Like a Bear with a Sore Head

In one of our last blogs, I mentioned our students’ genuine interest in idiomatic expressions and similes. What I find really intriguing though, is that the very same students don’t really use many idioms when speaking their first language. I guess that in many cases it’s the image of the expression that we make in our minds that we may find  truly fascinating, and not the fact that we could actually one day use the expression. A bear with a sore head  might look something like this:

Resultat d'imatges de a bear with a soar headResultat d'imatges de a bear with a soar head

But the history behind many an expression is not as funny as its visualisation may be.

In Collins’s ” Dictionary of Curious Phrases” I found the following entry for Like a Bear with a Sore Head:

Groses’s Classical Dictionary of Vulgar tongue, which appeared in 1785, illustrates the word ‘grumble’ with the sentence:’ He grumbled like a bear with a sore ear.’ Bears with sore ears would certainly have been found in bear gardens, where bear-baiting took place. This was a popular spectator sport in England between the 14th and 17th centuries. A bear was chained to a stake and had to defend itself against the dogs who were set on it.

Resultat d'imatges de a bear baiting

The riotous atmosphere at such events led to ‘bear garden’ becoming a  term to describe a place where confusion reigns….Eating People is wrong, by Malcolm Bradbury, has:

‘”It’s a mad,crazy world we live in.” Jenkins nodded sagely.”It’s a bear-garden”.’

Frederick Marryat  seems to have been the first writer to amend Grose’s ‘bear with a sore ear.’ In The King’s Own he uses the expression ‘ as savage as a bear with a sore head.’ Ten years later, in a work called Poor Jack, Marryat changed the simile to ‘ as sulky as a bear with a sore head’. Marryat’s stories were immensely popular in the 19th century, and his words would have been widely noted. He was probably responsible for making most of us think automatically, when someone is behaving with a mixture of savagery and sulkiness, of bears with sore heads.

So, next time when you find a certain simile or expression interesting, look it up and find out where it comes from, and how and where  it was used first.  You might be (un)pleasantly surprised!


Time flies

It’s September again. School has begun. Holidays are over.The saddest of sad facts-time flies.

No matter who I ask about their holidays these days, they unmistakably answer; ” What holiday?”” or ” I can’t even remember it !” or ” It’s so long ago.”

“Ok. Just try to remember so I can see how you’re using the past tenses.”Soon I give up wanting to chat away the first class of the new school year with my students and just focus on the practical.They think hard and get started. A task is a task after all and they want to get their money’s worth. There’s no way out.

Some have more to say and others really seem to have suffered from amnesia and just summarise their holidays  in  a few words: ” It was fine”,  I enjoyed myself” or “They were too short”.

It made me think. Time is relative, as we all know, from school or from life, but after  summer holidays it just seems to be even more so!

Before leaving we are full of expectations, counting down the days that will lead us to freedom; freedom from work ,study, our  daily chores. Then , all of a sudden we’re back again and  in the blink of an eye  routine sinks in, memories of the time spent away become blurred, details too difficult to remember and a deep post- vacation depression sinks  in.

I also feel like my holidays were a very long time ago so I religiously go over my  summer photos, time and again, and  I smile whenever a memory of a trivial but wonderful moment of holiday bliss flashes back  into my memory.Because I completely agree with the following quote, in spite of being a teacher:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. - Bertrand Russell

But school is back and I owe you some ideas to practice your English.This time , TIME is our leading idea as you’ve must have assumed, and here’s an oldie to start with:

Our blog can’t do without some idiomatic expressions.Most of our advanced students just love collecting them. Using them is quite a different story.

I’ve come across this marvelous animation explaining relativity.

I can go on and on. Time really is an inspiring topic. I might  even spread it over a few more blog posts.

But, I gotta go now! I’ve got some real work to do. It’s September again!  Remember : time flies, but at least it’s relative, so holidays are just around the corner!

Have a nice week!

Romance, is it dead?

It’s summer. Classes are scarce and topics are light. I haven’t been very active writing this blog, but now I switched into summer mode and the few classes I do have are relaxed and easy-going.

I chose a song to do with my 15-year-old student. It’s a song from my teenage years. I loved it then and have discovered that I still like it. However, what really made it my choice for the class was the comment under the exercise which read:

“I’m Gonna Be ( 500 miles)  was originally written and sung by the Scottish group The Proclaimers in 1988. It was the favourite song of Ling Hsueh,who lives in south-east China.When her boyfriend,Liu Peiwen, asked her to marry him in 2011,she accepted. However,she joked that it was on condition that he walked to her door from his home in Henan Province-1000 miles away. To her surprise, he did exactly that.”

( English file 3rd edition Teacher’s Book Intermediate)

I asked her what she thought about the comment,not hiding my delight that a young man would do anything like that in the 21st century. I was quite sure that romance had been buried away together with poetry books and had no place in the time of Internet-based relationships,speed dating and Twitter. Unfortunately, neither the song nor the comment provoked any reaction  from her.So here’s the song and the lyrics:

I was a bit frustrated  by the girl’s lack of interest. Fortunately, I found  a live version of the song from 2014 which proves that romantic songs still have their many admirers. But what do you think, is romance dead? Summer seems to be the right season to ask such a question!

Building your vocabulary skyscraper

21st Century Guide to Building Your Vocabulary by

In 1995, I bought a book called ” “21st century guide to building your vocabulary”.It has been sitting on my bookshelf for ages and I thought it’s worth reminding the world of its existence. Here’s the download:

The idea of its authors was that we will need excellent communication skills in order to prosper in the following, 21st century. This idea still seems to be valid, just think about the US president who is, by all means, a true example of a  perfect orator.

However, what happens in classrooms is quite different.Students of all ages tend to be reading less and less and teachers are much more preoccupied by having fun classes, which should miraculously lead to effective learning, than by their students really understanding the contents being presented. The issue becomes even more serious when it comes to remembering vocabulary of a foreign language. Mind  you, this is just a personal opinion based on  years of experience  and there are always resplendent exceptions to the rule.

Many secondary school students, and even college students, doing our language courses have a limited vocabulary range of their own mother tongue. Many times they just don’t know the simplest of nominal  words, not to mention abstract nouns explaining more complex ideas.

As a solution, I  usually tell them to make lists with a definition in English, and example sentence and then the translations, in this case into Catalan and/or Spanish if the word is completely new to them followed by a Catalan/Spanish definition and example sentence.

You can imagine how many student actually do this! The most they would do is write a Spanish/Catalan translation, which makes no sense, of course , as they don’t know the word in the first place.

Needless to say, my suggestion of having their own glossary, which they could consult before doing any language exam, is not fun. So we start on a vicious circle of vocabulary games, vocabulary exercises and so on just to avoid the easiest way of expanding vocab, which is READING and taking out some of the words and expressions you find important or you might want to use in the future or for t writing  tasks and presentations.

I am aware of the fact that the grammar translation method has been dead and buried for decades. However, in the times when a great deal of teaching is done by using new technologies, I think students might be double challenged by aiming  to improve their overall  language skills using one of the oldest teaching materials – a book.

Words, New Words, Real words

Having noticed that our most visited posts are about vocabulary, we thought you might enjoy this Ted talks video:

For those interested in the word(s) of the year 2014:

Our last comment on the video is: don’t forget to be critical about the dictionaries and language resources in general that you use. You might have noticed  that we  had mentioned this tip in many past posts.

Unsurprisingly, our second most visited posts are about  how to learn. Today we found an intriguing video questioning the myth of  learning styles.

Love it or loathe it, it might  actually help you to reconsider the way you study or give you an idea why old-fashioned memorization  and repetition  methods are resurrecting, the most recent in Spain being  the too-well-marketed Vaugham method.

Our students keep asking our opinion about it. For all students of English in Spain who wonder if it is really more efficient than any other method,which is what its “author” claims, our answer will always be: keep trying out what might work for you best. Even after listening to the video questioning learning styles, and wondering how far it really is valid, learning preferences can never be questioned.

The more effort you make in order to find a way that helps you to learn, the more likely it will be that you will eventually come up with the one that works best for you.Stick to your preferences and follow your gut feeling. Results will eventually follow.

Totally eclipsed

Today I’m sure many of you have remembered this fabulous love song by Bonnie Tyler.

The Greeks believed that the solar eclipse was a sign that the gods were angry and death and destruction were on their way. In fact, eclipse comes from ekleipsis, an ancient Greek word that means obscured, or abandoned. A fragment of a lost poem by Archilochus (c680–645 BCE) depicted a solar eclipse as such:

Nothing there is beyond hope,

nothing that can be sworn impossible,

nothing wonderful since Zeus,

father of the Olympians,

made night from midday,

hiding the light of the shining sun,

and sore fear came upon men.

In addition to the solar eclipse, today we will witness a supermoon and a spring equinox. A supermoon refers to the moment the moon orbits at its closest to the Earth, making it look bigger than it normally does. The spring equinox is the time of the year when night and day are of equal length, mid-way between the longest and shortest days of the year. It is a sign that the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays.
Some Christian ministers have viewed the rare collision of three celestial events as the beginning of the end of the world.

As you can see, superstition will never die.

P.S. These  excerpts have been taken from The Guardian. You might like to read the whole article: