Language Articles

The English language.

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Another Way of Doing Things

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by Margaret Watson

I have several collections of slang – in English and in French. Even as a native speaker, I find things in the English collection that are new to me – mainly because I speak northern British English and am of a 'certain' age. After all people in other parts of the country and in a different age group say things in a different way. A Cornishman will use very different English to someone from The Orkneys. But this applies too to Australian English, Indian English and all the rest. And when it comes to French slang it is a whole new ocean in which I have as yet only dipped a toe or two.

North, East, West, South, – Where are People Getting Their NEWS?

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by Mike Ugulini

Personally, I find nothing more enjoyable, after a hard day's work, then to sit down with a newspaper. The feel of real paper in my hands and the sound of pages turning, soothes me quickly. But of course, the words jumping off the page, espousing information, ideas, and viewpoints are what I'm really after.  And the newspaper always delivers. I continue to seek out an assortment of them, so that I can devour them. I love holding a treasure-trove of words in my hands. I love tearing out pages that intrigue me, to store them in old files or folders for later use in my writing. I just love newspapers!

The Most Common Errors in Essay Writing

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by Gene Grzywacz - Edited by Lynne Hand

While writing comes naturally for some people most everyone else has to make a conscious and concentrated effort to get the appropriate words on paper. It is not only the words, but also the formatting, spelling and grammatical errors that often plague the common student’s essay. There are a number of reasons for this; however it can be easily corrected with a little bit of time and effort. After all this essay could mean not receiving the acceptance letter desired or a failing grade. It is important to ensure that anything from a letter to a full blown research paper is correct and reads well because it is a direct reflection on yourself. This article will cover the common errors of essay writing and a few tips to help alleviate those issues.

The Radio

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by Margaret Watson

When I lived in Pakistan the one thing I probably missed was not baked beans – though I did dream about them a few times. Not even chocolate – it is possible to survive without chocolate – or my family – we exchanged letters more regularly than when I lived in London. The one thing I did miss was radio.

Features That Distinguish Different 'Englishes' and How Easy it is to Identify Varieties

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The English language has sprung many varieties in the form of accents, dialects, pidgins and Creoles. Each accent or dialect is distinct in its own right, yet when compared with other accents or dialects there are obvious similarities; the same is true of pidgins and Creoles. The grammar, syntax and prosody all show variation in different Englishes. There are also other factors to consider such as social, historical and topographical influences. This article by the author of explores the features of different 'Englishes' and how easy it is to identify the varieties.

Does Subliminal Learning Work?

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by Aye B edited by Lynne Hand

Subliminal learning is the use of techniques that allow people to learn even without any conscious effort at all.  It does this by exposing someone to stimulus that they are not, or are barely aware of,  images that flash on the screen for barely perceptible moments, words played over and over again at a volume just above the hearing threshold, or other such stimulus. The discovery of such methods has aroused the excitement of many people because of its potential to boost the learning process and make acquiring new skills a lot more painless and effective.

Go On, What's Your Favourite English Word?

(edited by Lynne Hand)

What is the most popular word in the English language?  There have been several polls over the years, remarkably (which is a nice word), it would appear to depend, on your personal experiences.   Mother is the most beautiful word in the English language, according to a survey of non-English speakers.

More than 40,000 people in 102 countries were polled by the British Council to mark its 70th anniversary in 2002.

False Friends

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by Margaret Watson

Years ago I studied Spanish at Queen’s University in Belfast. The class was very intense, getting you from beginner to translator level in 10 months, or that at least was the theory. We weren’t the usual bunch of students in that each of us had pressing, but different reasons for learning the language – two priests were taking up posts in Spain, I was supposed to be taking over a Bolivian hospital, one lady had a Spanish boyfriend, another wanted to be able to talk to her Mexican daughter-in-law and grandchildren. So we all tried hard and our tutor was excellent.

The problem was that, like English, Spanish has many ‘false friends’ i.e. words we think we recognise and know, but which can actually mean something very different. A friend of mine once introduced a very important Bolivian lady in Argentina. The Argentineans understood him to say ‘Venerable lady’, but unfortunately where she came from the words meant ’Old Cow!’

It is the same with German. Although my daughter has taught in Germany I have never tried to learn, but I do know that it can be full of pitfalls for English speakers.

Hut for instance in English is a small building, in German a hat. The English wear boots, the Germans sail in them. We take the rind off an orange, in Germany to take the rind would be to move a cow. If a German gives you rat he is giving advice. We eat kippers, but to them a kipper is a dump truck. This is only the beginning.

There are phrases that just don’t translate in every tongue. ‘It’s black over …( the next words depend upon where you come from but ‘our mother’s’ is one version. It actually means ‘It’ll rain soon.’ Earlier on this afternoon I quite literally ‘put the icing on the cake’, but that phrase usually means the something extra that makes something really special. ‘To tie someone in knots’ means to confuse them – which is probably how you are feeling by now. I have a friend who has been in England for three years who, if I’m speaking to her one to one, manages to communicate very well, but recently we have been meeting in a larger group where idiom is used a lot and she is struggling. As she and her husband only have English as their common language it can make conversation a little stilted, but we get there. They now have a son of about 18 months. I have assured Carlotta that when her son starts school his English will be perfect and hers will improve in leaps and bounds – which bought another puzzled look until I explained that I meant very quickly. She now writes down phrases that she doesn’t understand and either asks for an explanation at the time or we work it out later. Recent examples have been ‘Beat his brains out’, ‘going to seed’, ’a trump card’, ‘a bad apple’, ‘one pencil short of a box’. I’m not going to tell you what they mean, but leave it as a puzzle for you. If you get really stuck ask someone. It’s as good a way as any to make new friends.

Whichever language you speak there will be similar examples - so take care out there, but be bold, and if you get it wrong, just laugh. I do.

Do you know a false friend in your language?  Share it on the forum.

English is Always Changing

by Margaret Watson


I studied linguistics at university. The emphasis was on how language changed over the years from Beowulf to hip-hop.

We are decorating at the moment so old books have been moved and I have in front of me ‘Historical Slang’ - some 50,000 terms, many of them quite crude, that are no longer used by English speakers. Elsewhere I have ‘Hobson, Jobson’ a book of words used in British India – some of which are still in use both by Indians and Brits, but most of which are obscure to say the least.

Where Do I Come From?

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by Margaret Watson


I was born only a few miles from the geographical centre of England. My cousin, the daughter of my mother’s twin, was born a few weeks earlier only 18 miles further south. Throughout our childhood we saw each other several times a month. You would think then that our accents would be similar, but even in this relatively small island there are numerous differences – few men from Cornwall would understand first time round someone from Tyneside in the North East and vice versa. My cousin and I are quite similar in lots of ways, we even look alike and in early photographs it is difficult to tell her children from mine. However, we pronounce many words rather differently. She has always lived below the line that differentiates those who use a long vowel and those who cut it short. – She says ‘BARTH’ and I say ‘BATH’. She says ‘PARTH’ and I say ‘PATH’. My children, who spent their early years in the south and grew up near Manchester, have combined the two - They have a ‘BARTH’ in the ‘BATH’ or even a ‘BATH’ in the ‘BARTH’, while hers are definitely southerners.

by Michael Ugilini

The English language has a rich history within the theatre. From the plays of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, to those of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Lerner and Loewe, among others, the variety is endless. With so many great dramas, comedies, and musicals to choose from there is ample opportunity for anyone to build their English vocabulary through plays and the theatre. On top of the classics are hosts of modern contemporary plays that one can choose from to learn new words and phrases. Plays and theatre are truly enjoyable tools for learning English.