Learning a new language can be tricky, we all know it. Besides learning grammar rules and studying endless list of vocabulary words by heart, there is no better way to learn than to actually practice. There are many ways to practice a foreign language other than going abroad and talking to locals. If you do not feel ready to talk to other people just yet, you could start by watching movies or reading books in the language you are trying to learn! This will help you improve your receptive skills and put you one step further to mastering the language!
My advice would be to start with a book you have already read in your own language! You will know the story, which will allow you to spend more time on learning new vocabulary and memorizing recurrent grammar structures!
Here are a few suggestions of books featuring Edinburgh or Scotland in general to get you in the Scottish mood!
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
How can I write an article about Scotland in literature without mentioning Diana Gabaldon’s series?! Dive into the Outlander books and travel through time and space, visit the Highlands, discover the daily life of 18th century Scotsmen and women, and even learn a few words of Gaelic! Gabaldon certainly does a beautiful job of transporting you all across Scotland.
One Day, David Nicholls
The novel retraces the intertwined lives of the two protagonists, Emma and Dexter, every year on the same day, July 15, for 20 years. The story begins with the two young students graduating from the University of Edinburgh and follows them throughout adulthood. Fall in love with this story and the city at the same time!
44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith
44 Scotland Street is an episodic novel that was first published as a serial in the daily newspaper The Scotsman. Now the series already counts 12 books, of which 44 Scotland Street is the first. The novels tell the story of the tenants of a building located at 44 Scotland Street in New Town, Edinburgh. You will certainly love the humour and the insightful observations about Edinburgh society portrayed through the author’s recurring characters!
Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
Scottish writer Irvine Welsh wrote a series of short stories collected in Trainspotting about residents of the Leith neighbourhood in Edinburgh. The story revolves around heroin users, friends of heroin users and people engaging in activities linked to different addictions just as destructive. It has become a worldwide phenomenon and many tourists now walk the streets of Edinburgh retracing the steps of Welsh’s characters.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
First published in The New Yorker magazine, the 1961 novel is now featured on the 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The novel follows a young teacher in her ‘prime’ namely, Miss Brodie and the relationships she forges with her pupils. Set in the Edinburgh of the 1930s, it’s certainly a book you do not want to miss!
When learning a language, it’s always best to combine business with pleasure! Watching movies or TV shows is actually a very good method to improve your receptive skills and expand your vocabulary in a new language! The best way to work your way up to an almost-perfect understanding of an English movie is to take it slow. Try watching movies in English with subtitles in your own language at first. Then, when you feel comfortable enough, switch to English subtitles. Finally, the last step would be to watch them without any subtitles! It’s a great exercise and your English will thank you for it!
Here’s a list of a few movies and TV shows set in Scotland, full of magnificent scenery and shots of this beautiful country!
One Day (2010), Lone Scherfig
Based on the novel of the same name by David Nicholls, the story follows the lives and relationship of Emma and Dexter, respectively played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. The movie was partly filmed in Edinburgh: it opens and ends in the beautiful Scottish capital and features, amongst others, breath-taking views of Arthur’s Seat, Parliament Square, Calton Hill and Victoria Street.
Braveheart (1995), Mel Gibson
There is no doubt the infamous movie recounting the tale of Willian Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior and leader of troops against Edward I of England has brought countless people to the Highlands. The movie offers wonderful shots of the Scottish countryside including the areas near Glen Coe and Loch Leven. Another highly popular location for fans of the movie these day is the Glen Nevis Valley, which is where the crew built the village of Lanark, Wallace’s childhood home.
Ironically enough, there aren’t many other parts of Scotland featured in the movie, as the rest was shot … in Ireland (including the big battle scene).
Outlander (2014), Starz
There is no denying that Outlander has taken over the small screen in the past couple of years. The great acting and carefully though-out plotting are certainly part of the reason why, but the cinematography is undoubtedly a big part of it as well. Set in 18th century Scotland, the locations they used in the series are simply too numerous to be listed exhaustively here. Beautiful shots of landscapes, castles, lochs and villages will make you fall in love with Scotland instantly. To name but a few, Doune Castle was used for Castle Leoch, Black Castle stands in for Fort William, they set up the standing stones circle in Rannoch Moor and Midhope Castle was used for Jamie’s family home, Lallybroch or Broch Tuarach.
Skyfall (2012), Sam Mendes
The 2012 action movie and 23rd James Bond film contains some spectacular shots of the Scottish Highlands. In the movie, the Bond family estate is located in the Highlands and although the actual house they used was a mock up, they still filmed the Scottish landscape around Glen Etive and used it as the way leading up to that house.
Trainspotting (1996), Danny Boyle
Just like the book, the movie is set in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, almost all of it was filmed in Glasgow. However, you can still spot a few shots of the Scottish capital, especially in the opening chase scene of the movie. You can see Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle, Hanover Street and Calton Road under Regent Bridge.
Honorary mention: Brave (2012), B. Chapman and M. Andrews
Although not a live-action movie, I could not let this one slip. The 2012 Disney Pixar adventure film is 100% set in the medieval Scottish Highlands, and 100% inspired by Scottish culture. From the Highland Games to tartan and bagpipes, this one is a must see for a real Scottish feel. Merida’s family castle, Dunbroch, was heavily inspired by Dunnotar Castle in Aberdeenshire, south of Stonehaven. The landscapes seen in the movie when Merida travels through the countryside on her horse Angus were also inspired by real locations such as Glen Affric. Finally, some might recognise the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis as the inspiration for the movie’s standing stones circle.
Learning a new language isn’t just about learning grammar rules and vocabulary. Knowing how to get your message across is already a great start, don’t get me wrong! But there is a way to go one step further and help you sound like a native English-speaking person: idioms.
An idiom is a phrase, an expression or a group of words used together, the meaning of which is not directly understandable from the meaning of the individual words. For example, in the sentence ‘This car cost me an arm and a leg’, I don’t really mean that I exchanged an actual arm and leg for my new car. Here, the phrase ‘an arm and a leg’ means ‘a very high price’. Every language in the world has its own idioms, which often can’t be translated literally to another language. They can be tricky to master but they will definitely help you sound like a native speaker!
Here is a list of 5 frequent idioms of the English language you should start using right now!
A piece of cake
When you say that something is a piece of cake, it means that it is very easy.
“The exam was a piece of cake. I got everything right!”
To draw the line
When you draw the line, you stop and put a limit on something, usually because you feel it isn’t right.
“I’m okay with doing some overtime at work, but there is no way I will work for more than 40 hours per week. This is where I draw the line!”
To cry over spilt milk
To cry over spilt milk means to be sad and upset over things from the past you cannot change anymore.
“Stop being upset about what happened last week at the meeting. There’s no point crying over spilt milk. What is done is done.”
To be/feel under the weather
When you feel under the weather, it means you are feeling unwell or sick.
“I’m afraid I won’t be coming in to work today. I feel a bit under the weather and I need some rest.”
The last straw
When you say that something is the last straw, it means that it is the last in a series of unpleasant events that finally makes you want to change the bad situation you are in.
“This is the last straw! Patrick just asked me to prepare his meeting for him. I cannot accept this situation anymore, things need to change!”
Did you know that we offer exam preparation classes? Nowadays, it is not rare for universities or employers to require a certain test score proving your level of English. But which test should you take? What are the differences? Here’s a quick guide to help you understand the differences between the Cambridge exams and the IELTS.
Here at inlingua Edinburgh, you can prepare for the FCE, CAE, CPE or the IELTS. But what do these letters stand for?
FCE = First Certificate in English, (aka Cambridge English: First)
CAE = Certificate in Advanced English (aka Cambridge English: Advanced)
CPE = Certificate of Proficiency in English (aka Cambridge English Proficiency)
IELTS = International English Language Testing System.
While both the Cambridge exams and the IELTS test all four major English skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking, there are quite a few differences between them.
The main difference between the Cambridge tests and the IELTS is that while there is only one IELTS for every level, the Cambridge tests are level-oriented. FCE is for an upper-intermediate, B2 level qualification, the CAE is a C1 qualification exam and the CPE is for a C2 proficiency level.
Now let’s look at the ways in which they are assessed.
Despite their differences, one test is not more difficult than the other. You might find the Cambridge tests more interesting than the IELTS, which is a bit more academic, but it doesn’t mean that one is easier than the other.
Whether you need to do it to apply to the university of your choice, to get that job you have been after for a while or just because you want to boost your CV, book a class now at inlingua and pass that exam with flying colours!
Most English learners will find that they reach a plateau at some point. This is where you can speak English well enough to communicate with others but you notice less improvement in your language skills than you did at the start. Many find they have reached a comfort zone where there is a danger of becoming demotivated as they can already get by using the English words, phrases and tenses with which they are comfortable.
If you want to progress in English, this can be the most difficult stage on your learning journey but it’s important to push past this. Here are some tips on how to stay motivated when learning English:
1. Picture yourself in the future
Imagine what you could do if you could speak English as fluently as your first language. Would you be able to get your dream job? Get promoted in your current work? Delve deeper into English-language culture? Whatever your motivation was to learn English in the first place, try to remember it throughout your language-learning journey.
2. Go on holiday
Go on holiday somewhere where you don’t speak the language. If you’re living in an English-speaking country, you will be able to see how far you have come by going to a country where you hardly understand anything. You can then come back refreshed and motivated to keep going.
3. Get into an English-language TV series
There are a number of great TV shows in English that are addictive and will keep you coming back for more. You will also be motivated to improve in order to increase your understanding of the storyline.
4. Join a local club or try volunteering
Local clubs and societies are a great way to meet new people and can be great motivators to improve your English. Try to join a group or volunteer in something outside of your comfort zone. That way, you can improve your vocabulary and speak about subjects that would normally never come up in your everyday life. Meetup.com is a great way to find groups like this.
5. Challenge yourself
Set yourself a goal such as taking an official English exam. This will put pressure on you to improve before the date of the exam and will allow you to measure your success in a formal context.
6. Imitate your favourite celebrity
If your favourite celebrity is a native speaker of English, or if they have learned English as a second language, you can use their story as motivation to improve your own language skills.
7. Take a course
By taking an English language course, you are committing yourself to taking the time to improve. It’s also the best learning environment as you will consistently learn new things and your mistakes will be corrected by the teacher.
8. Improve your relationships with native speakers
A great motivator to improve your language skills is to build on your relationships with your English-speaking friends and/or colleagues. Native speakers will sometimes subconsciously change they speak when speaking to non-native speakers (think of the way you communicate with people who are learners of your own language). Get to know people in a new light by improving your English to a stage where native-speakers will speak to you as they would other natives.
9. Remember there is still a lot to learn
Those with the ability to speak English at a native level generally have one thing in common – they never stop learning. Even if you are comfortable at the level you can communicate in, learning a language is a life-long process where there is always room for improvement.
10. Take action
By improving your English, you are opening doors to more opportunities in your career, social life and personal development. There is no better time than the present, so take the first steps towards improving your English today!
At inlingua Edinburgh, we offer evening and part-time General English and Exam Preparation courses to fit around your work and life here in Edinburgh. Lessons are led by qualified, native-speaking trainers in small groups to maximise speaking practice. We have classes to suit each level and there are no mixed level groups. Why wait? Take the first step towards improving your English and contact us now!
There are many ways to learn English, but certainly one the best and most effective is listening to native speakers. As much as you think you already know, there will always be some peculiar phrases that only native English speakers really use and understand.
Here is a small selection of those “useful” everyday English phrases. Get them into your vocabulary and start sounding like a native. Tune in and enjoy!
To have an axe to grind An expression for when someone’s got a strong opinion.
Get somebody’s goat
A phrase about something annoying
Just another way to say “lots”
Hangry I’m sure you all know someone who gets angry when they don’t eat.