sábado, 26 de julio de 2014

Bathroom or loo? Differences between UK and US

Bathroom or loo? Differences between UK and US

A question from Brittney in the United States of America:

I am an American college student who is contemplating applying for work in the United Kingdom after I graduate, and I was wondering how big the language barrier would be in my prospective move from America to the United Kingdom.

I know there are similarities, but I also know that there are many more differences. Any tips would be appreciated!

British English vs American English


Ask about English

Alex Gooch answers:

Hi Brittney. You're right, there are many well-known differences between British and American English, but these differences won't cause you any serious problems if you come and work in Britain.

First, there are a few noticeable GRAMMAR differences between British and American English: I'll talk about the two most important ones.

First of all, when Americans make sentences using 'just''already' or 'yet', they normally use the past simple tense, while in Britain, we use the present perfect.

So an American, for example, might say:

"I already had lunch."
"She didn't arrive yet."

And a British person would say:

"I've already had lunch." - That's "I have already had lunch."
Or... "She hasn't arrived yet."

Also, in Britain we often use 'have got' or 'has got' when we talk about possession, while Americans generally just use 'have' or 'has'.

So, for example, in American English we might say:
"I have a new car."

In British English it's more normal to say:
"I've got a new car."

The meaning's the same, there's just a small grammatical difference that you might notice.

There are these and a few other very small differences, but to be honest, these differences almost never make it difficult for us to understand each other.

On the other hand, the differences in VOCABULARY between American English and British English are stronger than the grammatical differences, but again, these very rarely cause serious problems.

A lot of the words which are different are informal or slang words...

For example, I think many Americans would be unfamiliar with the British slang word 'naff', which means 'un-cool' or 'poor-quality'.

On the other hand, a Brit (a British person) might be very confused by a sentence like:

"The café is kitty-corner to the pharmacy."

This means that the café is diagonally opposite to the pharmacy, but we don't have the word 'kitty-corner' in British English.

Another example would be telling the time...

If we want to describe 2:45 in Britain, we might say:
"Quarter to three", or 3:15 would be "Quarter past three".

On the other hand, in America, these might be:
"Quarter of three" for 2:45, or "Quarter after three" for 3:15.

It's another small difference, but it's one that's not going to cause serious problems - it's quite easy to get used to.

There are also some differences in SPELLING which I should mention.

One example of this is the verb 'to practise':
In British English, this is spelt with an 'S', so that's
In American English, it's spelt with two 'C's, so in American English it's

And there are lots of other examples of slight difference of spelling, but about 99% of the time, British and American people can understand each other without any trouble at all. In Britain we watch lots of American films and TV programs, and we listen to lots of American music, so American English is generally very familiar to us.

This is probably not quite so true for an American coming to Britain. Americans, I think, don't watch quite so much British TV or British movies.

I should also point out that regional English can be an important thing to think about. Not everyone in Britain talks like James Bond. There are some regional accents in Britain which you don't hear so often in the movies, and these might be a bit more difficult to get used to.

However, I'd like to finish by saying that many, many Americans live and work in Britain, and they don't have any serious language problems at all. So, Brittney, my advice to you is: don't worry about the language, you'll be fine! 

English idioms of the body, face and head

There are many English idioms connected with parts of the body. Here are some of the more common ones.

The heart

break someone's heart = upset someone greatly: "She broke his heart when she left him."
learn something off by heart = learn something completely: "I've learnt this off by heart – I'm bound to pass the exam!"
you're all heart! = when you tell someone sarcastically how kind they are: "Thanks for giving me all this work – you're all heart!"
hand on heart = promise with sincerity: "Hand on heart, it's the honest truth."
have the heart = be able to give someone bad news: "I didn't have the heart to tell him he'd failed."
a heart of gold = be a very kind person: "She'll always help – she has a heart of gold."


hand over = pass on something: "Before I leave, I have to hand over all my work."
get out of hand = become impossible to manage: "You'll have to deal with this problem before it gets out of hand."
know something like the back of your hand = know something extremely well: "He knows London like the back of his hand."
have your hands full = be very busy: "I can't do anything about it now – my hands are full."
in hand = under control: "The company report is in hand – you'll have it next week."
live hand to mouth = only earn enough money for food: "After he lost his job, he had to live hand to mouth for a couple of months."
give someone a hand = help someone: "He always gives me a hand with the housework."
have someone in the palm of your hand = have influence over someone: "He's got her in the palm of his hand."
be caught red-handed = be caught doing something bad: "The children were caught red-handed picking the flowers."


butter fingers = be clumsy and drop things: "You've dropped my vase! Butter fingers!"
keep your fingers crossed = wish something for someone: "Keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow – it's my job interview."
under your thumb = control someone: "She's got him under her thumb – he won't do anything without asking her first."


twist someone's arm = persuade someone: "I didn't want to go out, but he twisted my arm."
cost an arm and a leg = cost a fortune: "The car cost an arm and a leg – it'll take them ages to pay back the loan."

Feet and legs

put your foot in it = say or do something you shouldn't: "I think I've put my foot in it – I told her about the party."
have itchy feet = not able to settle down in one place: "She's going off travelling again – she's got really itchy feet."
keep someone on their toes = keep someone alert: "Our teacher keeps us on our toes – we have to pay attention in class."
stand on your own two feet = be independent: "I don't need your help – I can stand on my own two feet."
have two left feet = be awkward or clumsy: "He's a terrible dancer – he's got two left feet!"
walk on eggshells = be careful about what you say or do: "She's in a terrible mood – you'll have to walk on eggshells around her."
foot the bill = pay the bill: "He had to foot the bill for the party."

The back

go behind someone's back = do something secretly: "She went behind my back and told my boss I wanted a new job."
back off = stop trying to force someone to do something: "Will you just back off and let me decide what I should do!"
back down = accept defeat: "He finally backed down and let me buy a pet rabbit."
back someone up = support someone: "Thank you for backing me up in the meeting."
put your back into something = work very hard at something: "She put her back into it and got good results."
stab someone in the back = betray someone: "Be careful of him – he'll stab you in the back if it gets him what he wants."

Idioms that use part of the face

face-to-face = in person: "We need to arrange a face-to-face meeting."
face the music = take responsibility for a difficult situation: "We've got to face the music – this company is going under."
face up to responsibilities = accept responsibilities: "You need to face up to your responsibilities – it's time you got a job and started to save money."
be two-faced = be hypocritical: "I can't believe she told you that she likes Harry – she told me she hates him! She's so two-faced!"


be all ears = listen attentively: "So, you've got an idea. I'm all ears."
have an ear for = be good at music: "He's doing well in his piano lessons – he's definitely got an ear for music."
keep your ears to the ground = listen out for something: "I'll keep my ears to the ground – the next time I hear someone wants to rent out a flat, I'll let you know."
up to your ears in something = be extremely busy: "I'm sorry I can't come out this weekend – I'm up to my ears in work."


keep your eyes peeled = watch extremely attentively: "Keep your eyes peeled for him – he's in the crowd somewhere."
keep an eye out for = watch for someone or something: "Keep an eye out for the next turning on the left."
eye up = look at someone because you think they look nice: "Whenever she goes to a club, she always gets eyed up by older men."
have your eye on something / someone = want someone or something: "I've got my eye on a new computer."
have eyes in the back of your head = warn someone that you can see exactly what they are doing: "Don't make those signs at me – I've got eyes in the back of my head!"
see eye to eye on something = agree with someone: "Those two don't always see eye to eye – they often argue."

Other parts of the face

stick your nose in = get involved in something or someone else's business: "I wish she wouldn't stick her nose in like that – I really don't want anyone else's help."
on the tip of my tongue = when you've forgotten the word you want to say: "What's the word for it – it's on the tip of my tongue…"
tongue-tied = when you can't say anything because you feel shy: "She's tongue-tied when she has to speak in public."
by the skin of my teeth = just manage to do something: "He got out of the burning building by the skin of his teeth."
cut your teeth on something = where you learn to do something: "He's the best man to run the company – he cut his teeth in the Production Department and ran it successfully for years."
teething problems = start-up problems with a new project: "We're having teething problems with our distribution systems."
have a cheek = be disrespectful: "He's got a cheek saying you never help him – I saw you writing his report for him!"
a frog in my throat = when your throat tickles and makes you cough: "Sorry I can't stop coughing – I've got a frog in my throat."
stick your neck out = do or say something that might have negative results: "I'm going to stick my neck out and say what I think."
be up to your neck in = be in a difficult situation: "He's up to his neck in debt."
breathe down someone's neck = check constantly what someone else is doing: "I can't write this letter with you breathing down my neck!"

Idioms that use parts of the head

head to head = in a race, when two contestants are doing as well as each other: "They are head to head in the polls."
off the top of your head = when you give an answer to something without having the time to reflect: "What's our market strategy?" "Well, off the top of my head, I can suggest…"
have a good head for = be good at something: "He's an accountant and he has a good head for figures."
have your head in the clouds = dream: "He's always got his head in the clouds – he makes all these impossible plans."
go over your head = not understand something: "The lesson went over my head – I didn't understand a word of it."
keep your head = stay calm: "He always keeps his head in a crisis."
be head over heels in love = be completely in love: "You can see that he's head over heels in love with her."
keep your head above water = manage to survive financially: "Despite the recession, they kept their heads above water."
use your head = think about something to solve a problem: "It's quite simple – just use your head!"

English idioms using 'mind'

keep / bear something in mind = remember something for future use: "I need a job in computers." "I'll bear it in mind – we often have vacancies for people with your skills."
make up your mind = decide: "I can't make up my mind about the job offer."
be in two minds about something = unable to decide: "I'm in two minds about buying a new car."
be out of your mind = be really worried: "Where have you been? I've been out of my mind with worry."
have a mind of your own = not be influenced by other people: "Don't tell me what to do! I've got a mind of my own, you know."
give someone a piece of your mind = tell someone how angry you are with them: "I'm going to give him a piece of my mind. He knows I cooked dinner for him and now he's an hour late."

Learning and using phrasal verbs

Learning and using phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs (two-part verbs such as "go up" or "go on") are typical in spoken English and informal writing.
You'll hear them in conversations, or on radio and television, and see them in emails, tabloid newspapers and some magazines.

Very often in English, there's a more formal equivalent to a phrasal verb, such as a "latinate" type verb. For example, instead of "go up", you can say "increase"; and instead of "go on", you can say "continue". But if you use a more formal word, you can sound "too" formal for the situation! In fact, because phrasal verbs are so common in spoken English, using them will make you sound more natural when you speak English.

But phrasal verbs are not easy to learn and use, for these reasons.

1. The number of phrasal verbs
The Longman Phrasal Verbs Dictionary contains 5000! While you don't need to know each one of these, the fact is that we use a lot in everyday speech. This means that you should try to learn and use at least some!

2. You don't always hear the whole verb
In conversation, native speakers tend to stress "information words", such as nouns, verbs and adjectives. We tend not to stress grammatical words like pronouns or prepositions. When a verb is made up of a verb and preposition or particle, this means the second part is often hard to hear. In these examples, the words in bold are the stressed words.
"She's bringing up those children on her own."
"I'll put you through now."

3. The meaning isn't always logical or obvious
You "turn on" or "turn off" a light, but while you "put on" clothes, you "take them off". You can't often work out the meaning of a phrasal verb from the verb or particle / preposition part.

4. One phrasal verb can have more than one meaning
make up = invent
make up = restore friendship after an argument
make up (noun) = cosmetics
take in = understand
take in = deceive
take in = accept lodgers into your house
take off = get undressed
take off = succeed
take off = when a plane leaves the runway

5. The grammar changes depending on the type of phrasal verb
This is particularly the case for word order. For example, you can say "give it up" but not "give up it"; "look after them" and not "look them after".
This is because "give up" is an example of a phrasal verb which can be separated. In "give up", give is the verb, while up is a particle.
You can say "give up chocolate" or "give chocolate up".
But if you use a definite pronoun (it) as the object, the definite pronoun goes before the particle.
He gave up chocolate.
He gave it up. (NOT "he gave up it".)
"Look after" is an example of a phrasal verb that cannot be separated. With "look after", look is the verb, while after is a preposition. With these types of phrasal verbs, the preposition introduces an object. You don't just "look after", you "look after someone" or "look after something". (i.e. "He looks after the children every day.")
When you use a definite pronoun (i.e. them) as the object, it goes after the preposition.
"He looks after the children."
"He looks after them."
Other phrasal verbs don't have objects at all.
For example, "go on" ("Please go on!") or "come back" ("He came back late.")

Ways to help you understand and use phrasal verbs

1. Sometimes the particle can help you understand the meaning
For example, "back" gives you the idea of something returning.
"Go back" = "return to where you came from"
"Come back" = return home
"take back" = withdraw a comment
"Up", for example, gives you the idea of upward movement.
In "lift me up" you can imagine a child asking her parents to hold her up so she can see something.
In "go up", you can imagine a price increasing.
Understanding the particle doesn't always mean you understand the whole phrasal verb. For example, "Take up" can mean "start doing" (as in "take up a hobby") and "make up" can mean "become friends again after an argument".

2. Use the context to help you understand
You can sometimes understand the phrasal verb from the words and phrases around it.
"Please turn the volume down! It's too loud." (= reduce)

3. Learn phrasal verbs along with the more formal equivalents
If you find learning lists difficult, try to learn phrasal verbs in themes – such as to talk about work, health, holidays, etc.

4. While you're still learning how to use a particular phrasal verb, you can avoid mistakes by not separating them and not using a definite pronoun.
"I'll look into the matter immediately."
"I'd like to take up your offer."
"He's giving up smoking for a month."

10 Simple Word Games You Can Play with a Magnetic Alphabet

10 Simple Word Games You Can Play with a Magnetic Alphabet

Dollar stores are great resources for teachers.

You can find all sorts of materials there that make your classroom more interesting and effective. One such material is a magnetic alphabet. For just a dollar you get 26 building blocks for language that your students will love using and will learn from every time they do. Plus you get great versatility. If you aren’t sure what to do with these great little magnets, here are some ways you can use them in your classroom.

Check These Fresh Ideas for Using Magnetic Alphabet

  1. 1

    Alphabetical Order

    Magnetic letters are a great material for practicing alphabetical orderHave one or two students make one or more words from the magnetic letters, or have everyone in your class make one word. (Note: you’ll probably need more than one set of letters if you are doing a full class activity.) Then challenge one or more students to put those words in alphabetical order. Not only will it reinforce that concept, it has the added bonus of reviewing spelling and possibly learning new vocabulary.
  2. 2

    Find Your Word

    Give your students a list of words you want them to find along with a loose pile of the magnetic letters. Your students must find the letters to make up the words on your list. Again, this reinforces spelling and also gives you an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary. This is particularly good for beginning students whose handwriting in English may need extra work.
  3. 3

    Classroom Word Search

    If you are looking for a way to get kinesthetic learners involved in learning a list of words, try a classroom word search. Give each person one or more words that he has to spell with the magnetic letters. Then scatter the letters around your classroom either singly or in small piles. (Make sure you have enough letters to spell all of the words you hand out.) Students race around the room to find the letters they need to spell their words. Once they find them, they sit down and spell out the letters on their desks or on the front board.
  4. 4

    Marking Syllables

    Help your students’ pronunciation by highlighting the different syllables in vocabulary words. Give them an example where you use different colors of magnetic letters for each syllable in a multisyllabic word. For example, difficult. When students see the different colors, it will reinforce how the word is pronounced. Then give them one or more words that they have to spell the same way, using a different color for each syllable in the word.
  5. 5

    Teaching Word Families

    You can easily teach phonic word families by using letter magnets. If you were going to teach “op” words (top, hop, mop, pop, bop, cop, lop, etc.) put the letters o and p on the board. Then show students that just by changing the first letter of the word, we can make many related words all spelled similarly and ending with the same sound. (Hint: this is a good time to teach about rhyming words if you haven’t already.) You can also give students the end of a word and challenge them to find other words in that family by choosing different letters to start it. For example, you might put “at” on the board. Then students go through the letters they have and decide which ones make English words (using a dictionary to check). They may discover that bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, etc. are all valid English words while dat, jat, kat, etc. are not.
  6. 6

    Play Dough Prints

    If you are teaching students young enough to enjoy play dough, use your magnetic letters as a type of printing mechanism. At a learning center, put out some play dough, your magnetic letters, and a rolling pin. Show students how they can roll out a piece of play dough and then press the letters into it to “print” words. It’s a great way to practice spelling and still have fun.
  7. 7

    Vocabulary Review

    Want to see how well your students remember their new vocabulary? Make a set of magnets depicting your current vocabulary. Simply make a color photocopy for each word from a picture dictionary or other source on card stock, if possible. Stick a little magnet on the back (available in rolls at your local craft store) and put the picture magnets with the letters on a magnetic surface in your classroom. (If you don’t have one to spare, a simple cookie sheet makes a great magnet learning surface.) Students put the picture magnet on their magnetic surface and spell the vocabulary next to the picture with the alphabet letters.
  8. 8

    Alphabet Recognition

    If you have beginning students who are just learning the alphabet, this simple game is fun and educational. Print out a list of all twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Put the magnetic alphabet in a bag. Students draw a letter from the bag one at a time and mark it off their list. They keep pulling letters until their entire alphabet is marked off.
  9. 9

    Vocabulary Brainstorm

    You can use magnetic letters to help students brainstorm vocabulary they already know. Put your letters in a bag and draw one for the activity. Display that letter where everyone can see it. Students must then think of all the vocabulary words they know that start with that letter. Define or explain unfamiliar words as students volunteer them or as you add them to the list.
  10. 10

    Scrabble Style Crossword Game

    You don’t need a fancy board game to get the same benefits for your students. Put several sets of magnetic letters in a bag. (You might want to remove all but one Q and X and as well as limit the numbers of V, J, K, W, Y, and Z.) Each student playing the game pulls seven letters from the bag. Students take turns making a word from the letters they have pulled. Each word must connect with a word that someone else has already played on the magnetic surface. Once someone makes a word, he pulls the correct number of magnetic letters to keep his total at seven. Playing this way challenges your students to use new vocabulary, practice spelling, and learn new words, but it takes away the stress that comes with points and keeping score as in the traditional game.
A few simple packages of magnetic letters can be more useful than you realize in your ESL class. The next time you see some on the shelf, pick some up and bring them in for your students. Try one of these activities with your class, set up a learning center, or encourage students to find their own ways of playing with the letters. No matter what they do with them, they will reinforce letter recognition, spelling, and vocabulary.