Just For You. A Traditional English Christmas.

Just For You. A Traditional English Christmas.

So, what’s a British, English Christmas like? Every year I am asked the same questions; How is it different to a Czech and Slovak Christmas? What do you eat? Does Ježíšek come to the U.K.? Who the hell is that fat guy in the red suit? (But not that last one.)

Well, here you are. The answers to all your questions and more, such as, my favorite Christmas food and do I prefer Czech or English Christmases?

Here is a vocabulary list of the words in bold you may find unfamiliar in this post.

Christmas in England usually follows a traditional pattern, whether you are religious or not. If you are religious then it will certainly involve going to church. If you are not religious it might still involve church depending on how guilty you feel.

Of course, I can only really tell you about my personal experiences, which were both of the above, my mother going to church and my father going… nowhere near it.

The week before Christmas I used to enjoy carol singing with a friend and then on Christmas Eve we presented the money to the local church to give to charity (which I’m sure they did).

carol singers.png

So, there is our first difference; for us in Britain the 24th is Christmas Eve and not what we call Christmas Day as you do in The Czech Republic and Slovakia. Christmas Day for us is the 25th, more on that in a minute. Christmas Eve is still a working day for many people and for many of my friends it was also the day they bought their first underage alcoholic drink in a pub.

I didn’t start going out to the pub on Christmas Eve until a little later when I was about eighteen or nineteen years old but the tradition still continues to this day although in a less wild fashion. Back in the day it involved a pint and/or a shot in every pub over a 2 or 3 km course with about twelve or thirteen pubs along the route before finishing in a curry house. We ended the night either falling into a taxi or making the long, wobbly walk home again. These days, a more sedate pace involves two or three pubs and a lot less drinking and walking. It is, however, great to meet up with many old school mates whom I haven’t seen since the last Christmas Eve I was out.

When we were children of course, it was a very different story. After the short, carol singing church service we went home, had tea (evening meal) and hung stockings by the fireplace, went to bed and tried to stay awake to see Father Christmas (Santa Claus) bringing out presents. Usually we fell asleep long before delivery. Clever Santa.

Get a free copy of my Easy Guide to the Present Perfect.

When we were very young we woke up very early, 2:30am was the record but more usually around 5 or 6am. We then pestered our parents to get up so that we could get more presents from them. Here is our next difference. While you only receive your presents from Ježíšek, we get presents from Father Christmas and from each other. Only the most eagle-eyed children might notice the same wrapping paper on the presents.

Around 11am my mum would go to pick up the olds (Grandma and my uncle Harold – more on him in a later post) and another round of present giving would ensue. One o’clock – Christmas dinner. Now, I’m sorry, I don’t want to offend anyone here but carp and potato salad, is not my idea of a Christmas dinner. Don’t get me wrong I am learning to enjoy it and every year I do enjoy it more but I am still craving this…

xmas dinner.jpg

Then with bloated stomachs it’s a local walk and then a bit of television; always a new TV film premiere suitable for all the family. Uncle Harold likes to watch the Queen’s speech but he’s pretty much on his own for that in our house. 5pm is tea time, that’s roast ham, pork pies, turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake. The evening is more drink, nut cracking, board games then sleep.

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Boxing Day, yes, the 26th is also a holiday in England and for many families it’s straight to the sales in the shops. For my family it’s about sport. Boxing Day always has football matches and this year Sunderland (my team) are away at Manchester United. Sometimes we go horse racing with my mum. Boxing Day has nothing to do with boxing though and is probably named after the giving of boxes (presents) to servants, staff, errand boys and postmen in the 1800’s.

horse-racing

And that is basically my English Christmas. Any other questions? Ask below and I’ll answer them for you. How are you spending your Christmas? In a traditional Slavic way? Low key or big party? I love to read your comments.

Merry Christmas. See you next week with a preview of 2017 and what to look forward to in the new year.

Richard.

Goodbye 2016

Goodbye 2016

It has been a long time since I last posted and it’s now almost the end of the year. I’ll tell you all about my usual Christmas in the U.K. in my next post but today we are going to focus on the last twelve months and that means using the present perfect; Arrggghhh! Oh No!

Get a free copy of my Easy Guide to the Present Perfect.

This year, what have we done?  What have we achieved?  Where have we been?  Have we enjoyed it? Yes, they are all present perfect questions, because this year is still this year, 2016, it has (is) not finished.

I am looking back at my new year’s resolutions from January and my plan for 2016 to see if I was successful (by my own standards). Have I been running once a week? (present perfect continuous). Have I been more organized? Have I finished writing that book yet?

running legs

Well, the running has been successful for me. I started running just once a week but quickly increased to three then four times a week and by the end of February I was running almost every day. I really can’t believe that just by setting the simply target of one run per week I was able to be motivated enough to increase the frequency so quickly.

For a vocabulary list to accompany this post click here.

I decided to set a new goal of running in a 10km race and completing it in 40 mins as I am 40 years old now and 40 at 40 seemed like a good target and not so easy to achieve. In early November I ran in a race in Kladno and finished in 40:45.

Being organized? Well, that was a different story. I started the year well (as everyone does with new year’s resolutions) but by the summer I had abandoned (past perfect!) my organizational plan and fallen back into the old routine. Writing plans in my diary really did help to keep me on track and next year I promise I will come into the modern age by using the calendar app. on my phone. I have always preferred the old fashioned paper version.

The book is on hold for the moment as I decided to change tack (a nautical term Petr K) and turn the manuscript into a video script. The result is a video course that will be available at the end of January and will help you with many of the confusing things about English such as “Is it ‘make’ or ‘do mistakes’?”, “Everybody is or everybody are?”, “Do I use listen or hear here?”.

Sadly the calendar and the ‘text me a question” ideas have been shelved (present perfecr passive) for the moment. However, I will put a team together over the next year to make these and other useful things available to you to help with your English.

Overall, I have to say I am very happy with my year, what about you?. I definitely feel fitter and therefore have more energy. I have seen my baby daughter grow up so quickly that although she is only just over one year old, she is already walking (running) and seems to understand both Czech and English. My older daughter has made me a very proud father by learning how to read a map when orienteering and has climbed to the top of a HUGE climbing wall in Kladno.

So what were your goals for 2016? Have you achieved them? Have you been successful by your own definition?  Have you enjoyed 2016?  I’d love to know as we say goodbye to 2016.

(Jana, have you started to make money by doing things you enjoy?  Ivana, have you got your Christmas crackers yet? Richard, have you started to go to bed earlier?  Blahos, have you enjoyed your first term at university? )

Bye for now,

Richard.

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New Richard Hill English Website

New Richard Hill English Website

You may have noticed that my website (richardhill.cz) is currently unavailable.  We are working on a new site now and I will let you know just as soon as it’s ready. The new site will include a new video section available via monthly subscription. Meanwhile, keep up to date by checking your inbox for my emails which will include some teaser videos.

That’s all for now, ta ta.

Richard.

Where’s My Television?

Where’s My Television?

Me and my big ideas!  I have long been extolling the virtues (saying how good something is) of a TV-free home (not having a TV) and often suggested to my family the idea of removing the television from our house.

Click here for a vocabulary list of the words and phrases in bold.

I’m sure the benefits are obvious to most of you; more quality time spent with your family, more meaningful conversations, less distractions and increased ability to concentrate etc. It was with all this in mind that last week I again made the suggestion that we could try a week without television as an experiment.  No Minimax corrupting my children’s brains with adverts for plastic crap they really don’t need, no Ordinace v Ružové Zahradě killing my wife’s brain cells with its mindnumbingly boring stories and personally less time wasted pretending I’m learning something by watching repeated episodes of TimeTeam on the History channel and bike races from Azerbaijan I have no real interest in on Eurosport.

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kid in front of tv

In English we use the word programme to mean a show ie. The Simpsons, Československo Má Talent. When you program in Czech we say channel eg. Nova Cinema, CT1, Prima Cool. Česká Televize is a TV station.  In short:

  • A TV Station broadcasts the shows and it may have more than one channel.
  • A TV Channel is the frequency being used.
  • A serial is a programme with one story split into many episodes.
  • An episode is díl in Czech.
  • A TV series has the same characters every week but different plots (stories).
  • A season is a collection of episodes.

BBC-Logo

So, as an example; the BBC is a station, BBC1 is a channel, Lost is a serial and Lost has six seasons. The Big Bang Theory is a series and in season 9 there were 24 episodes. Got that? (Do you understand?)

Anyway, back to the case in point and two days ago Radka said to me “OK!, Yes, let’s do it.” So, we decided to remove the TV from the living room the following day (yesterday).  It was then that I realised my mistake…

tv football

I love football, it’s one of my main interests; I play it, I go to stadiums and most importantly for this blog post, I watch it on TV. Those of you who are football fans will already see my error.  Starting today is the European Championships in France. Usually, for these big tournaments (the Euros and World Cup) I watch every game, not just the England and Czech Republic games.  So what am I to do now?  Our gogglebox is hidden away at my request and with it the chance to watch the best footballers in Europe fight it out for the title of Champions of Europe. I can’t believe I didn’t think this through properly.

Does anyone want to invite me to their house to watch a game?

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3 Ways to Boost Your English Confidence

3 Ways to Boost Your English Confidence

It seems to me that every Czech person can speak at least a few words of English even if that is only ‘Hello, how are you, I’m fine thanks, goodbye’. So why is it that many of you are scared, too shy or even ashamed to use the English you already know? (Note that there is a difference between shy and ashamed) So what can you do about it? How can you overcome your shyness or reluctance to speak English?

Click here to go to my vocabulary.com list of words for this article.

Improving your spoken English and your ability to understand other English speakers requires you to practise, a lot. So, putting yourself in situations where you have to listen to and speak English is certainly one way of doing it. This takes courage though, and that means overcoming your fears. So what are your fears? Do you think you will be laughed at? Misunderstood?  Make mistakes?

embarrassed emo

Growing your confidence is the key thing. Here are three ways you can do that..

1. Allow yourself to make mistakes and try new things.

School teachers, peers, and for most of us, our parents, started from a very early age to point out our mistakes and chastise us for making them without thinking of the future consequences this has on young children. We are conditioned to feel bad when we make a mistake and not to use it as a learning experience (which is exactly what it should be).

I may be wrong here but I would suggest that your shyness or fear to speak English comes from your upbringing. As a child were you given red Xs in your school books, shouted at or worse and generally made to feel very stupid for not knowing something?  Addressing these issues to conquer your fears is the way to building your confidence and allowing yourself to speak and understand more.

teacher-strict

If your English teacher is someone who tells you off for making mistakes, I would consider looking for someone new to help you. You want a person who will pleasantly explain your mistakes and help you to practise corrections a few times. If you are consistently making the same mistakes, take some time to look at each one individually and work on it until you feel confident you have corrected it.

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You should also be going outside of your comfort zone in terms of the vocabulary and grammar you use. Yes, you can stick to the same words and phrases you already know but it’s much more exciting and rewarding to try out new things and not be scared to make mistakes when doing so. I know this personally from learning your Czech language.

embarrassed-chimp

2. Put yourself in situations where you have to speak.

This could be finding someone to practise with; a native English speaker (anyone English, American, Canadian, Australian, Irish or from New Zealand) or someone who speaks English as a second main language like Indians, Mexicans and many Africans. You will of course encounter many different accents and dialects within this diverse group of people. My wife has excellent English precisely because she worked in a pub in Cambridge, England where there were Americans and Irish people as well as others from all over the UK with very different accents (yours truly included). So that’s two more ways you can go out of your comfort zone; visit a native country for an extended period of time or go to one of the many Irish and English pubs in the Czech Republic’s bigger cities. If you already have a native English teacher then why not practise what you learn on other natives who you will usually find happy to tell you about their homeland.

shy-man

3. Ask for help.

This can come in two forms; firstly, ask people to slow down and repeat things if you don’t understand what they are saying and secondly, ask them for specific words that you don’t know by using alternative words to describe it. Don’t stop at just using the word once though, repeat the word aloud a few times and use it again in the same conversation to help it stick. As soon as you can, write it down and think of a mnemonic for it; a drawing or visual image or put the word/phrase into a poem or song. If you don’t know about mnemonics go here to find out.

confidence cat lion

If you follow these three steps you will soon notice a big difference in your ability. You should become more fluent, more confident and even take pride in your level of English, whatever stage you are at.

So why do you think you are shy or embarrassed to speak the English you know?

Let me know in the comments below and subscribe to this blog using the ‘Follow’  button on the left.

My Bad Habits

My Bad Habits

So we’re into the swing of things in the new year and hopefully those new year’s resolutions haven’t fallen by the wayside. I managed to cut out the beer for two weeks before lowering my guard and succumbing to a night out and I know why this happened, I hadn’t replaced the need for social company (involving drinking beer) with something else. Having a break from beer through January was the goal and I will continue to not drink for the remaining week and a half but I must find a substitute habit to fill the void. It’s not all doom and gloom though oh no!

As a new feature to my blog you can click on the bold words to go to Vocabulary.com vocabulary logowhere I have created a page with a definition and an example sentence for each word. There is also audio pronunciation and a practice spelling bee!  Idioms and phrases in italic are also linked to a definition.

The Good News

I have however, kept up the smaller task of running once a week and this is down to (because of) my ingenious plan of starting a running group. Not only does this create the regular habit of running every Wednesday (Anyone living near Rynholec is welcome to join us!) but it adds to it a support structure of other like-minded people and it’s much more fun than running on my own.

running legs
not MY ACTUAL LEGS

I am motivated by the social aspect as well as the fitness. Starting something is always harder than doing it once you’ve got going and is why so many of us procrastinate about so many things. Starting the group from my house means I have to be prepared as other people are now counting on me.

Furthermore, I have been running on my own at least twice in each of the last three weeks because of this new found enthusiasm and the will to be fit enough to run with other people.

How to Change Your Habits

In his book, ‘The Power of Habit’ Charles Duhigg talks about the habit loop. Put simply this is a three part process; 1. The Cue, 2. The Routine, 3. The Reward.

cue routine reward

The cue is the thing that triggers the feeling of need, if you’re a smoker that might be the smell of a cigarette, the sight of one on TV or it’s 11.15 and time for your break. The routine is the habit you want to change, in this case, reaching for the cigarettes. The reward is the little high you get from the nicotine and a chance to socialize out of the office. Identifying the reward is the key. If you like the social aspect of standing outside smoking you could substitute that routine with a walk (around the office or outside) a chat with a colleague or friend on the phone. If you think ahead and plan for it, when you get the cue you can substiute the routine with anything else that also gives you a similar reward; 30 press-ups, 5 mins of internet surfing, making a coffee etc.

Your English Habits

So, in terms of your English learning resolutions, have you developed any habits to help you along the way? If you want to learn quickly then you simply must develop the habit of regular and continuing practice.

How can you develop the habits that will help you to learn regularly, frequently and effectively? Here are a few ideas…

dictionaryPut a dictionary (yes, it’s old school I know!) next to your bed. Every morning when you wake up, randomly open the book and pick out a word. Create a mnemonic (See my recent post) for it such as a visual image or word association hook and then go about your normal day.

Richard Hhill English

Start your own conversation group with friends, the same day and time every week.

alarmclock

Choose a time when you are always free and set an alarm to spend 5 minutes learning something new.

metro logo.pngListen to an English podcast when commuting on the metro or in your car.

Share your own ideas with us here in the comments below and help others to improve their English quicker too. Remember, I read all your comments.

Happy New You.

Happy New You.

Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. I hope you had as relaxing a Christmas as I did, or at least enjoyed eating all the food you spent so long slaving over!

My Christmas was a strange one for me as it was the first time in my life that I didn’t see any of my relatives over the Christmas period. We didn’t have a totally Czech Christmas though as Father Christmas (Santa Claus) visited our house on the night of the 24th/25th and we cooked pigs-in-blankets_11_4a traditional English Christmas dinner which we took and ate at Radka’s father’s house. I know most English people have Turkey at Christmas but that became a tradition with the arrival of American soldiers during the second world war, before that any bird would do; chicken, goose, pheasant, turkey or duck. Radka’s father cooked a duck and we did the vegetables – carrots, parsnips, leaks in white sauce, as well as my favourite ‘pigs in blankets’ (sausages wrapped in bacon and roasted in the oven). Anyway, enough of that, it’s making me hungry.

So it’s that time of year when everyone makes hugely unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions; the promises you make to yourself about how to improve your life over the next 12 months. So hands up who has joined a gym? Given up smoking? Stopped drinking alcohol? Coffee? Decided to eat healthier or go running? Have you bought a new bicycle with the intention to start cycling? You get the picture.

Dog riding bikeI have never stuck to mine, EVER! I’m pretty sure (quite sure) that’s down to my habits but that’s another topic for another day. This year I have decided to keep it simple, so instead of giving myself the unrealistic target of running three times a week (which I would like to do) I will run just once a week and it’s in my diary because if it’s not in my diary it won’t get done! I will be better organized this year and have timetabled a space every week to plan the following week and look at the month ahead. This might sound obvious and very normal to you but to someone as spontaneous as me it has always seemed like a spoiler, a curtailment of my enthusiasm for the unexpected surprises of life.

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions? Leave a comment below and share your commitments with me, it’s easier to keep your promises when you tell someone else!

So what can you look forward to from me in 2016?

My continuing support of your English learning will be enhanced with the offering of some one-day and weekend Masterclasses in specific areas and themes of English, I’m working on a free e-book to help you with the Present Perfect Tense, I’ve started writing my first book and of course I will continue to write you beautiful emails with tips and explanations. There’s also an idea forming in my mind for a V.I.P. Text and email service. Oh! and look out at the end of the year for my new 2017 calendar which will help you develop the habit of ‘little and often’, improving your English everyday.

So I wish you all the best for 2016 and hope it brings you all the happiness and love you deserve and keep working on your English. Don’t forget to leave me your New Year’s Resolutions below in the comments. I read them all, I promise.

Richard.