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Two Topical Podcasts

Articles and podcasts about cultural issues in English-speaking countries, politics in Switzerland and abroad, education, technical advances, and an infinite number of other topics can be a fascinating basis for a discussion and deliver excellent opportunities to learn new vocabulary and the latest idiomatic language. The sheer amount of information jockeying for position on the internet can be overwhelming, however, so I’ve decided to write about two of my favorites:

NUMBER ONE

https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/the-long-read

The Guardian is an established broadsheet* newspaper in the UK. The Long Read is a series of long articles on a range of different subjects. Some texts are also available as audio podcast episodes. Here is one of my favourite episodes:

The only way to end the class divide. The case for abolishing private schools.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/24/the-only-way-to-end-the-class-divide-the-case-for-abolishing-private-schools

People who have not lived in the UK are often unaware of the effect of having been, or not having been, to a private school on someone’s future career and life in Britain. Did you know that only 6% of the UK population go to private school, but 32% of MPs (Members of Parliament)? and 74% of Judges were privately educated? Find out how private schools shape the UK class system, promoting inequality and causing division across the board.

NUMBER TWO

A shorter alternative from across the pond is The Daily. Although released as an audio podcast, there is the possibility to download a transcript a day after the audio is released. Topics are very up-to-date, so they don’t tend to age well, but they are well worth a listen.

This episode follows Valerie Gilbert a Qanon supporter before and after Biden took office. The podcast introduces the Qanon community and explains their hopes for a new order to be brought about by President Trump. Can Qanon survive Biden’s election, or is it time for the movement to cut its losses and disband?

I hope you have a chance to check out these episodes. If you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Sally Welti

*a newspaper with a large format, regarded as more serious and less sensationalist than tabloids

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Pimp your Present Perfect for Result with YouTube, or “Help! I’ve fallen!”

Hi and Happy New Year 2021! Long time no see. Seeing as I have watched most of YouTube, I’ve decided to make some grammar videos using video clips. These videos shows the connection between the past and the present that is needed for the present perfect tense.

Present perfect always needs some elements of past and present. If you only have past, it’s past simple:

I went to Spain last year

If you are talking generally about the present, it’s present simple:

The moon goes around the earth.

If you are talking about right now in the present, it’s present continuous:

I’m sitting at my desk typing.

As soon as you talk about events in the past that clearly effect the present, such as a fall when the person is still on the ground,

“She’s fallen and she can’t get up” (She fell -past- and is lying on the floor -present-)

or you break something,

“I’ve broken your cup” (I broke your cup -past- the cup is still broken -present-)

you need present perfect. When the past effects the present like this you have a result in the present, so this use of present perfect is called “present perfect for result“. There are other times you need present perfect, for example when you say “how long” something has gone on for. As always with present perfect this also needs past and present elements:

I’ve lived here for 3 years. (I started living here three years ago -past- and I live here now -present)

I’ll cover this in the next video.

Anyway, enjoy and take care,

Sally

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Lessons in “for” and “since” from Sam Smith, BB King and friends

Photo by Suvan Chowdhury from Pexels

Confusion with “for” and “since” is a very common problem for English learners. Often, even when people understand how to use each word correctly, there are slip-ups. The difference in the use of these two words is one of those things that is specific to the English language and therefore difficult to remember. Thankfully songwriters throughout the ages are experts in the subject, and there’s nothing more memorable than a good tune.

First, here’s a song sung by BB King and Katie Webster. Just listen to the chorus at 1.43 if you don’t have time for the whole song:

Let’s look at the lyrics of the chorus sung by BB King (If you’re not too chilled out after listening to that):

  • Since I met you baby my whole life has changed
  • Since I met you baby you’ve made a new man out of me
  • Since I met you baby I’m as happy as a man can be.

Here’s another beautiful song. This time from Chris Delmhorst. If you don’t have time for the whole song listen to 0:13 to 0:40:

OK, stop weeping! Let’s look at some of the lyrics of this song:

  • Seems like to me the stars don’t shine so bright
  • Seems like to me the sun has lost its light
  • Seems like to me there’s nothing going right … since you went away

Next please! Here are the champions of the English language, The Beatles. Non Beatles fans can skip straight to 02.25

This time in the chorus at the end: I’ll never dance with another, since I saw her standing there

The word “since” is used before a word or phrase expressing a point in time in the past. For example, in the sentence “I have lived in Zurich since 2007.” 2007 is the point in time in the past. Since is another way of saying “from … until now”

Back in BB Kings song, meeting his lover for the first time is the point in time in the past. He then lists the things that are true in his life from then until now.

I met you = at a point in time in the past

My life has changed, I’m a new man, I’m really happy = have been true from that time and is still true now

In Chris Delmhorst’s song:

You went away = at a point of time in the past

The sun has lost its light, the bird has forgotten his song, the stars don’t shine so bright = These things have happened from then until now.

In The Beatles song:

I saw her standing there = at a point of time in the past

I’ll never dance with another = has been true from that time until now and will be true for ever and ever (gotta love The Beatles)

So, you use “since” before a point of time in the past. But what about “for”?

Let’s ask Sam Smith. Skip to 1:29 if you wish to avoid the dramatics at the beginning.

Apart from accusing us of calling him crazy and calling him baby, he sings:

For months on end I’ve had my doubts I have loved you for many years

The last word is going to go to Phil Collins. Don’t tell me you don’t know this one! Skip to 0.36 if you don’t have time for the whole song.

Phil sings: I’ve been waiting for this moment for all of my life

As these songs show, the word “for” is used before a length of time.

“Months on end”, “many years” and “all of my life”

“I have lived in Zurich since 2007″ and “I have lived in Zurich for 13 years” mean the same (In 2020), but “since” is used before a point in time and “for” before a length of time.

And finally ….there are also songs that show you how not to do it. For example this one, that has been covered many many times.

If you weren’t too busy worrying about their hair catching fire to listen to the song, you might have noticed the hook: “Since you’ve been gone”.

Can anyone spot a problem here? The word “since” is before “you’ve been gone”. While our other examples always used the past simple, to express a point of time in the past, “I met her”, “You went away” “I saw you”, this song uses present perfect “You’ve been gone“. The present perfect, “have/has been” plus the past participle (gone), is not used to describe a point in the past that is finished. It’s used to describe something that started in the past and is still true now, so you shouldn’t use it after “since”. It should really be “since you went away” like in Kris Delmhorst’s song or “since you left

But I suppose that’s rock-and-roll for ya!

Please leave any comments are suggestions below. Have a good week!

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Mistakes using “by” and “until”

Hi English enthusiasts! I’ve decided to start a blog correcting errors that I hear from students and other speakers of English as a foreign language day after day here in Switzerland. I hope you will join me on this journey into the foul swamps of split infinitives and false friends.

Let’s start with that old blooper:

“by” and “until”

So, you’re at work. Your boss comes in,

“I need the sales report. Have you finished it yet? I need it at four!”

You say: “It’s nearly finished, I’ll give it to you ***** four o’clock.”

What’s missing, “by” or “until”?

If you answer is “until”, we need to talk.

Let’s go to another situation. You’re in the pub with Dave. You’re talking about your bucket lists*

You say: “I’d love to go bungee jumping!”

Your friend Dave says: “I want to go bungee jumping until I’m 50.”

Really Dave?

Jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping……The WHOLE time up to your 50th birthday! Bouncing and eating, bouncing and sleeping. That doesn’t sound healthy!

No Dave, the word you need is “before”.

“I want to go bungee jumping before I’m 50,” means that you want to experience this thing one time.

At least I hope this is what you wanted to say…

So, back to the office

When you say “It’s nearly finished, I’ll give it to you until four o’clock.” It means you will spend the entire time up to four o’clock “giving it” to your Boss. I don’t know, maybe it’s got A LOT of pages…

No! Giving doesn’t take that long! If you use “until”, you mean that you will be doing the activity from right now when you are speaking up to the time, date, day etc. that you mention.

The right answer is, “I’ll give it to you before four o’clock.” You’ll finish it, and then you’ll give it to your boss ONCE some time before four.

TIPP: For this reason, verbs describing short activities such as: “to give”, “to start”, “to stop” “to enter” etc. are seldom used with the word until.

Here are some more examples. Are they correct or incorrect? (Answers at the end)       

1. I’m going to study until I get my degree.

2. I’m going to do the proficiency exam until I go back to Switzerland.

3. I’m playing tennis until four o’clock.

4. I’ll finish my tennis game until four o’clock

5. I’m going to make an appointment with my dentist until Christmas.

6. I have to renew my passport until 2030

7. I have until this Friday to apply for the job

Please leave a like or comment if you’re part of the blogging community. I’m also on the lookout for new topics, so if there’s anything you’d like me to try to clear up for you, please let me know. Let’s bash out those bloopers!

Take care

Sally

Answers: 1. Correct 2. Incorrect 3. Correct 4. Incorrect 5. Incorrect 6. Incorrect 7. Correct   

*Lists of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. (Oxford)

Image 2 by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Pronunciation: Do you have a case of terminal devoicing?

When you say “peas” and “peace” do the words sound the same?

What about “pick” and “pig”?

or “dug” and “duck”?

If they do you might be suffering from terminal devoicing. It sounds serious, but don’t worry, despite its name, there is a cure. We’ll get to that later. First, what is it, and who typically suffers from it?

In German, in many Slavic languages, Russian and Turkish the pronunciation of consonants at the end of words often changes. In German we call it Auslautverhärtung; the hardening of a final consonant. For example in

Bundeshaus /d/

the pronunciation is the typical voiced “d” sound

But in

Bund /t/

The pronunciation often sounds more like a “t”

Although in Swiss German this isn’t always as obvious as in High German, it can still lead to problems with the pronunciation of word endings in English. Sometimes my students say “set” instead of “said” or “back” instead of “bag”. This issue affects the following sounds: /b/ /d/ /g/ /v/ /z/, s (when pronounced /z/) and dsch /dʒ/. These are all voiced consonants -basically, when you say them you can feel a vibration in your throat (try saying these letters with your fingers lightly resting on your throat and you’ll see what I mean).

These voiced consonants are changed in terminal devoicing and sound more like unvoiced consonants (no throat vibration). /b/ turns into /p/, /d/ into /t/ and the other sounds turn into /k/, /f/, /s/ and tsch /​​t͡ʃ. In this way “peas” /z/ becomes “peace” /s/, pig /g/ becomes pick /k/ and dug becomes duck /k/.

person holding white labeled brown bottle

So, how can you cure a case of terminal devoicing? One remedy is a big dose of vowels (a,e,i,o,u). If you lengthen the vowel before the final consonant it will sound better. Saying the consonant at the end softer as well will help to balance the word out.

In the following recording, I read out these perculiar phrases.

I picked a pig

peas for peace

I want my bag back

I dug a hole with a duck

Each time I say these phrases, the first time I devoice the last consonant of one of the words, and the second time I lengthen the vowel and soften the final consonant, for example “piiiiig” or “peees. I have exaggerated the pronunciation to make it clearer.

Phrases

First, listen to the difference between the two phrases and then try practicing the right version of each phrase. Being aware of this difference in English can really be a game changer as it affects so many words. Here are just a few to practice:

Voiced/unvoiced

words
  • cab/cap
  • seed/seat
  • dog/dock
  • mob/mop
  • code/coat
  • log/lock
  • bead/beat

Anyway, I will wish you a good evening, morning, afternoon, or night! If you need some more help with your pronunciation, or any other English issues that are holding you back, send a mail to sally@sw-english.com to book a free discovery call. I offer one-to-one English coaching in Zurich and online.

Having a bad day

One thing I have noticed as a language learner and teacher is that on some days speaking a foreign language is much harder than on others. Sometimes I have days that I really find it difficult to express myself in German and some days students, who I know are pretty fluent in English seem to struggle with the simplest of sentences.

When this happens it’s easy to slip into a negative mindset, thinking that we really aren’t as good at the language as we thought we were. We may think: “Why can’t I do this!”, “I must be really terrible at the language to make such a simple mistake.”, “I’ll never get it right.” and so on. I remember my C1 German exam last year. Everything went well until it came to the speaking exam. Maybe it was nerves? Maybe I hadn’t been speaking enough German? But, for whatever the reason, I really couldn’t say what I wanted to. I knew I could do better, but at that moment my German seemed to go on a little holiday.

It can really happen to all of us. Sometimes we disappoint ourselves and it’s frustrating, especially if it’s at a key moment, an important meeting, a presentation, or meeting new clients. So, what can cause these language fails?

It’s not always, but can be, a lack of practice. Maybe you haven’t been speaking the language recently as much as you usually do. You’re thinking in your native language and having to translate everything directly rather than going with the flow. Maybe you’re just tired, hungry, stressed out or have just had a negative experience that has destroyed your confidence -and confidence is key; being constantly afraid of getting it wrong or embarrassing yourself will destroy your ability to speak another language. But…maybe none of thes things are true. Maybe you are just having an bad day.

The most important thing to do is accept that you’re having a bad day and move on. Don’t beat yourself up about it. That’s the way it is and it’s not going to change if you are hard on yourself. If you can let go of your high expectations you’ll relax and be able to communicate better.

In my one-to-one English sessions I can help you to let go of negative thinking and create a positive relationship with the language. Send me a message to book a free discovery call.

How good is your English really?

Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh, who died in January this year, had some advice: You should write “Are you sure?” and tape it to your wall. This will remind you that, although you may believe something is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is. In order to make good progress in any area of life, it is necessary to be able to see the world as it really is. False perceptions will lead us to make bad decisions and you might create blind spots that will hold you back from doing what you need to do.

We often over or underestimate our language skills. Have you ever thought you had forgotten a language completely, but then go to the country where they speak the language and realise that you can still understand a lot of what is being said, and even make some conversation? Have you ever started a language course thinking that you knew the language well only to discover a whole new world of vocabulary and grammar that you never knew existed? I know I have! It can be quite daunting.

It is necessary to question our own beliefs as these beliefs will affect our behaviour in the future. Someone who believes their English is still poor after many years of studying might be tempted to give up, but maybe this belief comes, not from reality, but from the harsh voice of a critical teacher or parent from the past. If they could block out these negative voices maybe they could see what they can do, instead of what they can’t. On the other hand, overestimation of our own abilities can come from a fear of failure. This fear prevents us from improving because it stops us from seeing the areas that we need to work on. It’s too painful to face them because we would have to admit that we’re not perfect.

So, my advice to you is never too sure of your language ability. If you ever hear a voice in the back of your head saying “You can’t” don’t forget to reply “Are you sure?”

A New Start or Back to Work

Last week the schools started again after the summer holidays. Some kids are going back to what they know but others are starting in new classes or even new schools. There are new challenges, with maybe even a whole new location, new teachers, and classmates.

For us adults, this time of year usually means getting back into our old work routine, hopefully bringing back some inspiration from our time away. These first few weeks are not always easy. Getting used to getting up early, the commute, and being organised again, especially for those of us juggling work and childcare, can take time. Those of us starting something new, for example, taking on new responsibilities, taking up a new position, starting a training course, or even relocating, will need to make new routines. It might seem like an uphill struggle at first. There’s so much to learn, but it’s normal to be frightened of making mistakes and of what people think of you. The only way out is to keep going.

The good news is that after the initial “shock” things calm down. You get into a routine, or back into a routine, and life is more peaceful again. The same is true of learning a language. The beginning is tough. Re-starting is tough and can be tougher. Real and perceived failures from the past haunt us and make it difficult to get started. The only way out is through. Build a routine and stick to it. Don’t let mistakes stop you from going on. You might find that a break has given you just the inspiration and perspective that you needed to get to the next level.

Idioms for Motivation

I’m [1] champing at the bit to get started on the new project. Don’t tell me to [2]dial it down. This time I’m going to [3]go the extra mile and [4]blow them away.  Yes, I’m really [5]raring to go.  I’m going to [6]eat, sleep and breathe this new product until we [7]hit the jackpot. I’m going to [8]put my heart and soul into ituntil we make a [9]roaring trade. We’ll be [10]riding high, where [11]no one can touch us.  Are you with me?

Yes, [12]With bells on! It sounds like [13]seventh heaven.

Match the idioms with the definitions

a) To be very successful as a shop or business

b) certainly (an enthusiastic agreement)

c) to lessen the amount, or degree, of something

d) to be restless and impatient to start doing something (i)

e) to be restless and impatient to start doing something (ii)

f) Have great success (especially to suddenly get a large sum of money)

g) impress (someone) greatly

h) To do something with the greatest possible energy, enthusiasm, and determination.

i) To be extremely invested in something because it is of great interest to you.

j) To be very happy

k) Make an extra effort to achieve something

l) No one is as good as we are

m) To be successful

Answers

1d, 2c, 3k, 4g, 5e, 6i, 7f, 8h, 9a, 10m, 11l, 12b, 13j

Idioms for when you’re feeling hopeful

It may be hard but [1] never say die. You still [2] stand a chance. Before you know it things will [3] take off and you’ll be [4]on a roll. Maybe you’ll even [5]make it big. Who knows what the future will hold. They say [6] fortune favours the bold! You’ve already [7] come a long way and I’m sure you’ll [8] land on your feet. All the hard work you have done will have to [9] bear fruit some day soon. Just [10] keep your eye on the ball and [11] keep your shoulder to the wheel  and you’ll soon [12] have the world at your feet.

Match the idioms with the definitions

 a) to be in good condition or in a good situation after having a bad or difficult experience

b) to make a great amount of progress

 c) to have positive results

 d) To become very successful or famous

 e) To pay attention to the situation

 f) To have a prolonged period of success

 g) When something starts to be successful

h) Work hard

i) To have the prospect of success

j) To be extremely successful and admired by a lot of people

k) Don’t give up

l) people who face problems with determination and courage are the ones who attain massive levels of success

Answers

1k, 2i, 3g, 4f, 5d, 6l, 7b, 8a, 9c, 10e, 11h, 12j

Download pdf

Idioms for when you’re angry

I’m feeling pretty [1] ticked off.  If I hadn’t excused myself and gone outside I would really have [2]flown off the handle. I came into work in a good mood but the boss came in and [3]bit my head off for no reason. Since when has being five minutes late to work been a problem? She’s really [4]got a chip on her shoulder. She’s always [5]venting her spleen about something trivial. The other day she had [6]a blazing row with Carol from accounting. Just because she left the milk out of the fridge. I can’t understand why she [7]goes bananas at every little thing. It really [8]drives me up the wall. I suppose I’ll just have to try to [9]keep in her good books until she transfers to the Manchester branch in the Spring. I’ll be [10]glad to see the back of her.

Match the idioms with the definitions

 a) To be happy you no longer need to deal with someone

 b) To make someone angry

 c) To yell at someone or to be very critical of someone especially very suddenly and without a  good reason.         

 d) To lose control of your emotions

 e) To be annoyed

 f) To express angry feelings

 g) A very angry argument

 h) To go crazy

i) To keep someone happy with you

j) To have an angry or unpleasant attitude or way of behaving caused by a belief that one has been treated unfairly in the past

Answers

1e, 2d, 3c, 4j, 5f, 6g, 7h, 8b, 9i, 10a

Download this worksheet

English idioms for when you’re having a bad day

Are you having one of those days? Here are some great idioms to express how you feel.

I [1]got out of the wrong side of bed this morning. In fact, I’m feeling a bit [2]down in the dumps. Yesterday, my boss gave me a [3]dressing down. I had forgotten to send some important files to a client and they decided to take their business elsewhere. Our other projects are [4]going to the dogs so [5]we’re up shit creek without a paddle. It has really [6]knocked me for six. I guess I’ll just have to try to [7]weather the storm there’s no use [8]crying over spilt milk.

Match the idiom with the definition

  • a) survive hard times
  • b) a severe telling-off /reprimand.
  • c) in a lot of trouble [vulgar!]
  • d) to become ruined / become much worse
  • e) a bit depressed
  • f) to express regret about something that has already happened and cannot be changed.
  • g) shocked or upset very much
  • h) to be irritable all day

Answers: 1h, 2e, 3b, 4d, 5c, 6g, 7a, 8f

Download this worksheet

Top 5 Places to Get Swiss News and Views in English

For students who want to maximise their English practice or teachers looking for interestings topics for their lessons there is nothing better than a well put together Swiss news website. These are my favourite Swiss news sites in English.

  1. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng

This is my favourite by far. The articles, translated into 10 different languages, are well written and cover a variety of interesting topics from Switzerland and abroad. This is my go-to website when I want to find information on up-coming referendums or national events. It is also a good starting point for a discussion into differences between life in Switzerland and other countries. The Switzerland: How to page describes the Swiss school system, the political system and everything you need to know about living in Switzerland. Here is a, rather tongue in cheek, article about how to behave on Swiss trains.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss-train-etiquette/44854438

2. https://www.thelocal.ch/

This is a website purely in English. Most articles are members-only and you can buy a subscription for about 50.- CHF for one year. The articles seem to be less detailed than on Swissinfo and there is less of an international focus to the news but there are some interesting topics.

3. https://www.englishforum.ch

The English forum is not really a news site but it’s interesting to visit the discussion pages to have an expat’s-eye view on the country. You might find someone to practice your English with if you are a student. Maybe you could give a Switzerland newbie some advice.

https://www.englishforum.ch/transportation-driving/304141-getting-rid-totaled-worthless-car-switzerland.html

4. https://www.ch.ch/en/

ch.ch is the official Swiss government news and information website, in other words “The Swiss Authorities Online”. Really useful if you want to find out about Swiss laws and regulations in a concise and clear way. Here you can find out about how much driving over the speed limit will cost you.

5. https://www.ronorp.net/zurich_en

The platform Ronorp gives people and businesses in Switzerland the chance to write about what matters to them. Kind of like a collective blog. The English page (unfortunately only available for Zurich) is well worth a read to find out what’s going on in the area.

https://www.ronorp.net/zurich_en/ron-s-tips/guides.1351/good-to-know.1365/sex-drugs-and-rock-stroll.2180098

Anyway, I hope you’ve found this information useful. Please comment with suggestions of your own.

See you soon

Sally