Intermediate word of the day: embrace

Embrace literally means to put your arms around someone, but in conversation we more often use the word hug – he gave me a hug / she hugged him, etc. Embrace is more commonly used to mean that you accept something or someone and you include them – which I suppose is basically what you are doing when you hug someone!

To do well at work these days, it seems that you have to embrace change or embrace new technology. When people are reluctant to embrace change, they are often seen as being awkward and preventing progress; they may be told they are stuck in their ways or that they are dinosaurs. Companies may try to get rid of these members of staff.

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Of course, sometimes people can be too keen to embrace new ideas or theories so that they start to employ them before they have been properly tested or proven. As a result they can invest a lot of money or time and effort in the idea and abandon the previous way of doing things. Unfortunately, they later realise that the new policy is failing. I guess the people who refused to accept the idea are proved right and can say ‘I told you so’ – if they are still employed!

Organisations are often encouraged to embrace diversity these days. In other words, they are told they should try and employ a variety of people from different backgrounds and encourage them to contribute. If they don’t, they may miss talented people and ideas that could help build their business and secure its future.

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Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say three things you can embrace.
  • Why might someone be reluctant to embrace change?
  • Why might someone say I told you so!
  • What might happen if a company fails to embrace diversity?

Related stories in the news

In education, teachers are always being told they need to fully embrace technology. Usually this call is led by tech companies trying to sell their various products and services, but there are also many teachers who suggest that educational technology is here to stay and, therefore, we should embrace it as a tool in the classroom.  At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I think this is nonsense. From time to time, I use the Internet to show a picture of word which may be otherwise difficult to explain – like avocado. I have also used the Internet to find an interesting text to read in class. And I can also see the value of the Internet and of some apps for self study. However, for me, the most important part of any class – especially a language class – is interaction and communication. That’s me, the teacher, talking with the students, and them talking with each other. Technology gets in the way of chat; we have been so keen to embrace our smartphones and Google that we are constantly looking at them instead of at each other – we all know that, right? And the evidence seems to suggest that the same happens in the classroom. And my bigger concern is the cost. No sooner does new technology come out than it seems to be out-of-date or requires extra training. Is that a cost worth paying?

Discuss.

  • What do you think? Should we embrace technology more in education? Why? / Why not?

Want to study English with Lexical Lab? Take our ENGLISH BOOST course next summer.

 

Word of the day: kinky

To use one of those understatements that we’re apparently so well known for, the English are not exactly famous for being very direct – and this is particularly true when it comes to expressing our more intimate feelings. The stereotype is that we all suffer a bit from the kind of stiff upper lip that sees Hugh Grant’s face quiver ever so slightly whenever he struggles to voice his love for the object of his desires. “I . . . um . . . well, I . . . um . . . I’m not sure how to tell you this, but I really rather . . . um . . . well, you know . . . do quite like you, as it happens.” You get the idea, I’m sure.

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As with all stereotypes, there’s probably at least a grain of truth to this one, but at the same time, there are few things the English love more than double entendres. A double entendre is a word or phrase that has two meanings, one of which is literal and one of which could be seen as somehow relating to sex! In fact, we have the phrase as the actress said to the bishop which some people use to highlight the potentially ambiguous nature of much everyday discourse.

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For example, you might be struggling with an IKEA flatpack shelving unit and after some messing around, you finally realise what you’d been doing wrong and announce Got it! It just slides into this hole here . . . at which point someone else may well then add As the actress said to the bishop! Obviously, this is based on the very British notion that a seemingly devout man of God might actually secretly be seeking extracurricular fun with an actress (of some kind) and the phrase is seen by many as old-fashioned and non-PC. This may well explain why it was a favourite catchphrase of the awful boss, David Brent, in the original English version of the sitcom The Office.

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Anyway, the point is that while we struggle to articulate our emotions, we regularly make cheap jokes about sex. Why? Well, you’d have to ask a psychotherpist that one. I was reminded of this during one of the evenings out with our students on the Lexical Lab summer school. We were discusing the more eccentric conference presentations we’d witnessed over the years, and one student recalled once seeing a talk at an IATEFL conference where the guy presenting pretended to be a host mother. I immediately replied Kinky! and was surprised that no-one seemed familiar with the word.

The main dictionary definition is ‘involving unusual sexual behaviour’. In other words, it’s the opposite of vanilla, but in English it’s often used in a jokey, friendly way in conversation – and crops up a lot in tabloid newspaper headlines as well. A friend may be explaining the clothes they like to go cycling in and state that Lycra is much better. It’s tighter and it allows you to move faster, which almost invites the response Ooh! Well kinky! while a redtop may well scream in bold letters KINKY KILLER KAUGHT – with the deliberate misspelling! One of London’s greatest pop groups of all time, The Kinks, also played with this, posing with whips and calling their third LP The Kink Kontroversy!

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And, of course, as one student finally realised, there’s a musical currently on in London called . . . Kinky Boots! Taking it’s name from the high-heeled, thigh-length boots some of its main characters wear, it’s been a huge success this year.

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That said, we decided to give it a miss and took the students to see Wicked instead!

For more on our summer school, click here.

  • Do you have a phrase like As the actress said to the bishop in your language? If so, do YOU use it? When?
  • What do you think the main stereotypes of people from your country are?
  • Do you know anyone who struggles to articulate their emotions?
  • Can you think of a book, play, musical or film that’s been a huge success this year?
  • Are phrases like kinky ever used in a jokey way in your language?
  • How do you feel about the tabloid newspapers (the redtops) where you live? Why?

Intermediate word of the day: peak

If something peaks, it reaches its highest or best point, value or level of skill before then becoming worse, lower or less successful. So what kind of things can peak?

  • Athletes and sports players generally peak at a certain age. Some players peak quite early on – and by the time they’re 30, their careers are basically over. However, some players don’t peak until they’re well into their 30s. Like a good wine, they just seem to get better and better with age!
  • We often talk about numbers peaking, so unemployment – a situation in which people don’t have work or money coming in – may peak one month at 17% before dropping back down to around 10% in the months to come; inflation – the process in which prices increase and money becomes less valuable – might rise dramatically over a period of time before peaking at, for example, 27%.
  • Global oil production peaked around 2005 or 2006, and since then less and less oil has been produced every year!
  • In London at the moment, lots of people are saying that house prices have peaked and that once Brexit finally happens, they’ll start to drop to more sensible levels and property will become more affordable for normal people again!
  • When there’s a terrible storm, and the rain is really heavy, it starts to flood. Eventually, the flooding peaks and then the waters start to go down again.
  • The number of people leaving an area can increase over time and then peak. For example, in 2015 the migrant crisis peaked as record numbers of people fleeing Syria and other countries terribly affected by wars arrived in Europe.

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Peak can also be a noun and an adjective. The peak is the time when something or someone is at their highest or greatest level. We also call the highest part of a mountain the peak. A peak time or period is when the largest number of people are doing or using something – and a peak level of something is when it’s at its highest.

  • In most cities, the traffic reaches its peak at about 8.30 in the morning – and travelling around during peak hours can be very stressful indeed.
  • The population of Liverpool, in the north-west of England, now stands at around half a million, but it might surprise you to know that this is a lot lower than it was a hundred years ago. The population actually reached a peak of over 850,000 in the 1930s.
  • We often talk about athletes or sports players being at their peak, so tennis star Pete Sampras was really at his peak in the 1990s, while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are arguably both still at their peak!
  • We can also talk about an empire being at its peak, so the Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the 15th and 16th century.
  • Politicians and celebrities may be at the peak of their popularity – or at the peak of their success, although this often only becomes clear after the moment has passed and people look back and realise they’ll never again be that popular or successful!

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We also often use peak in a joking way to describe something that has become so popular and common that it’s no longer fashionable and people have started to dislike it, so a couple of years ago in London people started noticing we’d reached peak beard – beards were fashionable, but suddenly too many had them! Maybe this year we’re more or less reached peak craft beer!

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Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say five things that might peak – and what happens afterwards.
  • Why did the migrant crisis peak back in 2015?
  • Why might house prices in London peak?
  • Why is a good idea to avoid public transport during peak times?
  • Say three ways you could finish this sentence: He’s at the peak of his . . .
  • Which verb often goes with the noun peak? Things can …….. a peak.

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Read about peaks in the news

There have been a lot of stories in the press recently about the fact that many young people are less interested in social media than their parents are. In a recent study, almost two-thirds of all schoolchildren questioned said they wouldn’t care if social media had never been invented, and there are fears that even Instagram, which has so far remained popular, may have peaked – and that from now on, the content will become less interesting and more and more commercial.

There have also been stories about recent trends peaking, and articles claiming that we’ve already reached peak craft coffee and peak emoji! At the same time, there are fears that the growth of the far-right has not yet peaked and that Europe will see yet more extreme right-wing politicians and voices emerging in the months and years to come.

Discuss.

  • Can you think of any sports stars who are really at their peak at the moment?
  • And can you think of any stars who still haven’t reached their peak?
  • Can you think of any trends that have peaked where you live? For example, have you reached peak beard yet? Or peak craft beer?
  • How often do you have to travel during peak hours? How is it?
  • When’s peak season in most holiday resorts where you live? Why?
  • When do your think your country / city was at its peak? Why?

Want to study English with Lexical Lab? Take our ENGLISH BOOST course next summer.

Phrase of the day: slap bang in the middle

Onomatopoeia is a strange thing. Officially, it’s the use of words that supposedly sound like the sounds they refer to. If we only speak one language, we hardly ever even notice such words as buzz or thud, and if we do stop to think about them, we automatically assume that these are just the noises that insects make they fly or that something heavy – like a sack of potatoes – makes when it falls to the ground.

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We take these words for granted and think it must be obvious to everyone that these things just sound like this. They are, however, very culturally rooted. I first realised when I started learning Indonesia and noticed that in comics, dogs said guk! guk! when barking – not woof! woof! I still remember the hilarity that resulted when I first asked a class of international students what dogs said – and learned that  Turkish dogs say hev hev, Spanish dogs guau guau, Japanese dogs wang wang, Icelandic dogs voff voff and so on.

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I used to teach a lot of closed Japanese groups and spent some time working in Hiroshima, where I learned that Japanese is very rich in onomatapoeic words, but that none of them sounded anything like I’d imagine things to sound myself! I mean, when someone yawns, do you hear fuwaa? Does heavy rain make a zaa-zaa noise? And do bombs explode with a dokan? Nope! For me neither.

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You may be wondering why we’re talking about all of this today. Well, it’s because during our summer school, one of our students rented a room in Zone 1, near the British Museum. When we were chatting over coffee about where everyone was staing, she replied proudly slap bang in the centre of the city – and then added Well, that’s what it says on the website anyway.

Slap bang is an adverb often used as part of a description of where things are (or were) and often collocates with in the middle of, to create the idea of absolutely in the very middle of the middle! So in London people often complain about how high rents are if you live slap bang in the middle of town, or how they came out of a tube station one day only to find themselves slap bang in the middle of a British National Party demo!

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The phrase can also be used in a more metaphorical sense, to talk about time and the activities occuring within a period of time. This is particularly common in tabloid journalism, as these examples show:

It was a glorious sunny day, the sea was inviting and it was slap bang in the middle of the holiday season.

Turning 25 was a key moment for me. I suddenly found myself slap bang in the middle of my twenties.

We are currently slap bang in the middle of a consultation phase.

However, quite why this phrase should be onomatopoeic in the first place is anyone’s guess. What do you reckon?

Want to learn more about our summer school? Click here!

  • Do you know anyone who lives slap bang in the centre of town? How do they manage it?
  • Have you ever come out of a station or turned a corner and found yourself slap bang in the middle of a demo or a parade or a riot?
  • How would you say buzz, thud and woof in your language?
  • Can you think of any other onomatopoeic words in your language?
  • Do you know any others in English?

Intermediate word of the day: ban

If you ban something, you say officially that people must not do, sell or use it. People can also be banned – if it’s officially said that they’re not allowed to do something.

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Here are some things that are sometimes banned:

  • Books and films may be banned if the government worries that they might offend people - make them angry or upset – or if they feel they’re too graphic – they depict sex or violence in a very detailed way. Sometimes a book or a film may get banned because the authorities are worried that it might encourage violence. Art is also sometimes banned because it’s seen as being dangerous and authorities worry that it may weaken their power or influence.
  • Political and religious organisations are sometimes banned as well, if they’re believed to pose a threat to society or if it’s thought that they’re inciting racial or religious hatred.
  • Things are sometimes banned because officials realise that they’re potentially harmful to people. So smoking was banned in the UK in 2007 in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths caused by tobacco use and to protect people working inside from passive smoking. In the same way, in 1997, the United Nations banned the production and use of chemical weapons.
  • If you’re caught drink-driving or if the police catch you driving without insurance or a licence, you might be banned from driving for three months – or longer! When a footballer gets a red card and is sent off, they usually get banned for the next three matches, but sometimes the ban can be much longer. For instance, in 1995, when he played at Manchester United, Frenchman Eric Cantona was banned for eight months for kicking a member of the crowd! Athletes who fail drug tests will often be banned as well – sometimes for life!
  • Other things that officials sometimes try to ban include online gambling, cigarette and fast-food advertising, fox hunting, trade union membership, going on strike, and parking in certain areas.

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Ban can also be a noun, so when two countries are having a trade war or a diplomatic argument, one might impose a ban on goods from the other. If relations between the two countries improve, they may then lift the ban. In London, some local councils have imposed a ban on drinking alcohol in certain areas and sometimes when we have really hot, dry summers, we’re not allowed to water our gardens because they impose a hosepipe ban!

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Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Why might films or books get banned?
  • For what other reasons might art sometimes be banned?
  • When was smoking banned in the UK? Why?
  • Say three things people can be banned from – and explain why.
  • Say five other things that might sometimes get banned.
  • What’s the opposite of lifting a ban?

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Read about bans in the news

It seems that hardly a week goes by without news of some awful shooting somewhere or other in the United States, but this week’s atrocity in Las Vegas was particularly shocking. So far, 59 people have been officially confirmed dead, but that number is expected to rise. As always happens after these kinds of events, there have been fresh calls for a ban on the kind of automatic weapons that the killer used. Sadly, the NRA – the National Rifle Association – continues to resist any attempt to ban firearms, claiming that it’s not guns that kill – it’s people. We have people here too, believe it or not, but we’ve not yet had one of them shoot randomly into huge crowds at a concert!

In other news, England and Everton footballer Wayne Rooney was banned from driving for two years after he was caught drink-driving at 2am on the 1st of September. I suspect he can still afford to pay for someone to drive him around, though, so don’t feel too sad for him! Oh, and Uber have been banned from operating in London, after they failed to stick to the rules that taxi companies in the capital must follow.

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Discuss.

  • Can you think of anything that’s been banned recently where you live? Do you support the ban? Why? / Why not?
  • Can you think of anyone who’s been banned from driving, banned from playing / competing or banned from entering – or leaving – the country? Why?
  • Do you know any books, films or works of art that have been banned? Why were they banned?
  • Why do you think the USA is so unwilling to ban guns? How do you feel about this?

 Want to study English with Lexical Lab? Take our ENGLISH BOOST course next summer.

Word of the day: hangover

Now I know what you’re probably thinking: this is bound to be a post about the kind of hangover you wake up with the morning after the night before; what you get if you had a bit too much to drink the previous night and you crawl out of bed late for work with your mouth dry and your head feeling like it’s going to explode. You look like death warmed up, and you promise yourself that you’re never going to drink again. That kind, right? Well, you’d be wrong, though the hangover we’re discussing today can nevertheless be just as difficult to deal with on occasion!

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The first time I really thought about this kind of hangover was on one of my early trips to Russia. We’d had a lovely meal somewhere or other – Russian cuisine is, by the way, very underrated, and if you ever get the chance to try it, you should – and wanted to get the bill. I then sat and watched a very elaborate procedure that involved handing over business cards,  printing out a very lengthy statement and much other faff that seemed to take forever. When I asked my Russia host what was going on, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said It’s just a hangover from the old days that we haven’t quite recovered from yet. In this context, he meant that during the Soviet era, before the collapse of the USSR,  the country had been incredibly bureaucratic, with everything needing to be signed in triplicate, and that this had cast a long shadow. Old habits die hard and it would clearly be some time before Russia would adopt a quicker, more customer-friendly way of producing receipts that companies could use.

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Of course, hangovers from the old days are certainly not unique to Russia. The UK has been suffering from a terrible post-Brexit hangover for over a year now, and many people argue that the nationalistic belief that Britain can somehow break free and rule the waves again on her own is itself a hangover from the days of Empire; an outdated belief in the country’s uniqueness and right to global power that hasn’t yet realised that things have moved on!

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I spent two weeks in Indonesia in August, visiting my in-laws, and even though the country has been quietly getting on with life as a new democracy for most of the last two decades now, corruption is still rife - a problem that most see as a hangover from the Suharto era (the former dictator President Suharto was forced from office in May 1998). Each and every country has its own cross to bear in this respect.

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Terrible, isn’t it, really? Almost enough to drive you to drink!

Want to study in London with Lexical Lab? Click here.

  • What habits / beliefs / problems / attitudes in your country do you think are a hangover from the old days? Why?
  • Can you think of any films, cuisines, bands, actors, etc. that you think are very underrated?
  • How bureaucratic is your country? Give examples.
  • Is it true that old habits die hard? Can you give any personal examples?
  • Have you ever experienced problems with corruption? When? What happened?
  • Can you think of any other dictators who have been forced from power by their own people?

Intermediate word of the day: protest

When you protest against something or you protest in support of something, you do something to show that you are upset about an issue and want a change. Here are things people do to protest:

  • They hold a demonstration and march through the city centre. They might then finish in a city square or park, where they have a rally during which people give speeches to demand change or to condemn the actions of the government (= to say they are bad and wrong).
  • People refuse to do something. For example, they might refuse to obey orders or obey a law they disagree with or they might refuse to pay a tax in protest against / at a government policy or decision.
  • Workers go on strike (= refuse to work) to protest against working conditions or low pay. Prisoners and other people sometimes go on hunger strike (= refuse to eat) as a protest against poor conditions or to draw attention to their political ideas.
  • People sign a petition against a proposal – so protesters (or campaigners) might collect a million signatures to force an organisation to change its plans or policies.
  • People can also boycott a company or country by refusing to buy their products.

The way organisations respond to the protests can obviously vary. On some occasions, they quickly give in to the protests and do what the protesters want. That may mean that they drop their plans or reverse their decision (= stop their plan) or they might agree to make changes or agree to their demands. On the other hand, they might try to crush protests – police arrest people and use excessive force to break up demonstrations. People are injured or killed. Sometimes the violence can get worse and there are riots.

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 Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Who might protest and against who?
  • Say two things that often happen on a demonstration.
  • Say three things people refuse to do in protest.
  • Why might people go on strike? What other strike was mentioned?
  • What might be the opposite of giving in to demands?
  • What do protesters do when they give speeches?

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Read about protests in the news

There are always reasons to protest, but it seems that there is a lot going on at the moment. Just this weekend there was a demonstration in our local area. People marched to protest outside the local council offices to persuade them to drop their plans for housing in the area. The council wants to build new homes, but in order to do so it is working with a private developer that’s likely to make a large profit from the project and most of the homes will be too expensive for many local people.

Elsewhere in London there was an American football game as part of the NFL season, where many of the players refused to stand when the national anthem was played. This was a protest in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, which protests against black people being wrongly shot and killed by police. The protest was also in response to President Trump saying that players had no right to protest, were disrespecting the American flag and should be sacked.

Then outside the Labour Party conference there was a protest against the party’s policy on Brexit. There was a small rally where speakers demanded that the party agrees to stay in the single market.

At least all these protests were peaceful, although so far they haven’t been that successful.

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Discuss.

  • What protests have you heard about recently?
  • What were they about?
  • Were they peaceful? If not, why not? What happened?
  • Were they successful or do you think they will be? Why why not?

Phrase of the day: either or

As many of you will know, prepositional use in English is a particularly problematic area for learners. Imagine your frustration if you learn the supposedly ‘basic’ meaning of in via a picture that shows, say, a large block dot inside a cube of some kind, but then when you say I’m in the bus, you’re corrected and told it should be I’m ON the bus – despite the fact you’re very clearly not sitting on top of the roof! Time and time again, students are forced to recognise that many of the ways we use prepositions in English are extremely idiomatic and have little to do with ‘basic’ definitions. This also means coming to accept that prepositional phrases can only really be acquired one at a time and that there’s no really fast way of getting to grips with these words.

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On the intensive two-week ENGLISH BOOST we ran in July, one student asked me if they should say the first day in the July summer school or the first day on it. Over the years, I’ve been asked countless questions like this about preposition usage: is it depressed about the news or depressed by it? Do you get angry with someone? Or angry at them? Should I be amazed at how expensive London is or amazed by it? In these cases, my answer is always the same: either or!

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In this context, either or basically means that both options are fine. There’s no real difference between them and you can choose whichever one you personally prefer. It’s a phrase often used to respond to choices you have no strong feelings about, so, for instance, your partner might ask you if you fancy Italian tonight or Chinese. If you’re not bothered either way and really don’t mind, you can just grunt either or – and leave it to them to make the final decision. If you tell a teacher your name is Tatiana, but then they hear you called Tanya by your friends in class, they might then ask which one you would rather they called you, to which you can reply “Either or. It’s totally up to you.

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Of course, learning this phrase won’t help you deal with those pesky prepositions, but it may help you worry slightly less about situations where two options are both OK!

To learn more about our summer school, click here.

  • How do you try and learn prepositions? What’s your approach?
  • When was the last time someone offered you a choice and both options were fine with you?
  • What other areas of English do you find particularly problematic? Why?
  • Do people call you different things in different situations? Give examples.
  • Do you like making the final decision about what to do or do you prefer to leave it up to other people? Why?

Intermediate word of the day: negotiations

Negotiations happen when different people or organisations both want one thing to happen – they want to form a government, start a business, end a war together, and so on – but they also have different needs or aims that the other side in the negotiation do not want – to put up taxes, to be the main boss, to have some power or protection, etc. In the negotiations, you sit and talk together and try to agree on how to get what you both want. Hopefully, the negotiations go well (or smoothly) and you reach an agreement quickly and all sides are happy. More often, though, negotiations are hard-going, they’re tough. They take a long time. At some point, one side may accuse the other of not being prepared to be flexible or being unrealistic in their demands. At this point, they will often walk out of the talks – or walk away from the negotiating table – and the negotiations break down. After this, it’s possible that another person or organisation – a mediator – might be asked to talk to each side and persuade them to come back to the negotiating table and restart negotiations. For negotiations to then be successful, both sides will have to compromise, there has to be some give and take: you give the other side what they want (we also say you make concessions), and in return you get something that want from them.

Having said that, in some negotiations, one side is obviously stronger, and they can force the other side to make more concessions so the final agreement benefits them more. In this situation, we sometimes that they drive a hard bargain.

Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say as many reasons as you can where there are negotiations.
  • What adjectives can describe negotiations?
  • Say three ways you can complete this phrase – The negotiations are going
  • Why else might people walk out of a meeting or might negotiations break down?
  • What needs to happen for negotiations to work?

 

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Read about one negotiation in the news
Obviously, the biggest negotiations in the UK news at the moment are the Brexit negotiations. According to the UK government, the negotiations are going quite well, although they think the EU could be more flexible. However, the EU seems to think negotiations are going rather slowly, because the UK is being unrealistic, Basically, the government doesn’t want to pay any money and wants a free trade deal like it has already as part of the EU. It seems to me that the EU is in a stronger position and can drive a hard bargain. Before the recent election, the government said it would walk out of negotiations rather than make big concessions “No deal is better than a bad deal” is what the Conservative Party said, but most people think that would be a disaster.

Discuss

  • What do you think? Who is stronger in the EU negotiations? What will happen?
  • Have you heard of any other negotiations recently? What for? What happened / is happening?

Phrase of the day: one for the road

As you may have noticed from our last post, we ran our first-ever Lexical Lab summer school in London this summer. As well as designing, running and teaching on the courses, we also put together a full social and cultural programme for everyone. Most afternoons, we took students to less-visited corners of London that we figured they’d never otherwise get to see. We also tried to give our students some deeper sense of the social, cultural, historical and political background to the city they were staying in – and it seems to have been one of the things that they really apreciated, judging from the glowing feedback we received.

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On top of all that, we also organised a few evening outings – to the theatre, to our favourite Turkish restaurant and, of course, to the pub. As we kept on telling our students, the pub is where much of our socialising goes on; it’s where we go to relax and shoot the breeze; and it’s where a lot of team building, group bonding and just general getting-to-know-you happens.

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There’s a whole book to be written about pub etiquette (don’t sit down at a table before you’ve ordered a drink; don’t expect anyone to come and serve you at your table; pay after each round of drinks you order, and so on!) and another to be written about useful language (I’ll get this one, What’re you having? Whose round is it? etc.). However, one phrase that always seemed to come up was one for the road.

It’d be getting late; a fair few students would already have left and gone home and we’d be wondering if maybe it was time to call it a night and head home ourselves. We’d drain what was left of our pints, place the empty glasses on the table and make vague comments about how we probably ought to get going. It’s at this exact moment that someone usually optimistically asks “Anyone fancy one last one for the road?” and a final round is purchased, thus delaying the dreaded moment of departure a little while longer.

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One for the road means one last alcoholic drink before leaving, and it was fun to learn how other languages express this idea. For instance, our Ukrainian students told us they’d say One for the horse back home, while the Spanish are possibly more honest than the Englsh – or else just drink more – as they say ‘Does anyone fancy the penultimate? (= the one before the final one!).

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In fact, my dad used to do something similar when drinking with his friends as he’d offer one for the road and then one for the cats’ eyes. Cats’ eyes are the objects in the middle of the road that reflect a car’s headlights and help you see when you’re driving at night. I’d long beleieved this expression was unique to my father, but later heard in a song by the wonderful Ronnie Lane, so maybe it was a generational thing! This was, lest we forget, the  1970s – the golden age of drink driving, when deaths on the road peaked around Christmas!

I’m proud to have kept the phrase, but lost the habit!

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  • Is there an expression like One for the road in your language? Do you ever use it?
  • Is drink driving much of a problem in your country? Have habits changed?
  • Do you still say anything your parents used to say? What? Why?
  • Have you been on any group bonding / team building sessions? What were they like? What did they involve?