Improve your English, Teachers only

The Bilingual Brain: Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All


Over the past few years, you might have noticed a surfeit of articles covering current research on bilingualism. Some of them suggest that it sharpens the mind, while others are clearly intended to provoke more doubt than confidence, such as Maria Konnikova’s ‘Is Bilingualism Really an Advantage?’ (2015) in The New Yorker. The pendulum swing of the news cycle reflects a real debate in the cognitive science literature, wherein some groups have observed effects of bilingualism on non-linguistic skills, abilities and function, and others have been unable to replicate these findings.

Despite all the fuss that has been made about the bilingual advantage, most researchers have moved on from the simplistic ‘is there an advantage or not’ debate. Rather than asking whether bilingualism per se confers a cognitive advantage, researchers are now taking a more nuanced approach by exploring the various aspects of bilingualism to better understand their individual effects.

To give an idea of the nuances I am talking about, consider this: there is more than one type of bilingualism. A simultaneous bilingual learn two languages from birth; an early sequential bilingual might speak one language at home but learn to speak the community language at school, and a late sequential bilingual might grow up with one language and then move to a country that speaks another. The differences between these three types are not trivial – they often lead to different levels of proficiency and fluency in multiple aspects of language, from pronunciation to reading comprehension. Continue reading “The Bilingual Brain: Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All”

Classroom Resources, Improve your English

Family vocabulary


Your mother and father are your parents who care for you while you are growing.
Father: a person’s male parent. We usually call our father Dad or Daddy.
Mother: a person’s female parent. We usually call our mother Mum or Mummy.

Grandfather: a father of a person’s parent. We usually call our grandfather grandad (US granddad) or grandpa.
Grandmother: a mother of a person’s parent. We usually call our grandmother gran, grandma or granny.

Your brothers and sisters are your siblings with same parents.
Brother: a male person with the same parents as another person
Sister: a female person with the same parents as another person

Our uncle and aunt are the siblings of our parents.
Uncle: a brother of a person’s parent; a husband of a person’s aunt
Aunt: a sister of a person’s parent; a wife of a person’s uncle

Your son and daughter are your children.

Son: a male child
Daughter: a female child
Cousin (also first cousin): a child of a person’s aunt or uncle
Nephew: a son of a person’s sibling
Niece: a daughter of a person’s sibling

The child of your son or daughter is your grandchild.
Grandson: a son of a person’s child
Granddaughter: a daughter of a person’s child

The partner in marriage is our spouse. Our wife or husband is our spouse.
Husband: a male partner
Wife: a female partner

Parents of the spouse
Father-in-law: a father of a person’s spouse
Mother-in-law: a mother of a person’s spouse
Brother-in-law: a brother of a person’s spouse
Sister-in-law: a sister of a person’s spouse

Your ex-wife or ex-husband is your former partner in marriage.

Half-brother: a male person who has either the same mother or the same father (but not both) as another person
Half-sister: a female person who has either the same mother or the same father (but not both) as another person

Stepmother: new wife of a person’s father in a second marriage
Stepfather: a new husband of a person’s mother in a second marriage

Your stepbrother or stepsister is the child of your stepparent but not your biological parent.

Collocations with family members

lone, single, widowed father

a father of two/three etc.

lone, single, unmarried, widowed mother

a mother of two/three etc.

big, elder, older, little, younger, full, half, twin brother/sister
maternal, paternal uncle/aunt
future, ex-, former, house husband/wife


Improve your English, Just for Fun

Homographs that’ll make your scratch your heads

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no ham in hamburger, no egg in eggplant, neither apple nor pine in pineapple. French fries weren’t invented in France, and English muffins weren’t invented in England. Furthermore, quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is not from Guinea nor is it a pig!

English is also a silly language at times, too. I mean, who in their right mind would create two words with the same spelling and different meanings? I am of course talking about those pesky homographs. For example:

“He wound up the clock with ease, even though he had a wound to his right hand.”

How ridiculous! Of course, you could, and probably would, rephrase that sentence to avoid the homographs. But there are times when we find ourselves accidentally sucked into the vacuum, and like a dog’s mess gracing the pavement of a dark lane, we occasionally step on a homograph-ridden sentence.

Now, before we dive into our list of homographs for your grammatical pleasure, bear in mind that a homograph that is also pronounced differently is called a ‘heteronym’. Oh, and while we’re here, don’t forget the ‘homophone’, which is when two or more words share the same pronunciation but have different meanings, and may or may not be spelled the same way.

And one last thing…

The homograph, heteronym and homophone are all types of ‘homonym’; which is defined as two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings.

Confused? Don’t sweat it. Your friends will scratch their scalps too when you share these:

1. Rita was too close to the door to close it.
2. Dan’s wife said he should polish the Polish furniture on a regular basis.
3. I did not object to the object in question.
4. There is no time like the present to present a friend with a present.
5. The vegetable farm was asked to produce organic produce for the local community.
6. Unfortunately the insurance was invalid for the invalid.
7. The dog lead was dangerous because it was made of lead.
8. I had to hide the animal hide before my vegetarian friend came to dinner.
9. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer pipeline.
10. There was a row between the oarsmen about how to row properly.
11. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
12. She shed a tear upon seeing the tear in the painting.
13. The soldier had to desert his platoon in the desert.
14. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
15. The buck does get rather excited when the does are around.
16. The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.
17. To help plant the seeds the farmer taught his sow to sow.
18. The contract was subject to the term that I didn’t contract an illness within the first two months.
19. It took me a minute to locate the minute hole in the fence.
20. After months of procrastination, Helen decided to resume writing her resume.
21. I shall stop here because I am content with this content!

by Jennifer Frost

Improve your English

10 American words you’ll never hear a British person say

cleatsWhat do we call this? A cleat? A shoe with cleats on?

This list is rife with bewilderment and confusion, as a British mind attempts to make sense of terms, names and phrases that simply do not happen on the European side of the Atlantic.

If you’re about to get married, and you want to throw a party to commemorate the passing of your single-ness, that’s got different names depending on where you are. The British prefer to call their male would-be-weds stags and their female counterparts hens. So instead of a bachelor or bachelorette party, there’s a stag do and a hen do. And it’s unlikely that, as with other traditions like baby showers, the American version will eventually take over as, to most British ears bachelorette sounds like an unnecessarily frilly feminization of an exclusively male term, akin to, I dunno, beardette or prostatrix.

Sometimes other people’s language decisions can be baffling. Imagine you’d never heard the term backhoe before, would you assume it meant the same as digger? Neither did I. Digger seems a lot clearer a word for a vehicle with a big digging device on its back—even one used for hoeing—than backhoe. Put a digger (most commonly known by its trade name JCB) in front of a Brit and ask them to think of alternative names for this invaluable building tool, and they simply would not come close to backhoe. Why would they? It’s a digger. It is used for digging. It digs. Backhoe? Tsk!

Bear claw (and elephant ear)
It’s odd, given that there are so many British sweet snacks with strangely unappetizing names—flies graveyard, fat rascal—that the bear claw and elephant ear haven’t made their way across the Atlantic. It is certainly not a lack of interest in danish-style pastries with fruit filling or palmier-style pastry swirls. Suffice to say if you’re visiting the U.K. and ask your hosts where you could get your hands on a bear claw, be prepared to wind up at the zoo.

This is a little fiddly. Basically, U.S. sporting terminology uses the term cleats to describe a pair of shoes or boot with studs or spikes coming out of the sole to avoid slipping on grass. However, the U.K. version, the word simply refers to the studs themselves. That is, if we use the word at all (studs seems to work just fine). The only slight exception is that cyclists, whose cleats are not studs, do use the word more often, but its by no means common. You’re far more likely to hear football or rugby boots referred to as football or rugby boots, golf shoes as golf shoes, and for cyclists to talk openly about the stuff on the soles of their footwear to a largely befuddled audience.

The M25 is a mighty motorway, forming a circle around London and keeping it safe from invaders (by creating a mighty perimeter shield of traffic). It is a road, and it is roughly in the shape of a ring, so it, and other roads that do a similar job, are known as ring roads. By contrast, a beltway sounds more like the bit where your groceries go at the supermarket, or possibly a branch of Weight Watchers that focuses more on girth than poundage.

The Brits have an international reputation for cooking food in hot liquids, so you could forgive them a moment’s confusion over the words boil and broil, especially when they’re really not the same thing. If you want to make toast, you have no toaster but you do have a cooker with an overhead heat source, for a Brit, that’s grilling, not broiling, as it takes place under a grill. Although grilling isn’t a million miles away from griddling, so neither approach makes life easy for hard-working chefs in a noisy kitchen environment. Let’s call this a draw.

Not that it would be hard to work out what someone meant if they used the term in the U.K., but if you were to come home to your home and find someone had broken in and stolen your stuff, while we can all agree that the crime is burglary, the verb form of that term is very different. While Americans say burglarize, Brits say burgle because it’s a crime committed by burglars, not burglarizers.

A fine old American expression, derived from “would rather” (as in “if I had my would-rathers, I’d been living in Paris now”), but one that is entirely unknown in the U.K. outside of the context of American literature. It’s not that there’s been a decision not to use the term, delightful and colorful as it is, it’s just not used, and would probably cause a curling-up and blushing of any British person brave enough to give it a go.

It’s not as if there isn’t a term for things reaching their least unexpected state in the U.K—normality—it’s just the suffix is different. Normalcy just seems like a deliberately strange alternate choice, one which raises the interesting possibility of other options that may have once been on the table during a long and protracted brainstorm, such as normalitude, normalment, normalness or (for normal women) normalatrix.

Stick shift
“Do you drive a stick?” is a question that always raises a quizzical British eyebrow whenever it crops up in American TV shows or books, not least because the person asking it is always pointing to a car and never at anything that ever fell off a tree. And for once, this is a difference of culture as well as simple language. The British driver’s default position is to drive a car with a manually operated gearbox and three pedals. Automatic gearboxes were traditionally viewed with suspicion and only relatively recently enjoyed any kind of prominence as a driver option in Britain. Consequently, not only is it nonsensical to enquire as to the option of driving what Brits call a manualbecause almost everyone does, they wouldn’t understand stick shift as a term either, especially as automatics also have a stick that requires shifting.

Improve your English

10 Words Brits Use That Americans No Longer Do


A quick example of the bleeding obvious: people speak differently in the UK and the US. If you’re an American fan of British TV shows—the originals, not the American remakes—you’re probably very aware that once in a while, the characters will utter a word that you won’t hear on the streets of your hometown.

But you may be surprised to know that some of the words we consider distinctly British today were once fairly common in the United States. Read on:

1 Tetchy, adjective Someone who is tetchy is someone with a bad temper:
               You can’t even talk with him these days; he’s just too tetchy.

2 Amongst, preposition While amongst is less favored than among in British English, it’s rarely seen at all in American English.
               There’s a grammar pedant amongst us, and I intend to find out who he is.

3 Marvelous, adjective Sure, you can use amazing instead, but marvelous sounds so much more . . . marvelous:
               We had a marvelous time during that holiday retreat.

4 Fortnight, noun Something that happens once every fortnight is something that happens every two weeks:
                 We try to get together for a family meal once a fortnight.

5 Cheers, exclamation In British English, cheers isn’t something you’d say when it’s time to have a drink. It’s a casual way to say “thank you”:
              Cheers Thom, I really needed that paper today.

6 Rubbish, noun, adjective You know this one, it has the same meaning as garbage. Plus, rubbish can be used as an adjective when you want to say that something is really bad:
              I bought a new keyboard today, but it’s rubbish so I’ll give it to my brother.

7 Blimey, exclamation If you ever get tired of saying “wow,” you might make an effort to bring blimey back:
               Blimey, that escalated quickly!

8 Hoover, noun A hoover is a device that uses suction to clean surfaces—a vacuum cleaner:
               The hoover broke because it’s not supposed to be used to clean up spilled water.

9 Bespoke, adjective Before things were custom-made, they were bespoke, especially if they were suits:
               A bespoke suit is expensive, but it’s a good investment if you want to look professional.

10 Chap, noun Chap is an informal way of referring to a male person, sort of like “dude”:
                  See that chap wearing a yellow bow-tie? That’s my biology professor.