Christmas is Coming – The Preparations Are in Full Swing (Some English Vocabulary)

BLOG_Christmas 1Since my last post, I’ve had some extremely sad news. Last Saturday in the early hours of the morning, one of my cousins was killed in a road accident. He was only 42. This was then followed by my father in law’s death following post heart surgery complications. He died in the early hours of Sunday morning.  What a weekend. We are now a family in mourning.

Despite the inconsolable sadness, we, as a family, want to make Christmas extra special that will be filled with laughter, tears but above all, many moments of celebratory toasts to a life lived to the full. My father in law was a larger than life figure who grabbed life with open arms and took every opportunity to enjoy it. So whilst my husband’s family may be grieving they can take comfort from the fact that their father had a fulfilling life and the end was quick and painless.

BLOG_Christmas Tree

This year’s tree

Christmas will be at our place with the entire family gathered round. We have already decorated the tree with lots of different baubles. There are multi-coloured lights around the tree which are twinkling away downstairs as I write this. We have the outdoor lights along the front of the house and over a couple of shrubs. It looks very festive at night.

I haven’t bought many presents this year. I’ve decided that what is much more meaningful for me is the time I spend with my family doing things like going to a Christmas Carol Concert, going to the theatre or catching a movie at the cinema. Yesterday we went as a family to watch the new Paddington movie. It was great fun.

My mother is spending Christmas with us this year and I am so pleased she is with me to help me through this difficult time. She is a great support.

BLOG_Christmas Mince Pies

Mince pie, anyone?

I have already started doing bits of Christmas food shopping. I have ordered the turkey for Christmas Day and bought the gravy. I have got boxes of mince pies that will be served as dessert with delicious brandy cream. We also have the Italian panettone. I have bought lots of different savoury snacks to serve with drinks before Christmas lunch. I have stocked the larder up with plenty of potatoes (for the roast potatoes), chestnuts to cook with the brussel sprouts, mixer drinks like soda water and cheese biscuits for the cheese board. Liqueur drinks like Baileys, Cointreau and brandy are in the drinks cabinet. The brandy, whiskey and port have all been decanted into crystal decanters.

The fridge is full of fabulous cheeses like Stilton, Brie and Cheddar. Little cocktail sausages, an enormous piece of smoked salmon and some fresh tortellini make up Christmas Eve’s dinner which will have an Italian theme to it.

BLOG_Christmas Panettone

The panettone

I have bought the Christmas crackers to place on the dining table at Christmas. The Christmas candles are all ready as are the Christmassy table napkins and underplates. I am not very artistic when it comes to laying the table but my husband is the creative one so I will leave him in charge.

I think I have done the bulk of the Christmas preparations. Oh no, hang on….I still have to get sparkling water, carrots, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce, mustard, parsnips, stuffing…Oh maybe I’m not as ready as I had thought…. Oh dear, I think I’d better stop writing now and hit the shops.

How are your preparations coming along for Christmas?

I hope you liked the post. If you did, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.
Ciao for now


Key to the colours
The expressions in blue relate to Christmas and general vocabulary and the phrases in pink are collocations, phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions that you can use anytime.

Are You An Ethical Shopper? Let’s Explore Some Vocabulary

BLOG_ethical-shoppingI mentioned in last week’s post that I trained a fashion designer whilst I was in Italy. My client is world famous and is known as the “King of Cashmere” in Italy. During the week’s course, we discussed a number of topics and one of them was about ethical shopping.

Apart for a strong work ethic, my client is renowned for his ethics in business. He decided long ago that he wanted to run his business in an ethical, honest and fair way. He told me what running an ethical business means to him – fair wages, fair price and an honest profit.


Paying a good and fair wage
First of all, he says that you need to treat the people who work for you, whether directly or indirectly, fairly. He explained to me that if you treat people well and pay them a good wage, you give them a sense of pride and dignity as human beings.
In turn, you, as their employer, will have their loyalty, and they will work more productively for you.

Whether you source your workforce locally or abroad, you have a responsibility to ensure that their working and pay conditions are good and that they are able to live a dignified life. You don’t want to be responsible for having created sweat shops and exploited workers especially in low-wage economies.


Charging a higher but fair price to consumers
If you’re going to pay your workers a fair price and ensure that their working conditions are good, you will have to accept that your product is going to be priced at above the market average.

However, in today’s world of cheap goods, consumers  often look for the latest bargains. If you look at the fashion world, shoppers always seek low cost/high fashion items. So, if you’re looking to compete in this market what do you do as a business? I asked my client this question and this is what he replied.

He strongly believes that as consumers, we should always seek to find out where and how the product we’re purchasing is sourced. If we believe that everyone deserves to earn a decent living and live life in a dignified way, then we should be prepared to pay a little more for the product.


BLOG Image_Ethics

Making an honest and fair profit
If you ask most consumers, they say that they would willingly pay more for good quality products. Alas, quality doesn’t always equal ethical.

There are companies that charge their customers a lot of money for top quality but pay obscenely little in production costs. As consumers, we should, therefore, also look carefully at the companies we buy from to ensure that the profit they’re making is honest and fair.

For example, if you buy a cashmere cardigan that costs $1,000 and then find out that the company’s production costs were $60, would you be comfortable knowing that the company has made a huge profit (unreasonable, I would say) at the expense of the workers and you as the consumer? I know I wouldn’t.

Cartoon by Andy Vine for the Ethical Consumer Magazine

Cartoon by Andy Vine for the Ethical Consumer Magazine

As I was wandering around the shops the other day looking for some clothes, I realised that the key to shopping ethically is to buy fewer items of clothing. Certainly in the West there is a tendency to prefer quantity over quality. We would rather buy 10 T-shirts at £4 each than 3 T-shirts for £10 each. We have also become a throwaway society where the appreciation of what we have has been lost.

Talking to my client made me think of how I shop and made me also appreciate him as an entrepreneur and person. He is truly inspirational.

As we approach Christmas, my mind is certainly more focused on how and where I buy. I’d like to think that I am an ethical shopper but I know I could be better. That’s it – I have my New Year’s Resolution.

Are you an ethical shopper? Do you believe that as consumers we have a responsibility to ensure businesses behave ethically?

If you liked this post please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to receive my future posts automatically.

Ciao for now


PS If you’d like to learn more vocabulary on the topic of ethical shopping, do take a look at the British Council Learn English website. I also got my inspiration from them.


Learning English in an oasis of peace and spirituality

IMG_5184This week I am in the Umbrian region of Italy in a town called Norcia. It’s a mediaeval town set within city walls and is accessible through the old Roman gates or “La Porta Romana” in Italian.

I am here on a one- week intensive course to coach an Italian fashion designer. He asked me if I would be available and willing to teach him English in this beautiful town for a week!! After much thought (one second), I accepted and here I am.

He chose Norcia for the peace and tranquillity it exudes. Norcia (Nursia) is the birthplace of Saint Benedict who established the Benedictine order of monks. At the heart of the town, in the square or piazza, stands the monastery which is on the same site as where Saint Benedict was born.

Saint Benedict

Saint Benedict

The monastery was closed for 200 years before a group of American monks came to Norcia and re-opened it in 2000. The church is simple when compared to other Italian churches, but what you notice upon entering it is the silence. Rather than feeling eerie, it’s actually very comforting. I am not a regular church-goer, but I found myself drawn to the silence and spent an hour or so sitting in quiet reflection.

IMG_5197I fell in love with Norcia as soon as I set eyes on the piazza and started wandering around the town on Sunday evening. It’s exactly as I imagined a mediaeval town to be. I explored all the little alleys and shops selling such wonderful produce as lentils, pulses, cured hams, salamis and black truffles. Norcia is famous for its black truffles and for its cured meats. Needless to say, I have already bought some products to take home.

And the food – what can I say….it’s absolutely divine!!! The hotel I’m staying in has an excellent restaurant and my client has introduced me to a number of dishes that are typical of the area – each one better than the other. It’s a good job that there is a swimming pool nearby where I have been doing my laps every evening!

The presence of the monastery and the monks give Norcia a sense of spirituality which is something my client seeks in his daily life. He chose Norcia for his course so that he could concentrate completely on his studies with me. I have to say that the silence is extremely conducive to study. We have been working for 6 hours each day and the time flies by. We have talked about all sorts of things – his work, his philosophy, his spirituality and what motivates him in life – as well as the nitty gritty of English grammar.

Before I leave, I am going to listen to the monks sing the Gregorian chants this evening. They pray and sing every evening at 7.45pm and everyone is welcome. I cannot wait.

It’s been a most spiritual, fulfilling and energising experience for me. I hope to re-visit Norcia in the not too distant future.

Ciao for now


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English Writing Skills: Sentence Structure in English

My clients often struggle with their writing in English especially when it comes to writing complete sentences. In written English, your sentences need to be clear, concise, correct and be coherent. (We call this the Four Cs of writing.) In other words, your thought processes need to flow on paper as well as in your head. I tell my clients that they must always think of their reader when putting pen to paper. If your reader cannot follow your thoughts, your written effort is wasted.

In its simplest form, sentences need to be complete and have a Subject, Verb and a complete idea to make sense. If not, you’re left with what are called sentence fragments.

Here is a helpful illustration and explanation by Kaplan in the form of a cartoon to convey the importance of avoiding sentence fragments. You can find this explanation on their website, too.

Blog_Kaplan_Sentence Fragments

Here is Kaplan’s explanation:

The three sentence fragments in this cartoon are:

  • After you add the sugar.
  • While you beat the eggs.
  • Before you put them in the oven.

These sentences have incomplete ideas and end too quickly. After reading these sentences, the cartoon characters asks questions because they need more information. A sentence fragment is a sentence that is incomplete.

For a sentence to be complete, it must have:

1: A subject. This is the person, place, or thing performing or doing the action.
2: A verb. This is the action.
3: A complete thought. This stops the reader waiting for another word.

The three sentence fragments in the cartoon have a subject and a verb but there is no complete idea. Here’s how they could look as complete sentences:

  • After you add the sugar, you add the milk.
  • Build up a froth while you beat the eggs.
  • Make sure the cookies are the right shape before you put them in the oven.

Do you do much writing in English? What do you struggle with most? If you can keep the Four Cs in mind, you should be fine.

I hope you liked this post. If you did please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.

Ciao for now


7 Idioms connected with Thanksgiving


Photo: Wikipedia

You may have noticed that Thanksgiving in the United States is this Thursday.

As I write this, many Americans are on holiday or are about to leave. It is a huge celebration in the States.

I would say that it is, in fact, more important than Christmas.


Thanksgiving is also celebrated in Canada but on the second Monday in October, whilst it is always held on the fourth Thursday in November in the US.

As my sister and her family live in the States and are now US citizens, I thought I’d join in the celebrations and write about this very North American tradition in my blog. I’d also like to introduce you to some idioms connected with the symbols of Thanksgiving.

BLOG_Thanksgiving2_pumpkinThanksgiving or the act of “giving thanks” is not unique to the North Americans. For centuries, communities throughout the world have given thanks to their gods for all sorts of reasons. One of the most important reasons has often been to give thanks for a good harvest, especially after a particularly difficult period. People would celebrate their good fortune by preparing a feast, blessing the food and merrymaking. For more information about the history of Thanksgiving, take a look at this.

When I think of Thanksgiving, the following images come to mind: family reunions, holidays, huge family feasts, turkeys, pumpkin pie, corn bread, stuffing, cranberry sauce and those spectacular parades you see on television like this one in New York.

Taking three symbols of Thanksgiving – turkey, stuffing and blessing, let’s take a look at 7 idioms that are commonly used in English.

1. To be stuffed – To be full and can’t eat anymore.
The meal was absolutely delicious. I’m afraid I can’t eat one morsel more. I’m stuffed.

2. To go cold turkey – to suddenly stop a bad habit and suffer from it at the beginning. (This is often used when talking about a drug addict who suddenly stops taking drugs.)
Many people who attempt to quit smoking do so by going cold turkey rather than by gradually cutting down.”

3. To count your blessings – to be grateful for the good things in your life
We have a lovely home, healthy children and each other – we should count our blessings.

4. A stuffed shirt – a person who behaves in a very formal way and expects to be treated as someone very important
The stuffed shirts in this company don’t realise that they need new blood if we are to survive the crisis.

Thanksgiving vs Christmas

5.  A blessing in disguise – something that at first appears to be bad or unlucky but is actually good
I was really upset when I was first made redundant but when I look back now, it was a blessing in disguise. I’ve never been happier with my current work.

6. To talk turkey (mainly American English) – to discuss a problem in a serious way with a real intention to solve it
The politicians need to stop messing around and start talking turkey.

7. To be a mixed blessing – something that has bad effects as well as advantages
Being beautiful can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you receive a lot of attention, but on the other hand, people don’t always take you seriously.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did please share it and be sure to subscribe to my blog to receive future posts.

Ciao for now


English Grammar Pill: Using the Present Tenses in Business English

Grammar OwlI have a new client staying with me on a two-week full immersion Business English course. She runs a very successful business in Italy. She needs English as she has started to forge strong relationships with some UK connections and doesn’t want to rely solely on interpreters.

During the first few days of the course, we reviewed some of her tenses and I noticed that she often uses the present simple and present continuous tenses in the wrong situations.
Whilst I don’t focus on grammar in my Business English courses (or my other courses for that matter), there are times when it is necessary to do so to avoid any misunderstandings.

For example, take a look at these two sentences:

  • We produce solar panels in China (present simple)
  • We are producing solar panels in China (present continuous)

Each sentence has a different meaning. In the first sentence, the present simple is used to show a permanent fact or a general situation. In this case, what we mean is that the company makes solar panels as a business – fact. In other words, it describes what the company does.

By contrast in the second sentence, the present continuous is used to describe a temporary or particular situation. In this case, the company is producing solar panels in China at the moment. There is a start and a finish to the event.

Here are more examples:

  • Where do you work? In London. (Permanent situation)
  • Where are you working? Paris this month, then Berlin next month. (Temporary situation)


  • We find that the price of turkeys increases substantially the nearer we get to Christmas (Habit)
  • The prices of Christmas lights are increasing. (A particular situation)

So, here’s the difference. Use the

Present Simple
Permanent situations, habits and routine and general situations

Present Continuous
Temporary situations, events in progress now and a particular situation

As I mentioned above, it’s worth using these two tenses in the correct way to avoid misunderstandings when doing business in English.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did please share it and be sure to subscribe to my blog to receive future posts.

Ciao for now


What Are You Doing at the Weekend? Let’s explore some vocabulary in English

It’s a short post today as I have a very busy weekend planned and the weekend actually starts today, Friday!!! Yippee!!!

weekend_ready for itI am very excited as one of my online clients, Alessandra is staying with us for the weekend. As I write this, she is on her way from the airport by taxi.
Alessandra is the very same client who wrote a guest post a couple of weeks ago. I have never seen her in the flesh so I am extremely excited to finally meet her.


I have cooked an Indian curry as a welcome dish. I guessed that as an Italian she didn’t need more Italian food!!!! It’s a wet and cold evening so I’m hoping the spiciness of the curry will warm her. Fingers crossed she likes it.

We have a number of things planned for the weekend. While Alessandra visits a number of exhibitions in London tomorrow, I will do my niece duties and visit my uncle during the day. He is out of hospital and convalescing at home. I am going to take Buster, our dog to cheer him up. They do say that animals, especially dogs, are very therapeutic and are a tremendous help with the healing process.

Blog_Pub Crawl_wiki.openstreetmap.orgAs soon as evening approaches, we will be heading for the pub to seriously start off the weekend. We could go on a pub crawl but considering we don’t drink much, it would be a waste of money and alcohol (or booze as we call it in the UK).
We have booked a restaurant in our village and after a few drinks (glasses of wine for the ladies, a couple of pints of beer for my husband), we will go out for dinner. It’s Mediterranean cuisine for tomorrow. When I say Mediterranean I mean Greek and Turkish cuisine.

We’re planning to go to the cinema on Saturday afternoon. I think Alessandra is planning some shopping (retail therapy) in the morning in London. I have to teach first thing in the morning and I will have to dedicate the morning to the usual household chores (housework) and some planting. I bought some autumn plants today which will require to go into various pots.

We might go out to a wine bar on Saturday night, and I am thinking of cooking a Chinese meal for Alessandra. I hope she likes Chinese food.

A Chin Wag

A Chinwag

The real highlight of the weekend for me is going to be finally meeting Alessandra, catching up with her on all her news and having a real good chinwag about anything and everything.

After all, that is what a weekend with friends is all about. And if you can add good food and drink to the mixture, even better!



What have you got planned for the weekend? Whatever it is I hope it’s enjoyable and relaxing.

I hope you liked the post. If you did, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.

Ciao for now


Key to the colours
The expressions in blue relate to weekend vocabulary and the phrases in pink are idiomatic expressions and some phrasal verbs that you can use anytime.

“Lest We Forget” – A Poppy for Each Fallen Soldier plus Some Vocabulary

Photo: Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea - Hair

Photo: Geoff Pugh/The Telegraph

Last year today, I published a post entitled “Why Do We Celebrate Poppy Day?”In that post I wrote about what Remembrance Day (or Poppy Day) is and why it is celebrated every year in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth countries.
I noticed that the post has been viewed regularly in the last few weeks and I thought I would update the post with what has been happening this year to commemorate this solemn occasion.

2014 represents the centenary year of the start of the First World War. Throughout this year there have been many events organised to remember the Great War. However, nothing compares to the extraordinary and breathtaking display of ceramic poppies that have been created and planted over the last few months in the moat around the Tower of London.

Photo:Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair

Photo:Historic Royal Palaces/Richard Lea-Hair

The installation called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” is by ceramic artist Paul Cummins. The installation began in early August and the last poppy will be planted today. In total 8,000 volunteers have planted the poppies!

888,246 ceramic poppies have been made and each one represents a British and Commonwealth soldier who died during the First World War – the fallen soldiers. The ceramic poppies were available to buy and have all been sold to members of the public. The money raised (over £15m) by the sale will go to charities.

I had hoped to visit the Tower of London to see this unique and spectacular installation, but unfortunately I’ve not had the time. Furthermore, it’s been extremely busy as thousands of people have flocked to the site over the last few weeks to catch and experience a moment of history. I shall have to make do with these fabulous and outstanding photos that I’d like to share with you here.

War Horse's Joey and Michael Morpurgo  Photo: Rex taken from The Telegraph

War Horse’s Joey and Michael Morpurgo
Photo: Rex taken from The Telegraph

For more gorgeous photos, take a look at these captured by the BBC.

The one thing that the British do extremely well is maintaining and respecting traditions. This year, however, they have surpassed themselves. The enormous success of the Tower of London poppies has proven that not only are the British extremely proud of their history and legacy but they are also deeply grateful to the fallen men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we may live in a free and democratic world.

The phrase “lest we forget” of the blog title has assumed (taken on) a deeper poignancy this centenary year. We will never forget.

I hope you liked the post. If you did, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.

Ciao for now


Key to the colours
The expressions in blue relate to war vocabulary and the phrases in pink are expressions and some phrasal verbs that you can use anytime. For their meaning, click on the word or expression. If you click on the words in orange, they will lead you to some further information about the topic.

STOP PRESS: Nominations for Best Blog in the Love English Awards 2014

My dear readers,

The nominations for the Macmillan Dictionary Love English Awards 2014 have opened.


This is what Macmillan say:

“Is there a website, blog or Facebook page that you regularly read to satisfy your curiosity about English? Where do you go for your English language resources?

Here is your chance to nominate your favourite online English language hub in the Macmillan Dictionary Love English Awards 2014!”

I was extremely honoured and thrilled to have been nominated last year and to have come Runner Up in my first year as a blogger! See the badge on the right hand bar.

If my blog has helped you on your English Language journey and you feel that my blog deserves to be nominated, I’d be truly delighted if you’d nominate it for this year’s awards. No pressure, of course!!!!!

All you have to do is to click on the link below and follow the instructions.

The nominations will stay open until 15 December 2014.

Thank you so much.

Ciao for now.


3 Tips to Practise and Improve Your English – by a Learner of English

BLOG_TipsI am often asked by learners, including my clients, what is the best way to practise and consequently improve their English Language skills. My response often varies depending on who the learner is. I try to advise them taking into account their learning methods, general interests and time they have available to dedicate to their learning.

However, I feel that great advice to learners can also come from other learners and not just teachers. There isn’t only one approach to learning a language and whilst a teacher/coach can provide the tools to facilitate learning, ultimately it’s up to the learner to work out what works for them.

So I decided to ask some of my clients if they would be willing to share their experiences of learning and practising their language and what tips they would offer their fellow learners in the form of a guest post on this blog.

The first client I asked was Alessandra who seized the opportunity with great enthusiasm. I have been teaching Alessandra online for just under a year. She is a corporate lawyer based in Milan. We have a conversation class once a week. Alessandra is passionate about learning the English Language and is a joy to teach.

I have pleasure in introducing you to Alessandra.

I’ve been asked by my lovely English teacher, Shanthi to write about my learning process and what makes it ( hopefully) a success and – above all- a pleasure.

Photo: The Bright Old Oak

Photo: The Bright Old Oak

I studied English for 8 years at school – a long time ago. After graduating from university, I tried not to lose my English but it was not always easy. I didn’t have  classes or online courses until 2012 when a South African company took over the company I was working for and my boss organized a two- month English course  for all the directors of the board. On that occasion, I found out that I remembered something and could speak, but I was no longer able to listen to the radio or watch TV and really understand the language. What a disappointment!

First of all, I must say that I’m a mature student. I have a job, a family, a life to live, but about a year ago I started to feel the need to improve my English, that used to be good but not perfect. I wanted to be understood when abroad, to write an e- mail without panicking and to understand most of (not all) the contents of a newspaper. So, I set out to do 3 things which I believe is what my fellow learners should do.


1. Find a teacher

Alessandra's crazy teacher!

Alessandra’s crazy teacher!

The teacher is, in fact, essential to your learning process. He or she must understand your needs and keep your interests high and your enthusiasm alive, especially when you’re tired or discouraged.

Your teacher must know what to do or what not to do to make you feel confident and still eager to learn.




BLOG_Downton Abbey2.  Find something you like and do it in English
The second advice I want to share with my fellow students is this: find something you really like and do it in english.

I love TV dramas, biopics, TV series and entertainment shows like Graham Norton or The David Letterman Show. I started to watch them in English with Italian subtitles, then with English subtitles and, now, I watch them without subtitles!

After a while I found myself able to capture the deeper meaning of the dialogue and, as an old Italian proverb says, ‘I’ve started to understand not only the language but the culture behind it (the dialogue)’.


3. Establish a routine
BLOG_Pocket Watch
Now I have an “English” routine. Just as athletes run or swim every day not to lose their fitness, I watch English TV every evening. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Downton Abbey or The Graham Norton Show, I just feel better if I listen to or watch just a little bit of my favourite programmes.

When I feel too tired to deal with something new, I simply watch an episode or an interview I’ve already seen and liked, in order to enjoy myself without being a lazy student.


Learning English seriously  (like old age) is not for sissies, so come on, get to work and very soon you’ll find yourself captured by the new, different, amazing and fascinating world of words.


Thank you so much to Alessandra for taking the time to write this post and sharing her learning journey. 

If you would like to share your learning journey and any tips that you feel have worked or work for you with me and my readers, I would be thrilled to hear from you. Simply drop me a line here and we can work out a plan.

In the meantime, I hope you liked the post. If you did, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.

Ciao for now



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