Merry Christmas from Stratford Teachers

Stratford Teachers round hte Christmas tree

Merry Christmas to everybody from all of us at Stratford Teachers.

2017 has been a good year for us. As well as teaching hundreds of online lessons, we’ve also delivered face-to-face courses here in Stratford upon Avon, proof-read an academic thesis, and helped people in China to practise their English pronunciation.

Next year we will continue to provide our popular and flexible online lessons and adding to our blog. We are currently planning a new pronunciation course which wil combine online, face-to-face learning with specially designed videos and interactive exercises.

Is there anyway we can help you to improve your English? Contact us to talk about it.

Here’s a little Christmas present from us to you. Test your knowledge of English prepositions by decorating our Christmas tree .

START HERE

Decorate the Christmas Tree

(Note this doesn’t work in Microsoft browsers. Please use another browser such as Firefox or Chrome.)

Linda, Simon, Barney, Joy, Louise & Stephen

 

 

Giving directions – interactive

Imagine this situation. You are visiting a friend. It is your first visit to this town. You want to send a package home but how do you find the post office?

You ask your friend for directions, of course.

Try our new interactive exercise and see if you can follow his directions to the post office.

START HERE

Giving directions instructions

START HERE

We are creating more and more interactive materials for our blog and to support our language courses. If there is a particular area of language you think we should focus on, please use the comment box below or contact us with your ideas.

 

Naval-inspired idioms

Cutty Sark - Greenwich, London
Cutty Sark is a clipper ship, used to transport tea from China to Britain. She is on display in Greenwich, London.

During a recent trip with Linda to Greenwich in London (famous for Greenwich Mean Time, the Naval Academy and Royal Observatory), Joy discovered some interesting idioms connected to ships and the sea.

Exercise 1

First , can you match the idiom with its origin?

1) First-rate

2) All at sea

3) No room to swing a cat

4) To push the boat out

5) Show your true colours

 

a) Helping a seaman push a boat into the water was an act of generosity or kindness.

b) Naval ships sometimes used foreign flags to disguise their identity at sea. Just before a battle, ships would show their own flag (also known as colours).

c) A ship which carried at least 100 guns and was the largest and most powerful type of ship of the Navy.

d) Relates to the practice of whipping with a cat-o’-nine-tails (a kind of whip with several ‘tails’).

e) Early navigators could easily become lost when out of sight of land as it was hard to work out their exact position.

 

Answers

1 c  2 e  3 d  4 a  5 b

 

Royal Naval College - Greenwich, London
Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London

Exercise 2

Today, these idioms are no longer associated with ships and the sea.

Read these sentences and choose the correct modern meaning for the idiom.

1) Congratulations! You’ve done a first rate job setting up the new order system.

a) useful
b) high quality
c) quick

2) When I first started here, I felt all at sea, but everyone was so friendly I soon settled in.

a) confused
b) excited
c) unhappy

3) She’s just bought a flat in London, but considering it cost £250,000 there’s no room to swing a cat!

a) it’s luxurious
b) it’s very small
c) it’s expensive

4) Don’t worry about the cost – you only get married once – let’s push the boat out!

a) have a party on a boat
b) invite a lot of people
c) spend a lot of money

5) Although I’d met him before, it was only when we started working together that he showed his true colours.

a) saw his real personality
b) saw he was a nice person
c) saw he didn’t like me

 

Answers

1 b  2 a  3 b  4 c  5 a

 

Ship in a bottle in Greenwich, London
Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. On display outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.

If you’ve never been to Greenwich, it’s definitely worth a visit – we met up with one of our ‘old’ students from Switzerland there. The National Maritime Museum has many fascinating exhibits, including Nelson’s uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar, with the hole made by the bullet that killed him!

If you have visited Greenwich, we would love to hear about your experience. Leave a reply below.

Do you want to learn English idioms? Send us a message.

 

Stratford and the language of Shakespeare – Part 2 – the answers

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

On the Wednesday this week, we published a second article about Stratford upon Avon, the home of Stratford Teachers and the birthplace of William Shakespeare. The text of the article contained eight phrases that come from Shakespeare’s plays but are still used as idioms in modern English.

This article will reveal the eight phrases, explain their meaning,  tell you which plays they came from, and give some modern examples of their use.

If you didn’t see the first article and want to test yourself, click here to read it then come back here.

Ready?


Here’s the second paragraph of the very short biography of Shakespeare. It contains two phrases.

In 1623, Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell collected many of the plays collected into a book called the First Folio. However, by this time, William was as dead as a doornail.  He died on his fifty-second birthday in 1616. Nobody knows for sure why he died so young. There are many theories including murder most foul.

1. dead as a doornail means completely dead.

It comes from the play Henry VI Part 2 Act 4 Scene 10

… and if I do not leave you all as dead as a door-nail, I

pray God I may never eat grass more.

This phrase is often used in a humorous way:

Sorry I can’t fix your computer this time. It’s as dead as a doornail.

 

2. murder most foul comes from Hamlet Act 1 Scene  5

Murder most foul, as in the best it is,

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

This is probably not a phrase you will use in everyday life but it is the title of a film based on a story by Agatha Christie.

 

This is the paragraph about Shakespeare’s birthplace.

The house became a pub called The Swan Maidenhead. By the nineteenth century, the building had seen better days. When the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought it in 1856 it was a sorry sight. They renovated and opened it; so Shakespeare’s Birthplace has been a tourist attraction for more than 150 years.

3. seen better days means something is old and in a bad condition.

Here it is in Act 2 Scene 7 of As You Like It.

True is it that we have seen better days,

These days we usually use the phrase to talk about things not people:

Goodness me, those shoes have seen better days. Why don’t you throw them out and get a new pair?

 

4. a sorry sight also means something is in a bad condition or a bad situation.

Macbeth says it in Act 2 Scene 2

This is a sorry sight.

This phrase can be used to talk about people:

Philip got caught in that rain storm yesterday. He was a sorry sight when he got here.

 

There are three more phrases in the story of New Place.

When it became several tourists every day, he was in a pickle. He asked the local government for money to pay a tour guide but they sent him packing. He went back and said that if they didn’t give him any money he would demolish the house. The men of the local government wouldn’t budge an inch.

5. in a pickle means to be in a difficult situation.

Shakespeare used this phrase in The Tempest Act 5 Scene 1

How cam’st thou in this pickle?

You can use the phrase to talk about yourself:

Can you help me? I’ve got in a bit of a pickle with this stupid spreadsheet.

 

6. send someone packing means to tell someone to leave but in an impatient way.

In Henry IV Part 1 Act 2 Scene 4, Falstaff says:

Faith, and I’ll send him packing.

This phrase is only used to talk about a future intention (like Falstaff) or something in the past:

A: Did Gerry get the pay rise he wanted?

B: No, the boss just sent him packing.

 

7. not budge an inch means refuse to change your point of view or opinion.

Shakespeare used this phrase in the prologue of The Taming of the Shrew.

… I’ll answer him by

law. I’ll not budge an inch, boy. Let him come, and

kindly.

Unlike the character in The Taming of the Shrew, this phrase is usually used to talk about other people.

A: Did you persuade the boss to change his mind?

B: No. he wouldn’t budge an inch.

 

The final phrase is from the paragraph about the theatre’s tower.

When the theatre was renovated at the start of this century the design came full circle. Today, you can go to the top of the tower and look out at the countryside around Stratford.

8. to come full circle is to return to the place where you started or the opinion you had in the past.

In King Lear Act 5 Scene 3, Edmund says:

Th’ hast spoken right. ‘Tis true;

The wheel is come full circle; I am here.

At the beginning we sold our products online. Last year we tried selling in shops but that didn’t work. So, we’ve come full circle and now we only sell through the website.


All these phrase are idioms.

Using idioms well is an advanced skill in any language. You should:

  • choose one or two common idioms (ask a teacher)
  • learn and practise the correct way to say them (check a dictionary)
  • only use them at appropriate moments
  • not use them too often
  • not forget that idioms are usually informal phrases
  • remember that you could be quoting William Shakespeare.

That’s all about William Shakespeare and Stratford upon Avon for now.

By Barney

 

If you want to contact us, please use the comment box at the bottom of the page or the form on the Contact Us page.

 

Stratford and the language of Shakespeare – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short introduction to Stratford upon Avon and the language of William Shakespeare – the most famous person born in Stratford. The article also said that many words and phrases that we still use in modern English first appeared in writing when Shakespeare used them in his plays and poems.

This article contains eight phrases from Shakespeare’s plays. There are three challenges for you.

  • The first is: Can you spot all eight phrases?
  • The second is: What do they mean? (Tip: They are all listed as idioms in the Cambridge Dictionary.)
  • The third challenge is more literary: Which of Shakespeare’s plays does each phrase come from?

A very, very short biography of William Shakespeare

What do we know about the most famous writer in English history? William Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon on 23 April 1564. He was married to Anne Hathaway and had 3 children. Although William worked as an actor, writer and theatre manager in London, his family never left Stratford. He wrote or collaborated on 38 plays and also wrote 154 sonnets and other long poems. He retired from acting around 1613 and moved back to Stratford.

First Folio
First Folio in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke

In 1623, Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell collected many of the plays collected into a book called the First Folio.

However, by this time, William was as dead as a doornail.  He died on his fifty-second birthday in 1616. Nobody knows for sure why he died so young. There are many theories including murder most foul.

A quick tour of Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Shakespeare's birthplace
Shakespeare’s birthplace in 2016

There are many places in Stratford upon Avon connected to William Shakespeare.

This is his birthplace (we saw this word in the first article).

 

 

 

Shakespeare's Birthplace in 1847
Shakespeare’s Birthplace, 1847

After the Shakespeare family moved out, the house became a pub called The Swan Maidenhead. By the nineteenth century, the building had seen better days.

When the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought it in 1856 it was a sorry sight. They renovated and opened it; so, Shakespeare’s Birthplace has been a tourist attraction for more than 150 years.

New Place

From 1597 to 1616, the Shakespeare family lived in a large house called New Place. It was right in the centre of Stratford.

Here’s a photo of it from about 100 years ago and another from this year.

New Place in Stratford upon Avon
New Place in 2016
New Place in Stratford upon Avon about 1925
Nash’s House and New Place in about 1925

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are thinking: what house? then you are right. New Place was demolished in 1759. It’s a strange story.

Even in the seventeen hundreds, tourists came to Stratford. They would knock on the door of New Place and ask for a tour of Shakespeare’s house. When it was one tourist a week, the owner of the house was happy to give tours. When it became several tourists every day, he was in a pickle.

He asked the local government for money to pay a tour guide but they sent him packing. He went back and said that if they didn’t give him any money he would demolish the house. The men of the local government wouldn’t budge an inch.

That’s why tourists visit a house that doesn’t exist anymore.

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre

This is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The first theatre was built in 1885. Notice it has a tower.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1885
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1885

In 1926, there was a huge fire.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre on fire in 1926
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre on fire

Here’s what the theatre looked like when it reopened in 1932. There was no tower this time.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932

When the theatre was renovated at the start of this century the design came full circle. Today, you can go to the top of the tower and look out at the countryside around Stratford.

Shakespeare Theatre in 2016
Shakespeare Theatre in 2016

Did you spot any of the eight phrases included in the tour? Put your answers in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Don’t forget, they are all used as idioms in modern English. Try and find them in the dictionary.

If you want to find which plays the phrases come from, use the Shakespeare’s Words website.

On Friday, I’ll give the answers and suggest some modern ways of using the phrases.

by Barney

All the historic photographs in this article are from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collection.

Stratford and the language of Shakespeare – part 1 – the answers

A portrait of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

The text of part 1 of this article contained four words that, according to scholars, were invented by Shakespeare. Did you spot any of them? Don’t worry, here are the answers.

 

  1. Stratford is famous because it is the birthplace of the writer William Shakespeare.

birthplace comes from Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus.

In Act 4, Scene 4, Coriolanus says this about Rome:

My birthplace hate I, and my love’s upon

This enemy town.

 

  1. This year there have been countless festivals and events in Stratford and around the world to commemorate this date.

Shakespeare used countless several times. Here’s an example from Pericles Act 1 Scene 1:

… But O you powers

That give heaven countless eyes to view men’s acts,

 

  1. Many people also wanted to see a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays. However, they thought that they would be perplexed by the language. They were worried that they would not understand.

perplexed appears in lots of Shakespeare’s plays. In King John Act 3 Scene 1, King Philip of France says:

I am perplexed, and know not what to say.

 

  1. However, the students worries were usually baseless.

Prospero uses baseless in his famous speech near the end of The Tempest (Act 4 Scene 1):

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air;

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on; and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

 

In the next part of Stratford and the language of Shakespeare, I will take you on a virtual tour of Stratford upon Avon and show you some phrases from Shakespeare’s plays that have become modern English idioms.

by Barney


All the links in this article are to the very fine website Shakespeare’s Words by David and Ben Crystal.

Stratford and the language of Shakespeare – part 1

Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford upon Avon
William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford upon Avon

The Stratford Teachers online school is named after the town of Stratford upon Avon in the heart of England. Most of us live in this town.

Of course, Stratford is famous because it is the birthplace of the writer William Shakespeare. In fact, Shakespeare died here exactly 400 years ago. This year there have been countless festivals and events in Stratford and around the country to commemorate this date.

William Shakespeare

Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon

When people came to Stratford to study English, they always asked about William Shakespeare. We took them on a tour of the famous places in the town that are connected to him. The biggest building in the centre of Stratford is the theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Many people also wanted to see a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays. However, they thought that they would be perplexed by the language. They were worried that they would not understand.

It is true that the characters in Shakespeare’s plays speak very differently from how we speak today. However, the students worries were usually baseless. If you know the story of the play, it is possible to follow and understand a performance.

Shakespeare’s language

The portrait of William Shakespeare from the First Folio
William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s plays and poems use a vocabulary of about 27,000 words. This is over three times more than an average native-speaker of English uses on an average day. Lots of these words are now archaic – we don’t use them in modern English. Many words that we still use today appeared in writing for the first time when Shakespeare used them. There are also some words and phrases that William Shakespeare may have invented that are part of English 400 years after he died. In fact, there are four words in this article that, according to scholars, were invented by Shakespeare. Did you spot them?

In the next part of Stratford and the language of Shakespeare, I will tell you the four words and show you some phrases from Shakespeare’s plays that have become modern English idioms. It’s easy to quote Shakespeare. Maybe you already do it.

by Barney