Yesterday we had some wonderfully sunny weather in Edinburgh and some of our students decided to take advantage by having their lessons outside. Here’s what they got up to…
Once upon a time – yesterday, in fact – our English class went on a field trip. Led by our teacher, Gregor, we visited the Water of Leith. There were three students in total: Chelsea, 21, a university student from Taiwan, Xin Yue from China, 18, soon to become a student of mathematics at university, and finally Daniel from Slovakia, 29, an art restorer. Our teacher had had an unexpected idea – to take us out to learn English for the second half of our class because there was such breathtakingly sunny weather – very rare in Scotland!
We walked down a steep hill along a narrow, cobbled road until we arrived at Dean Village, which used to be mills making paper and other things. The buildings there were very old and nowadays expensive to live in!
Next, we went to the Water of Leith, which is a river or stream running from the Pentland Hills to Leith. We walked along the river, past waterfalls and lots of green and trees. There was a wooden fence separating us from the water. We met two bicycle riders and watched a small dog swimming in the water. We found a heron standing in the river. Gregor told us that it stands there every day.
After that, we went over a bridge and climbed some very steep steps. Yes! We had arrived at the Gallery of Modern Art. However, we didn’t go inside, but we wanted ice cream so Daniel had to ask where we could buy it. We were told to go to the “bothy”, a small, white, wooden house in the gallery gardens. Here, we bought “surreal” ice cream, surreal because the colours didn’t match the flavour. Xin Yue’s banana ice cream was purple! She was surprised but she said that it was absolutely delicious!
Then we took a rest for a while because we were absolutely exhausted! We returned to the school happily.
Written by Chelsea Chen, Xin Yue Jin and Daniel Marek
When we ask our students which aspects of English they find most difficult, most will include ‘spelling’ and ‘pronunciation’ in their reply.
Our students aren’t alone; last week, a Guardian newspaper article summed it up: “You can’t tell the spelling from the pronunciation, and you can’t tell the pronunciation from the spelling. No wonder people find English difficult!”
Here is a well-known puzzle which illustrates this issue:
How do we pronounce the word ‘ghoti’?
The answer is ‘fish’.
So how can ‘ghoti’ and ‘fish’ sound the same? They can, if we pronounce:
gh as in enough f
o as in women i
ti as in nation sh
Of course, this is a joke – ‘ghoti’ is not even a real word. But it shows the inconsistency of English spelling. It is very important to understand – and most students do, very quickly! – that English spelling and English pronunciation are often not the same.
Consider blue, shoe, flew, through, you, two and too. That’s right, seven different spellings but only one sound. How about sound, soup and southern? The same spelling, ‘ou’, pronounced differently each time.
Here at inlingua we use a number of methods and techniques to help our students with spelling and pronunciation, both textbook methods as well as making use of poems and songs. With careful guidance our students, without exception, are very quickly able to make themselves understood when speaking and writing.
Of course, to become a proficient user takes time, and most learners will have moments where they feel some part of the language they are learning is a challenge too far.
How can you overcome this feeling?
Some teachers, myself included, try to encourage students to embrace – to enjoy – this aspect of the language. There is a reason – well, an explanation! – as to why English has such irregular spelling, and that explanation takes you through the history of the language.
So why not take an interest not only in learning how to use the language, but in its interesting history, too?
An alternative is to hope that the English Spelling Society, founded in 1908, finally succeeds in ‘updating’ ‘British English’ spelling. Their guide to the history of the language is an interesting read (there are also some useful guides to English spelling on their website), but I wonder if you’ll agree with their arguments?
As well as irregular spelling, we’ve had a number of students complain that English has ‘too many sounds’. So how many does it have? The number most often given, is 44 – or 43.5! However, if you travelled around a number of English-speaking countries, you’d encounter many more, and would notice that some English speakers use less.
There are many languages with more sounds than English, but as teachers we recognise that 44 is a fairly high number in comparison to some of our students’ mother tongues. Spanish, for example, has approximately 24 sounds, and so Spanish speakers learning English really have to exercise their tongues!
Of course, it’s the number of sounds new to students that presents a challenge. Again, at inlingua we take great care in coaching and guiding our students towards correct pronunciation. That process can be fun – and messy.
Finally, when it all seems too much, let’s not forget Ubyjkh. Unfortunately it’s thought that the last speaker of that language died in 1992, but he/she would have used at least 86 sounds, 84 of them consonants. Compared to that challenge, we have it easy!
Your first few days in Edinburgh are over and – what with all that whisky and so much to see and do – you’ve spent just a little bit more enthusiastically than you’d planned.
You’ll never forget your tour of Edinburgh Castle, or the whispered secrets of the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel. You’ve scaled the steep steps of the Scott Monument – the world’s largest literary homage-in-stone – and, from the top, marvelled at the views of the historic Old Town and the lush greens of Princes Street gardens. You’ve cowered in fright in the dark of the Dungeons, been stupefied by Camera Obscura, and explored the royal lodgings of Holyrood Palace, wondering: “But where does the Queen sleep?” and “Was there really a gruesome murder in this room?”
And…you’re out of money. Down and out in Edinburgh! So what else is there to do other than to curl up in the Elephant House café, a coffee in hand, hoping that J.K. Rowling walks in to write the eighth Harry Potter novel…
The answer: lots! Whether you’re a walker or climber, an ocean-lover or culture vulture, whether live music’s your thing or you prefer a quiet walk along the riverside, you don’t need money to enjoy yourself in Edinburgh.
What follows is our guide to just a small selection of the no-budget activities – free stuff! – on offer in our beautiful capital city.
Part One: The Water of Leith
“A Silver Thread in a Ribbon of Green”
When most Edinburgh residents find themselves penniless (normally just before pay day, or at the end of the August festivals) and wondering how to spend their weekends, they head to one of the city’s many galleries and museums, most of which are free!
But Picasso can wait for now. Let’s start our guide with some natural beauty, well off the ‘tourist-trail’, one of the city’s real hidden treasures: the Water of Leith.
The Water of Leith is a narrow river flowing for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills. It twists and turns its way through the city all the way to the Firth of Forth in the neighbourhood of Leith (if you make it that far, why not stop off in Leith’s redeveloped Shore area for some lunch by the water?).
In the past, the Water of Leith powered over 70 mills producing paper, fabric, and flour. Today, though, it is an oasis of tranquillity, and home to a variety of plants and animals, including brown trout, heron, kingfisher and otter.
The walkway can be joined (and left) at many locations, including from the neighbourhood of Stockbridge (if you love charity shops, you’ll love this neighbourhood!), the Botanic Gardens, or in Leith itself.
No matter which stretch you choose to walk (or in which direction), you’re sure to find beauty and peace in the walkway’s trees and plants, wildlife, waterfalls and occasional sculptures.
I particularly recommend joining the Water of Leith at the picturesque Dean Village (a 5 minute walk from the west end of Princes Street), walking west towards the rear entrance to the Dean Gallery of Modern Art. This is a relaxing 25 minute stroll which you can end with a wander around the Picassos in Gallery 1, and a cup of organic coffee in the gallery’s garden café (all free, except the coffee!).
Meet the Director of Edinburgh’s Language Centre | Interview in 7 Languages