This is one of a series of colourful images illustrating idioms from different countries. Each one has been translated literally into English and its meaning explained. You can find the others here, along with some interesting cultural observations (thanks to James, from hotelclub.com).
BACKGROUND Fresh scuffles erupted between pro-democracy activists occupying central parts of Hong Kong and riot police, as the protests entered their second week. Thousands of people held a rally overnight, defying the Beijing-backed authorities, although by Sunday morning many of the protesters had gone home. On Saturday Hong Kong's leader warned that police would ensure government offices and schools reopened on Monday. Activists oppose China's plans to vet candidates in 2017 elections. Read more >>
CARTOON The cartoon by Dave Granlund shows a fire-breathing Chinese dragon destroying a billboard marked "Democracy for Hong Kong. Freedom of Choice!"
COMMENTARY The Chinese Dragon is often used by political cartoonists because it's an easy way to represent China, just like Uncle Sam for the US, John Bull for Britain, Marianne for France, the bear for Russia, and a samurai or sumo wrestler for Japan.
NOTE Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and Chinese folklore. The dragons have many animal-like forms such as turtles, fish, and imaginary creatures, but they are most commonly depicted as snake-like with four legs. Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. With this, the Emperor of China usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength. [Source: Wikipedia]
On Thursday, Scotland will hold a referendum to decide whether or not to become an independent country. If the answer is 'Yes', Scotland will leave the UK. To mark this potentially momentous event, I've created a quiz to test my students' (and your) knowledge of Scotland and things Scottish. You can either use the Slideshare version below or download this PDF version(the answers are given in both cases).
NOTE FOR TEACHERS There are 25 questions in the quiz, which can be used in various ways. If you have a videoprojector in your classroom, you could use the Slideshare version with the whole class (perhaps working in teams). Alternatively, you could print off copies of the PDF version and get your students to work individually or in groups to find the answers. And why not have a prize for the team/student with the most correct answers? Something Scottish would be appropriate, such as a packet of shortbread biscuits!
In summmer, there's nothing English people like more than to dine al fresco. See if you can follow this typical café conversation, then read the translations. Click on the image to enlarge. By Stephen Collins for The Guardian.
BACKGROUND During the latest stage of their tour of Australia, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka William and Kate) visited the Sydney Royal Easter Show, where they were treated to sheep-shearing display. The Duchess of Cambridge got her own back for her husband's jibes about her dress sense – the Duke had teased her for wearing a yellow dress that made her "look like a banana" — by suggesting he should wear an alpaca toupée to cover his rapidly thinning hair. Full story >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Bob from the Daily Telegraph shows the scene in a park near Sydney (note the Opera House). All the people are either dressed as bananas or wearing alpaca toupées. A couple of men are having a beer beside a barbecue, and one says to the other, "Mate, the Royals are great, but how much influence do they actually have?"
EXPLANATION Queen Elizabeth is still Australia's head of state, and although there is a strong Republican movement in Australia, the Royals seem to be more popular than ever. So the joke is that the Australians may like to think that they're not obsessed with the Royal family, but the latest Royal tour, where William and Kate have been greeted like, er, royalty, suggests otherwise.
VOCABULARY A toupée (pronounced too-pay) is a hairpiece or partial wig of natural or synthetic hair worn to cover partial baldness or for theatrical purposes.
STEREOTYPES How many Australian stereotypes can you identify? There's cricket, the Sydney Opera House, a koala bear, drinking beer, the barbecue (aka barbie), the use of the word 'mate', and, of course, kangaroos.
The new gap year for western students: hundreds of young business wannabes are heading to China and Hong Kong, hoping the cultural experience will give them the edge as they enter the jobs market. Ciara Sutton reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Terence is from the U.S. - rather than taking a work placement in New York, he's in China. Record numbers of students like Terence are flocking Shanghai and Beijing, learning the business etiquette, and hoping to impress future employers in the UK and US. TERENCE RHEA, ADVERTISING INTERN FROM GETTYSBURG COLLEGE: "I've learnt a lot from them, to working on digital campaigns and learning about the new marketing strategies with mobile devices in China, and along with kind of the whole international business experience. You deal with your co-workers in kind of a different way, and it's a little bit ... it's not as direct. Working in the office, I wouldn't say it's more passive, but you don't really get direct feedback back to you." REPORTER: As China's global dominance grows, the benefits work both ways. The number of Chinese companies seeking western interns is also booming. JUDY YAO, ACCOUNT MANAGER AT DRAFTFCB, SAYING, SAYING: "We have a lot of international clients so we want to hire some foreign interns to survey the project better." REPORTER: Terence found his placement through Absolute Internship, a London based company. Director Fredrik van Huynh, says applicants have quadrupled in the past year, and they're struggling to meet demand from both students and firms in China. The company is sending more than 1000 interns this year. DIRECTOR AT ABSOLUTE INTERNSHIP, FREDRIK CAN HUYNH: "It's so exciting, so different to the UK, so different to the US, so different to Australia, and that's the reason why they are so excited to really travel so far away to gain experience." REPORTER: But does that experience pay off? NAB's Nick Parsons, says a knowledge of Mandarin will open more doors for western graduates. NICK PARSONS, HEAD OF MARKETS STRATEGY AT NATIONAL AUSTRALIA BANK: "I think the ability to speak and to show an interest in the very least in as many languages as possible is an absolute key to success." REPORTER: Absolute Intern says around 78% of those completing 3-month placements in China, land a full time job on their return.
VOCABULARY An internship is a period of time during which a student or new graduate gets practical experience in a job, for example during the summer holiday/vacation. The student doing the internship is an intern.
To celebrate the British love of a proper brew (= cup of tea), Yorkshire Tea has just released this fun song full of facts about how tea can benefit you in your everyday life. Watch the behind the scenes here.
LYRICS Sarah : I’m really sorry – this just isn’t working any more.
Sarah: Yeah, you’ll thank me eventually. You’ll be fine. You just need a cup of tea.
Sarah: Shhhh. A graze or minor injury, there’s tea, there’s tea. You took an arrow to the knee, have tea, oh tea. Even winners of the Monaco Grand Prix drink tea, and it’s drunk by the bourgeoisie – probably. Likely change the course of history, lovely cup of tea. When Monday leaves you feeling blue, when your boss has a rage that you can’t subdue, you’ll likely see his point of view if you just sit down and have a brew. If zombies come back from the dead, and you’re all tucked up inside your bed, put down your guns - use tea instead, then use the cup to smash their heads.
Boyfriend: Sarah, can we just talk? Sarah …
Sarah: Your leg’s trapped underneath debris, there’s tea, there’s tea. You feel a burning when you wee, have tea, oh tea. Been sectioned for insanity, more British than the Jubilee, I even heard it made a blind man see, lovely cup of tea. It makes you sexy, ripped and brave, brings childhood pets back from the grave, puts curly hair upon your chest, acts just like a bulletproof vest, cleans pollution, grime and smog, gives a glossy coat to your dog, could reduce the deficit of Greece, unite and soothe a breach of peace, use it to clean off your make-up, or feel better for a messy break-up.
VOCABULARY A brew is an informal word for a cup of tea, aka a cuppa. • Fancy a brew?
COMMENTS Not quite in the same league as those wonderful Yeo Valley ads, but still pretty good. Apparently, the video was filmed in just one take. Impressive!
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: A small village in rural England has turned the school playground game of pea shooting into an international event. The village of Witcham has held the World Pea Shooting Championships since 1971 and for those unfamiliar with the sport, here's a sum up. JIM COLLINS, COMPETITOR: "Twelve feet away from a putty target, there's three rings on the target each with different scores and it's the highest score wins out of five peas." REPORTER: Years ago, locals started the event to raise money for their village hall. While from humble beginnings, the competition has become so fierce that nowadays participants use latest technology such as a laser guides to get ahead. But pea shooting judge Percy Walker says that in the end it all comes down to one thing. PERCY WALKER, PEA SHOOTING JUDGE: "It's all to do with accuracy. You've got to have plenty of puff." REPORTER: And this year, defending champion and local resident Rob Bresler was the man with the most puff.
VOCABULARY Puff is an informal word for breath. • The hill was very steep and I soon ran out of puff.
The world toe wrestling championships have contestants on their toes in rural Derbyshire in northern England. Elly Park reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: It's a competition requiring brute strength, concentration and balance. Once again wrestlers gathered in Derbyshire [pron: darby-sher] in northern England to go head to head … or rather toe to toe to win the top title at the world toe wrestling championships. And no smelly feet are allowed. After a hygiene check, competitors take part in best of three knockout duels until a winner is decided. Alan "Nasty" Nash is the undisputed favorite after winning the title nine times in the past. ALAN "NASTY" NASH: "Toe wrestling is a sport the British are fantastic at that nobody else can do. It's like arm-wrestling, but you just use your legs instead." REPORTER: Sounds simple ... but for most contestants surprisingly painful. In the end Nash reclaimed his crown for a tenth time, while in the women's draw Becca Beech won her title for the second consecutive year.
TOE IDIOMS 1. If you say that someone or something keeps you on your toes, you mean that they cause you to remain alert and ready for anything that might happen. 2. If you toe the line, you behave in the way that people in authority expect you. 3. If you tread (or step) on someone's toes, you offend them by criticizing the way that they do something or by interfering in their affairs. 4. If you dip your toes into something or dip your toes into the waters of something, you start doing that thing slowly and carefully, because you are not sure whether it will be successful or whether you will like it. 5. If something makes your toes curl, it makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. 6. A toe-to-toe argument, etc., is one in which two people or groups are directly opposed to each other.
For the 401st year, the brutal shin kicking championships returned to the Cotswold Olimpicks at Dover's Hill in England. Sharon Reich reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Believe it or not, shin kicking is considered a sport, at least in this rural English town. For over four centuries local contestants have been competing in the shin kicking championships in Dover's Hill. In fact, it's one of the area's most popular events, but the brutality means that very few are brave enough to return for a second year. Except this time. Last year's champion 24-year-old Zak Warren decided to defend his crown, despite the pain. ZAK WARREN: "This year I'm not going to stand about like I did so much last year taking blows because I was worried about coming anyway due to my knee. I'm just literally going to go straight out this year and try wipe them straight to the floor before they get the chance to hit me, but we'll see, we'll see." REPORTER: The origins of the sport seem fairly lost in time, but one thing is sure -- this variation of wresting can be excruciating. Warren's opponent in the final was first-time contestant Jeremy Soper who left his footprint on the crowd after turning up in shorts ... That meant he had to improvise when it came to the traditional method of stuffing your pants with hay to limit the damage of the blows. By the time the final came around, Soper had found a pair of long pants. JEREMY SOPER: "Thanks goes to the guy how lent me these trousers, I couldn't have done it without him." REPORTER: In the end, Warren took the crown again - becoming a rare second year shin-kicking champion.
VOCABULARY Your shins are the front parts of your legs between your knees and your ankles.
Tokyo executives take corporate in-fighting to a new level, entering the boxing ring in search of knock-outs. Tara Cleary report.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Rival corporate employees duke it out - all in aid of charity. Tokyo's second Executive Fight Night saw 14 fighters from seven countries going head to head for three rounds. It was a far cry from their regular jobs as sales managers, brokers or company presidents. Fighter of the Night, Richard Platt from Union Bank of Switzerland, almost didn't make into the ring, but loyalty made him reconsider. RICHARD PLATT: "There's personal pride but there's also 'I'm fighting a little bit for my company', because they ask you for, who your company is and in Japan it is very much more so, the company you work for, than in for example the United States and the UK. Your company is kind of a big part of who you are." REPORTER: Organizers 'The Ginja Ninjas' won't throw in the towel and plan to hold 'Executive Fight Night' twice a year. But for some of these fighters, the bell was the only escape from a swift and painful downfall.
BOXING IDIOMS 1. If someone can pack a punch, they can hit very hard when they are fighting. Figurative speaking, to pack a punch means to have a powerful effect or influence. • This chilli sauce really packs a punch! 2. To duke it out means to have a fist fight. In the figurative sense, to duke it out means to compete against someone or something. • Candidates are still duking it out in state primaries. 3. If you throw in the towel, you admit defeat or failure. • The union was forced to throw in the towel and settle their bitter dispute with the company. This expression is based on the literal meaning of throwing a towel into the ring in boxing to signal that a fighter can no longer continue. 4. In boxing parlance, in-fighting is boxing at close quarters, but the term is also used to describe conflict between members of the same organization. • Nick Clegg says the Tories must end the infighting of the past two weeks.
English to English is The Guardian New York newsroom's new Tumblr blog which attempts to chronicle and catalogue (catalog?) UK-US cultural differences, poke fun at the ‘special’ relationship and build a living glossary of news, slang and pop culture terms. Here's a video from the blog.
COMMENT The English to English blog's been going for just over a month, and there's already a lot of really interesting content. Readers can Request/Submit a translation, and tweet using the hashtag #eng2eng, but it's a pity that there is no "Comment" feature on the blog where you can contribute ideas. One to follow all the same.
The online magazine TeaTime-Mag gives readers access to English language and culture in the realms of business, economy, new technologies, fashion, urban life, arts, music etc. – domains in which the English-speaking world plays a pioneering role. Watch the video to find out more.
COMMENT I've only just come across the excellent TeaTime-Mag, but it's been going for at least a couple of years. As it's published twice a month, there's a big collection of articles in the archive. One thing they don't mention in the video is that there are three versions of the magazine: for speakers of French, German, and Spanish, which is great is you are ... French, German, or Spanish. It's a pity there isn't an all-English version, but even if you don't speak any of those three languages, don't be put off — there's still plenty of interesting material to read and watch in English. There's also a Teacher Edition with extra content including texts with MP3 versions, and vocabulary lists. All in all, an impressive resource — and it's free.
EXPLANATION In addition to being known as a football player, David Beckham is famous for his slew of tattoos that he shows off on his usually shirtless body (see here). This is why members of the Federation of French Tattoists are celebrating Becks' arrival with champagne, no doubt anticipating a boom in the demand for tattoos!
COMMENT This cartoon provides good material for a discussion of cultural stereotypes. French men wearing berets and striped shirts (not to mention the twirly moustache). The Eiffel Tower to represent Paris. Tattoo aficionados as fat blokes with shaved heads and earrings. See here and here for more on French stereotypes.
VOCABULARY A tattoo is a permanent picture that is drawn on a part of your body by putting ink into your skin with a needle. Tattoo is also a verb: He decided to have an eagle tattooed on his back. The place where you go to get a tattoo is called a tattoo parlour.
NOTE You can see loads of photos and watch an extract from Beckham's PSG press conference at Mail Online.
It's a long-standing tradition in the UK for major retailers to produce a TV commercial for Christmas (you can see a selection of this year's of the best and worst 2012 Xmas ads here). Some of these are good lesson material. I used this one from Asda as part of a lesson about Christmas customs in the UK. I showed it to my EM Normandie students and got them (in groups) to make a list of all the actions that the mum carries out (see list
here). I then played it again, pausing to check their answers, and highlighting vocabulary. We finished with a discussion about whether the ad was sexist or not (see 'Related articles' below).
TRANSCRIPT DAD: Perfect. MUM: No, sorry. Could we just have a look at that one? VOICEOVER: It doesn't just happen by magic. Behind every great Christmas there's mum. And behind mum, there's Asda. DAD: What's for tea, love?