Tag Archives: Heart of England

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Season’s Greetings

2012 Xmas Card

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– whether in the English language, or in our weird and wonderful institutions, even if their arcane rules seem a little outdated from time to time.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.

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.

God save the Queen’s English

God save the Queen’s English.

via God save the Queen’s English.

Getting it Write.

Getting it Write: Six tips for better English essays

No matter what level of student you are – from beginner through to doctoral candidate – there will come a time when you have to sit down and write. No more scruffy note-taking and no more background reading: the time is now and your seat is waiting at the desk.

So, what is it that stops you from starting? Why do you dither, prevaricate, procrastinate?

Could it be that you make mistakes that others see when you can’t? How do you feel about English grammar? Does writing give you the jitters, collywobbles and screaming abdabs?

Well, here are six simple tips for how to control your fears, reduce uncertainty and get better marks in English written tasks.

Did I mention the evil word ‘grammar’? It is guaranteed to strike fear into the students across the continents. My EFL students assume (wrongly) that they are the only ones who need to be concerned about grammar. Everyone should be. Without it, meaning runs amok.

We need grammar, punctuation and syntax (word order to you and me), to make those funny squiggly things sit in the right sequence and mean what we want them to mean. For that is what it is all about, in the end: controlling meaning. If you don’t master meaning it will govern you … and ruin your writing.

So my six simple tips will put you in control. Believe me, they correct the mistakes that most irritate examiners, so they are really worth knowing.

  1. Spell it Write
    No Good at Spelling? Tough. There is no excuse. You MUST spell correctly.
    Lots of English people are absolutely dreadful at spelling and refuse to improve their language skills because it is ‘too much effort’. They should see how hard my EFL students work.
    You can beef up your spelling by working at it, too. Use cue cards and vocabulary-builder exercises. Memorise pronunciation and spelling patterns. Get friends to give you spelling tests or dictation exercises.
    Hard work pays off with spelling. (Spellchecker on the computer doesn’t.)
    Read more, read differently, and look up words you don’t know. You will expand your vocabulary, increase your spelling accuracy and learn a host of useful new words.
  2. Join the Dots
    Learn the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the dots: the simple rules of punctuation.
    Capitals start a sentence and proper nouns. Full stops end a sentence or abbreviations. Use a question mark after a question and an exclamation mark after something really exciting, shocking or unusual. Commas break up the parts of a sentence, or separate examples or items on a list. Apostrophes show omission or possession: don’t use them for simple plurals.
    If you can follow these simple rules, you will avoid the main mistakes of punctuation, make your teacher more optimistic and examiners better disposed to give you good marks.
  3. To ing or not to ing
    A frequent mistake in student writing is the use of a gerund (walking) instead of an infinitive (to walk). For example, ‘I want walking’ rather than ‘I want to walk’.
    The rule is that we use the infinitive after emotional verbs (I was happy to help) and adjectives (It is too cold to swim), and the gerund for the subject of the sentence (Swimming is good exercise) or after a preposition (without saying a word).
    You’ll need to check your grammar book, but it is worth sorting this out now.
  4. Right that Article
    If I had a Zimbabwean penny for each time I have had to correct errors with the use of articles (or ‘adjectival articles’ as some call them), I would be able to retire comfortably on the proceeds. You need to remember that there are four uses of article: Definite (the), indefinite (a/an) and the zero article, where no article is used. Learning how and when to use each of these forms is key to writing well in English.
  5. Repetition
    This is really a matter of style and vocabulary. There are upwards of 600,000 words in English, so it is considered bad manners to keep on repeating the same word, whether in writing or conversation. With so many words to choose from, there will be a variety of nouns and pronouns you can use to avoid repetition.
  6. Are You In Tense?
    The last of our keys to quality in written English is maintaining consistency in the person and tense you use. It is too easy to slip-slide around in time and number: starting your writing as I/me in the simple past tense, but then talking about he/him, in the present continuous. You must stay in the same person and tense.
    If you are unsure of moving forward and backwards in your writing, stick with one tense per sentence and use simple grammatical constructions. Once you are more confident with working solely in the simple past, say, move on to using other tenses separately. Only when you can do that properly should you start combining tenses in more sophisticated sentence structures.

Of course, this is just a glimpse of what to watch out for in your own or your students’ writing. For a fuller picture, and for a thoroughly expert grounding in English, you should come to HELLO English – our independent language school based in Moseley, in the English Midlands.

At HELLO English (www.hello-english.com), we have classes and worksheets aplenty on all these failings. Among the range of courses we offer, we can help you with your academic writing and written English, and you can choose from our General English (GEC), Pre University Package (PUP) or various A-level, Cambridge and IELTS programmes.

Why not contact us today for more information?

You’ve got mail…

HELLO! had emails from two of our former homestay students this week.

They say that the improvement in their spoken and written English is holding-up, several weeks after their 1-to-1 courses here.

In the case of the younger of our correspondents, their schoolwork in this subject is so much better that their teacher has remarked on the improvement.

Nice to know that we did not labour in vain!!

Reflection boosts Recovery

Moggy at the MAC

We are in recovery phase at HELLO!

After the departure of our excellent student from Montelimar – we have had a little down-time, so that we can plan and develop for future homestay guests and the next phase of our work at HELLO!.

Obviously, the pleasure of seeing a student’s English improve on a daily basis is really rewarding but, because we teach on a 1:1 basis, it is more draining than working in traditional classroom mode, where students are self-managing, to a certain extent.

At times like these, I am always reminded of Dory Previn’s line: ‘You’ve got no grace if you’ve got no space to be alone.’ You need a little time to re-charge your batteries, to review and re-think after a period of professional engagement – whatever form that may take.

Without this, we become stale and predictable and forget our qualitative reasons for doing what we do.

Certainly, at HELLO!, we find that, because we are fascinated by the English language and enjoy the company of our students, this mixture of enthusiasm and expertise gets through to our students, who rate us very highly in end of course reviews.

This may seem like a mutual love-in, but after years of presenting bad news to failing clients, it is delightful to be able to see improvement and satisfaction grow before your very eyes.

So, quality over quantity every time – it may not make us rich, but it keeps us  and our guests happy, and that is what really matters!!