Tag Archives: English language

Remember, Remember…

Gunpowder-plot

At this time of year, our English students often ask about the story of Guy Fawkes. Why do we remember this failed attempt to blow-up a king?

When Guy Fawkes planned the Gunpowder Plot more than 400 years ago, he could hardly have imagined his treasonous actions would be remembered for so long afterwards and inspire so many books, poems, short stories and songs.

Yet the man who was part of a group – led by Robert Catesby – that tried to kill the king of England in 1605 has been the inspiration for many millions of words – to which we add these few.

Most people born and raised in Britain know the story of the Gunpowder Plot, which was an attempt by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to kill King James I, when he opened the Parliament at Westminster.

Fawkes and his group cooked up a secret plot to assassinate King James. England was a protestant country and Fawkes and his fellow band of men wanted to have a Catholic king or queen on the throne.

Fawkes planned to blow up Parliament while the king was there. But the king’s guards were tipped off and on November 5, 1605 they searched Westminster Palace and found Fawkes guarding a pile of gunpowder. He was arrested and sentenced to death.

The fact that King James survived was cause for great celebration!  People took to the streets to have a party. The country soon followed in the celebration and a party-like spirit spread across England. Everyone gave thanks that God had saved King James’s life.

The king did not want any more attempts on his life. His ministers made sure people did not forget Guy Fawkes, and November 5 became known as Guy Fawkes Night. It continues today as an evening of celebration, with food, drink, songs and stories. Effigies of Guy Fawkes are even burned on a bonfire.

And it continues in our literature because the drama and intrigue of the Gunpowder Plot have appealed to writers across the centuries. The story has been captured in various ways.

The most famous poem, sometimes classed as a nursery rhyme, is “Remember Remember”.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
In Britain, most children will learn this ditty  in infancy, but there are longer versions: the longest being kept in the Tower of London archive.

There are Guy Fawkes related  songs, and many of these are period ballads with a decidedly sinister feel to them, including the “Devil and the Washerwoman”, but there is also a more recent “Ballad of Guy Fawkes” by the band Green on Red, which links these seventeenth century events to recent political dissatisfaction.

The most successful substantive account of the Gunpowder Plot has been that written by the renowned historian Antonia Fraser. Her book “The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1996) unravels the tangled web of religion and politics that spawned the plot.

The Gunpowder Plot captures children’s imaginations too. There are many  books for younger readers about Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. Two of the most popular are “The Gunpowder Plot”, by Liz Gogerly, and “Guy Fawkes” by Harriet Caster. Indeed, in towns and cities across the UK, children may still ask strangers to spare ‘A Penny for the Guy, Mister?’, although it is likely to mean a lot more than a penny these days.

Guy Fawkes even shaped our language.  In the 19th century the word “guy” was used to describe an effigy or a strangely dressed person. In American English use of the term evolved and it came to mean any male person.

Today, some people say Guy Fawkes Night is overshadowed by Hallowe’en, and the advent of ‘Trick or Treat’ – an American import, described by one Guardian journalist as ‘the Japanese knotweed of autumn festivals’.

So, whether you see Guy Fawkes as ‘The only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions’, or as a treacherous traitor, who deserved all he got, it seems we do ‘Remember,  Remember’ pretty successfully, so it is unlikely that ‘Gunpowder, Treason and Plot should Ever Be Forgot!’

At HELLO English, we love explaining the old customs and traditions of England, and we even enjoy exploring those of our near neighbours in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

If you want to find out more, please look at the HELLO English website on http://www.hello-english.com, or email us at contact@hello-english.co.uk.

Unleash your inner Viking.

Get to know a friendly Viking!

Danish Delights

Although I spend my working days teaching the delights of English, I often find myself referring to Danish in order to explain the quirks of the English language.

At school, I learnt Latin and French; at university, Old and Middle English. Along the way, to a greater or lesser extent, I have picked-up bits of Hindi, Hebrew, Danish, Swedish, Spanish and Italian. So, why is Danish – my Viking touchstone – so important?

Well, I think that Danish should be taught in England as a mandatory foreign language not just for historical and etymological reasons, but because it is so useful, and simple.

Simplicity

Unlike most languages we learn, Danish doesn’t have a difficult grammatical structure, there are no case-endings or weird irregularities, and many of the words are pretty familiar to a native English speaker. Almost all our vocabulary for the home, the family, farming or fishing, for example, has Danish roots and most are actually the same word, albeit pronounced slightly differently.

Which brings us to the one slightly difficult bit of this proposition: the pronunciation of Danish.

Danes will themselves admit that Danish is not so much a language as a throat sickness. For those of us raised on and accustomed to English, the articulation of Danish – which is further back in the throat – can sound a little akin to gargling.

This is often highlighted by the danes themselves, when they invite visitors to pronounce the name of a delicious redcurrant dessert, served with cream ‘Rødgrød med fløde‘, which is, of course, nearly unpronounceable for ordinary mortals.

Once this skill is mastered, however, the language is simple, clear and a delight to use.

Useful

Now, let’s be honest, there is no answer known to man that will persuade a truculent teenager of the utility of learning another language, but for calmer heads, the human and financial advantages are clear.

So, at a time when they might be learning Chinese, Arabic or Russian (1.6 billion speakers worldwide), why am I suggesting that we should encourage our children to learn Danish (estimated speakers 6 million)?

We will not gain a vast Viking export market, that’s certain. But, do we only learn languages in order to boost foreign trade?  Surely not? One of the most important roles for language learning is to enhance friendship  between nations and for us to expand our capacity to think and imagine in ways that are not possible within the confines of our own language. This is something we need to do.

We have so much to learn from the humanitarian and democratic societies that lies across the North Sea. Whether we are talking about Denmark, Norway or Sweden, these are countries that have been wise about their economies when we have been merely greedy, and have invested sensibly for their futures in their people and their skills. Shouldn’t we be learning more from them?

Apart from French, which is unsuccessfully drummed into most of us from an early age, Denmark is not only geographically close to us, it is our nearest linguistic neighbour. But French is – like English – a confoundedly complex and irregular language to learn.

As Britons, we have been dreadful at teaching foreign languages. So bad, in fact, that we have the worst record among the developed world, even when we have tried to teach children European languages which use the same alphabet, like French, German and Spanish.

How do we think we will do when we try to introduce the xenophobic and lazy linguists in our schools to Mandarin, Russian and Arabic?

Quite.

Viking for Progress

There is another way. By learning Danish as a first foreign language, British school children could choose to learn the more complex languages of our other neighbours having already succeeded in speaking a recognised European tongue.

The acquisition of Danish as a progressor language would give our students increased confidence, creativity and international employability.

Most importantly, improved linguistic confidence, nationally, would encourage the learning of other more complex languages, such as Dutch, French, Italian or German. After all, it is much easier to learn third and fourth languages once you have confidence in a language other than your own.

If we want to encourage language learning and be seen as a country that actually bothers about the rest of the world, perhaps we ought to start by teaching languages that our students will actually use and enjoy.

After all, within us all, there is a Viking waiting to come out!

 

HELLO English will be very happy to help you or any others who may be interested to discover their inner Viking. Others may find our excellent English teaching and successful courses to their advantage. Please do not hesitate to contact us through this blog or through the http://www.hello-english.com website.

Jump Aboard!

Jump Aboard: The financial benefits of investing in You as the economy picks up.

What are better language skills worth to you? Will investing in English classes transform your bank account?

Looking at the latest issue of The Economist, I am struck by the powerful case made in their leader article for nurturing the recovery in the UK economy through considered investment.

Apparently, all of us – governments, companies and individuals – need to start spending sensibly again. But, while the Cabinet tries to decide how to invest for growth, how do we make similar strategic decisions?

Famously, you get ‘owt for nowt’* in this life so, if we want to progress, we will need to invest in our own careers. This is as true for me at 54 as it is for my kids at university, and learning new languages is money well spent.

How does that work for me? Well, I go to French classes each week, which helps me think about how I use language. Also, my extra linguistic ability allows me to see things differently and increases my confidence in communicating, both in French and my other languages.

But the best option for the non-native English speaker is going to be improving their English. That is simply the best strategic investment anyone can make in language-learning.

There is a direct link between the quality of your English and your earning power. Those who communicate well tend to do well. They are always able to put their point of view across in an interesting and persuasive way. In almost every situation, they have the advantage because they know how to express themselves clearly.

This confidence is translated into more formal situations, too. Whether it is in closing sales, winning contracts or gaining promotion, good English will be worth money in your pocket every step of the way.

But don’t just take my word for it. Research into the financial benefits of learning English (Pinon & Haydon 2010), conducted on behalf of the British Council, found that employees with advanced skills in English were promoted faster, enjoyed more international business trips, had greater training opportunities and were more likely to gain economic benefits for themselves and their families. This was true even in countries where English was not an official language.

Interestingly, in spite of these findings, they found that objective reality was not the determining factor. It was the perception that good English was necessary for career advancement that drove recruitment as individuals believed ‘…that they will benefit from higher salaries if they speak the language.’

So, what is better English worth to you?

When you are considering whether to invest in a HELLO English course, one question you may like to ask yourself is: how much – in cash terms – is better English worth to you? The fact is you will only need to increase your annual income by a very small result to pay for the course.

Almost all our students confirm that they have reaped financial benefits worth many, many times more than the cost of tuition. This is why we describe the course as being ‘value for money’.

A first class vocabulary, the ability to write well, improved conversation skills, accurate reading and reliable spelling…these are benefits you’ll enjoy as a result of studying at HELLO English. Benefits that will translate into a higher income for you.

Your investment of time and money at HELLO English will increase your income. That is our experience and also what research tells us.

So, base your investment decision on good sense. Invest for your future in excellent English, taught by experts. It will boost your earning power… and kickstart your economic recovery.

Sources

Leader Article (2012); ‘Heading Out of the Storm’; The Economist, 29th September 2012.

Pinon R & Haydon J (2010); The Benefits of English Language Learning for Individuals and Societies: Quantitative Indicators for Cameroon, Nigeria, Rwanda, Bangladesh & Pakistan; Report compiled by Euromonitor for The British Council.

*Originally a Yorkshire homily:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Do it fer thissen.[5]

Translation: ‘Hear all, see all, say nothing; Eat all, drink all, pay nothing; And if ever you do anything for nothing – Do it for yourself.

God save the Queen’s English

God save the Queen’s English.

via God save the Queen’s English.

“Be a bloody train driver!”

Many years ago, when the world was young, my anarcho-feminist sister had Jacky Fleming’s 1991 cartoon collection “Be a bloody train driver” perched on her lavatory windowsill.

On the front cover, Minnie the Minx finishes: “- I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

The gender stereotypes on which this is based  are a bit hackneyed these days, but they are still valid. Women are pretty rare in both train driving and brain surgery, and there is a range of professions and vocations to which more young women should aspire and gain entry.

However, I don’t think that in either of these jobs we would want applicants to be appointed on the basis of gender alone. I certainly don’t want to have my safety, on the operating table or elsewhere, left to a woman just because she is female rather than an expert and excellent surgeon.

So why is this of interest to linguists and teachers of English?

Well, increasingly these days, I interview  prospective IELTS students who complain about the standard of English required to practise as a medical doctor in the United Kingdom*. It is, they say, discriminatory.

I agree. It differentiates among those people who aspire to be senior professionals in highly-remunerated positions making life and death decisions about their fellow citizens. Some of them think that having the ability to speak good English is a legitimate requirement, and are ready to work hard to achieve that goal.

It is not unrealistic, I think, for those who aspire to practise in the professions to be able to converse and communicate on equal terms with other educated and highly skilled professional people in this country.

It is worth it, after all. In the UK, a salaried GP can expect to earn between £53,781- £81,158, while GP partners and hospital consultants can earn anywhere between £100,000 and £200,000.

Given these salaries, perhaps the effort to learn how to speak, write, read and comprehend English at a very good level is justified. After all, a train driver, at the pinnacle of his career, could not earn more than £51,000. Somewhat less, even after a lifetime of service, than our fresh-faced GPs will earn at the beginning of theirs.

So, if you don’t like the British Medical Council’s English requirements, there is always an alternative.

“Be a bloody train driver!”

* PLAB: Band 7 scores across all elements at one sitting. Foundation: Band 7.5 in all four in one go.

(With apologies to any train drivers who may take exception to this. No disregard for your skills and responsibilities is in any way intended.)

Taking Risks with the Truth

With the publication this week of the Hillsborough report, Britain has returned from a summer of sporting success – Tour de France, Olympics, Paralympics, US Tennis Open – to our most recent default setting: disgust at dishonesty among public servants.

Criminality, corruption, coercion and cover-ups… We probably aren’t too surprised at this sort of behaviour from politicians and journalists, but we used to expect better from policemen.

Disregard for honesty.

At heart, our dismay is at an increasingly widespread disregard for truth. Yesterday, our politicians queued-up to apologise for lying to bereaved families about the death of their children. Yet, we are left wondering how we can restore a regard for honesty among young people, so that such acts of deceit are avoided in future.

The portents are not good. As you consider this succession of scandals – vote-rigging in Birmingham, politicians fiddling expenses, match-fixing in cricket, phone-hacking, LIBOR-fixing, Hillsborough – spare a thought for those working in our schools and universities.

Local difficulties.

I run an English school for overseas students. We are good at what we do and enjoy seeing our graduates succeed. With our growing reputation for success, we have become conscious that some other schools are less honest in their admissions procedure (see London Met). So, we check our students carefully on enrolment, and we have learned to steer well clear of anything to do with visa applications, or the UK Border Agency!

In our area of work, there are people offering visa fixes for unscrupulous students, and income to unscrupulous schools. There are agents who offer you  an endless stream of international students, usually for a 30% share of your fees. As with every other dodgy deal, the rule is “Just say no!”

My problems are irritating but minor. They are run-of-the-mill stuff: fee payments delayed, bookings fudged and courses cancelled at short notice. Small beer, when all’s said and done, and as nothing when compared to the problems facing teachers and lecturers in our colleges and universities, these days.

A little help from your friends?

With the advent of modular coursework, it has become increasingly easy for students to get help with essays and assessed assignments which, because they are completed at home, can be improved with help from parents or friends… Or teachers, as we saw in the much-publicised case of Prince Harry’s 2005 A-level artwork.

From this it is a short step to buying-in help. The internet is awash with agencies who, for as little as £7.95 per page, will offer to write your essays for you. “Best Quality Academic Writing by Experts” they promise, and students are increasingly happy to stump-up the £150+ to cheat their way to success.

Writing last year, Audrey Watters noted that ‘… that cheating is at an all time high — or at least, students’ willingness to admit they’ve cheated. Some 75% of college students admit that they’ve cheated at one point or another during their academic careers. That’s up from 20% of students back in the 1940s.’

But this is what’s happening in the US, so it doesn’t concern us. Or, does it? Here,  in the UK, we tell our children that marks matter, don’t we? Increasingly, our teachers are being graded, paid and promoted on the basis of how well their students perform in standardised tests. Guess what they tell them, as well?

There is a conflict here, isn’t there? We want our schools to do well so that our children can do well, but should that success be predicated on a disregard for honesty and truth?

Academic dishonesty.

We need to answer this question because students, teachers and university administrators are cheating as never before. The Daily Telegraph‘s David Barrett reported in 2011 on a survey of academic malpractice in 80 British universities. In the 70 universities providing comparable data, there had been a 53% jump in reported incidents over the four years to 2010. Maybe staff are getting better at spotting plagiarism, but there is assuredly a great deal that isn’t spotted.

Our liberal university culture was built upon the personal relationship with supervisors that came from the tutorial system. It was quite easy to spot where a piece of work was not the fruit of your student’s intellectual efforts. You knew their voice – spoken or written – and could tell when something came from another hand than theirs.

This is no longer the case. Universities have been forced to change too quickly and, adopting the worst practices of US higher education, have replaced inter-personal trust with regulation and technology.

Into this arena have come a new breed of student with a ‘Nice guys don’t win’ philosophy which says that the end justifies the means. Ultimately, they would argue, if marks matter, then you buy your marks. Job done.

But, here’s a thing: if you are found out, the chances are you won’t be punished. In the 2011 study of British universities, out of 17,000 reported cases of cheating, less than 1% of students were sent-down.

What price honesty?

University administrators are complicit in this mess because they are desperate for income from overseas students, often with little regard for the legality of their enrolment. They won’t enforce a strict code of standards because they have no wish to lose the fees that come with each student place. And truth is again the victim.

All this is about to get a whole lot worse. Now that university fees for home students have tripled,  paying £27,000+ for a bargain basement service will no longer be acceptable. With a commercial relationship in place, we will see failing students suing universities for not providing tuition that guaranteed graduation.

This is already the case at some faculties and cases never come to court. Can universities afford to defend a slew of such actions from disgruntled students? Of course they can’t. Students will know this and accept their re-marked degrees with a suitable sneer.

What price honest, trustworthy, incorruptible public servants then?

Finding the right course…

The west end of King's College Chapel seen fro...

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

English Courses in England – What is Available?
As can be expected the UK has more English language courses than anywhere in the world. No matter what you level there is a course for you.

The selection ranges from beginners through to advanced, business and academic or vocational use.

Most English language courses in the UK do not have academic entry requirements, so there really is nothing to stop you from studying English in the UK.

So exactly what English language courses are available?

General English Courses: These courses are available at all levels and are aimed at improving general day-to-day English. You will work on grammar, vocabulary and colloquial English, focusing primarily on speaking, pronunciation and listening allowing you to achieve greater English fluency.
See http://www.hello-english.com for more details

English for Academic Purposes: These courses are designed for students who are enrolled on university courses in the UK. They help students develop the language skills necessary to take notes, write essays, and understand academic journals. Some courses will also help students develop subject-specific vocabulary.
Check http://www.english4professionals.co.uk/e4education/ for academic English.

Study Support: These courses are designed to help students who are currently studying in the UK who have solid English language skills but require a few hours a week guidance to improve their study skills.
Contact Neil on contact@hello-english.co.uk for study and research support.

Business English: These courses are aimed at students who want to develop their English skills for a specific industry, such as business, economics, finance, tourism or law. They enable students to communicate effectively and operate professionally within these sectors by developing vocabulary, report writing and delivering presentations.
See http://www.english4professionals.co.uk/e4business/ for more details of business-focused courses.

English Exam Preparation Courses: These can be residential or non-residential. They can be short, high-intensity ‘cramming’ courses or longer with only one or two hours per week. Either way, they will help you to prepare for IELTS, A-levels resist, IGCSE, Cambridge First, Advanced or Proficiency exams.
For  information on exam preparation courses,  contact info@hello-english.com

Summer Courses: There are several summer courses during the longer summer and Easter breaks that allow students the fantastic opportunity of studying and learning English while also enjoying a holiday. These summer courses really complement students’ English language development and also help students to develop social skills through activities such as sport and sightseeing. For more information about HELLO Homestay English courses, contact Pauline via contact@hello-english.co.uk