Saturday, April 23, 2011

International Book Day and St. George's Day

April 23rd was declared International Book Day by UNESCO in 1995, but it has been celebrated as such in Spain since 1923. The reason why this day was chosen to represent the book is that two of the greatest writers in the world, Cervantes and Shakespeare, died on 23rd April 1616, and in the case of Shakespeare, he was also born on that day in 1564. Isn't it a coincidence?
Shakespeare cervantes
Miguel de

April 23rd is also St. George's Day, as this soldier saint was martyred on this day. Since the 14th century, St. George is the patron saint of England and so April 23rd is England's National Day. But don't expect parades like on St. Patrick's Day, the English don't celebrate their National Day like the Irish or the Americans. Instead, they just wear a rose, the symbol of the nation, on the button hole, at the most! Other symbols of the English nation are the flag with St. George's cross, the three lions coat of arms and the English rose, which is traditionally red.

England flag coat of arms England rose
flag or
St. George's flag
Coat of
Tudor rose

St. George is usually depicted on a horse with a spear in his hand, slaying a dragon. Legend has it that St George was travelling in Lybia when he heard that a dragon was ravaging the region. He was told that the dragon demanded a beautiful maiden as a sacrifice every day. Now it was the turn of the princess, as all the other maidens had already died. St. George fought the dragon and saved the beautiful princess. Apparently, in the place where the blood of the terrible creature had fallen, a rosebush flowered and the knight offered the lady a red rose. This is the origin of the tradition in Catalonia, Spain, where, on this day, women are given a red rose and men receive a book in return. St. George is also the patron saint of Catalonia, where he is known as “Sant Jordi”.
St George and the dragon
of St. George by Emmanuel Tzanes (1660-80), now housed in the Church of
San Salvatore, Chania, Crete.

Sant Jordi's day is really profitable for publishing companies, but you don't need to buy books, you can borrow them in the public libraries and, thanks to the initiative of a group of people from the web you can also find them in the streets. How is that? In this web you can register a book you want others to read. They provide you with a number that you stick on it. Then you choose a nice place where it can be found by other people. You will be able to trace where the book has been long after you have read it, and if you are lucky you can find another book, thanks to the generosity of other people.

April 23rd is the Day of the Book, but that doesn't mean that we should forget about them the rest of the year: by reading a book you can live other lives, feel what other people feel, travel all over the world. It's a fantastic and inexpensive way to experience new sensations. Try it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shade or shadow?

Foreign languages would be easier to learn if they followed the same pattern of the mother tongue: if they had exactly the same grammatical structure and the words were exact equivalents... But, unfortunately, this is just wishful thinking and things are much more difficult. Not only are there differences in grammar but also words don't describe the same realities and it's very common that you can use several words in a language and maybe just one in another to refer to the same thing. This is what makes translation a difficult job, because the translator has to take into account the context to put the same idea in the other language and try to be as accurate as possible when choosing one word or another.

Today we will have a look at two words that pose difficulty for Spanish speakers, as they are translated by the same word: “sombra”. These words are shadow and shade.

A shadow is a dark shape made when a light shines on a person or an object. It can be used with the verb to cast. As the sun was going down, the bare trees cast long shadows on the ground.

Two shadows
Image: 'wanderer'

A shade is a cool dark area under or behind a tree, a building, etc. that is protected from the heat of the sun. The adjective shady can be used for these areas. We had some drinks in the cool, shady garden.
A rocking chair in the shade
Image: 'Porch Rocker'

When shadow is used as an uncountable noun or in the plural (the shadows) it means “darkness”. I couldn't see her very well as her face was in shadow.

Shadow can be used as a verb to mean “to follow someone closely and secretly”. And it can also be used as an adjective when referring to politicians of the opposition party that would be ministers if they won the election. Nine previous members of the shadow cabinet have not made it to the new cabinet.

If somebody has shadows under the eyes, they have dark areas under the eyes because they are tired. But if they use eye shadow, they are using make-up on their eyelids.

Apart from that first meaning, shade is also the part of lamp that makes its light less bright.
mage: 'Night lamp with handmade paper shade'

Shade can also be used with colours to say how dark or light they are. She was wearing a pleasant pastel shade of blue.
Shades of green
Image: 'Into the Green at Hidcote Manor Garden'

When used in the plural, shades can mean “sunglasses”.

  • If you are scared of your own shadow, you are easily frightened.
  • To put somebody or something in the shade means to be much better than that person or thing. I thought I had done well in the exams, but John's results put mine in the shade.
Now you can check how much you have learnt with this exercise:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Easter traditions

In many countries, when children think of Easter, they think of eggs, rabbits and chicks. But what do these have to do with the Passion of Jesus Christ? Well, nothing at all. The rabbits and the eggs, though associated with the Christian tradition, are actually of pagan origin. In fact, the name “Easter” comes from a pagan goddess, Eostra, who was a deity related to spring and fertility. Her symbol was the hare or rabbit, and this is where the association of Easter and the rabbit begins. Apparently, it was the German immigrants who took the tradition of the egg-laying rabbit to America, being the egg a symbol of the new life that spring brings about.
Easter cupcakes
Image: 'For - Easter Cupcake inspirations'

The first Sunday of the Holy Week is called Palm Sunday because it was on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by people carrying palms and olive branches, and it is on the last Sunday, which is called Easter Sunday, that the Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and is the day when most traditions take place. One of these is egg-hunting. Legend has it that the Easter rabbit hides painted or dyed eggs all over the garden, and children must try to find them all. Nowadays, Easter eggs are made of chocolate, and children are also given jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and eggs full of surprises inside.
Jelly beans
Image: 'I have discovered an entire new food+group'
Egg rolling takes place on Easter Monday. In many parts of the UK children roll hard-boiled eggs down a hill, and the winner is the one that takes the egg the farthest or the one whose egg survives! In the USA, the President and First Lady sponsor an egg rolling competition on the grounds of the White House, where children of up to 12 years old take part. This is the only occasion in which tourists are allowed to tread over the White House lawn!
Easter eggs
Image: 'Eastereggs'

Apart from chocolate eggs, people traditionally eat Easter cakes and hot cross buns, which are eaten on Good Friday, the day when Christians celebrate the death of Jesus Christ, and that's why these buns have a white cross on top. There is a famous nursery rhyme that goes:
Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
One a penny,
two a penny
Hot cross buns.
If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons.
Hot cross buns.

A much funnier Easter song is this bunny rap.

If you want to learn more about the history of Easter, I wrote an entry in this blog last year about it.

To see how much you have learnt, try this reading comprehension test:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wet, damp, moist and other words of the same semantic field

Wet, damp, moist,...Which of these words would you use to describe something that has got water or another liquid on its surface? They are not exact equivalents, and sometimes it's difficult for learners of English to spot the difference in nuance. We are going to see their meanings and we'll also add some other words of the same semantic field.

  • Wet is used when something is full of water. You can use it with intensifiers like soaking or dripping.      He was walking under the rain and by the time he got home his clothes were soaking wet.
  • Soaked means very wet. It is usually used for clothes. If they are extremely wet, we would say soaked through. When they finally stopped, the storm having passed, they were soaked through and chilled to the bone.

Soaking wet / drenched
mage: 'Cleo being soaked'

  • Soggy is used for paper, food or similar that have become soft because they are wet. It can also be used for clothes or for bad, wet weather. It was so damp in that old house that the bread and biscuits became soggy in minutes.
  • Waterlogged is used for ground that has so much water on the surface that it cannot hold any more. The river burst its banks and all the fields were waterlogged.
  • Damp is slightly wet, but in an umpleasant way. We stayed at a horrible hotel. It was cold and damp.
  • Moist is also slightly wet, but generally not in an unpleasant way. If something is moist, it is neither too dry nor too wet. It can be used for the skin and even for cakes. Doctors advise that a child's skin should be kept moist with softening lotions.
          This cake is delicious. It´s so moist!

Moisture on a rose
Image: 'Pink rose'

  • Humid is used to describe the weather. It means wet and hot, containing a great deal of water vapour. This plant thrives in humid places like the Amazon Rainforest.
  • To wet or to get wet
  • To soak is to make someone or something very wet. Figuratively it is used to mean “to be immersed in something”, even if it's not a liquid. He is extremely wealthy. In fact, he is soaked in riches.
  • To drench is to make someone or something extremely wet with a lot of water. The passing car drenched me as it drove through a puddle.
  • To flood is to cover an area of land with a great amount of water. Hurricane Katrina flooded a great part of New Orleans.
  • To dampen or damp is to make something slightly wet. You should dampen the soil before sowing the seeds.
  • To moisten is to put a few drops of liquid onto something. Add enough water to moisten the cake mixture.
Some idioms:
  • Wet behind the ears: inexperienced.
  • A wet blanket: someone who spoils a happy event, also called killjoy or spoilsport
  • If you wet your whistle you have an alcoholic drink.
To sum up:

extremely soak soaked/soaking
drench drenched
flood flooded flood /
very wet / get
wet wetness
slightly dampen /
damp dampness
moisten moist moisture

Try this exercise to check what you have learnt.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More glogs created by my 3º ESO students

About a month ago, I published a few of the glogs my students have made about the topic I suggested: "English speaking countries". Here are some more. Aren't they fantastic? I'm very pleased with their work! And they learnt how to make them in a jiffy. It just took one hour in the computer classroom and they finished the glogs at home. They are great students!

This glog is by Antonio Romero:

This one is by Lucía García Arnáiz

This is by Alejandro Ibáñez and Christian Torres:
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