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Hello and welcome to my blog!

If you’re learning English, interested in my posts about language and communication or my tips for language learners, you’re in the right place.

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Whichever blog you visit, I hope you enjoy reading it and don’t forget to say “hi” or let me know what you think :)

All the best,

Sunday roast

It’s said that you can understand a lot about a culture by experiencing its food.

I often find it hard to get excited about traditional English food, mainly because at home, we don’t eat a lot of food that is traditionally British. We consume far too much rice and noodles for that, and even when I do cook British food, I tend to spice it up a bit to make it more exciting.

However, something that I can write about is the Sunday roast. We don’t have it so often now, but when I was growing up, my grandmother made it every Sunday, and I think now I enjoy the association and fond childhood memories as much as the food itself. Whatever was going on during the rest of the week, this was a meal where we sat down to eat together – sometimes just my grandparents and I, sometimes my aunt and cousins joined us.


What’s on the plate?

Basically, a Sunday roast consists of meat, potatoes, and other vegetables, often covered with gravy, a thick, meaty sauce, and sometimes a Yorkshire pudding.

The meat is usually lamb (my favourite!), chicken, beef or pork. In restaurants, there is often a meat loaf alternative for vegetarians. Although this doesn’t belong to the tradition – it’s an add-on to make sure vegetarians aren’t left out.

Then come the potatoes – usually roast potatoes, although sometimes boiled potatoes are served as well. You can buy frozen ones, and I do use them if I’m in a hurry, but the best ones are home-made – crispy on the outside and fluffy inside.

The vegetables can be whatever you want to have, but often include carrots, parsnips, swede, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, runner beans and peas – as a child I was always disappointed when peas were on the menu, and after a while I was excused from eating them!

Then comes the Yorkshire pudding, which is made using a batter containing mainly milk, flour, and eggs. The dish originated in Yorkshire, which is a county in the north of England. Originally the Yorkshire pudding was cooked under the meat, using the fat that dropped down from the meat, but now they are often cooked separately.

In the past, the Yorkshire pudding was sometimes served as a first course with a thick gravy, so that the guests would fill up on the less expensive ingredients. Now it’s served alongside the meat and other vegetables.

You can buy frozen individual ones, but again, I think the best ones are home-made, although it seems less and less people are making their own. My grandmother used to make a big rectangular one and then chop it up, like a cake.

Then comes the gravy, which is often made of the stock from the meat, although there are now also quick alternatives on the market such as granules, to which you just add some hot water and then you have to stir it to get rid of the lumps.

There are also accompaniments, depending on your choice of meat. Usually, mint sauce goes with lamb, apple sauce goes with pork, and horseradish sauce goes with beef.

The history

The origins of the Sunday roast, also known as Sunday lunch and Sunday dinner, are thought to go back to the time of Henry VIII. Of course, only the rich would have been able to afford meat every day. Sometimes the very rich would make a big show of roasting the whole animal to feed everyone in their castle or large home. The poorest people would not have been able to afford meat at all. For many in between these two extremes, the Sunday roast was the best meal of the week, and they used the rest of the meat up in other dishes such as stews, soups, pies or it was eaten cold the next day – something we still do today if there is too much meat left over after the meal is finished.

Why do we need to know these things?

I remember reading about an ambassador to England complaining about being bored of lamb and potatoes in the UK. Maybe he had a serious dislike of lamb and potatoes, but it did make me wonder whether he had done his research, and whether he knew that a roast dinner on Sundays is part of our food heritage. Knowing this may have helped him to understand why this food kept appearing on Sundays.

Of course, there are always options for people who don’t like this, but in most traditional pubs and restaurants, you will be able to order a Sunday roast on a Sunday, usually with a choice of meat. I haven’t yet found one as good as my Grandmother’s, but I do opt for this choice from time to time, and I enjoy eating it at home with friends as well.

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Principal or principle?

Ask the wise old owl

Wise Old Owl

Principle or principal?

These two words sound the same, but they have different meanings. Sometimes people, even people who have this word as part of their job title, mix them up! So let’s clear up the confusion!

Principle is a noun. It’s an idea or belief on which a system of thought is based. For example, we can talk about the basic principles of democracy. If something goes against your principles, it goes against your values or beliefs.

Principal is usually an adjective, which basically means main (such as the principal cities in an area), or a noun when it’s referring to the most senior person in an institution, such as a school.

You can be the principal of a school, but if you call yourself a principle, you’re basically calling yourself an idea, which doesn’t work!

More articles in this series

If you want to read the rest of the articles in this series, go to the wise old owl’s main page.

If you want to find out about more words which sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings, check out this podcast episode.

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Online presentations – delivering information when you can’t see your audience

In the past, delivering presentations was all about standing at the front of a room and delivering your content to people who were in the same room as you.

Now, technology has made it possible for us to deliver different kinds of presentations. Sometimes the audience is not in the same place as you. Sometimes they are watching or listening to your presentation long after you delivered it.

Whether you’re preparing content to be consumed later, such as a podcast or a Youtube video, or you’re broadcasting live as part of a webinar or Facebook live broadcast, it’s a different experience to being in the same place as your audience.

For some people, this takes away some of the stress associated with presenting – you don’t see the sea of faces looking at you and you are presenting in familiar surroundings, which in turn can make you feel confident. However, there are a few things to consider.

1. Are you speaking to one or many?

This is the first advice that I was given when I created my first podcast episode. I used phrases like “hi everyone” and “if any of you want to know more”. This doesn’t actually bother me when I’m listening to podcasts, but unless you are trying to build a community, the chances are that the listener is on their own and they may never come in to contact with the listeners. I don’t want to say that there is a right or wrong way to do this, but just think about whether you want to address a group, such as a group of colleagues, or to make things more personal and speak as though you are talking directly to your listener.

2. Talking to yourself in an empty room

Some people may find this distracting because there is nobody there listening to you and you can’t get the usual feedback such as an encouraging smile or a nod.

Sometimes the problem is that people are not used to hearing their own voice and this is especially true when they are speaking another language. If you find this to be true, try delivering your presentation aloud to your dog or cat, or imagine that a good friend or supportive colleague is there with you and you are talking just to them.

If it’s live, it can be even more off-putting because you can see that nobody is watching your channel, or not many people have signed in to the webinar. But remember, your content can be reused – Facebook live videos can stay on your Facebook page for people to watch at a later date, webinar recordings can be made available as a replay or on your site, so don’t waste the first 10 minutes saying “I wonder if everyone can see and hear me?” I’ve stopped watching replays or videos because of this – it was boring! Log onto the broadcast with another device if you can, but try to focus on the content, rather than how many people are there at the beginning of the presentation. People have a tendency to pop in and out of live broadcasts and webinars in a way that they don’t in real life.

3. Make sure you get audience feedback

You can’t see if you’re audience is nodding along in agreement, looking confused or staring into space. Therefore, make sure that you have a way for them to interact with you and ask any questions. This needs to be managed in a different way than in a face-to-face setting. Even if you don’t want questions during the presentation, you can ask people to put them in the chat and come to them at the end. If it’s likely to be a busy chat, it’s sometimes helpful to ask someone to help you manage it and pull out the relevant questions. They can also help to manage anyone who is being disruptive in the chat so that you can focus on giving your presentation.

As well as showing a willingness to answer comments, this is also a good way to make sure that people are following along with what you are saying because you can’t gauge the mood in the room without some kind of feedback from the participants.

If it’s not live, make sure that you have some way for people to contact you with any questions or comments. This could either be an email address, or if you don’t feel comfortable giving out an email address, you can direct them to your social media, or a comment form on the show notes page of your podcast.

4. Think about your speed and delivery

I had done plenty of face-to-face presentations, but I remember when I did my first online one. I practised a couple of times beforehand. Each time it took me 45 minutes. On the day, the same live presentation took 35 minutes. I didn’t realise I was rushing, but I must have been. I was speaking English at the time, but I know I do this even more when I’m speaking German.

We don’t do it on purpose, but speaking too quickly is not fair to our audience because it often makes it harder to understand what is being said. If people don’t understand, they will lose interest, which is a wasted opportunity. Even though you might be offering a lot of value, if people can’t understand you because you’re speaking too quickly, they won’t get the benefit.

5. Additional materials

It’s a good idea to consider whether you want to offer anything else in terms of visual presentation or reference materials for afterwards. If it’s a presentation for colleagues, make sure they have access to your slides or hand-outs and that the documents are easy to follow. Be clear about which part of the document you are talking about.

If it’s a webinar, you can put your slides on the screen. If it’s audio, you can offer a download of a factsheet on your show notes page. If it’s a Facebook live or a Periscope session, you can maybe direct people to some further information on your website.

6. Make sure your surroundings aren’t distracting

If you’re not in the same room as your audience, you don’t need to worry about making them comfortable, but you do need to think about where you will be recording. When you’re live, sometimes things happen that are out of your control, but try to minimise this by being in a quiet place, making those around you aware that you are broadcasting, making sure the lighting is ok for visual broadcasts, and making sure there is nothing in your room that will be a noisy distraction to your listeners – even if you have got used to a ticking clock or a noisy fan, these things can become annoying for your listeners. Don’t play music in the background unless you own the copyright to it.

7. Be smart about repurposing content

If you’ve created some fantastic content, there’s no reason why you can’t repurpose it for other channels. The content from your webinar can become a stand-alone ebook. The information from your podcast can be used for a blog post – often your podcast and blog audiences are not the same people. Key points from your talk can become tweets.

However, this has to be done with care because the different ways of giving information and the different social networks have their own requirements and audience expectations.

I’ve seen someone post a Blab interview as a podcast, and it worked really well. It was a smart way to get a group of people together to share their thoughts on a topic. I’ve also seen someone post a Periscope as a podcast and it was terrible because they were stopping every 5 seconds to say “hi” to people who had just joined the broadcast. Podcast listeners who weren’t there don’t care about that.

I’ve seen people posting automated electronic transcripts of podcasts as blog posts and I found it really hard to read because none of the filler words or half-finished sentences had been taken out. I really wanted to tidy it up to make the reader experience better.

Special offer on audio transcription

English with Kirsty also offers an audio transcription service. Between 16th February and 16th March 2017, you can receive a 20% discount on your first audio transcription order if you use the code daffodil17. Further information is available on the audio transcription page.

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Accept or except

Ask the wise old owl

Wise Old Owl

Accept or except? What’s the difference?

These words look and sound similar, but they have different meanings and you need to make sure that you choose the correct one for your sentence.

Accept is a verb, and it means:
1. To agree to take something
Examples: do you accept credit cards?
I hope they will accept my apology.
He is very stubborn and will not accept that he was wrong.

2. To agree to say “yes” to something
Examples: have you accepted my meeting request yet?
I’ve just accepted an invitation to speak at a conference next month.

Except means “not including” or “apart from”:
Everyone was there except for my brother.
The business is open every day except weekends and bank holidays.

Are you still struggling to decide if it’s accept or except?
If you could exchange the word in your sentence with “but not”, you need “except”. If you know that the word is a verb, it’s “accept”.

More articles in this series

If you want to read the rest of the articles in this series, go to the wise old owl’s main page.

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Audio books the forgotten resource for listening skills

I love listening to audio books, both in my native language, and In German. I listen to them when I’m running, when I’m cooking dinner, when I want to curl up on the sofa and relax, and when I want to take my mind off work! When I used to commute to London every day, I had 1.5 hours of time, which I often used for listening to books or podcasts – I just needed to be careful not to listen to anything really sad whilst on the train, or anything that got me so involved in the story that I missed my stop – yes it did happen once! I had to wait half an hour in the freezing cold for the next train to take me back to where I needed to be!

Anyway, in terms of learning English, people often go straight for the visual media such as films or tv series, and they forget about audio books. Here are some reasons why it’s good to include audio books in your learning programme, and how they can help you to improve your listening skills.

1. Vocabulary

Rather than studying lists of words that you may not know how to use in your own sentences, when you read, you automatically come across new words in context. The more you read, the more new words you’ll discover. You can then use this knowledge when you’re speaking and writing, so improving your vocabulary is a skill that benefits all areas of your learning.

2. Grammar

Listening to and reading sentences that have been structured well is a good way to train your brain to spot when things are wrong in your own sentences. You may not know exactly what the problem is, but you will begin to notice patterns in word order, and this will often alert you to look at parts of your own sentences again because something just doesn’t look or sound right.

3. No visual clues

Often when people want to improve their listening skills, they go to Youtube, or they watch a tv series or movie, often with subtitles. This is good for exposure to the language, and it can definitely help with your vocabulary, but there are no subtitles in real life, and you don’t have any visual clues when you’re on the telephone. If you’re likely to be talking to people on the telephone, it’s really important that you build some activities into your learning plan that rely only on your ears. Podcasts and audio books tick this box.

4. Clear spoken English

If you’re watching a film, sometimes the characters speak at the same time, or it’s hard to understand them because of background noise or a fast-paced conversation. Good audio book narrators will put expression into the characters’ dialogues, and they may use different voices for the different characters, but generally audio book narrators are chosen for their ability to read clearly and at a speed that is easy to understand (most book player apps give you the chance to speed things up if you want to). This means that you can listen to clear, spoken English with no background noise, which often makes it easier to understand.

5. You can take your book anywhere

You don’t have to remember to put it in your bag – if the book is on your phone, the chances are that you will always have it with you. It doesn’t weigh anything and you can get it out if you find that you have a spare half hour. You can even have multiple books on the go if you can’t decide which one you want to read, and it doesn’t take up any more room – apart from the memory on your phone.

6. You can learn whilst doing other things

Some tasks are just boring. I don’t find housework mentally stimulating, so I always like to listen to something whilst I’m doing it. My brain keeps occupied with the book or podcast while my hands do the housework. It makes boring jobs less boring!

Also, sometimes it’s hard to find time to fit in language practice, but if you’re listening to something, you can be doing other activities as well, so it’s a way to fit in an extra activity without taking up any more time.

7. You can find non-fiction titles relevant to your job

Audio books aren’t just stories. If you want to develop your business vocabulary in a specific area, look for a non-fiction business book on that topic. If you have a list of business books that you would like to read, try reading one of them in English instead. Alternatively, you could subscribe to an audio magazine or podcast that delivers timely news and information about one of your areas of interest.

8. You can listen to things multiple times

If you didn’t quite catch what the narrator said, you can easily skip back a few seconds. If you want to make sure that you really understood something, you can listen to a chapter a second time. This isn’t possible when listening to other types of audio media such as live radio.

9. It’s great for pronunciation

Have you ever seen a word written down, known what it means, but had no idea how to pronounce it? If you want to work on your pronunciation and learn how to pronounce new words, audio books are a great way to do this – just be clear about what kind of English you want to speak, and be sure that the speaker also speaks that kind of English (British English, Australian English, American English etc).

10. It’s fun!

It may not be fun at the beginning if you really don’t enjoy reading or you find listening difficult, but if you can’t wait to find out what happens in the story, or you are really interested in what’s being discussed, you will be motivated to keep listening. There have been nights when I’ve stayed up way too late because of the book that I was reading – I wanted to find out what happened next. Ok, I was doing all of the above things – improving my German vocabulary and listening to how the words were pronounced, but I was invested in the book and motivated to keep listening. If you can get to this stage, you won’t feel like you’re doing language learning activities, but following your favourite characters to find out where their journey leads them!

What about you?

Have you listened to any good audio books lately? Let me know in the comments and please share this post if you think your friends would be interested.

Your chance to get a free audio book from Audible

If you’re in the UK or Germany, you can get a free ebook if you sign up for an Audible subscription. Whether or not you continue with the monthly subscription, you get to keep your audio book, and you can choose from 200,000 titles on a wide range of subjects. You can then download the Audible app on your phone and take your book with you wherever you go! (Books have to be purchased on the website – you can’t do it on the app).

Link for the UK
Link for Germany

1. This offer is open to people in Germany and the UK. Remember to use the correct link for your country.
2. You are eligible if you haven’t had a free audio book from Audible in the last year.
3. If you don’t want to pay, you must remember to cancel your subscription within the first month. You will still be able to keep your free book.
4. If you like the service, you will continue to receive a credit each month, which can be used to buy a book. Buying books on subscription is often cheaper than buying them individually.

These are affiliate links, but I only promote things on my website or in my newsletters that I use and enjoy. I am an Audible member and I am very happy with the service.

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Language challenge 10

Time to take some action

I’ve designed a document which you can use to keep a record of all the ideas and activities that you came up with throughout the challenge. If you want to use my document, you can request it at the bottom of this page. If you want to use your own notes, make a list of all the actions that you identified during the other 9 days.

Now you have the road map, it’s time to go on the journey! You have ideas about what you want to do to improve your language skills, so now your challenge is to put those ideas into action, do the activities and try some new things. Using the document can help you to be clear about your actions, and it will be an easy way for you to come back later and check whether you have done the things that you planned to do.

Why not put a note in your diary to come back and look at this in a month from now? In the meantime, think about the activities that you want to do, and plan them into your daily routine.

For some people, this is enough. However, if you’re someone who would benefit from a bit more help and support, I have launched a language coaching service. Details are on the web page, but you’re welcome to get in touch if you have any questions, or you would like to book a planning meeting with me so that I can help you to identify your next goals and the steps that you need to take in order to reach them.

I hope you enjoyed the language challenge and that it has given you some new ideas on how to improve your language skills.

More from English with Kirsty

The whole challenge is now available as a PDF. Sign up here for your copy, and a copy of the task sheet:

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