Category: Education

Cultural Beliefs in Britain: Strange Superstitions

In honor of Halloween next week, we have dedicated this blog to superstitions; everyone has them but we don’t always know where they come from.

Every culture has their particular superstitions: don’t walk under ladders or scaffolding, black cats are unlucky, 13 is an unlucky number, seeing ravens means someone you know will die soon, horseshoes bring luck, etc. There are also certain groups of people that are more superstitious than others, for example, actors, sailors, and athletes. Actors can never whistle backstage, or say the name Macbeth – you must always call it the Scottish play. Sailors believed that an albatross was a sign of hope and killing one would bring bad luck.

The list of strange superstitions is long, and there are some strange ones.

Come and have a look at the weirdness of British culture:

General Superstitions

  1. If the ravens of the Tower of London leave, then the Crown will be lost.
  2. Black rabbits have human souls and white ones used to be witches.
  3. You will have bad luck if you spill salt. You must throw salt over your back to counteract the effect.
  4. For luck, brides must wear something borrowed, something blue, something old and something new
  5. If you say ‘white rabbit’ three times on the first day of the month, it will bring you luck for the rest of the month.
  6. Don’t eat lettuce if you want to have children.
  7. Magpies are a bird that you have to greet every time you see it; when you see a magpie say “Hello Mr Magpie, how is your lady wife today?”. There was also a children’s rhyme written about them:

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.


  1. Cutting off the end of a loaf of bread makes the devil fly over your house.
  2. Bread will not rise if there is a dead body nearby.
  3. If you visit a newborn child, put a silver coin in its hands.

Somerset & Dorset

  1. A double-yolked egg means that you will have twins. It used to mean that someone would get married quickly due to a pregnancy.
  2. A slow boiling kettle will have a toad inside of
  3. Stirring food in the opposite direction of the sun will ruin it.

Did you find any of these strange or weird? Do you want to share any strange superstitions that you believe in? Let us know about them!

Shakespeare’s Phrases: What we’ve taken from the Bard

There are few playwrights in the English-speaking world that are as well-known as William Shakespeare. He is best known for writing plays including Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer’s Night Dream, Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet.

The universal themes and the way he wrote his plays mean that Shakespeare is studied at all levels of the British educational system. This is why, in today’s post, we want to show you some well-known phrases that did not exist before Shakespeare and what they mean!

Image result for shakespeare memes

Phrases Explained

  • For goodness’ sake – From Henry VIII. We think that the phrase was commonly known in Shakespeare’s day but it meant something different. Now it’s more of an exclamation to show annoyance and frustration; back in the day, it was an expression of “For everything that is good and sacred on this earth, just…”.
  • Neither here not there – Also from Othello, this phrase is now used to say that something is irrelevant to a discussion or in general. It’s grammatically more appropriate to say “neither here nor there”.
  • Mum’s the word – Used in Henry VI pt II; it means “keep quiet, be silent, do not reveal this secret”. Mum is a Middle English word for silent. Or it derives from “mummer”, the old name for a pantomime.
  • All’s well that ends well – Taken from a play with the same title, it was a proverb before Shakespeare but he introduced it more widely. As long as everything is okay in the end, whatever you did before is justified.
  • A wild goose chase – Romeo and Juliet. This phrase is now used to mean that something that you are about to do or perhaps while doing something, that is hopeless.
  • Not slept a wink – Taken from a lesser know play Cymbeline; this phrase was a few hundred years old. The wink is the act of closing one eye so it literally means ‘I did not sleep’.
  • Swagger – Yes, Shakespeare came up with this word! Who knew?
  • Truth will out – From The Merchant of Venice, it warns to not lie because eventually the truth will be discovered.
  • There’s method in my madness – Taken from Hamlet. It explains odd behaviour by suggesting it is for a reason; that even the craziest plans are plans.
  • Wear my heart upon my sleeve – Found in Othello, this phrase indicates that someone shows their emotions openly and doesn’t hide them. In Othello’s case, you would know when he was angry or jealous immediately.

Image result for shakespeare memes


Tongues out for Rock’n’Roll!

What is the first thing you think of when I say ‘sticking tongues out’ to you?


Since World Stick Your Tongue Out Day has just passed, we had been asking ourselves the same question. And while most people honestly answered the Rolling Stones album cover, yours truly thought of the Einstein photo first – you know, the one that was taken by accident on his 72nd birthday in 1951 by a press photographer, but he liked it so much he asked for nine copies to personally distribute to friends and family!  I suppose that we all find different things important, such as knowledge of pop culture or history but on this strange event this week, here are some interesting facts about tongues and rock’n’roll!

  • Did you know the tongue logo on the Rolling Stones cover was inspired by the Hindu goddess Kali? Her lolling tongue represents one of two things: firstly, embarrassment or surprise or secondly, it is a bloody reminder of the havoc she is known to wreak in the Brahmanic mythology.
  • Rocking and rolling used to mean having sex, but that has now, somewhat, lost its meaning.
  • The most famous solo rock’n’roll artist in the UK is Cliff Richard. He is believed to have started the movement with the hit single “Move It” in 1958.
  • The most famous rock band in the UK are the Beatles – but that we already knew.
  • The Beatles won 15 Ivor Novello awards for song composition from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors.
  • The band Queen has the longest-running fan club according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
  • Mick Jagger’s 2003 knighthood is considered controversial by some of his former bandmates who believe it goes against the anti-establishment feeling the band initially represented.

What do you want to learn about the tongue itself? I guess not much, it’s not spoken of much but there are some odd facts about it! You will know-how in the Western world, sticking your tongue out might be a sign of hate or disgust?

  • In Tibet, it’s actually a greeting and a sign of respect! Legend has it that one king who ruled in the 9th century had a black tongue and was cruel. So now, the tongue is shown to prove that they are not evil or the reincarnation of this king.
  • In Maori culture in New Zealand, tongues are shown in order to intimidate opponents before war!
  • The longest tongue in the world is 10.1 cm, a record held by Nick Stoeberi

We have to have an educational element in this post, so here is a link to well-known British tongue twisters! Use this to practice your pronunciation to just to see how badly your friends fail at finishing these. These would make great Snapchat stories.

Review “Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty” @British Library

Pride in London has just happened, but the issues that face the LGBTQ+ community persist. Why write a blog post about this? With no intention of being political, equality is a topical issue that affects us all and we should fight for it.

Maybe the past can inform the future. The British Library honours Pride 2017, and the passing of the ‘Alan Turing Law’, with an exhibition on the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community in the UK through journals of famous authors, drafts of songs, and novels amongst other things.

Ongoing until the 19th September, this free exhibition is tucked away in the right hand corner when you arrive from the main entrance. A small exhibition packed with information, it begins on the right side with Oscar Wilde and his famous trial and sentencing. It is also from him that for a long time, homosexuality was known as the ‘love that dare not speak its name’. Moving into the 20th century, it is characterised by the main struggles and success of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised sexual acts in private. This was amended in 2003, when the 1967 Act was repealed completely, and the exhibition finishes with a film made recently on the impact the changes in law have made in the lives of British citizens.

Interactive elements are dotted throughout the exhibit, particularly as music was influential in fighting for equal rights, and famous artists include Boy George and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Visitors can listen to songs and drama pieces that echo the sentiments of what it was like to be persecuted for love, admire original copies of books written on the subject, and educate themselves on the struggles to achieve the freedom that exists today.


If you enjoy a bit of political and social history, this exhibit is for you and worth a visit! If you were already heading to the British Library for any of the other exhibits going on, make this one to visit!


To Read or Not to Read

ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL! Do you recognise this quote? It’s from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. What about the title? It’s from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a little bit changed.

Today, in honour of the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series, we want to talk about why reading is beneficial! We know, we know, we’re starting to sound like your parents, but hear us out first, decide later : )


Whether you read women’s magazines, a Charles Dickens novel, poetry, short stories or new fiction, reading benefits the mind and body:

  1. At the end of the day, you’ve had your dinner but you feel tired and can’t sleep yet? Reading helps you to relieve stress and fall asleep! I personally fall asleep after three pages of Charles Dickens or Wuthering Heights.
  2. It improves your memory, decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s – now, if that isn’t a fantastic benefit I don’t know what is!
  3. Scientific studies have concluded that those who read regularly are more empathetic! When you read about how others are feeling, you learn to read those signs on people’s faces and in their body stances when you speak to them in person, allowing you to have better social interactions.  

Reading is also beneficial when you learn a new language – but that shouldn’t be a surprise! Don’t be mad, but when we learn new things we are like children absorbing new information, wherever it might be from.

The main benefit of reading in a foreign language you are learning is that it helps you remember vocabulary better. Reading words in familiar and unfamiliar contexts helps us understand the different meanings. If you don’t understand the word contextually, grab a dictionary-thesaurus. Reading also helps to improve your speaking and writing! You might not even notice that you are improving but your subconscious picks up on correct phrasing and words and hey, presto! – you are using them too.

If you don’t want to read children’s books, maybe YA (Young Adults)? These are slightly longer and more difficult to read, but at least it isn’t Shakespeare – the truth is, Shakespeare is difficult for British people too!

My advice? If a book you love was translated into English, read it in English. At least you know the story already and can focus on improving your English!

Peace Out!

Conceptual Books

Valentine’s Day

Hello, everybody! Our Speak Up London team is glad to inform you that we are back with another of our blog specials, this time regarding one of the most controversial festivities: Valentine’s Day. But before speaking about the meaning of Valentine’s Day today, we believe it would be beneficial to understand how this celebration started and, more importantly, why this day is dedicated to love.


There are several legends associated with the figure of Saint Valentine, but according to the most popular of them, he was a priest who lived in the territories of the Roman Empire at the time of emperor Claudius II. The Emperor believed that unmarried soldiers were braver than married ones, since they would not have had anyone to be concerned about in the event of their death. As a consequence, the emperor declared it illegal for young men to marry. Then, Saint Valentine, aware of this injustice, ignored the decree and secretly continued to perform marriages for young couples. Once Claudius II discovered this, he formulated his death sentence.


The roots of the Saint Valentine celebration stem from a great demonstration of love and sacrifice, two concepts that are often entwined. And what about our society? What does Valentine’s Day represent for us? There are countless articles claiming that this holiday celebration has been turned into an occasion to glorify consumerism. Think about the massive number of gifts bought, trips booked and restaurants visited. Surely it is not too difficult to become sceptical regarding the true meaning of this festivity if you think about the economic interests behind it.


But, dear Speak Up London students, here is an audacious thought: do flowers, gifts or meals at restaurants cancel the feelings that provoke these actions only because they all involve economic factors? We don’t think so. In an age when it is easy to find rotten aspects of all our lives, we believe people should also find the time to rediscover the beauty of life and, we are sure you can all agree on this point, love plays an important role in the definition of that beauty. Therefore, it is necessary to have a day to remind us how to love, and how crucial love is in our lives. It doesn’t matter if to do so we need to spend money on presents or we just need to see the people we love: love needs to be celebrated, regardless how we do it.


Therefore, dear friends, think about the ways to display your love to your loved ones, and remember that Valentine’s Day is a great occasion to do so, not only for its meaningful origin but also because we all deserve and need to celebrate the noblest of feelings, love.


Maria Chiara Strano


Short memory? Use some mnemonic devices

How many times in your life have you found yourself in a position where you can’t remember something? Don’t you remember? And how many times has it happened when trying to speak another language? Well, guys, you are not the only ones in this position. Memory is extremely important, especially when learning a new language, so strengthening your memory could make the difference when learning things like grammar, vocabulary and syntax.




Despite the fact that difficulties arising when trying to remember a constant amount of things are evident, these don’t have to prevent you from working hard. As we say, practice makes perfect. In the meantime, though, you can help your memory by using some “tricks” and whether you need to remember a list of things to do or grammatical structures of the foreign language you are studying, these expedients will likely help you improve your ability to memorise concepts. Mnemonics are tools to make the process of memorising easier by utilising several elements.

Among the most popular mnemonic devices are acronyms. Acronyms are words formed by the first letter of the words you want to remember. For instance, a useful acronym for remembering the parts of an atom is “PEN” which stands for proton, electron and neutron.

Another useful device is an acrostic, a series of lines where the beginning of each word defines a word or message. A famous acrostic is used to remember the planets: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos. As the bold letters suggest, the planets (and their order) are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

If you guys are instead more into music you will be glad to know that some mnemonic devices involve rhythmical tools. For example, one of the most used mnemonics is rhyme, since it can be stored in our brains more easily through acoustic encoding. An example of how rhymes are used to improve memory can be found in this sentence to help people to remember the number of days per month:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November;

All the rest have thirty-one,

Save February, with twenty-eight days clear,

And twenty-nine each leap year.

The mnemonics available to help you remember are plenty, and you can decide to use one of them in accordance with your preference and your particular needs. However, it is important to point out that these tricks aren’t replacements for your ability to memorise, but useful ways to remember intricate features that are difficult to keep in your mind. Whether you use these tools or you are creative and think up your own mnemonics, you’ll see how these simple devices can improve your everyday life.



Maria Chiara Strano



Procrastination: you can fight it

Hello, Speak Up London students. Today’s article is going to help you in any aspect of your life. Indeed, whether you are working, studying, or simply trying to get things done, procrastination is always there, waiting behind the corner. Though, you shouldn’t consider procrastination a synonym for laziness. In fact, in many cases, people who procrastinate are only perfectionists waiting for the best moment to act. Breaking news: perfect moments don’t exist. So, my dear perfectionists here are some tips to help you overcome this overwhelming issue.


  • Let’s start by the first tip, make a list. This particular action will help you be aware of the things you have to do. Don’t let your list overwhelm you! Visualising is the first step towards the completion of your tasks.
  • Now that you have visualised your to do list, prioritise. We suggest you rate each element of your list according to two parameters: urgency and importance.
  • After having rated and divided your list, it’s time to prepare a plan. How much time do you have? Be aware that even though planning can help you get through difficult tasks; sometimes it is really difficult to meet your expectations in terms of time. Therefore, our timeless tip is: set an earlier deadline, in the best case scenario you will gain some time, in the worst case scenario you will still have time to work before your official deadline.
  • The natural thing to do after preparing a plan is to start. There are not tips to help you. Starting a long list of things to do, whether they are study-related, work-related or simply chores is probably the most difficult thing to do. But, the bright side is that once you have found the courage to start, it will get better!
  • One of the ways to make the whole procedure “bearable” is by taking regular breaks. It’ll help you combat fatigue and it is also a little way of rewarding yourself after every piece of work you accomplish.

Procrastination blog post pic

Along with these tips, we would like to point out that there are some very important elements for some people, like the atmosphere around them. Be aware of your individual preferences when you work, and when possible, try to recreate that atmosphere to help you be more productive. For instance some people prefer to listen to music while working, others prefer to work in a particular place, others need to eat snacks. Whatever your preference is, as long as it is healthy, it’ll help you get through your day full of duties more easily. Therefore, our dear Speak Up London friends, good luck with your work and remember that with planning and goodwill you can both fight procrastination and do almost anything! 😉


Maria Chiara Strano

The art of having a plan B

 Hey there, Speak Up London friends. Last week’s blog post was about helping you make your career dreams come true by doing a kick-ass interview. This week, we’re reflecting on the fact that sometimes things just don’t end up the way we’d hoped. That’s why today, we’re revealing successful people’s biggest secret: they have a plan B.


Ok, it isn’t a secret, but you’d be amazed to know how many people let their lives be determined by the flow of events. The real difference between these people and the ones that you end up admiring is that the latter know that life is unpredictable. So what’s the best way of beating this unpredictability? Our suggestion is to learn the art of having a plan B.


The first step towards learning the art of having a plan B is not thinking that it’s an excuse to neglect plan A. Focus on your plan A because that’s your main goal, but remember that being aware of having other options will release some of the tension and as a consequence, you might be able to reach your goal more easily.


Rule number two is, be realistic. It doesn’t make sense to formulate a plan B that is much less likely to work out than plan A.
Remember that a backup plan shouldn’t be a consolation prize. You’ll need to spend time and effort working on plan B, so make sure it’s a viable alternative – something you really want. Don’t settle for less.


The last important point to remember is that having a plan B is more a state of mind than an actual strategy. In fact, being open to the idea of changing your plans in reaction to unexpected events is something you should do regularly in your life, because if not you might miss out a lot of unexpected new opportunities. Who knows, you might end up loving plan B more than plan A.

Maria Chiara Strano

plan b blog post pic

Do’s and don’ts during interviews

Here at Speak Up London we like to think that our school represents for all of you the chance to start on your path towards the fulfilment of your dreams. We understand that for most of you the first step to reach that sweet spot is receiving a job offer.


We’re pretty sure you already know a lot about the job hunt, constantly looking for new opportunities that might help you reach your goals. In the light of this, dear friends, Speak Up London would like to give you a few extra tips to put you guys on the right track and help you tackle one of the most stressful moments of the application process: the interview.


Here are our “do’s and don’ts” during an interview:




  • Be confident: if you’ve made it this far, it’s because of your skills, so show your interviewers that you are also confident enough to develop that potential.
  • Make eye contact: it might sound a cliché, but in order to engage with your audience while you’re speaking, it is really important to make them feel part of the conversation.
  • Dress to impress: you always have to market the best version of yourself, so try to think about the kind of position you are applying for and dress one notch above what is considered suitable for that job.
  • Do your homework: this can’t be stressed enough. If you get an interview you should always be prepared so look for as much information as you can about that company and the industry. It’ll pay off!
  • Ask questions: you should always consider interviews as “two-sided”, so don’t think of it as a monologue. They are deciding whether to invite you on board, and in case of success, you want to know if they’re right for you as much as you are for them.




  • Don’t arrive late: despite this sounding obvious, it is just to remind you that you’ll have only that one opportunity to persuade your interviewers that you are perfect for the job. Don’t waste it!
  • Don’t be arrogant: being confident is a must but being overconfident is a huge mistake. Think about it: would you like to work closely with someone too presumptuous?
  • Don’t leave your phone switched on: we are sure you already know it, but we just want to remind you how profoundly this simple action might affect your performance on the day of your interview. Don’t let a call from your friend distract you or irritate your interviewers!
  • Don’t say “I don’t know”: I don’t know wasn’t a clever answer when you were at school and it still doesn’t sound smart. Try to have an opinion, think carefully about the question they ask you and try to answer carefully using all the knowledge about the subject that you have.
  • Don’t be unprepared: although it is not possible to predict the future; there are some typical questions during interviews that can be predicted. Study your CV and try to rehearse the story it narrates while you prepare for the interview: the most likely topic of discussion is going to be you.

Maria Chiara Strano

Do's and don'ts during interviews