W e l c o m e

Welcome to this page of English-related links and things. As an EFL teacher I am often asked about resources to help with people's English studies outside the classroom.

  • The net also offers a plethora of other sites focusing on the more complex areas of the language like phrasal verbs, false friends and so on. As internet can be constantly updated (on a virtually daily basis, unlike most dictionaries) new vocabulary and cultural trends in the English-speaking world can also be more readily assimilated online.

  • As I am based in Madrid, sometimes students are curious to discover how British or American correspondents see Spain and Spanish current affairs, and often report facts more impartially than the local media.
  • I try and update the links column weekly if I find any new and potentially "useful" sites!

  • Also, these pages will save me sending out long links by email!

Enjoy it!

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

What does the English breakfast share with the Spanish breakfast that it doesn’t with other European breakfasts?

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but what we consider to be “breakfast food” varies remarkably across the planet. In Japan for instance,soup, rice and boiled fish are three things most Westerners would never consider to be morning fare. American breakfast pancakes or waffles are rarely consumed outside North American homes first thing, save in trendy cafes or eateries.

In Germany heavy dark bread, cheese and cold meats are often considered standard stuff to start the day with, while in Scandinavia cod roe paste may be spread on toast rather than jam or chocolate spread.
As a boy I once witnessed a French exchange student cover a slice of sponge cake with Nutella and dip it into a bowl of milky hot chocolate, which was a far cry from the boring bowl of milk and breakfast cereal washed down with a cup of tea (milk and two sugars) that I consumed every morning in the 1980s. 

But since those distant days, breakfast in the UK has become far more international and a bowl of muesli and yoghurt speckled with a few berries is hardly the exotic delight it was considered a few decades ago. French croissants, American bagels and muffins, Colombian coffee and even olives from various Mediterranean countries have also found their place at the contemporary British breakfast table, relegating the Traditional English (Greasy Cooked) Breakfast to an occasional weekend treat or traditional hangover cure for visitors who have stayed the night.
Not that the traditional fry-up had ever really been an everyday English breakfast, at least not to those who don’t live in hotels. 

Of course, the smoked Scottish kippers and porridge still hold their appeal to those living in the colder areas of the country or during the miserable winter months, while hot buttered toast whether coupled with marmalade or jam will never go out of style (although the bread these days is probably a bit healthier than 70s housewives’ favourite Mother’s Pride). 
And what of the typical Spanish morning meal? Café con leche and toasted bread with oil and tomato? A large mug of Cola-Cao with unstirrable chocolate lumps? A carajillo? A swiftly-downed glass of brandy?
All these things to break the ten or more hours our body has been fasting, that long self-imposed gap between the last meal of one day and the first of the next.
Because the word BREAKFAST has nothing to do with fast the adjective, but with fast the NOUN.
And FAST the noun translates into Spanish as AYUNO.
When you eat your morning meal you BREAK your FAST by eating again.
Just as in Spanish you say DES-AYUNO. Although without the hyphen.
Of course, FAST has this similar meaning as a verb too. Muslims fast during Ramadan, eating before sunrise and then fasting for the rest of the day, only to break their fast after sunset.

So this is what the English and Spanish breakfast have in common… nothing to do with calories or healthy eating!

In French breakfast is a "small lunch", and Italian and Portuguese words have similar meanings.
In German it is an "early piece".
In Norwegian and Swedish it is literally an "early meal", while in Danish it is "morning food".

But both in English and Spanish the meal breaks a fast… and now you know.

Monday, 10 June 2019

When un, dos, tres was translated as 3-2-1

With the recent death of celebrated Spanish TV screenwriter, director and actor Narciso "Chicho" Ibáñez Serrador at the age of 83, it is as good a time as ever to take stock of  one of Iberia's most famous exports to the United Kingdom after Don Quixote, sangria, flamenco, bullfighting, paella and "el vino collapso". 

While Ibáñez Serrador may have obtained notoriety on with international fans of his influential 70s cult horror classic "Who Can Kill A Child?" - also re-named as "The Island of the Damned" - in Britain the his name may ring a bell with the over-forties who tuned into ITV in the late '70s and most of the '80s to watch a game show like no other before or after.

Spaniards reading this will be well aware that Ibáñez Serrador made a name for himself in Franco's Spain firstly with the chilling Historias para no dormir series on the national television network and then with a curious multi-sectioned game show crossed with a themed variety show that seemed to go on forever. 

Its equally curious name was Un, dos, tres responda otra vez or "1, 2, 3 Answer One More Time", which lacks the Spanish rhyme in my off-the-cuff English translation but whatever. One of the most fondly remembered features of Un, dos, tres was a collection of eye-catching "secretaries" wearing bizarre outsized fake glasses (whose number included future "Almodóvar girl" Victoria Abril ) and a booby prize of an anthropomorphic pumpkin who went by the name of Ruperta and doubled up as the show's mascot.

The show's unconventional format turned out to be a hit with Spanish viewers and later became the first Spanish game show to be adapted for other international markets and in the summer of 1978 a British version of Un, dos, tres appeared, re-titled 3-2-1... with Ruperta the Pumpkin replaced by a robot rubbish bin with a big red nose called Dusty Bin

It was shown on ITV, the same channel that produced Spanish post-Franco favourites Man About The House and its arguably more successful spin-off George And Mildred . 

Amusingly, although the six seasons of Man About The House were originally aired in the UK between 1973 and 1976, Spain had to wait until 1978 - the year 3-2-1 made its debut on British TV - to see any of it, presumably because the Caudillo probably wouldn't have approved of the "modern" living arrangements of the three main characters. 

Whether a deal was struck between ITV and TVE involving a cultural exchange of programmes in 1978 is as yet unknown, but Ibáñez Serrador managed to get his name on the opening credits (see below) and the animation style of said credits would not have looked out of place alongside that of Mortadelo y Filamón (now exported as Mort and Phil) or Zipi y Zape (or Zip and Zap to English-speakers).

However, with the passing of time 3-2-1, despite its great popularity during its ten-year run on British television, memories of chirpy but sarcastic host Ted Rodgers (who died in 2001) and the "lovable" Dusty Bin were often overshadowed by viewers recollections of being constantly frustrated by the clues and obscure references used in the show. 

Here is but one example:

Would you have thought it was the car? Or the bin? Or something else?

Why not enjoy an entire episode of 3-2-1?

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Normal service is resumed!

After an extended break in service, normal transmission on this channel has been resumed.

Don't touch that dial!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Please Police Me?

If I remember rightly, one of my first posts here some years ago was about some riot or other that kicked off in Alcorcón, a suburb to the south of central Madrid. And, early this month of August, London was besieged by rioting youths in an eruption of violence and looting following an initially peaceful protest following an incident where a twenty-something young man was killed by a policeman in Tottenham, North London. The area is probably best known to non-Londoners as being the home of Tottenham Hotspurs (or simply Spurs) football club, who were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid last season. Juande Ramos was once manager there, and former Madridista Rafael van der Vaart and gangly ex-Liverpool striker Peter Crouch are in the team. Spurs ground White Hart Lane could be seen from helicopter footage surveying the damage, and, although the stadium escaped unscathedplayers were terrified.

Youths excited by the adrenalin of breaking glass, burning buildings, pack mentality and the prospect of free tracksuits, trainers and mobile phones spread the word by text, tweet and Facebook and pretty soon there was "copycat" rioting going on in Croydon (a suburb south of London... the picture above is the before and after image of a Croydon family business going up in flames), Brixton, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Oxford (!) and other cities.

British newspapers being what they are, the victim whose death sparked the riots was alternately described as a loving father-of-four (or father-of-six in some places) and a dodgy drug-dealing member of a family of  hardened criminals whose best pal - a fellow who went by the unsavoury nickname of Smegz - was killed by a broken champagne bottle in rather suspicious circumstances earlier this year.

Here's a BBC news video from the morning after the night before, with some extra "history" on the former troubles in Tottenham that have apparently returned, to shed light on the tension in the area...

...and here is a Sky News interview with a cheery gang of "masked" teenage looters...

...and finally, the unfortunately bumbling Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, "comes to the rescue" with a broom 

Obviously you've already clicked on a number of links in the article (you did click the purple blue links, didn't you?), but let's finish with some of the more interesting analyses of the riots:

Monday, 18 July 2011

Think PIGS?

PIGS. Not a very flattering acronym, is it? 

In case you have been living with your head under a rock for the past couple of years, PIGS is the rather uncharitable short form used by oh-so-witty international economists for Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. The eurozone countries most likely to need an EU bailout. In fact, the first three have indeed asked for the aforementioned financial assistance, and speculation grows as to whether Spain will or not. Sometimes the word is re-spelled PIIGS to include Italy in that list as well. 

The Guardian have just composed a vaguely-Jamiroquai inspired ditty complete with handy lyrics-video in a brave attempt to make light of the so-called Eurocrisis.

Here it is:

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Top of the world

They think it's all over, it is now!. Yes, Spain have won the World Cup.

The country who have waited longer than Nelson Mandela waited to get out of jail for true international glory for their national side have proved the statisticians and pundits wrong again.

Whether it was true or not, many people (including Maradona himself) claimed that the pre-tournament favourites never went on to win the trophy, while others said that no team had ever won a World Cup after losing the opening match.

David Villa, Busquets, Piqué, Jesús Navas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Capdevila, Cesc Fabregas, Marchena, Arbeloa, David Silva, Puyol, Llorente, Pedro, Iniesta, and captain Iker Casillas (yes, that's him giving the world's new favourite WAG Sara Carbonero a kiss live on TV - as reported by Sky News - above) beat a rather "dirty" Dutch team headed by a couple of rejuvenated Real Madrid rejects (Sneijder and Robben) and a bunch of brutal ex-Barcelona bruisers (van Bommel in particular) to bring the cup to Spain for the first time, where the team received a rapturous welcome from an overjoyed crowd of thousands.

Well done lads, and when I've got time I'll post some links to what the world's papers said.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

La culpa de todo la tiene Carbonero?*

First of all, forgive me for heading this post with a line in Spanish, but let me elaborate. 

As I recently discovered, there is an old expression here in my adoptive home country (Spain) used when things go wrong: La culpa de todo, la tiene Yoko Ono. It was even used as a song title. Poor old Yoko got the blame for Lennon moving to America, The Beatles breaking up and for John becoming far more of a hippy than the other three. So, just as we did with Maggie Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s, "it's all Yoko Ono's fault"* is a convenient way to place the blame on a hate-figure when things go wrong. " Thatcher's bloody Britain, no wonder my salary's so low / the weather's so bad / the trains are late / I've got such a hangover" etc...if you don't remember that you're either not British, too young... or David Cameron.

And who would make a better scapegoat than Sara Carbonero, FHM's USA's "sexiest sports reporter in the world" , Casillas' latest conquest. After all many men hate the fact that he is with her, while many women hate the fact that she is with him. And you thought John Lennon (him again) was a "jealous guy". She interviewed him after the game and accused "Saint Iker" of "mucking it up", thus getting the two of them onto the front page of today's Times into the bargain. But don't just take my word for it, the whole of the British press have been scrutinising this interview. Spain's defeat was a surprise, and likewise, nobody expects the Spanish inquisition.
Curiously, on the day of the match, the New York Post named Carbonero WAG of the Day! Before or after the match, I wonder?
I'm just waiting for the tabloids' paparazzi snap of the two of them shopping for flat-pack furniture, just for the priceless caption - IKEA Casillas...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

CNN on "Mrs. Clegg"

Every breath you take, every move you make, they'll be watching you...

US senator Eugene McCarthy (best known for inspiring a band who went on to spawn cult heroes Stereolab... or was that Joseph McCarthy?) once said:

"Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important."  

The parallels between football and politics are endless. 

In Spanish, the word for a political party and a football match are exactly the same. Curiously (and curiously appropriately in the case of the current UK administration!), the same word can be translated back into English as "split", "broken" or "cut into two".

Any Spanish-based readers who are remotely interested in the beautiful game and with spare cash to invest in satellite dishes and digiboxes will be more than familiar with the Monday-evening Canal + prog "El Día Despues".

Not to be confused with the 1980s post-nuclear TV movie "The Day After", this is a several-hour long dissection of the weekend's football - formerly featuring my "homeboy" Michael Robinson, no less - where, in addition to analysis of goals, fouls, penalties, near-misses and saves, every detail of a number of important matches are scrutinised in detail with the help of various pundits, some very, very long telephoto lenses and a crack team of lipreaders.

Profanities directed at the referees, bench talk, crowd gurning and on-pitch asides are filmed and occasionally subtitled, leaving little to the imagination.

Now it seems that British journalists have deemed this a good way of dissecting the spanking-new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that is intended to govern the country for the next five years.

The Guardian - Britain's finest newspaper (IMHO) - started by taking an exclusive snap of Nick Clegg's scrawled notes  for his clinch meeting with David Cameron, and then proceeded to try and interpret it. Now the Guardian journos have sent a body language expert to analyse the... er... body language between the new PM and his deputy

No comment

Friday, 7 May 2010

Did we really want a hung parliament?

Oh yes.

(Graffiti courtesy of street artist T.Wat - not, as one might suspect, the inimitable Banksy. Or not so inimitable, if you see what I mean.)

Post election analysis:
* Newsbiscuit
* Private Eye
* Daily Mirror
* Der Speigel (in English!)
* Time
* The Times
* Financial Times
* Times of India
* Straits Times Malaysia
* New York Times
* LA Times
* Good Times
* Good Times Bad Times
* Daily Mail (humour)

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election daze...

It's that time again... another General Election.. this time back in dear old Blighty
Don't forget to click on the links!

But unlike in previous years it's not just another predictable re-run where the incumbent gets re-elected because the opposition are even worse. Oh no.

This time it's anybody's game. A few weeks ago outsider Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) was seen to be the winner of the first ever UK three-way (!) pre-election TV debate, with some journalists touting him as a British Obama. while Conservative David Cameron has bounced back despite various gaffes and potentially embarrassing accusations.

Even Gordon Brown, Tony Blair's successor as leader of the ("New") Labour Party has apparently regained some lost support following his "bigot-gate" faux pas.

Cartoonist Gerald Scarfe (before Mr. Clegg's stellar appearance at interview) considered that the British voter was "caught between two stools" , stool being the operative word.  You may recognise his style from the Pink Floyd album and film "The Wall".

Meanwhile, at the polls, many punters are putting their money on a hung parliament. Let those nice men at the BBC explain what that's all about by clicking here. Par for the course here in Spain, but something that hasn't happened in Britain since 1974, when everything was still black and white (and read whatever you will into that..).

The unthinkable is happening. Even old Labour stalwarts like "the Bard of Barking" Billy Bragg (remember Red Wedge?) have admitted they're turning their backs on Gordon "Bully-boy" Brown.

The internet (surprise surprise) is transforming this election, with Labour, Tory (that's Conservative) and LibDems all Twittering away... David Cameron has  been showing us what a regular guy he is despite his Eton-Oxford education on his "pioneering" Webcameron (clever wordplay there, Dave) since 2006 or so, when most people thought YouTube was best left to a plumber.

The net has also allowed the public to "get interactive" all over the election... the best example of this featuring the amazing "MyDavidCameron.com" where you can make your own customised mickey-take of any of a series of Conservative election posters, as on the right. Sheer genius... go on, have a go... you know you want to.

Also, YouTube is a great source of information on candidates... Cameron has his own "channel" of course, but you can also scrutinise this revealing clip of Gordon Brown picking his nose. Nick Clegg's Spanish wife Miriam "don't call me Mrs. Clegg" González is featured on this clip comically entitled Leaders' Wives.

Sky News have the best compendium of typically savage and sarcastic election campaign posters while the good old BBC have a great "as-it-happens" live feed. The Guardian have compiled the election morning front pages (of the newspapers, obviously) here, from the former Blarite Sun's "In Cameron We Trust" to the Communist Morning Star's blunt "Vote Labour".

Other election news involves former leader of the (thankfully minority) UK Independence Party (UKIP to its friends) who crashed his light aircraft after it became entangled in a VOTE UKIP banner, the daft banana. Remember Rajoy, La Espe and a helicopter? A bit like that.

As the votes slowly trickle in it seems that Clegg-mania was over-hyped, and that Cameron may be the biggest recipient of votes but that a hung parliament is looking increasingly likely. However it seems that a large turnout has lead to people being turned away from polling stations. Doesn't that happen in places like Iran and Zimbabwe?

As are endless yawnsome jokes about a well-hung parliament.

Here is the first of what I fear may be many.

And finally... a poster to remind us to Vote for Gordon (or not)..

Oh dear... I've just seen Joan Collins on the BBC telling the nation that she believes David Cameron has a "presidential look".

I honestly didn't realise she was still alive.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Tell me what you want, what you really really want...

No-one who uses public transport in the Spanish capital can have failed to have noticed the vast number of posters like the one above, adorning bus shelters and metro stations, from Barajas to Valdecarros and beyond.

A smiling child holding a piece of paper emblazoned with the Comunidad de Madrid's new slogan to promote their bilingual state schools: YES, WE WANT.

Presumably echoing Barack Obama's much-copied YES WE CAN (without the comma).

But, hang on... something looks funny here... er...

Isn't that... wrong?

I mean... you can end a sentence yes you can (without to) because can is a modal verb.

But YES WE WANT (with or without a comma)
is just  plain WRONG.

Unless it is followed by "to"... or a pronoun, or a noun.

As in "Yes, you're right, we at ad agency Adsolut didn't want to hire a professional translator".

Did none of these evidently monolingual admen (or indeed women) ever hear Dr Who sidekick Billie Piper (eyes down) and her 1998 number one hit "Because We Want To"?

Of course the simplest way of answering a question such as "Do you really think it is worth holding the Comunidad de Madrid up to national and international ridicule for the sake of saving a few bob on translators' fees?" is "Yes we do! There's no such thing as bad publicity!" (Not to be confused with bad advertising, please take note!)

One of the things that makes this blooper all the more amazing (apart from the fact that a glaring grammatical mistake is being used to promote bilingual schools... a bit like using a bout of food poisoning to promote a restaurant) is that the Comunidad President - one Esperanza Aguirre, as seen earlier on these pages - does actually speak English fairly well.

Excellently, in fact, when compared to almost any other Spanish politician.

Of course it wasn't long before the bloggers and the British and American media picked up on the story.

* LA - Madrid Files (US)
* The Web of Language (US)
* CampoPulse (Gibraltar)
* An Offshore Account (Spain)
* Ayudation (Spain)
* Don't Confuse The Narrator (Spain)
* Notes from Spain (Spain)
* Living La Vida Loca (Spain.. nothing to do with Ricky "Loca" Martin, thankfully)

The story even made it to Russia!
*Никогда не стой на месте (Russia)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Rafa vs. Rafa

Majorca's number one son Rafa Nadal was the talk of the town last week following his epic defeat of his great rival and five-time-titleholder Roger Federer in the Wimbledon finals last Sunday. The pros were full of praise for the quality of the match, Björn Borg called it the most nail-biting final ever and both John McEnroe and one-time British hopeful Tim Henman said it was the greatest match they had ever seen.

Rafa's English - despite being still peppered with a handful of unforgivable mistakes - does seem to have improved somewhat since his early attempts to express himself in the language. Although nowhere near as good as Federer's English, Rafa still needs to work out his infinitive / -ing ending confusion, but he has made a fair bit of progress, so credit where credit's due.

Fellow sporting Spaniard and namesake Rafa Benitez seems to have mastered the language more quickly, but maybe several years living in Liverpool may have something to do with it. The Liverpool manager seems a little more relaxed speaking in English than the Wimbledon champ... so let's have a look at the two of them.

This first clip of Rafa Nadal shows him answering a few very simplistic questions about his life on and off the tennis court.

Rafa Benitez meanwhile is seen here entertaining reporters with his slant on that quintessentially English sport of sports... no, not football - cricket!

Oh, and here's what the papers had to say about Rafa (Nadal) and his victory:

... and last Spanish Wimbledon men's champ Manolo Santana speaks to The Times...

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Fernando Torres speaks

After scoring the winning goal for Spain in the Euro 2008, ex-Atletico Madrid and current Liverpool golden boy Fernando Torres is once more the centre of attention for the British press.

Here are a few clips of him and his gradually improving English.

Did you catch that awful "can to" though?

(Is the interviewer Spanish in this final clip?)

Sadly nothing on the Spanish Euro triumph, but here's what some of the papers said:

Finally, as connoisseurs of the great British pun, let us leave you with a selection of Euro 2008 wordplay courtesy of the tabloid press:

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Eurovision: It's That Man Again

It's that man again, Spain's entry for the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest: Rodolfo Chikilicuatre with his cod-reggaeton ditty Baila el Chili-Chiki (click the links for more information - as if most of you didn't know already).

How he made the cover of Nature is beyond me...

Anyway it seems as if the Elvisly-coiffed comedy singer will have a bit of an easier ride in Saturday's final as Ireland's much-trumpeted entry - Dustin the Turkey - was knocked out in the first round. The first round that both Spain and the UK bypass as main sponsors of the event along with Germany and France. However, the BBC has a poll on who could win the contest this year, and Spain doesn't even make the top 30! (Just behind the United Kingdom, cough cough).

For more English-speaking news on Chikilicuatre and this year's contest, try these:
Oh, yes, and don't forget...