Wednesday, August 28, 2013

10 differences between British and American English

Because of its proximity to the UK, most English teachers in Spain teach British English as opposed to American English.  Both of my schools used British English textbooks, and so did my private English students.

Over time I picked up on the pertinent UK lingo and grammar (learning to keep my mouth shut when my kids said "I have got a sister" instead of correcting them, "You have a sister.").  Sometimes in class I would have those I-have-absolutely-no-idea-what-this-word-means moments when we'd come across certain British English words in the textbook.  Then I would take it home and look it up.

So here are the ten differences that stuck out to me the most while teaching basic and intermediate English in Madrid:

10. Maths

The school subject of mathematics is pluralized in its shortened version, so I'd often hear students say simple sentences such as: "I need to study maths".

9. University

If you went to college in the states and got a Bachelor's Degree (for example), you'd best say to your European friends and students that you went to University.

8. Spanner

One day with a small class of "electronics" students, they had a matching activity in their workbook -- word to picture.  I could figure most of them out by elimination, but I did not know what a freaking spanner was.  It's a wrench!

7. Lift

I remember my Tues/Weds teacher making a deal about this one in front of the class.  It means elevator, but here's how she pointed out the two different vocabulary words.  First she wrote "lift" on the board, saying how logical and simple it was, because it lifts you up to higher floors (and the word is short).  Then she wrote "elevator" below, saying "I don't know why it's such a long, complicated word.  Elevator.  But in the United States, it's what they say".  Biased much?  And yes I know it comes from the verb to elevate.

6. Travelling, favourite, etc.

You will come across many spelling variances between British English and American English, but since many of my students learned present progressive (am/are/is  ____ing) that year, and the textbook used "travel" as one of the six verbs to practice with, I saw an awful lot of "travelling"s.  Luckily the teachers recognized the American spelling as well, and accepted both spellings on exams.

5. Rubbish

Trash.  Put it in the rubbish bins!

4. Torch

No, my students are not carrying around flaming torches to see at night, but rather, flashlights.

3. Have got

The British use the verbal phrase "have got" where we Americans simply say "have".  This one really sounded strange to me at first, but after two years of drilling my students, I now find myself using this verb all the time -- even back in the states!  "Have you got any pens?"

2. Pet hate

There was a small section about "pet hates" in one of my school's textbooks.  By context clues, I figured out it means pet peeve, but again, at first I was puzzled when the English teacher asked me what was my pet hate.

1. Rubber

Last (first?), but certainly not least, I will never forget the day when my 8-year-old Rodrigo started talking about his rubbers.  You have what in your pencil case?!  They're erasers.  What were you thinking?


What other British English have you picked up or been exposed to while teaching English abroad?

Friday, August 2, 2013

How to practice Spanish before studying abroad in Spain

I didn't prepare myself too well the summer before I studied abroad in Madrid in college.  I think I downloaded some free podcasts, but I didn't do much else.  So: do as I say, not as I did!

How to practice Spanish before studying abroad

These are some of the ways I keep from losing my Spanish, now that it's at a fluent level after my two years in Madrid.  If you're planning to study abroad or live in a Spanish-speaking country, I highly recommend doing some or all of these in the time before you leave.  You may (and again, I recommend) do all of them no matter where you're living to improve your Spanish.

1) Speak at a conversation table or intercambio

The best way to get better at speaking Spanish (or any foreign language for that matter) is to do it.  Speak, speak, speak, and make tons of mistakes!  The sooner you start, the sooner you'll improve.  In Madrid there are many intercambios, and many cities around the world have conversation tables (Madison does!).   Check Craigslist and ask around -- or start your own!

2) Watch TV in Spanish

In the states, I feel like watching TV is being lazy - a waste of time.  Not if you're watching in Spanish!  Start watching Spanish TV shows before you study abroad.  In Spanish, TV shows are split into three main categories: series (fictional TV series), programas (talk shows, game shows), and noticias (news).  One channel you can watch both online and in Spain is Antena 3:

Antena 3


rtve.es is another great site to watch TV shows, documentaries, etc.  It's got a few channels, whereas Antena 3 is just one.

rtve.es

3) Watch Spanish movies

Some movies you can find online, but if you've got a local library I recommend checking out the DVD copy.  This way you can turn on the Spanish subtitles while you watch, which is the preferred way (if you need subtitles).

4) Listen to Spanish podcasts


Notes in Spanish is a separate site that offers free real-life audio and video in Spanish.

5) Read Spanish newspapers

Start reading El País instead of spending time on Facebook or reading the news in English.  Reading this newspaper will not only help your language skills, but it will ease the transition to your future community by increasing your cultural knowledge.

6) Listen to Spanish radio

When living in Madrid I would often listen to Cadena Dial (91.7 FM in Madrid) on my radio in my room.  The station only plays music with Spanish lyrics.  Again, not only did this help my Spanish, but I also felt a step closer to fitting in with my Spanish friends.  If you're out and your fellow Spaniards are all singing along to a popular song, it feels really good when you know the lyrics and can sing along with them!  Oh, the little things.  Not in Spain yet?  Listen to Cadena Dial in real time here.

Cadena Ser (105.4 FM in Madrid) is a talk show / news station that will definitely help your ear get used to the Castilian Spanish (castellano).  Listen directly online here.

And here's an exhaustive list of Spanish radio stations that you can stream live on the internet to find your own favorite.

7) Play Lyricstraining.es

Lyrics Training is an online game where you watch music videos of popular songs as the lyrics appear on the screen.  Every now and then there are blanks in the lyrics, and you need to type in the missing word as quickly as you can.  I actually showed this game to my English students, but it was also fun for me to play in Spanish and French.  Lyrics Training has songs in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Dutch.

8) Set electronic accounts to Spanish

Change the settings of your email account, Facebook, cell phone, camera, laptop, etc. so that the language is set to Spanish.

9) Various Online Resources

This page from CEC Study Languages Abroad offers 10 free online resources for learning Spanish, and it's a good place to start.  This BBC Spanish page is another.

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New Spanish-learning resource added 4/21/14:

10) FluentU

I received an email last week from the founder of FluentU, who describes his site as a "new education startup for learning languages with real-world videos like cartoons, TV shows, and songs". Here's a quick tour:


I opened an account and have actually been using the site to continue learning French. I'm really impressed so far, and highly recommend the site for learning/practicing Spanish (or any of the other languages offered, for that matter!).


How are you preparing?