Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

The British Library by Theresa Shiban

The British Library

Originally part of the British museum, the British Library was separated from its parent in 1973 to become one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions in its own right. A quarter of a century later, it moved into its own home at London’s St Pancras.

The impressive modernist red-brick building designed by architect Sir Colin St. John Wilson caused a lot of controversy while it was under construction and continues to divide opinions to this day.

The King’s Library Tower at the British Library

One of its most spectacular features is the six-storey King’s Library Tower containing precious volumes from King George III’s collection that was gifted to the library at the British museum after the monarch’s death in 1823.

In her 2007 free verse (=poetry that does not have a fixed structure and does not rhyme) Theresa Shiban gives a vivid description of this colossal yet very welcoming temple of knowledge whose doors are open not only to students and researches but to every book lover.

The first thing you notice is what you don’t
it is not imposing
overwhelming
you are not made to feel insignificant
with monumental humility
it is the box the words come in
storey upon storey hidden below
not towering above
to impress or oppress
its exalted purpose democratised
grandeur and majesty achieved by an honest brick
A British Institution
wrestled down to size
to a human scale
and gifted
I am welcomed by the horizontals
elevated not cowed
the masses ennobled
by nothing more than literacy
or rather nothing less
a gentle spectrum
(reds browns whites blacks greens)
wraps around a space for meeting
a Lego tower points the way
I am invited in

* * * *

and enter into light
a cathedral space of secular worship
(in the beginning was the word)
vaults of them, below and above
a bank of words you spend and spend but never lose
I tread soft rounded stairs
handling marble leather brass
(material of privilege offered to the proletariat)
mirroring the gold embossed spines of a king’s library
more light
(where is it coming from?)
directed coaxed refracted toyed with
a conjurer’s trick of mirrors
made to bounce around corners
and softly illuminate the illuminated
verticals of stripy colour
alpha digit diamond dot
Volume 1
A – K
Volume 2
L – Z
a 6-storey jewel box
glowing

* * * *

I detour through Humanities
more laughing light
whites and warming wood
the visual rhythm of grids and open cages
(Someone let the words out again!)
multiples of plug-sized squares
magnified and morphed into the sculptural
ceiling above
a latter day clerestory for contemporary scribes
boxes within boxes within the biggest box of all
My work Is Obviously Important Look Where I Do It

* * * *

I continue up the familiar stair
to A&A and the desk I claim is mine
(8115)
safe
protected
cherished, even
in a room of one’s own
(my own)
(your own)
I sit and begin to work
to distil the great chorus of language treasured
within this building
into one simple word
gratitude

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes 
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Abbreviations

Today I’d like to have a look at abbreviations. They’re quite common in everyday English and it’s helpful to be familiar with at least some of them.

But first things first. What is an abbreviation? Well, it’s a word that’s been shortened (=abbreviated) to just a few letters or a word made from the first letters of several words.

So Mr (= Mister), Mon (= Monday) and UK (= the United Kingdom) are all abbreviations.

Note that in modern British English we don’t use full stops in abbreviations.

Those of abbreviations that are pronounced like words are called acronyms. (Articles are usually dropped in acronyms.)

One example is UNESCO /jʊˈneskəʊ/ (not the UNESCO) = the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

FAQ = Frequently Asked Questions

You’re probably familiar with some of the most commonly used abbreviations such as cm (= centimetre), Dec (= December) and LOL (= laugh out loud or lots of love).

Here’s a few more to add to your vocabulary that British people use a lot.

am /ˌeɪ ˈem/ in the morning (from Latin ante meridiem, ‘before midday’)

The train arrives at London Charing Cross at 8.35 am.

ASAP (or asap) /ˌeɪ es eɪ ˈpiː, ˈeɪsæp/ as soon as possible

Please reply to this email ASAP.

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Freelancer: from a warrior to a nomadic employee

Image by Dorota Kudyba from Pixabay

What springs to your mind when you hear the word freelance? The usual suspects are likely to be ‘work’ and ‘self-employed’. Quite rightly so, as to freelance means being your own boss when it comes to choosing who to work for and for how long. In other words, unlike others who stick to their jobs for years and years, freelancers move from employer to employer selling their expertise to those who offer the best pay.

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How to build a working relationship with your tutor

Take personal responsibility for your learning.

The only person who can actually learn anything is you. Your tutor can provide guidance, learning materials, practice and feedback but she can’t do the learning for you.

Remember that language lessons are just one of many things you can do.

For great results you must self-study. Discuss the resources you use with your teacher and see what she thinks.

Learning means, among other things, always doing your homework.

It’s important not only as a way of consolidating what you did in class but also as an essential stepping stone to the next lesson which more often than not will depend on your doing your homework.

It’s just as important to revise everything you did in class.

Studies have shown (and you’ll know this from your own experience) that we need to interact with new information quite a few times and ideally in different circumstances before it’s secured in our long-term memory.

So go over the list of new words from your latest class and pick ten to add to your active vocabulary. Use whatever technique suits you best to memorize them – flash cards, a vocabulary notebook, Post-It notes. And most importantly, make an effort to use any word you want to retain in conversation with your teacher as well as outside class.

Make sure you have at least one lesson a week.

If you can afford two or three and your tutor has the availability, so much the better. Their duration will depend on your learning goals as well as the amount of effort and money you’re prepared to invest and needs to be discussed with your teacher.

Treat your teacher with respect.

Never forget that your teacher is a human just like you. And just like you will have to adapt to her teaching style, so she will need time to get to know you, your learning style, motivations and goals.

Be patient.

The Internet does the great job of connecting language teachers and learners all over the world. Sadly, it also fosters consumerist behaviour which leads to teachers being seen as a virtually unlimited selection of goods and treated accordingly.

If the first couple of lessons with a new teacher don’t meet your expectations, don’t rush to look for a ‘better’ one. Bear in mind that a teacher-student relationship is a two-way street – the harder you work, the harder your teacher does and the more productive your partnership becomes.

If you don’t like a teacher, it may be because she reflects something in your personality or learning that you haven’t yet made peace with.

This is a pretty much universal truth that doesn’t apply exclusively to student-teacher relationships. Other people are often sent our way to act as mirrors in which we can see those aspects of ourselves that we’re unaware of or dislike. Rather than turn away ask yourself, ‘What is it that this person makes me feel uncomfortable with and why?’

Don’t be afraid to express your dissatisfaction but do so with tact (e.g. don’t make comparisons with any other teachers) and in a face-to-face conversation rather than via email. It’ll probably feel quite uncomfortable for both of you but, provided your complaints are reasonable, a good teacher will be grateful for your voicing them and will try to improve things.

Let your teacher know you enjoy her classes and appreciate them.

We all need encouragement to succeed in what we’re doing. It can take many forms – a friendly smile, a thank-you, a positive comment on something we’ve done well. When it comes to learning, asking questions can also be added to this list. The questions you ask your teacher show that you’re actively involved in the process, genuinely interested and keen to know more. Teachers love curious students!

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Beautiful English Words: Part 3

The word I picked for today’s post is one of my favourites.

It’s really useful but regrettably uncommon (don’t ask me why, I have no idea).

It’s the word hence.

It can be used to mean ‘for this reason or that is the explanation for’ as in

He hasn’t had any time off work for three months, hence his bad mood and irritation.

or ‘from now’ as in

The referendum on the issue will be held ten days hence.

Notice the position of hence depending on its meaning.

To conclude, I can only join Martin Cutts, author of Oxford Guide to Plain English, in his appeal to the readers to use the word regularly so that it doesn’t disappear.

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Bully: from sweetheart to tyrant

No doubt, bullying is shameful and bullies are nasty. However, they haven’t always been so. When the word bully made its first appearance in English in the 1530s it meant ‘sweetheart’, ‘lover’.

Image by rebeccadevitt0 from Pixabay

Then, at some point it took on an additional meaning of ‘protector of a prostitute’ and its fate was decided. Over time, the original meaning was forgotten leaving us with the current ‘harasser of the weak’.

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Beauty and Beauty

Image by Mariana Antoneag from Pixabay

It had been believed that Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) composed Beauty and Beauty for a male friend, until in 1999 a fascinating discovery was made.

Half a century earlier, a bundle of correspondence was presented to the British Museum library by the sister of Phyllis Gardner, an art student who had a secret love affair with the young poet before World War I. Among the letters, donated on condition that they should not be read for 50 years, was this poem, clearly dedicated to Phyllis.

The romance was short-lived but its electric atmosphere has been forever preserved in these lines of immense charm and drama.

When Beauty and Beauty meet
All naked, fair to fair,
The earth is crying-sweet,
And scattering-bright the air,
Eddying, dizzying, closing round,
With soft and drunken laughter;
Veiling all that may befall

After—after—

Where Beauty and Beauty met,
Earth’s still a-tremble there,
And winds are scented yet,
And memory-soft the air,
Bosoming, folding glints of light,
And shreds of shadowy laughter;
Not the tears that fill the years
After—after—


This poem is in the public domain.

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The Language of Friendship

Friendships… They enrich our life, provide comfort and support, boost our confidence and sense of belonging. And yet a true friendship is not that easy to find, takes a lot of effort to maintain and can be lost forever with one thoughtless word or action.

Image by Alexas Photos from Pixabay

Obviously, there are loads of words related to the topic of friendship. I’ve picked the ones I think you’ll find most useful – I myself use them a lot and so do native speakers.

Friendship is a kind of magic, don’t you think? You meet a lot of different people but you make friends with only a handful (=few) of them.

By the way, friend is also a verb meaning to add someone as your friend on a social networking website (i.e. Facebook).

– He’s got about ten thousand friends on Facebook! How’s that possible?!

– It’s because he friends every single person he meets.

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Small but Mighty

It’s sometimes said that less is more. That’s definitely the case with interjectionsshort words and phrases that are used to express strong feelings; for this reason David Crystal in his book Making Sense of Grammar calls them emotional noises. And I’d compare them to verbal emoticons.

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

Let’s have a look at some common interjections that you’ll often hear in conversation and see how they can be as expressive as sentences. And when it comes to situations where an immediate emotional response is required, they become indispensable.

Wow!

as in Wow! Your hair looks gorgeous!

As an expression of surprise and/or admiration, wow has crossed many borders sometimes even pushing their equivalents in local languages out of use as in my native Russia where the good old ух ты! seems to have completely become a thing of the past.

Oh!

This two-letter word has lots of uses:

it comes handy as an expression of, I’d say, mild surprise as in

Jenny and Rob have split up. – Oh, I didn’t realise that.

You can also use it to make a more profound emotional impact as in

Oh, no! My mobile’s been stolen!

The company Jack’s been working for has gone bust and he’s lost his job. – Oh, how awful!

We also use it to fill in short pauses and when answering questions to sound less abrupt.

Can you get some milk, bread… oh, and some eggs too?

Do you know that guy? – Oh, yes, we met at the local gym a couple of months ago.

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The language of mistake

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

You will have heard the old saying ‘The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything’. Its authorship is ascribed to various great minds including Theodore Roosevelt. However, who was the first to formulate this idea is of far less importance than its message – it’s OK to make mistakes, it happens to the best of us and, as I mentioned in one of my older posts, we should actually be grateful to our mistakes as they help us to learn.

Let’s have a look at some words and expressions we use to talk about things that went wrong.

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