“Cut out all these exclamation points.  An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

What do you think about exclamation marks, those little ! points we use instead of full stops when we want to add emphasis in our writing?

Do you use them in your own writing? How often are they used in your first language?  Do you agree with Fitzgerald?  Let me know in the comments below.

Feelings and Emotions – Advanced

Last year, I showed you a table of some basic feelings and emotions in English. Today, I have a new chart to help explore your feelings even further. It should help to develop your vocabulary, particularly as the diagram helps to grade the emotions.   Those towards the centre of the wheel are more intense, whereas those at the outside are more everyday.

As with the first table, the wheel is easy to learn because you can see each emotion and its opposite.

The Plutchik wheel is a result of psychotherapist Robert Plutchik’s research on emotions. He identified the 8 main emotions on the wheel – Joy, Trust, Anticipation, Surprise, and on the negative side, Disgust, Sadness, Fear, and Anger.

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Five False Friends

When you try to learn a new language, you quickly find ‘false friends’.

False friends are words which sound similar in both languages, but have completely different meanings. This can cause confusion, or can even make you laugh.

Everyone has stories of the mistakes they have made with false friends – it’s just a part of learning a new language.  To try to help, I’ve chosen 5 false friends which my German students find difficult.

eventual / eventuell

The English adverb eventually means that something will definitely happen, but after some time.   If I say that ‘I’ll send a card eventually’, it is certain to happen but you should not expect it to happen immediately.

On the other hand,  eventuell means maybe, perhaps or possibly.   There is no guarantee that something will happen.  As I’m sure you can see,  the eventual/eventuell false friend is important when you are making plans and commitments!


sensible / sensibel

In both German and English, sensible and sensibel are adjectives which can be used to describe people.

In English, sensible means responsible, wise or practical. For example, the sensible thing to do the night before an exam is to go to bed early.   Children also wear sensible shoes to school, which are strong, black, and flat.

On the other hand, the German sensibel can be translated as sensitive in English. To be sensitive is to feel emotions strongly. If a person is sensitive they may be easily upset.   The sensible/sensible false friend pairing is therefore important when you are describing people.


brave / brav

To be brave is to be courageous (mutig) and not easily frightened. Brav is more everyday, and means good or well behaved.  Again, this is an important distinction to make when you are describing or praising people.


 marmalade / Marmelade  & lemonade / Limonade

In both the English and German speaking worlds, we have marmalade and lemonade but however they refer to different things. In both cases, the English word describes something more specific.

If you order marmalade for breakfast in English, you’ll get an orange fruit preserve. We only make marmalade from citrus fruits, and it is usually made with oranges.   In German, there is only one word for these fruit preserves. Marmelade can be strawberry, raspberry, cherry, apricot or any other flavour.  If you want one of these other flavours for your toast in English, you need to ask for jam.

Likewise, German Limonade can often refer to different flavours of fizzy juice.   In English, lemonade is only used for a drink flavoured with lemon.


backen / bake

The English verb to bake means to cook something in an oven, usually without oil.   We bake cakes, biscuits, and lasagne, among other things. The verb backen in German can refer to the process of breading and frying something.  This false friend tripped me up a couple of times after I moved to Vienna! It’s best to double check whether you’re ordering the healthy or unhealthy option.


Bonus: fun / funny

Although not really a false friend, the distinction between fun and funny  is something which a lot of my students struggle with. Fun and funny are both adjectives, but there are important differences.

If something is fun, it is enjoyable. It makes you happy. Playing football in the garden with friends is fun.

However, if something is funny, it makes you laugh.   A joke is funny.   You make a funny face when you stick your tongue out. Funny can also mean the same as the German komisch.   It doesn’t have to be positive.  Something which smells bad or unusual, for example, can have a funny smell.


Understanding false friends is one of the tricky things about learning a new language, but I hope that this short list has made you feel a little more comfortable.  If you’d like to share one of your false friend stories, please leave me a comment below.

Remember, if you’re looking for lessons to improve your general English, I work as a private tutor in Vienna. Whether you’d like to practice your reading, writing, conversation or all three, I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time


Mairi : )



image:   Scott Robinson at

Friday Idioms – The Weather

This happens to me every year – the end of February has come too quickly!

As regular readers will know, all through 2015, I will be dedicating the last Friday of the month to the funniest, most descriptive, and sometimes downright oddest English idioms. I won’t try to tell you where they came from, but I will explain them, show you how to use them, and give you some other fixed expressions to use in your spoken and written English.

I hope that you’ve all had the chance to use the Love Idioms we looked at in January. This month, the subject is the weather.

If you live, work or study with people from the UK, you’ll know how much we love to talk (or rather complain) about the weather. You might already have heard some of the idioms we have for heavy rain: It’s raining cats and dogs, it’s great weather for ducks, the heavens have opened, and I’ve been drowned standing are all good descriptions of summer weather in the UK.

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Writing your English CV

I’ve written a lot of job application forms since I arrived in Austria.   In fact, rewriting my CV was one of the first things I did when everything was unpacked.

Your CV is the account of your education and work experience which you submit when applying for a job.  It stands for curriculum vitae, which is the standard term in British English. You may also have heard of a resume, which is the American term.

Normally, your CV will form half of your job application. The other half is a covering letter, where you write at more about why you are qualified for the job.

As I was writing my CV for Austria, I noticed that there were a lot of differences to the way I had written it for the UK. The changes I had to make to my CV inspired this post.

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“A synonym is what you use when you can’t spell the other one.”

– Baltasar Gracian


Synonyms are different words which have a similar meaning.

Think of rich and wealthy, lucky and fortunate, true and correct.  But what about saying miserable when you have second doubts about spelling melancholy, or false when duplicitous seems a stretch too far?  I’ve certainly done this in exams before!

Learning synonyms is a great way to improve your vocabulary, but it’s not just the spelling which can cause a problem.  Subtle differences in meaning or collocations can sometimes trip students up.

Does anyone have a story about synonyms in language learning?  More to the point, does anyone have a good tip for remembering how to spell synonym?  Let me know in the comments below.

Writing Emails

Recently, I wrote about the correct way to structure a formal letter in English. This is a really important skill to have when looking for a job or working in a company. However in 2015,  you are much more likely to write an email.

When I worked as a hotel receptionist, I would send dozens of emails every day. Even today it’s one of the main ways I communicate with my colleagues, friends and family.

Unfortunately, writing an email can be a challenge. The tone and etiquette are a minefield even for native English speakers. Fortunately, I’m here to help. I have some advice about each part of the email, and have included sample formal and informal emails at the end of the post.

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English Idioms

Hello everybody!

January is almost over! This month has been unseasonably warm in Vienna, but the clouds, the lack of Christmas markets, and a healthy dose of culture shock after the holidays means that I am glad that it’s almost over.

On in 2015, the end of the month means one thing. No, it’s not that I’m another few weeks closer to being able to take a holiday. The last Friday of each month is English Idioms Day.

I really like learning idioms in German, and I love to hear my students using them too. What is an idiom? It’s a fixed expression – a short phrase always using the same words.   This sounds easy enough, but with idioms the phrase means something different to what the words suggest. Idioms are always descriptive, often humorous, and should not be taken literally.

Each month I’ll present a set of idioms about a theme. The weather, cats, food, business, school – if you can think of it, there will be an English figure of speech to explore!  I’ll be explaining their meaning of each idiom, showing you how to use them in context, and giving lots of examples of other fixed expressions which are related to the same topic.

Without further ado, let’s look at our first set!

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Happy Burns Night

It’s Burns Night!

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Burns Night?

Back in November I wrote about St Andrew’s Day – Scotland’s national holiday. I talked about our traditions and shared some of my favourite Scottish words. However, winter in Scotland is long and dark, and we have an important celebration in January as well.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national poet. He is to Scotland what Shakespeare is to England. Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, a small town in the south west of Scotland.   He was only 37 when he died, but he had written over 550 poems. January 25th is his birthday, and each year we celebrate with a special Burns Supper

A Burns Supper consists of a traditional meal, poetry, toasts and entertainment.   We traditionally eat haggis, neeps and tatties, the most famous Scottish dish. At the beginning of the meal, the haggis is carried into the room, often behind someone playing the bagpipes. Burns’ poem To a Haggis is read, and at the climax of the poem, the haggis is cut open before the meal begins. A traditional Scottish dessert is Cranachan, which is made with whipped cream, raspberries, toasted oats, honey and whisky.

There are also traditional toasts during a burns supper. Most commonly, one of the gentlemen at the table gives a toast to the lassies (women) and one of the ladies answers with a toast to the laddies (men). These toasts are funny, often rude, but also warm hearted. Naturally, we toast with plenty of good Scottish whisky.

If you still have energy after all the food, toasts and whisky, many Burns suppers today end with a traditional ceilidh dance.

Burns’ most famous poem is undoubtedly Auld Lang Syne. It is still sung around the world on New Year’s Eve. You might also have heard of Tam o’ Shanter , a long poem about a drunken man escaping from witches. There’s also To A Mouse, where the poet feels empathy for a fieldmouse he upsets while he is harvesting.   My personal favourite is the love poem A Red Red Rose.

If you’re interested in hearing some of Burns’ poems read aloud, I recommend this section of the BBC website.   Here you can read the full text for all of Burns’ most famous poems and listen to recordings by some of Scotland’s most famous actors, artists and politicians.

In celebration of St Andrews Day, I shared some of my most favourite Scottish words. In the same tradition, you can find 10 more below! They might even help you to understand the poems you hear at your first Burns’ supper.

Haggis, neeps and tatties (n.)

Haggis, neeps and tatties is out national dish. Neeps are turnips. Tatties are potatoes. Haggis is delicious. Incidentally, Tattiebogler, is the Scottish word for a scarecrow.

Mince (adj.)

Of course, mince in Scotland is ground beef or lamb just as in the rest of the UK. However, the Scots also use it as an adjective. If something is mince it’s rubbish or disappointing.

Example: The weather’s a bit mince today.

Foosty (adj.)

Something foosty is stale, perhaps mouldy. Foosty air is not fresh.

Example: While we were away the fruit all went foosty.

Braw (adj.)

In contrast to the words above, if something is braw, it’s excellent! Applies especially to food and the weather.

Example: That soup was right braw.

Clarted (adj.)

Clartet means dirty or covered in mud (clart (n.)).   This happened to me a lot as a child.

Example: The kids were playing in the puddles and they’ve come back absolutely clarted.

Gubbed: (adj.) (Gubbing (n.), Gub (vb.)

To lose or be beaten, especially at Sport.

Example:   5:1? My team got fair gubbed on Saturday.

Schoogle (vb.) Schoogly (adj.)

Wobbly or unstable. The Glasgow Subway train (the oldest in the UK!) is so wobbly that riding it is known as going for a schoogle

Example: Don’t lean to hard on the schoogly table.

Sleekit (adj.)

You might recognise sleek in this word – an English adjective for quiet, smooth or elegant – sleek as a fox is a common simile.   Sleekit in Scots carries much the same meaning.

Example: ‘Wee sleekit, cowrin’ tim’rous beastie’ is the first line of Burn’s poem To a Mouse.  He is using the word to describe the frightened fieldmouse he has uncovered.

Shoofty (n.)

A shoofty is a quick, and often surreptitious glance at something

Example: Take a quick shoofty through the curtains and you’ll see their new car.

GordonDour (adj.)

BosieA word to describe some Scotsmen – severe, stern, serious or gloomy.

Example: See Gordon Brown, right.

 Bosie (n.)

Bosie is a great Scottish word for a great big hug!

Example: I haven’t seen you in months! Come here and give us a bosie.


I hope you’ll get the chance to celebrate Burns night in some way. Remember that as well knowing Scots, I am a native English speaker and experienced language teacher working in Vienna. If you’re interested in private tutoring to improve your standard English, I’d love to hear from you.

Lang may yer lum reek!



Mairi : )

My CELTA Experience

I’m doing something a little different today and looking back at my teacher training.  

As a lot of you already know, I took a Cambridge English CELTA course in preparation for moving to Vienna last year. CELTA stands for Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults.  The qualification is available for beginner and professional teachers at different institutions around the world, but my particular CELTA course was run through British Study Centres in Oxford.

My CELTA was a four week intensive course, but a part time option is also available.  During the course I taught students at 2 different levels for a total of 6 hours. The lessons were observed and graded by our course tutors.  There were also compulsory observations of experienced teachers and 4 written assignments about teaching theory, learner assessment, and our reflection on the course experience.   All of this took up only half of the course time.  Each morning we took part in seminar style teaching workshops Continue reading