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Think Piece: Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas?

Every year when Christmas begins to approach, discussions begin over the way we should celebrate the holidays amongst each other. Should we say Merry Christmas?

“But that might disrespect those religions that don’t celebrate Christmas!”

“So say happy holidays!”

Is saying Happy Holidays any better?

In this blog post we explore a little bit the history of Christmas and the argument of holidays vs. Christmas.

Origins of Christmas

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Before Christmas became Christmas, or the day that Christianity celebrates Jesus’ birth, there were many pagan (i.e. non-Christian) religions that celebrated the end/start of winter in some manner.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans celebrated the birth of the invincible sun god, appeased their mightiest gods and the gods of the harvest. They would feast from the Winter Solstice (21st December) for several days on. All social rules would fly out the window during this time.

When Christianity started becoming an accepted religion in the Roman Empire, Pope Julius I declared that the birth of Jesus should be celebrated on the 25th December. In this way, he satisfied Christian need to celebrate the birth of Jesus but also appeased the pagan believers. Now, Christmas is one of the biggest religious and commercial holidays – begun by Americans in 1870.


Holiday vs Christmas


From November through to late January/early February, many different faiths and religions celebrate days of birth, new year, etc.

‘Happy Holidays’ is often considered a polite way to include all faiths and denominations in the festive spirit of December. It promotes respect and tolerance for and of all these faiths.

However even writing this blog I have been struggling to not say “festive spirit of Christmas”. Through commercialisation, December has become known as Christmas month. Commercialisation means that even if you want to buy something non-Christmassy, the card will still have the traditional Christmas red, green and gold colours, the majority of decorations to buy for homes will be themed with reindeers, wreath, and holly.


So what do you do? Since you can’t always tell by looking at someone what faith they practice, maybe it’s best to make a personal decision about this. If you feel better saying Happy Holidays do it! Prefer to say Merry Christmas? No problem!


How to improve your pronunciation in 5 steps

You can learn a language; you can write it, read it, listen to it, but can you pronounce it?

Pronouncing it is one of the most difficult aspects of learning a language. It could be argued that English is a difficult language to pronounce, but it’s not just because there are American and British pronunciation differences. Different stresses on the same word can completely change the meaning of the word itself.

In today’s post, we have compiled the top five ways to improve your pronunciation.

  1. Listen, listen, listen!

Listening is already a good way to improve pronunciation. You can do this by watching films, listening to podcasts, songs, music and pronunciation videos. Listening helps you to get a feeling of how words should be pronounced.

As a bonus, if you switch on the subtitles on the films, you can read along out loud, or quietly, as the characters speak. This action will help you to remember the pronunciation more accurately.

  1. Notice your movements.

When we speak, we move our mouths. Yes, this is obvious BUT following the previous advice of reading subtitles, you get a feeling of how you should produce a word.

You can also watch how you move your mouth when speaking in front of a mirror. If you don’t like mirrors and prefer to do things by touch, you can place your finger in front of your mouth.

  1. Break the words down.

This tip is also very good for spelling. If you break down a word, you do it into syllables. For example, syllable broken down would be syl-la-ble, and that is how you would remember to spell it with double ‘l’. For some words, like Wednesday, this tip is more helpful for spelling it but it works in pronunciation just as well.

  1. Add stress to words.

This is perhaps the most important tip. English language is a stressed language. This means that the wrong stress can change the meaning of the word.

Words like present mean two different things depending on stress; i.e. PRE-sent is a gift that is given during the holidays and birthdays whereas pre-SENT is to show something in front of others.

  1. Record yourself.

For those of us who are shy, this might seem like the worst tip we could be given. Listening to your own voice is terrible.

However, the idea is that you record yourself reading a page of your favourite book, during a speaking exercise and hear it back. You are more likely to notice when and where you are making pronunciation mistakes and can work to fix that.


Happy learning!


Twisting Tongues Thoroughly

While two weeks ago we handled the origins and the creation of the cockney rhyming slang today we want to present you with a more international linguistic phenomenon: the tongue twister!

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defined the tongue twister as a group of words “made difficult to articulate” by putting words of alliterative, consonant and rhyming nature together. Shorter sentences must be repeated in order to become tongue twisters.


No one can say for sure when tongue twisters originated. They were passed down as an oral tradition through the generations until the 19th century. They become part of the linguistic culture and the folklore.  There are two particularly famous British tongue twisters with even more interesting background stories.

She sells seashells

She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are surely seashells

So if she sells shells on the seashore, I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

Created in 1908 by Terry Sullivan, this twister was inspired by Mary Anning of Dorset of the 19th century. The story goes that her family used to collect shells and fossils at the local beach and sell to the tourists. At the time, it was fashionable to keep cabinets with shells and fossil as collections in the richer homes. Mary Anning should be correctly credited with the discovery of several dinosaurs including the temnodontosaurus, plesiosaurus and the pterosaurs. These discoveries which happened years before Charles Darwin published his famous book on evolution, already paved the way for discussions about evolutions and extinction.

Peter Piper

Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers. A pack of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers, where’s the pack of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

The name is anglicised from “Pierre Poivre”. He was a French pirate that raided Dutch ships and warehouses for spices and tired to make them more widely available in Europe (and cheaper!) in the mid-1700s. We should know two more things: ‘peppers’ was the generic term for all spices. Secondly, lime was used to prevent others who bought spices from planting them in their garden and growing. Essentially, this is about why Peter Piper’s peppers wouldn’t grow in his garden when he tried to plant them!


Several benefits seem to exist from learning to say certain tongue twisters! They help improve articulation and pronunciation. It helps the speaker understand which tongue movements correspond to which sound. This is why in many films and TV shows, we can see characters making these sorts of enunciation. They also help with grasping the differences in pronunciation, such as between ‘though’ and ‘tough’ or ‘through’ and ‘thorough’. Speech therapists decide to use tongue twisters to help improve or cure defects, such as stutters.


Challenge yourself to say the ones that we have in this article! #tonguetwisterchallenge

Languages: From the real to the fictitious

SpeakUp London wants to introduce you to a topic of interest which relates to what we do here: languages.

We teach languages that are currently widely spoken from the existing 6,000 that the world can speak. There are also those who catalogue how languages have developed over time. Maybe they even invent or discover new ones. These people are linguists. 


One author who succeeded in combining his love for languages with the creation of new ones was J. R. R. Tolkien, beloved author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is not the only one, but one of the most successful ones. Other languages created include Dothraki and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones and Klingon from the Star Trek franchise.


Born in 1892, Tolkien was young when language creation was at its zenith in the early 20th century; Esperanto is one of the few languages created at that time period that survived. He was also influenced from an early age by his mother, who taught him Latin, Greek and German. At the University of Oxford, he continued to learn more languages, which included Old English, Finnish, Welsh and Germanic languages, with a preference for Gothic.


Creating Languages

“Anyone who invents a language finds that it requires a suitable habitation and a history in which it can develop.”

There are traces of this implementation in the myths and languages used in Middle-Earth including name and places. The fictitious borrows from the real. For example, Sauron derives from Old Norse and Icelandic languages to mean ‘filthy’ and ‘uncleanness’.  Quenya, the High Elven language, has grammar rules originate from the Finnish language, and Sindarin, the spoken Elvish, is influenced by the Welsh language, a descendant of Gaelic.

For each language in the books to have a genealogy not dissimilar to human ancestry, a mythology w created. This mythology gives the language meaning. It explains why the harsher pronunciation in the Black Speech of Mordor create an association with evil. It is also why the Hobbits’ love for language means they can create riddles. Tolkien maintained that “language construction will breed a mythology” and in this, the man succeeded.  

The truth is if you have siblings you probably created your own language so that Mum and Dad wouldn’t know what you were saying or doing. If you want to become a writer, you can take heart and inspiration from great writers like these.



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Are you an active or passive bystander?

Every once in awhile, dear SpeakUp Londoners, we have to post something serious. Yes, that means it can be boring, but we hope it is interesting.  Today, we are hoping to teach you something  important, it might change your perspective on studying . It’a bold claim to make, but to understand the differences in active and passive learning have saved some grades in the past.

Active and passive learning are two theories that discuss how the brain learns best. Experts in education express preference in active learning over passive. The reason might be obvious: active learning involves doing more with your sensory faculties. While passive learning often involves muscle memory, meaning that it is all about remembering until the exam and then forgetting it, active learning encourages the development of new links, concepts that intertwine and stick in your mind.

Passive learning assumes that the mind is a sponge.

You just absorb the information. Active learning doesn’t just assume this but expands it via discussion, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In all honesty, you might recognise some of the things you do in class in terms of the active and passive learning strategies I have already mentioned.

On your own, active and passive learning strategies might look like this:

Summarise your notesTyping up notes
Create diagrams and graphsCopying from the textbook
Make mind mapsCopying out quotes
Peer-to-peer testingHighlighting notes
Answering previous and similar questionsRe-reading notes and textbook


However, it is understandable that not everyone can learn using active strategies. If you are a better passive learner, maybe little changes to your routine such as reading your notes out loud or walking around the room as you do that can help retain information for longer.

If you don’t know what type of a learner you are, we can recommend this quiz which will help you figure out what type of a learner you are.

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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Canary Wharf Ice Skating Rink


Speak Up London Recommends suggests cool places and events to attend in London. So grab a friend and your bag.

There is fun to be had out there!


Tickets: £9.95 for one hour and includes skate hire.

Location: Located in the centre of Canary Wharf

Goodness me, where did the year go? It is already time to prepare for Christmas, and to be honest… we couldn’t be happier here at Speak Up London!

Can you believe that the Christmas season is already here? Yes, we know that it is only November, but we can’t help it if we are excited. Living in London, there is a high possibility that it won’t snow. So, why not pretend by Ice Skating?

Canary Wharf is one of the sleekest and coolest places to be in London. Add Christmas festivities to this beautiful location, and you’ve got something magical.

On 4th November the Canary Wharf Ice Skating Rink will be open to all! Grab a friend or two, put on something warm (don’t forget your gloves), and get skating! Music will be playing, so be careful not to fall over when your favourite song comes on. Even if you do fall over, laugh and ask your friend to lift you up.

‘LuminoCity’ is the theme this year, which means… lights, lights, lights! There will be over 8,000 LED lights shining underneath the ice and on the trees.

There will be a bar serving drinks of all kinds and there is no need to be worried about snacks either, as festive snacks will be served.

If you’re tired of skating on the ice and want to rest your feet, you can sit down at the outdoor viewing terrace which also has heaters, no need to worry about the cold.

Here at Speak Up London, we love to see our students experiencing the vibrancy and fun that London has to offer.

Whenever you see a Speak Up London Recommends Blog post, and you do end up going to the place we have suggested, take pictures of yourself there. Tag us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #SULRecommends. If your picture is cool, we may even repost it.

Have a blast Speak Up London peeps.



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.