Category: English Tips

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!

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.

The punniest* word play skills: Puns

*See what I did there? Punniest...funniest...LOL

In our next instalment of typically British ways to communicate, this week’s blog post is dedicated to puns.

Image result for pun memes

Puns are generally defined as jokes that exploit the possible different meanings of a word OR the fact that there are words that sound the same but have completely different meanings, used for comedic or rhetorical effect. Puns are also known as double entendre [from Fr. ‘double meaning’], witticism, quips and word play.

These are not a British phenomenon either, not really; anyone with good language skills in any language can create puns. The internet has made it easier for all to see and understand them. And even before the Internet, some British TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s derived their humour from word play, shows such as Blackadder and Fawlty Towers.

Related image

(from Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson)


It’s unclear where the pun come from, but it has been around for a long while. William Shakespeare famously used puns and other word play tactics in his plays! Can you see how you could use these examples for comic effect – ‘sun/son’. ‘lines/loins’ and ‘ace/ass’?

The quick wit to think up a pun used to be revered as a sign of mental agility and language mastery in the Ancient times. Some believe that during the Enlightenment, the art of creating puns fell out of fashion, but since the Internet, it has made a miraculous comeback. You just need to look at memes and realise that many are puns in disguise 😉

Image result for animal puns
Image result for animal puns

Obviously, puns can be categorised: animal, objects, dad jokes, grammar, literature, maths etc. The possibilities are infinite and we’ve taken the liberty of giving you 10.

Which one do you think is the funniest? Send us some of your own or one you saw recently that you thought was funny 🙂

  1. The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.
  2. Jokes about German sausages are the wurst.
  3. I am on a seafood diet. I see food, I have to eat it.
  4. What’s the plural of baby? Twins.
  5. I donut understand puns.
  6. Don’t stop retrievin’, hold on to that feline.
  7. If Apple made a car, would it have Windows?
  8. What do you get if you cross an angry sheep and a moody cow? An animal that is in a baaaaad mooooood.
  9. The streets were oddly desserted that night.
  10. Puns are for children, not groan adults.

Day’s a-dawning: What is Cockney Rhyming Slang?

We hear of the Cockney Rhyming Slang on occasion, but still don’t understand it properly! Why you might ask? Well, dear readers, we aim to provide a short overview of the history of this typically English phenomenon.

     I.        Background

Amongst historians, it is believed that the slang began to be spoken publicly around the 1840s. This is also because the first written evidence of the slang came to exist by that time, so really it could have been spoken for years before that.

It is unsure whether it began as a secret language among those born in Cheapside – to this day believed to be the Cockney borough of London – or whether it was a game of skill. As a secret language, it could have been used by thieves in order to not be arrested by the police. As a game, it tests the quick wit and vocabulary of a person.

    II.        Who can speak CRS?

Anyone can speak cockney rhyming slang if the principles are understood. Despite that perhaps the best at speaking this slang are those born and bred in London’s East End, specifically close to Bow Bells. Others noted that it is spoken in parts of Essex now.

  III.        How does it work?

The principles of rhyming slang are in the name: it has to rhyme. Essentially, the word you are trying to say should be said by another word that it rhymes with, i.e. ‘Uncle Ted’ = bed; ‘Scooby Doo’ = clue; ‘apples and pears’ = stairs; etc.

There are arguments that there is logic behind the expressions chosen and that the slang reflects this.

One slang expression we can explain to you is ‘apple and pears’ for stairs: it was common in the 19th century that apples and pears were displayed in a stair-like form when the fruits were seasonal.

We could also try to justify ‘Scooby Doo’ for clue because as it is known, the dog in the TV show and subsequent films was a little bit clueless as to what went on.

To conclude however, here is a very simple edit of different slang and what they mean. Enjoy it!

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



Sometimes all we need is a little inspiration to push us forward. 

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FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2013 file photo, American actor Leonardo DiCaprio poses for a portrait, in New York. The United Nations has named Leonardo DiCaprio a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the announcement Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, calling DiCaprio “a credible voice in the environmental movement.” He also invited the actor to the upcoming UN Climate Summit planned for September 23. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)



Language is an amazing form of communication. Especially when you are multilingual or bilingual. This skill helps you communicate better with people when you’re in foreign lands. With language, you can connect with the culture even better and understand it without getting lost in translation.

With all of the fun and excitement that comes from learning a new language, there are times when it can be strenuous and hard, especially when trying to remember certain words and phrases.

So, the team here at Speak Up London, thought it best to show you people that you can aspire to. We will be introducing you to 7 Inspirational Multilingual people.

You can and will learn the language you’re set on learning, and these inspirational people are proof of this. Don’t give up, when you’re so close to reaching your goal.




1.) Leonardo DiCaprio

Languages: English and German


Leonardo DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles to an Italian/German father and a German mother. Leonardo often visited his maternal grandmother in Germany, where he was able to learn and practice his German.




2.) Johnny Depp

Languages: English and French


Johnny Depp was born and raised in was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Depp is of mostly English ancestry, with some ancestors from elsewhere in Europe. He is descended from a French Huguenot immigrant, Pierre Dieppe.




3.) Natalie Portman

Languages: English, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Japanese, German, Sign Language.

Natalie was born in Jerusalem to an Israeli father and American mother. She grew up speaking Hebrew and English, but also knows conversational French, Japanese, German, and Spanish.



4.) Raden Mas Panji Sosrokartono

Languages: 24 languages and 10 Indonesian tribal languages.

Sosrokartono is considered the most genius man in Indonesia, beside President Habibie. He mastered 24 languages and 10 Indonesian tribal languages. After the first world war ended, he became head of translator for League of Nations.




5.) Dikembe Mutombo

Languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala, and two other central African languages.

Mutombo is a former NBA player and is able to speak English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Tshiluba, Swahili, Lingala, and two other central African languages.




6.) Timothy Doner

Languages: English, French, Hausa, Wolof, Russian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Arabic, Pashto, Persian, Mandarin, Italian, Turkish, Indonesian, Dutch, Xhosa, Kiswahili, Hindi, Ojibwe, Kinyarwanda, and Creole.

Timothy was only 17 years old when he was featured in the New York Times for his ability to speak over twenty languages to various levels,




7.) Elizabeth I

Languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Latin, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish.


Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two and a half years after Elizabeth’s birth.




We hope that you get some inspiration from these people, and that their linguistic skills push you further to learn a new language.





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Yes it’s true!

Find out how singing Karaoke can better your Language skills.






A few months ago, we had a Karaoke competition here at Speak Up London. We encouraged our students to sing and memorise a song in class, whichever class sang the best would win boxes of pizza. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Although it was fun for our students to sing and win pizza, what they didn’t know was that we were secretly improving their English language skills… yes it’s true! We will prove it.

Music is something that everyone listens to; we enjoy the lyrics and the rhythm, of songs. When we really enjoy a song, we may even sing a-long to it, and embarrass ourselves by doing Karaoke. No matter how bad we may sound, we enjoy the feeling that music gives us.

However, what if I was to tell you that singing Karaoke is very helpful when learning a language. Would you believe me?  Well, it’s true! Remembering the lyrics to a song helps you remember the words of that song. It also helps in terms of constructing sentences properly and pronunciation.




When you learn a new language, you are not only learning new words and sentences, you will also learn about the culture. Karaoke will make you fall in love with a culture.

Learning the lyrics of a song helps you expand your vocabulary. Songs aren’t always very formal, so it is a good way for you to learn slang words that are commonly used in the language you are learning.

Singing can actually help you reduce your foreign-sounding accent. For example, if your favourite singer has a London accent when they sing, it is something that you will imitate and copy as you sing.





Your pronunciation will change to match the singer’s own and you will understand the ways in which the rhythm of a sentence is supposed to flow.

Linguistic research from the University of Edinburgh found that adults, who sang karaoke from a different language whilst learning, were twice as good at speaking it later.

It is believed that by listening to the words of a song, and by singing them to yourself, the technique takes advantage of the strong links between music and memory.

Therefore, you will remember all of the words to a song that has been in your head for a long time.

So, you see! Karaoke is good for you, so sing, even if you’re terrible at it.




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Cultures all over the world are filled with different foods that we have never tasted before, clothes we have never worn before, and stories that we have never heard before.

But, have you ever thought about the urban legends that fill different cultures and the scary creatures that fill people with fear? Well, here is a list of the scariest stories of different cultures from around the world. Right on time for Halloween right?

1.) The Slender man | Origin: USA and The Internet

The Slender man is a thin and silent stalker who is commonly known for stalking and abducting children. He is extremely thin and tall, with a blank face.

He stalks his victims at first, and whilst you are sleeping he will kidnap you. He will ask you a random question and if you get the answer right, he will break both of your arms and legs.

But, if you get the answer wrong, he will pull your heart out of your body.

2.) El Viejo del Saco | Origin: Chile, Cuba, Mexico

This story is based on a true crime that occurred in the village of Gador, Spain in 1910. The crime was committed by a man named Francisco Ortega who had tuberculosis. He was very sick and went to seek help from a healer.

The healer said he would be healed if he drinks the blood of a young child and uses the blood as a body-rub to rub on his chest. Francisco kidnapped a 7-year-old boy, placed him in a cloth sack, and eventually drank his blood.

The legend of El Viejo del Saco comes from this dark true story. El Viejo del Saco kidnaps misbehaving children and eats them.

3.) The Banshee | Origin: Ireland

The banshee is said to be a bad omen and a sign of someone’s death. When a person hears the loud screeching of a banshee, shortly after, they will die a horrible death.

Legends of the banshee seem to have originated in Ireland.

The banshee is also often said to be seen before a tragic death. Banshees are sometimes depicted as ugly old hags. They can sometimes transform themselves into a beautiful young woman.

4.) The Weeping Woman | Origin: South America

The tale begins with a woman named Maria who drowns her children in a river as revenge to her unfaithful husband.

Filled with sadness about what she had done, she ends her own life.  Maria was not allowed to enter heaven because her children were not with her.

Some legends say that The Weeping Woman will kidnap other boys and girls who resemble her own children and will kill them.

She appears by the lakes and rivers screaming the words, “Oh my children!” Anyone who hears her saying these words will die soon after.

5.) The Tokoloshi
Origin: South Africa

The Tokoloshi is a zombie of short stature. These Zombies can be created by removing the eyes and tongue out of a dead person. Life is breathed into the zombie with a special white powder.

They live in the houses of witches and are known for stealing milk from cows and bringing harm to people whenever its master asks. They are usually small, brown and hairy.

We hope that these Halloween stories haven’t scared you all too much. Have a great Halloween guys, and retell these stories to your friends and family, to frighten them.

[ENGLISH IDIOMS] A Piece of Cake


Hey guys and girls, we have finally entered October, and you know what that means, stepping on crunchy dry leaves, wearing big heavy coats, but most importantly… Halloween! So, seeing as it is a new month, we thought that we would come back with more English Tips, this time teaching you all about idioms.

Have you ever heard someone say a phrase and it didn’t make sense to you? Phrases such as, “the grass is greener on the other side”. Well, these phrases are referred to as idioms. What are idioms you may ask?

Well, an idiom is a sentence which has another meaning, than the meaning intended. For example, “the grass is greener on the other side”, simply means, the situation is better somewhere else. Here are some more examples of idioms used every day.




1.) A piece of cake. 

You have probably heard this idiom before, you may have even used it yourself, what this simply means is that something is very easy.

For example:

“I just passed my English exam; it was a piece of cake.”






2.) I’m all ears.

“I’m all ears” is an idiom that means that you have given someone your full and undivided attention. You are attentive and listening to them very closely.

For Example:

My mother wanted to speak to me about my younger brother’s surprise birthday party, I was all ears.






3.) Get cold feet.

You usually use the idiom “get cold feet”, when someone has suddenly become too frightened to do something that they had originally planned to do. This term is especially used for something important like getting married.

For example: Jennifer left Tom at the altar because she got cold feet.






4.) Cross your fingers.

Crossing your fingers is something that is both said and done, when you want good luck or you hope for something very much.

For Example:

Sam is getting his exam results back today, fingers crossed he does really well.






5.) Slipped my mind.

Slipped my mind is a very commonly used idiom; it simply means that you have forgotten something, or forgotten an important task that you had to do.

For Example:

I was supposed to buy some groceries after work, it completely slipped my mind.


Let us know if you have used any of these idioms before, or if you will use them.





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[English Idioms] Speak of the Devil

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[English Idioms] Speak of the Devil

Hello guys, it’s September and the summer in London is going to an end? But this weather is still pleasant.

Do you remember the idioms below and do you know how to use them? Here you go, five more idioms with examples.


1.   A hot potato:

Speak of an issue (mostly current) which many people are talking about and which is usually disputed.
A problem, situation, etc. that is difficult to deal with and causes a lot of disagreement.

For example:

Brexit is a hot potato that people are talking about these days.

The abortion issue is a political hot potato in the United States.


2.  Speak of the devil:

It is something that you say when the person you have just been talking about arrives and you were not expecting them.

For example:

Well,speak of the devil, here’s Tom.

Speak of the devil, it’s your dad, throw away the cigarette!



3.  Elvis has left the building:

The show has come to an end. It’s all over.

Said about things that have ended; finished.

For example:

Jake went to a house party with his friends and after midnight the party ended. Elvis had left the building and it was time to go home.

Elvis has left the building, let’s forget all these things and move on.


4. Best thing since sliced bread:

A good invention or innovation. A good idea or plan.

For example:

I bought the new watch which can track my calories intake every day, it’s the best thing since sliced bread.  


5. Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched:

Don’t treat something that hasn’t happened as a certainty.

Don’t rely on something you are unsure about; making plans based on assumptions can lead to disappointment.

For example:

Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched, you don’t know the result yet.

Jack “I’m going for a holiday after I pass the exam”.

Mary “Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched”.

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