Ade Holder, Author at Perfectly Spoken
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British Storms and their Names

It’s storm season in the UK and after an already very wet winter, Storm Ciara and Dennis have brought record rain levels and heavy flooding across the country. The British are well-known for talking about the weather and this year with such fierce storms already, there’s plenty to talk about.

And with the storms having human names, it sounds like we are talking about someone we know. The Met Office is is the national meteorological service for the UK that provides weather services including short and longer term forecasts. Each year around September, it reveals a list of christian or first names for the upcoming storms. There is one for most letters of the alphabet, with Q, U, X, Y and Z being excluded as it is hard to find names for these.

How are the storms named?

As the British love to think about the weather, the Met Office has invited people to suggest potential storms names – around 10,000 names were submitted last year. The Met Office puts together a final list and releases this in September ahead of the winter storm season. This year’s list started with Atiyah and Gerda, Piet and Willow could be ahead.

Why are the storms named?

It’s not just to help us talk about them. It is believed that naming the storms helps to make people more aware that severe weather could be coming and therefore more likely to be prepared.

When is a storm named?

The Met Office have a warning system to predict when a storm is likely to have an impact on the public. A storm is only given a name when the Met Office believes that it has potential for an amber or red warning.

What are the levels of storms?

The storms levels are represented by a traffic light system based on the likelihood of impact and disruption.

  • Yellow – low impact – daily life will mostly be able to continue as normal.
  • Amber – potential disruption to daily routines. You may need to consider your travel plans and protect yourself and your property.
  • Red – the highest warning level, and fortunately the most rare, but we’ve already had a red warning this year with storm Dennis. It means dangerous weather could lead to major disruption and damage, and even loss of life. This could include widespread flooding, ice and snow that can cut off areas or high winds that can damage property.

How do you know when there’s a weather warning?

The Met Office try to give 5-7 days notice and have full details on their website. However, weather and particularly imminent storms are reported across all media channels – and of course by talking to each other.



Popular English Expressions

There are so many idioms and expressions embedded in the English language that it can be really difficult for a non-native speaker to get to grips with them all. But they are a regular and important part of everyday use, so it is good for learners to slowly build up their knowledge. Some expressions have origins that help them make sense, for others it is no longer clear where they came from.  Below are a few such popular expressions:

Bob’s your uncle – this is often compared to the French ‘Voila’. It’s an expression of something coming together, a bit like saying ‘there you have it’.

“I followed the instructions, put it all together, and Bob’s your uncle, I’ve got a new desk.

Taking the biscuit – when something or someone is being stupid or annoying or behaving badly. You strongly object to what is being done or happening.

“It’s bad enough that they want me to work Saturday, but now its Sunday too. That really takes the biscuit.”

Beat around the bush – to avoid or talk around something without getting to the main point.  This saying relates back to hunting, where hunters would beat the bush with a stick to try and get the prey to come out.

“Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.”

Biting off more than you can chew – taking on more than you can manage. You can imagine this literally – perhaps a big piece of cake that you enthusiastically put in your mouth but can’t chew or move because of its size!

“I think with this new job, he’s bitten off more than he can chew.”

Barking up the wrong tree – to be mistaken in your understanding or pursuing actions that won’t lead to the desired result. On a literal level, think of a dog who is barking at a tree long after the squirrel has run away!

“The police were getting nowhere with the investigation. I think they were barking up the wrong tree.”

Not the sharpest tool in the box – a less direct way of saying someone is not very intelligent. Being ‘sharp’ is associated with quick wit and being smart. The word ‘tool’ can also be used to mean a fool.

He’s not exactly the smartest tool in the box is he?”

It’s all gone pear-shaped – when something goes badly wrong, or fails. The origins of this expression are not clear, but it is the sense of being misshapen or wrong.

“We were planning a lovely holiday, but it all went pear-shaped.”

Our online English lessons and courses are designed to help your speak English with confidence and also correctly. But we also know it is important to understand local sayings and customs in order to give your spoken English texture and for you to understand more about the culture of the UK and people from the UK.







Burn’s Night – What you need to know

The United Kingdom is home to many quirky festivals and celebrations. Burns Night is one such Scottish event that can brighten the cold winter month of January with a wee dram (a shot of whisky). An institution in its homeland, many Scots in England, and indeed English people, enjoy marking this unique event with its unusual menu and traditions.

The Event

The event is held on the birthday of the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns in recognition of his work and importance. Celebrations range from formal, highly traditional affairs to informal gatherings of friends. It involves many foods that are traditionally Scottish, and not commonplace across England in everyday life.  A traditional menu includes:

  • A soup starter – cockaleekie (chicken and leeks) or cullen skint (haddock, potatoes and onion).
  • Haggis – made from sheep’s heart, liver and lungs put in a sheep’s stomach, or sausage skin casing and mixed with spices, onion, oatmeal and suet. It can be a challenging meal for some!
  • This is often served with neeps and tatties (neeps being swede and tatties potato – these are mixed with butter and the like and sometimes also with turnips).
  • A traditional pudding might be Clootie Dumpling (a pudding made with dried fruit and spices often steamed in a linen cloth known as a ‘cloot’) or Typsy Laird (a Scottish sherry trifle).

At a formal celebration a bagpiper will play to welcome guests and there will be chairman or host leading proceedings. The host will make a speech to celebrate the life and work of Robert Burns and perhaps read some of his poetry. The haggis is the main dish of the night, and is often brought on a silver platter and everyone will raise a glass to it. There will be further traditional music, dancing with many men and women wearing Scottish kilts.

Different Ways to Celebrate

In less formal versions, people are just generally celebrating Scottish culture, perhaps playing some traditional music, enjoying a glass of whisky and a version of the menu. The evening ends singing one of Robert Burn’s most famous poems, Auld Lang Syne. This is also sung across the UK as the clock strikes midday on the 31st December, to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next.


News Flash for English Learners

We are very proud to have launched a brand new service for our Student Plan and Pro Plan subscribers. News Flash is an amazing new learning aid that makes news for English leaners even more useful and effective.

If you are learning English then you will know how useful news articles can be. They are an interesting way to learn new phrases and vocabulary, they are a great talking point around which you can practice your English with other students, friends and family and they can be very useful for people learning English for business.

However, no matter how useful news articles can be it is often hard to find news specifically written for people learning English. Often news for English learners can be out of date and not very useful as news. Not with Perfectly Spoken! News Flash is a news service for English learners that is powered by news coming direct from Reuters so you know it is accurate, unbiased and up to date!

Real and Authentic

News is not only topical and a good learning aid it also helps English learners understand and use real and authentic phrases and words. Real news uses real words and the vocabulary people use in it are up to date and real. Real language is so important when learning English, it helps students understand the English native speakers use and good quality English news is a great place to get this kind of content. Not only is our news real it is also high quality from one of the best news agencies in the world.

So Much More than Just News!

Of course, you can expect the latest news articles, video and audio stories but we are offering more than just a chance to learn about what is happening in the world. Our News Flash service also has special tasks carefully created for Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced English students. These tasks help you understand more, learn and comprehend new vocabulary and phrases and test yourself to see how well you did. We carefully select news stories and then create tasks for each learning level; this means no matter what English level you are you can understand and learn using our News Flash service.

A Few Minutes

We know most people do not have hours to read the news. we know that most people learning English online are doing so along side working or studying. So our News Flash stories and short and direct. They only take a few minutes to read or watch and then you can take the test to see how much you have learned.

Find Out More

If you would like to find out more about News Flash – Powered by Reuters then please Click Here. This amazing new service is available to Student Plan and Pro Plan Subscribers along with hours of the best quality online English lessons available, tests, useful additional content and more.



Why News is So Important for English Learners

If you are learning English there are lots of different ways you can help support your English lessons and courses. Watching movies in English can be very useful and a great way to test yourself and be aware of different accents. Music can also be very helpful; trying to learn the words and practising English by singing but there is one more way you can use the media to help you and that’s by reading lots of online news. There are actually lots of reasons why reading the news can be useful so here is why!

Reason 1

News is a great way to read something interesting that will help your English. Reading phrases from courses and books can be helpful but it can also be quite boring. Keeping up to date with world news will help keep your mind engaged while you are also learning.

Reason 2

The news is a great thing to talk about and it is a great thing to practice talking English with. A good news topic can be perfect for people learning English to talk about together in English. If you are living in an English speaking country or working with English speaking people a news topic is a brilliant way to start a conversation and get some practice in.

Reason 3

Knowing what is going on in the world is very important. It is also very useful to be aware of news stories that affect the country you may be working or studying in. it can help you talk with friends, understand different cultures and it is also very useful if you are going for job interviews in English. Being able to discuss some basic news items in English can really make a great impression at an interview.

Reason 4

English learning experts all agree that news is a great way to learn and understand real and authentic terms and phrases. News is a great place to hear how native speakers really talk and its a great place to learn some of the differences and important language skills you may not learn using more traditional methods.


Not Always Easy

Even though news is very useful and a great way to learn and practice English, we know it is not always easy. A lot of news websites have large articles with 1000s of words and this can be very hard to work through as an English leaner. Even watching videos of news can be complicated if people speak very fast. But it is worth the effort and there are lots of different news outlets that have smaller articles that are easier to understand.

The important things to remember are

  • Read as much news as you can but make sure you take time to try and understand it
  • Make a list of words that you do not understand, look them up, learn them and then re-read the news article
  • Find a friend or someone at work who will talk about the news article with you. You could even send the article to  a friend online and have a video or phone call to talk about it in English to practice.
  • Pick subjects and topics you find interesting or that are very important. Trying to learn from things you find boring will not be as useful or easy as something you are interested in.

Simple News for English Learners

We have launched a new news service for English learners called News Flash. This fantastic new service provides news straight from Reuters who are one of the largest news agencies in the world. News Flash not only gives you simple, interesting and useful stories to read about and learn from it also includes a vocabulary test so you can actually score your learning while catching up on important news stories.




The Summer is over and things are turning cold – Useful Winter English Vocabulary

If you are learning English and have any experience with British people you will know that they like to talk about the weather a lot. There are lots of jokes about how British and English people enjoy talking about the weather and moaning about it too! So we thought it would be a good time to write a blog post about some useful words British people use to talk about colder weather. While Summer in the UK is often not as long or hot as many other places in the world it is still something people look forward too and something people are often unhappy when it is over. It is now nearly October and Autumn is here and things are getting colder!

Chilly – This is a common word that simply means cold. It is used in many different situations and can be used in formal or informal settings. “It is very chilly today”  – Someone would say this to another person to say it is cold. Chilly is used to describe cold but not extreme cold. Chilly can also be used in a building or home to say it is a little bit cold.

Freezing  – “It’s freezing out there!” This term is used to describe more intense cold. The word actually means when a liquid turns to a solid – water into ice, but as with many British words this one is over stated to make a point. In many cases it may not actually be “freezing” but people use the term to explain it is very cold. Someone may walk into a room and say “I’m frozen” – they do not mean they are literally turning to ice, but they are telling you they feel very cold.

Pouring – It often rains in the UK and there are a lot of different words for rain commonly used by people. “It’s pouring out there” is a very common way to talk about how much it is raining and can be used in any situation. This term is actually common in American English too. It can be used in conjunction with the word down “it’s pouring down” or just on it’s own. There is a traditional children’s rhyme that uses this term:

“it’s raining it’s pouring, the old man is snoring, he went to be and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morning”

Chucking it down – This is term more associated with friends and family. It is not a formal term but means it is raining a lot. Someone may walk into a pub and say “it’s chucking it down out there”. This would mean there is a lot of rain and not just a small amount.

Drizzle  – This is a very common word for light rain. Drizzle is light, fine, small droplets of rain and can get you quite wet if you stay out in it. People may use this to say it’s not raining very much Person A – “It’s pouring out there” Person B – “no it inst, it’s only drizzle” This could be a normal disagreement about how much it is raining.

Blowing a Gale – A gale is a strong wind over around 40 mph. If it feels very windy people may say “It’s blowing a gale out there”. They may not know how fast the wind speed is but may just use this term to explain there is a strong wind.

If you are learning English for work, travel or to move to an English speaking country some of these words may be very useful, especially if you are planning to visit the UK!


E learning and its role in English Language Teaching

With predictions of growth to a total spend of $250bn by 2020, EdTech is clearly a global phenomenon and has growing implications for the future of English Language Teaching


But what is E Learning and Ed Tech?

EdTech stands for Educational Technology. Sometimes referred to as EduTech or e learning. In general terms it covers any form of teaching or learning that embraces technology

At its heart, the aim of EdTech is to improve the student’s learning experience by making the learning processes more efficient and/or effective. And by integrating technology into education a much more diverse learning environment can be created. This may also result in quite fundamental changes in approaches to pedagogy.

The Advantages of E Learning

Apart from learning a subject through technology and potentially improving a student’s tech skills at the same time, it is argued that EdTech allows for more individualised learning as students work at their own pace

Potentially, it also ‘democratises’ education by allowing more students, more access to more educational content, and potentially from almost anywhere. This can then also result in benefits of time, cost and convenience.

Studies also show that there is an increasing acceptance of online educational qualifications in the workplace even if in reality this is still relatively low in comparison to more traditional qualifications, especially when those qualifications may be potentially career changing.

In addition, research shows that educational apps generally have a positive impact on learning and interestingly apps that encourage feedback and collaboration can help improve group work and it is argued that in fact a blended approach can result in students learning more than with traditional approaches and in less time.

In the world of ELT It is perhaps no surprise then that language learning apps like babbel, busuu and especially duolingo with its almost addictive elements of gamification have become so popular

The Disadvantages of E Learning

One of the major drawbacks can be unrealistic expectations in terms of what the service can actually deliver and how dramatic those changes and improvements will actually prove to be to the learner. Perhaps this is why there are calls for more of the focus of the results to be centred on the learner’s interaction with the technology … not the technology itself. Technology is wonderful, it is a facilitator by which content, and in this case educational content can be delivered to a learner. But in the end, it is the content that is inseparable from the learning outcome

Then there are ‘sociocultural’ questions around the impact on students of working individually rather than socially or collaboratively and being more easily distracted. While students and teachers alike appreciate the convenience of Edtech many prefer and benefit from greater engagement in face to face learning environments

E Learning and Cheating

And of course, there is the potential for taking short cuts or even cheating. This can happen in terms of the learning process itself (fast forward to the next task, this one is boring) However the equivalent can happen in any learning process and it’s really the learner who is cheating himself.

Testing and Accreditation

More significantly is the important question of testing and assessing accurately; the results of which can be career-defining for the learner and so critical to the reputation of the awarding body. Online providers can currently provide self-certification (like with continuing professional development programmes where the user attests to have completed a course of studies) and technologies are being developed to ensure that a candidate is actually who she claims to be. For the moment at least, in the context of English Language learning, Cambridge Assessment English, the providers of the world’s leading range of qualifications and tests for learners of English (including the prestigious IELTS and Cambridge exams) insist that these exams can be prepared for online, but must be taken offline.

The Future

Despite the drawbacks it’s clear that Edtech is here to stay: technology is disrupting industries everywhere and clear the education sector in general and ELT in particular, are no exceptions.



Why It’s OK to Ask People to Speak Slowly or Repeat Something in a Business Meeting

When you are learning English for business there will come a time where you are using you new skill in a business meeting. The meeting could be online via Skype, on the phone or in person, it could be a presentation and it can be tough! But do not worry, the challenges are something a lot of people go through and they are not something to be embarrassed about. In this blog we look at some of the issues around asking people to slow down and help you understand.

The Same Thing Twice

What a lot of people do when asked to repeat something because someone doesn’t understand is say the same thing again. This is really no help at all. They think you simply may not have heard them properly but the real reason to ask them to repeat is that you didn’t understand the terms or vocab they used. It is important to state this when asking them to repeat. It is perfectly OK to say “sorry, I don’t understand that phrase, can you explain” rather than saying “sorry, I didn’t get that”


People from different parts of any country will speak differently. But people learning English who live in different countries will also speak differently. So how someone speaks can be a really big challenge in a business meeting. It may be you are talking to a English company but you find the accent very hard to understand. It is not offensive to politely say “I am very sorry, I find your lovely accent hard to understand”. You can complement them on it and ask where they are from and most people will be happy to talk about their home town and help you understand them. It may be useful to ask any colleagues before the meeting about any strong accents so you can prepare a little or have them be ready to help you if you get stuck.

Details and Notes

There are certain points that come up in meetings that are important. it might be an e mail address or a website, it could be a phone number or some important meeting points. It is really important you are confident you have the correct details in this situation. Do not be afraid to ask the person to slow down while you write it all down and then confirm the details. On online meetings you can ask someone to simply write these details in the chat window to make sure they are correct. But getting it wrong because you didn’t ask to clarify could cause problems later on. Be confident and make sure you have the right details.

Slow Down

Most business meetings would benefit from everyone slowing down and making sure all the point are covered properly. It is important you are feel confident to ask other team members or clients to slow down so you can understand them properly. You are learning a new language and it is something to be proud of, but you cannot learn it all from the beginning. Most people will be happy to go over anything and help support you, and that bit of extra time is far better than a list of confused notes and mistakes because you chose not to say say you didn’t understand.


Sing Your Way to Better English

It may seem silly but music can help when learning English just as much as movies can. Singing can also help make you happy and singing is very healthy even if you don’t think you are very good at it.

Singing and Vocab

Most popular songs are sung with a wide range of both good and bad pronunciation. You can listen to one song and understand what they are singing about then another song comes on and it makes no sense at all. This is why it can be so helpful, well partly. By listening to vocab sung in songs by all sorts of different voices and styles you will build up your experience with those words. The great thing with the internet is that you can look up the words any time. So sing along, learn the words if you can but check online so you know what the words are and what they mean. It can be a great way to not only learn new words but learn new slang and regional words too.

Happy Learning

Singing and music can really help with happiness and even during a learning period a music break can help you study a lot better. Obviously playing really loud music while trying to follow one of our online English lessons isn’t going to work but you can pause the lesson if you need a rest and sing a long to a song with English lyrics as a break. Singing is also proven to be very good for your health, so having a good sing can have many benefits.

Sings to Help You Remember

Another great way to use singing is to help you remember vocabulary and other parts of the English language. You may find it hard to remember a set of verbs or just a few new words. If you put them to the tune of your favourite song and sing it all day you will find it far easier to remember them for your next lesson.

Watching movies in English is certainly very helpful and should be something you do as often a you can but why not mix things up a bit and bring some English speaking music into your learning. There are lots of places to hear music but YouTube may be a good free place to start. Also apps like Spotify work very well. You can also make playlists for friends who are learning English too and challenge each other to work out what the words all mean.

Learning English can be tough but it can also be fun and adding music, movies, games and more will really help you learn more and learn faster.


Are your Children Better at Learning Languages than You?

It has long been held that children are much better at learning languages than adults – after all, it is children who are able to learn and master their mother-tongue so capably, while many adults struggle pick up a few basic words when they go on holiday. This is why it is often encouraged for children to start language lessons as early as possible, to take advantage of their natural learning gifts.

However, in actuality, children are not better at learning languages than adults – it is just that children and adults learn languages in different ways.

A Simpler Vocabulary

One reason that children can appear to be better language learners than adults is because their lives are inherently simpler and they require a much smaller vocabulary and arsenal of tenses in order to communicate. Adults are able to communicate in far more complicated ways, and as such they require a much broader understanding of a language in order to appear fluent.

It isn’t quite right to assume that just because children are more quickly able to get their point across in a foreign language, that means that they are learning the language. Rather that it is simpler for them to make their points.

Doesn’t Age Affect Learning Skills?

It is another misconception to think that as we age, our powers of learning naturally diminish. In fact, this is not the case at all, and people are able to pick up new skills at any time in their life. The only reason that children appear to have better learning skills is that the simply have more to learn, and childhood is a time of intense learning.

The only issues that typically affect someone’s ability to learn a language as they get older are their hearing and their vision – both of which are typically perfect in children.

Different Ways to Learn

One of the major issues surrounding adults learning languages is that they often try to learn in the same way as children. However, this is typically less effective. Children benefit enormously from classroom sessions as well as lots of repetition and reading. However, it is more valuable for adults to learn in a way that establishes meaning they can associate with real life.

This is why it is generally preferable for adults to learn in less formal group setting, where there is less of an intensive student-teacher relationship, but rather a chance to all learn together. Adults also learn better using online learning where children would not have the discipline to take all the lessons and practice.