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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ka-boom, slurp, buzz or... Onomatopoeia!

Onomatopoeia: This long and strange-sounding word comes from the Greek noun onoma= name and the verb poio= make. Simly put onomatopoeic words are those words which immitate sounds. Onomatopoeia is "the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named". In Greek, onomatopoeia means the creation of names, but the word came into English via Latin in the sixteenth century and it refers to the "word which phonetically imitates the source of the sound it describes". 

Onomatopoeic words can be divided into 3 types: Direct onomatopoeia, associative onomatopoeia and exemplary onomatopoeia. However, I won't be explaining these terms here as they are slightly more complex. 

Onomatopoeic words have become an integral part of the English language and other languages around the world and I am sure you have come across some of them in comic books very often. In Batman comic books onomatopoeic words have been used so frequently when Batman and Robin fight their enemies that they were used in the films and TV series as well. There is also a character called "Onomatopoeia" who is Batman's enemy.

A recent example is Rico the penguin from "The Madagascar Penguins", the well-known animated TV series. He is the team's explosives specialist who usually communicates with grunts. In the episode "The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper" the only word he uses to express his desire to explode things is... KA-BOOM!! And this is the beauty of onomatopoeia. It is very easy to convey and understand meaning with just a single word!

                                                                                 watch the episode here 

Did you know that different languages have different onomatopoeic words?

Even though onomatopoeic words are associated with sounds, surprisingly -or not- enough sounds are NOT universal! Language sound systems and phonology differ greatly from one language to another. In the same way non-native speakers of English can't always tell the difference between /æ/ as in cat and /ʌ/ as in cut, onomatopoeic words sound different to different laguage speakers' ears. For example, in Greek the word you'd say if you didn't like the taste of something you ate, it'd be "μπλιαξ", pronounced as /mpliaks/. Whereas in English the word used in the same situation is "yuk". In Greek, the word to tell someone to be quiet would be "σουτ", pronounced as /sut/, whereas in English would be "hush". In English the word for the description of the sound the water makes when dripping from a tap is "drip drop", but in German is "plitsch platsch" and in French "plic ploc". The sound the water makes is the same but the way the ear perceives it varies according to the individual's mother-tongue. Another reason why speakers of different languages perceive and express similar sounds in different ways is because every word in a language must comply with the phonological rules of the language and the acceptable sound combinations. 

Typical examples of onomatopoeic words which are different among different languages are the sounds animals make. A common example is the sound a rooster makes in English. As you probably know, it is "cock-a-doodle-doo". For many speakers of other European languages this is very funny and makes no sense! You'll figure out why when I tell you what the words to describe the sound produced by the rooster are in Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian and Russian. "Κικιρίκου" (kikiriku), quiquiriqui, cucurucu, cocorico, quiquirici and kukareku respectively. Pretty similar, don't you think? I must admitt though that when I watched the video below, I found the sound of the rooster in Canadian-French much stranger than the one in English! Perhaps because I'm used to it. 

Animal sounds in different languages can be very funny, so that's why I'm posting this link from vimeo
I'm also posting a link with a list of several onomatopoeic words (including more animal sounds). Have a look at it to satisfy your curiosity!

Monday, June 3, 2013

CULTURE CORNER: The notoriously inclement British weather and British habits!

I am sure you all have noticed how much the weather can affect your mood. There are days you feel totally grumpy just because the weather is gloomy and dull. Whereas when the sun shines, you feel happy and joyful even on busy days! If you think about that, then it’ll be much easier to understand why Brits look so silent and reserved. It’ll be much easier to understand why they sit at parks to sunbathe till they get sunburnt!

After many years of constant interaction with British people through various projects and events, I didn’t expect to find myself surprised by typical British attitudes and habits when I actually moved to Britain for work. But I was wrong!
The day of my arrival in Edinburgh was sunny and quite hot. It was 14:00 pm, I was getting sweaty and desperately looking for some shade to rest when I passed by a café patio. The place was full of people having their coffee or lunch in the sun, without umbrellas or something to protect them from the heat. I must admit that it did strike me as odd! To me – not a big fan of sunbathing anyway – having lunch while sweating and getting sunburn still feels like a kind of torture. After a month though, I could see why they all went crazy as soon as a ray of sunshine came out!

From the 30 days of the month the weather was sunny just 3 times, for a couple of hours. The rest of the days were dull, rainy and gray and it was mid-June! It then made sense. When seeing the sun is such a luxury, people want to make the most out of it, even if they have to be as red as a lobster for the rest of the week.

The climate in the UK is very mild and doesn’t share the same extremes as in the rest of Europe. However, the British weather is notoriously known for being extremely unpredictable.  It can be sunny and warm in the morning, and cold and cloudy later in the day, while you might experience light (or sometimes heavier) showers quite often. The coldest months are December to February and the warmest are usually July and August. The definition of warm and cold can vary greatly though, depending on which country you come from. The further North you go,  the temperature might not be above 17 degrees in the summer months.

So, in order to deal with the inclement British weather be prepared to leave your open toed shoes at home, always carry an umbrella and sometimes wear winter clothes in the summer.

Another thing which is typically British is the obsession with the weather. 
"When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather," wrote Dr Samuel Johnson. Three centuries later, this observation still appeals to stereotypical British behaviour. According to a recent study, over a quarter of the population in the UK use the weather as an ice-breaker, over half of Brits talk about the weather at least once every 6 hours and 70% check the weather forecast at least once a day.

The key for this obsession lies one more time in the weather’s unpredictability. But this weather is also responsible for amazing images of the landscape like the following one taken by the landscape photographer Kris Dutson in Dorset.

Written by Anna, e-teachme teacher

Thursday, May 2, 2013

                          Tips on how to learn English faster

  1. In combination with English classes, start reading and listening to authentic material in English. 
  • Read quality newspapers like the Guardian, the Independent, the Times etc. 
  • Listen to the BBC radio online.
  • Watch the weather forecast. You'll be impressed with how difficult the weather vocabulary might be!
 (Click on the Forecast Video)

    2.  If you can afford travelling, spend some time in an English-speaking country. People who have studied English for years often find it difficult to actually speak the language in a native speaking environment. There are many reasons why they feel like so. English in the classroom environment can be very limited and controlled, especially in traditional settings, where teachers usually focus on grammar structures and vocabulary lists. Make sure you learn English in a student-friendly environment with a Communicative Approach. The more advanced learner you are the less time (and money) you'll need to spend in a foreign country.

   3. When travelling, stay in hostels. It's an easy way to meet a lot of people and start practising the language.

   3. Try to familiarise with culture. Understanding of culture can help you perform better in the target language. For example, many southern Europeans like Spaniards or Greeks and Italians often sound rude to native English speakers due to culture differences. It is quite common for them to forget the word "please" after a request while for native speakers of English it is essential. This kind of errors reflect what it is considered appropriate in every culture, that's why you need to get to know the culture of the language you're learning.

More tips to follow soon! :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

                     CULTURE CORNER: BUS MANNERS (UK)

Public transport acceptable behaviour differs greatly from country to country as it is an element of culture. British people are well-known for their politeness, reserved manners and self-discipline. 
So, what are the DOs and DON'Ts when you take the bus in the UK? We'll give you the lowdown on Bus Manners!


  • Wait patiently for your turn in the (orderly formed) queue. 
  • Say hello to the bus driver when you get on the bus. 
  • Have your money ready when boarding. (In the UK people pay for their ticket to the bus driver.)
  • Have the exact amount of money for the ticket. ONLY COINS. 
  • Say "excuse me" if someone is blocking your way and you would like them to move. 
  • Offer your seat to an elderly person, POLITELY!
  • Use your headphones if you're listening to music or read your newspaper SILENTLY.
  • Respect people's privacy. STAY SILENT!
  • Say "cheers" or "thank you" to the bus driver when you get off the bus.


  • Don't jump the queue!!!Don't take somebody else's turn even by mistake. You'll find yourself being frowned upon.
  • Don't be grumpy to the bus driver. They appreciate it if you show that you respect their job.
  • Don't look for the ticket money when you're already on the bus. Bus drivers run on a tight schedule and people are in a hurry to go to their jobs.
  • Don't give bank notes and do NOT ask for change!!!
  • Don't speak loudly!!!
  • Don't speak loudly on your mobile phone.
  • Don't start chatting with the people sitting next to you.
  • Don't sit on the bench at a bus stop to rest. It will make the bus driver stop for no reason.
  • Don't eat or drink on the bus.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

                Try the BBC learning English widget on the right! 

You can find useful, everyday English expressions to help you sound even more natural.
  • In the Words in the News section, you can practise vocabulary used in the news.
  • In the English at Work section, you familiarise with phrases you might hear in your workplace, if you're employed in the UK.
  • In the English We Speak section, you can learn new idioms which are frequently used in the UK.
An idiom a day keeps poor English away!:)

                      Culture Corner (Great Britain)

Today's topic is CURRENCY

  • Even though Great Britain is in the EU, it hasn't joined the eurozone and has retained pound sterling.
  • Pound stering is the oldest currency in the world that is still in use.
  • Scotland has its own currency, the Scottish pound, but the English pound is in regular circulation in Scotland as well.
  • When you get on a bus in some cities in the UK, you buy your ticket from the bus driver, but they don't accept notes. It is also very convenient if you have the exact amount of money.
  • Slang for money: One pound may be referred to as a "nicker". 50 pounds as a "bullsye" and 60 pounds as a "pigeon". 
Here's a link from the British Council where you can watch a video about the British currency and practise some related vocabulary.


                 Myths about teaching and learning English

  1. Only native speakers of English can teach English as a foreign language.
Well, this is a widespread misconception which has become very popular in recent years mostly because of the learners' desperate need to improve their English and become competitive in the global market. 
Incompetent non-native teachers of English who didn't expose their students to the target language enough, but taught in L1 (=their mother tongue) instead was another reason for this trend to emerge. Learners were sick of drilling grammar rules without being able to actually speak the language.
As a result, native speakers of English whose educational background is sometimes irrelevant to teaching, have been travelling the world and teaching English as a means to cover their travelling expenses. Some of them don't know anything about teaching methodologies or how to design a lesson plan and make a student-friendly communicative lesson.
Of course, many of them take teacher training courses, but the majority of them last for just one month. 

Our suggestion for the learners is to have critical thought when they choose where or with whom to study.
Being a native speaker of English doesn't necessarily make someone a good teacher.
On the other hand, a university degree in teaching English doesn't make a non-native speaker a good teacher.

A good teacher is a combination of things. 
  • A degree in teaching English as a foreign language is always good, but never enough. It certainly means that the teacher have some (theoretical) knowledge of teaching methodologies.
  • Teacher training courses are always good, but never enough. They certainly familiarise  newly qualified teachers with the classroom environment and how to apply teaching methods. However, they usually deal with just one or two methods.
  • In our opinion, a combination of the two would be ideal
  • Make sure that your teachers are passionate about teaching and love what they do. They should enjoy teaching you to say the least!
  • What about the teachers' accent? Generally speaking teachers should have a neutral accent and clear voice. Strong non-native accent or strong colloquial (native) accent and mumbling are highly not recommended. 
So, choose your teachers carefully!! 
More myths to follow soon......