping hot.

Christmas puddings and pies should always be stirred clockwise with a wooden spoon. All present in the house should take a turn to stir in order of age: father, mother, visitors, children and babies by seniority.

Is there a connection between ‘stirring’ and women?  Certainly Johnny Nash and later Bob Marley thought so in the reggae classic ‘Stir It Up‘ – and they weren’t talking about ecclesiastical ructions within the Anglican church.

Anyway, in this house, if I want a Christmas Pudding  I shall have to make it myself, so I wish you all have a safe ark to carry you forth and that you remember to stir your pudding clockwise. (What happens if you don’t…?)

And if you don’t know how to make one, here’s a Christmas Pudding recipe, for you to try at home.

At HELLO English, we enjoy all the oddities of English traditions – whether in the English language, or in our weird and wonderful institutions, even if their arcane rules seem a little outdated from time to time. To find out more, contact us here.

Stephen Fry on Language.

Excellent Viddy. Watch, Watch, Watch!