Family English Courses
Today is March 1st – we think about daffodils and spring lambs but instead we are knee-deep in snow and ice!
This puts me in mind of another March saying: ‘In like a lion out like a lamb’ and today this idiom is really proving to be true: Blizzards, strong easterly winds, bottle ice and driving snow are certainly more lion than lamb-like. The recent winter weather has delivered the worst snow for many years and the whole country is in a state of chaos. I’m certain that many of our European cousins are looking on in great amusement as our news programmes are dominated with weather reports from every corner of the country, we all struggle to get into work and all the schools are closed!! It’s all ‘meat and drink’ to them as they experience this year in, year out.
So exactly why are we in the UK so obsessed with the weather?
It is true, we talk about it constantly. It’s the opener to most of our conversations – ‘Lovely day’ – ‘horrid weather we’re having at the moment’ – ‘hasn’t it been cold and miserable of late?’ I’ve had two telephone conversations this morning and they were both about – you’ve guessed – the weather!!
Weather is so much tied up with the psyche of the British people because it is so changeable. You can experience all seasons in a single day and have to be prepared for anything – rain, wind, snow and heat. We never go out without an umbrella and a cardigan even on the warmest day. Whenever we arrange an event we just cross our fingers and hope that weather will be kind – but carry on regardless. What choice do we have?
The ‘Beast from the East’ is actually quite persistent and has been with us for over 3 days now and may stay around for another two – this is very unusual and so it makes headlines. It also, as you can see, gives us new language 🙂
Here is some of its handiwork as it roars across from Siberia:
So, back finally to my theme of weather and language. I started to look up weather idioms and got truly bogged down in the sheer number of them. Further proof, I think, of how intrinsically weather and our British culture are wedded together. So sticking with the theme of winter and all things inclement here are a few more.
snowflakes – behaving like a wimp (being used of us at present as we cancel flights, trains and close schools!)
to catch your death – a warning not to go out in very cold or snowy weather – especially if you are not properly attired!!
snowed in – to be confined to your home because of heavy snow
snowed under – having too much work to do
walk on thin ice – at risk of causing a bad situation through doing or saying the wrong thing
tip of the iceberg – the problem is much worse than it appears
So the Beast from the East has roared into our language even if it is turning tail weather-wise. We are enjoying the new term, it’s in all the news bulletins but, as someone pointed out, the Beast from the East for us British seems to be a lot of Hysteria from Siberia!!
It’s the Chinese Year of the Dog and this got me thinking about dogs in general and about how here in the UK we do as a nation have a particular fondness for dogs – so much so that we include them in a lot of our colloquial language, especially idioms.
The dog in the Chinese Zodiac symbolises loyalty and good fortune and famous ‘dogs’ are Donald Trump and also Winston Churchill!
Loyalty and companionship are probably the characteristics most prized in a dog and one of the main reasons that we are fond of this animal.
Here at Fleetham Lodge we have two dogs – a sheepdog called Maguire and a Jack Russell terrier called Arty.
Maguire is almost 10 years old and Arty nearly 6. They are generally friendly dogs but we are well aware that not all people like dogs and so we are very careful to keep them contained and away from the main part of the house. Some of our students, however, have been very excited about having dogs in the house and asked to play with them. In fact two young students were so engaged in playing with the dogs in our paddock that the poor dogs came back thoroughly exhausted – the students were none the worse for wear!
Although we supervise such activities with young students, there have also been several adult students who wanted to take the dogs off for walks locally and of course we are always happy to have them do this either alone or together with us. There are several local walks around the adjoining lanes where it is very easy to take the dogs on their leads. There are some rules – the dogs should be kept on their leads in public places and should not be allowed to run into farmer’s field (especially where there are animals) but these are mostly common sense and if followed then a walk with a dog is a great way to see the local countryside.
In addition to the dogs we also have two cats (who get on ok with the dogs) called Winston (Winnie) and Churchill (Churchie) – they are also very friendly and we have had students in the past who were more ‘cat people’ than ‘dog people’ and enjoyed giving them attention. Finally our three hens (who don’t have names) not only produce eggs for us but are a delight to see wandering around the garden. Lots of our guests have enjoyed collecting, cooking and eating the eggs and we have proof they are good – we have for the past 4 or 5 years won first prize in the egg section of the village Feast!!
If you are not an animal lover – no problem – our animals do not have free range of the house so you needn’t even meet them if you don’t want to.
We have had some interesting animal encounters on our visits out into the countryside. Once we met a herd of cows walking down the road – which was quite a sight and on another occasion we had to cross a field of horses which we were a little wary of but one of the students was very familiar with horses and she went ahead and made friends with them so we could pass through unnoticed!
We’ve come across deer, owls, hares and many other countryside inhabitants on our journeys to and from different venues.There is always a lot of wildlife to see.
Farm visits are a good way to get up close and personal with animals in a controlled environment and
we have ‘Big Sheep, Little Cow’ right on our doorstep. It’s always a treat to feed the baby lambs. For those adults interested in farming we can easily arrange a visit to our farmer friend who runs a completely organic farm and has given a tour to several of our students followed by tea and cake in their lovely farmhouse.
Being in the countryside means that there are always animals to see both far and near.
But back to our year of the dog.
Here are some dog idioms to delight and amuse.
- Hair of the Dog – cure a hangover by drinking another alcoholic beverage
- Bark up the wrong tree – mistaken
- Dog eat Dog – cut-throat situation
- It’s the tail wagging the dog – who is in charge, the boss or the tea-boy?
- Don’t buy a dog and bark yourself – listen to the expert you have hired
- Dog days – the end of summer
Mara and Roberto Bianchi wanted to improve their English fluency. Both had need of English in their jobs and spoke well but felt that there was room for improvement in their English skills. They also wanted their three children Francesco 9, Clara 8 and Silvio 4, to have the chance to be immersed in English too. The two older children had begun English at school and this was an opportunity to get Silvio started too. They were looking for a venue where they could be be surrounded by English, all be able to take some lessons which were appropriate to their ages and ability but, as it was during the holiday period, they did not want anything too ‘academic’.
Fleetham Lodge seemed the perfect choice.
They came, as a family, for two weeks from the beginning of August.
On all our family courses we want to co-ordinate the lessons so that the whole family can be free for activities and trips at the same time – we generally use two teachers to enable this. We were faced with the issue of Silvio and how to manage his mornings. The solution, a teenage baby-sitter! Silvio worked with the other two children for the first 30 minutes or so of their lesson where the teacher played games and focused on speaking activities and then he spent the remaining time with one of our teenage daughters who played games, did some art activities and even watched a bit of English TV – Cbeebies The parents were on hand but Silvio thoroughly enjoyed being with his ‘new friend’ and rarely sought them out. So parents had their dedicated lessons, Francesco and Clara were able to engage fully in what they needed and Silvio ‘had a ball’.
In the afternoons everyone was available to go out and about which we did together – teachers and the family – on some days the family went off by themselves to explore and be tourists. York was a perfect venue for this as we were able to take them to the train (the train station in York is in the middle of the city so it’s very easy to get everywhere on foot) and collect them again at the end of their visit. Newby Hall is another fab family day out as there is something for everyone – the house for the adults, the wonderful children’s play area for the kids, the stunning gardens for everyone and then tea and ice-creams before heading home!
Having two teachers means that the children can be supervised outside while the parents visit the house (children are welcome to do this too but in this case there was little appetite for it!).
The accommodation arrangements are also perfect for a family. They occupy a whole floor of the house and so have their own privacy and can arrange the sleeping arrangements to suit them. In this case the two boys shared a room and the daughter had her own. Everybody is close together and they have 3 bathrooms between them.
We view mealtimes as part of the learning and as such will always eat together. In the evenings meals were eaten together; the family, teachers and our own family who were here. However, sometimes, as when for example we had pizza and movie night for the children, all the adults were able to enjoy a more ‘sophisticated’ meal (the teachers stay here also during the courses) after the kids were in bed.
And the results?
Well the children, as is to be expected, began absorbing English like sponges and chattering away to everyone. The adults also enjoyed the opportunity to use English constantly in a relaxing and non-threatening environment and improved their own fluency a lot. One day when Roberto was helping to make coffee, he began to count out the spoonfuls in English – he was amazed – “Now I’m even thinking in English” he said!!