Sunday, February 26, 2012

England, Great Britain or United Kingdom?

Recently, I commented with my students on the news that Scotland is to hold a referendum to regain independence, and I was surprised to see how confused they were about the fact that Scotland is a nation that forms part of a bigger country: the United Kingdom.
In fact, the correct name of the country is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, and it is formed by four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Great Britain is the name of the biggest island in the archipelago of the British Isles, formed also by Ireland and many other smaller isles.
The British Isles

Great Britain is divided into three nations: England, Scotland and Wales.
  • England is the largest territory and the most populated in the country. It’s capital is London and people there speak English. The National Day is St. George’s Day (April 23rd).

England flag

Coat of arms

Emblem: England rose

  • Scotland lies to the north of England, and is part of the United Kingdom since the Acts of Union of 1707. It is not so densely populated as England. It’s capital is Edinburgh. The official language is English, but most people also speak Scots, which is a language derived from English, and only 1.5 % of the population speak Scottish Gaelic, which is a Celtic language. The National Day is St. Andrew’s day (November 30th)

Scotland flag

Coat of arms

Emblem: Thistle

  • Wales lies to the west of England. It was conquered by king Edward I of England in the 13th century. It’s capital is Cardiff. The Welsh speak English and Welsh, which is a Celtic language.  The National Day is St. David’s Day (March 1st).

Wales flag

Coat of arms
Emblems: leek and daffodil

The second biggest island, Ireland, is divided in two:
  • The Republic of Ireland or Eire, which is an independent country since 1922, so it is not part of the United Kingdom. Its capital is Dublin, and people speak English and Irish, which is a Celtic language.
  • Northern Ireland or Ulster is the smaller territory that lies in the northeast of the island of Ireland. Its capital is Belfast and people speak English and Irish. The National Day is St. Patrick’s Day (March, 17th)

St. Patrick's flag (Northern Ireland)

Republic of Irleand  flag

Emblem: shamrock

We have seen the flags of all the territories that conform the United Kingdom, but as a country, it also has a flag: the Union Jack, which is formed by the union of the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland, as you can see in the following video.

The Welsh flag is not included in the Union Jack because Wales was part of England long before the United Kingdom was born.
This is explained in this video by C.G.P. Grey. Even though he speaks too quickly for students of English to understand, I hope the subtitles can be helpful.

Teachers of English may be interested in this webquest by Joao Jardim Fernandes.

Finally, let’s check how much we have learnt about the UK today with the following test. By the way, the acronym UK stands for United Kingdom.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Homes under the Hammer (Part two)

In the last blog post I wrote about Homes under the Hammer, a BBC programme I am very keen on. We watched a part of an episode in which a tired, drab Victorian terraced house had been bought at auction by a young couple. Unfortunately, it was too long to watch in just one session. Now we can see what happened with that Victorian house. Would you like to see the transformation? Let’s watch it! But first, here is the basic vocabulary that will help you understand the video:
  • Beset by problems: with lots of problems.
  • Bay fronted: having a bay window at the front.(see picture)
  • Terraced house: a house that shares sidewalls with adjacent houses. (See Types of dwellings)
  • Many features still intact: many of the original characteristics of the house can still be found.
  • Auction lot: an item or set of items for sale at an auction.
  • Crisp and clean: immaculate
  • Ironwork: objects made of iron, such as railings.
  • Reception  rooms: rooms for receiving and entertaining visitors.
  • Lounge-dining area: a room that can be used both as a living room and a dining room
  • Stunning: impressive, very attractive
  • Open plan kitchen: a kitchen that is open to the dining room (see picture)
  • Glass box extension: an extension made entirely of glass. (see picture)

Bay window

Open plan kitchen

Bathroom suite

Glass box extension

  • Folding doors / bi-fold doors: a door made of several parts joined together which can be folded against each other when the door is opened.
  • Child-friendly garden space: a garden that is fit for children.
  • Bathroom suite: a set of fixed objects in a bathroom that includes a bath, a toilet and a basin(see picture)
  • Bespoke fitted wardrobes: custom-built cupboards in which you can hang your clothes.
  • Staircase: a flight of stairs, a stairway.
  • En suite shower room: a bathroom with a shower adjoining a bedroom.
  • Spacious: roomy, airy, having much space.
  • Drab: faded and dull in appearance.
  • Smashed up: destroyed
  • Outlay: an expenditure, an amount of money spent.
  • Costs and fees: the expenses associated to the acquisition of a house, such as the solicitors and land registry fees or emoluments.
  • Estate agent: a person who arranges the selling or renting of houses for their owners
  • Stylish fittings: elegant or fashionable appliances in the house.
  • Done to a very high standard: done to an excellent level of quality
  • It’s second to none: the best, perfect, superior.
  • Put it on the market: put it up for sale.
  • Expect to achieve: consider reasonable to get
  • Resale valuation: an estimation of the worth of the house if they want to sell it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Homes under the Hammer (Part one)

One of the programmes on British television I love watching is Homes under the Hammer. It’s about the sale at auction of houses, most of which are in a really bad state (almost derelict some of them) and how the new owners turn them out to look nice and cozy after a few months’ work. Once the house is finished, the programme invites a couple of estate agents to assess how much the property may be worth now if put to the market, or how much money they may expect to earn if rented. It goes without saying that the result of the improvements is such that the value of the houses usually increase, even if we deduct the purchasing price and the expenses incurred by the new owners. I love seeing the difference between the “before” and the “after”.
Lucy Alexander and Martin Roberts are the presenters of "Homes under the Hammer
Image from the BBC
In every programme we get to see three different properties, but that takes one hour. Therefore, we will watch just a part of one of the programmes in two videos. However, as they take twenty minutes in total, we will divide it in two blog posts so that it doesn’t get too long. I hope you enjoy Homes under the Hammer as much as I do!

Before watching the video, let’s have a look at the meaning of some of the words and expressions that we will hear.

  • A Period house is a house that was built during a certain historical period. It can be Victorian, Georgian, Edwardian... (see explanation in a previous post)
  • Brimming with period features / period features galore: filled with the characteristic elements of the houses of that historical period.
  • Townhouse: terrace house, row house
  • Quid is another word for pound. It comes from the Latin expression “Quid pro quo”, which means "this for that".
  • The guide price is the price that the property is expected to sell for.
  • Minton tiles (See picture)
  • Ceiling rose (See picture)
  • Cornicing or cornice is the ornamental moulding along a wall. (See picture)
  • Master bedroom is the main bedroom in the house
  • Sash window: a window with two sliding panels. (See picture)

Ceiling rose


Sash window

Minton tiles

  • Refurbish: to renovate, to make clean or fresh again.
  • Converting the attic space: making the loft or attic a liveable place.
  • Loft extension: loft conversion
  • Side extension: If you build a side extension, you make the house bigger by adding extra room at the side.
  • Nooks and crannies: corners.
  • Basement: the lowest story in a building, usually below ground level.
  • Oodles: lots, a large quantity.
  • Potential. If a house has potential, it has the necessary qualities to become a great house in the future.
  • En suite. An en suite bathroom is next to a bedroom and can only be reached by a door in the bedroom. It’s a French expresion that means “part of a set”.
  • On the rental market. If something is on the rental market, it is up for rent.
  • A sell on valuation. If you buy a house and then sell it off, you sell it soon after buying it in order to make a profit. The valuation is the price that it is expected to reach.
  • The winning bidder is the person that bids the highest price at the auction and so gets the house or any other object that is being auctioned.
  • The successful bid is the offer that gets the object that is being sold at auction.
  • Thrilled to bits: extremely excited or delighted.
  • It ticks most of the boxes: it has most of the features that we were looking for.
  • The Common: A tract of land, usually in a centrally located spot, belonging to or used by a community as a whole.
  • A bone of contention is something on which it is difficult to reach an agreement.
  • The budget is the amount of money you have available to spend.
  • I reckon: I think
  • knock through: break down

And now let’s watch the video about a lovely Victorian house in Balham, London.

To be continued...
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