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Pilgrims 2005 Teacher Training Courses - Read More
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

British Life Language and Culture

Marijana Budec Stanicic, Slovenia

Marijana Budec Stanicic is a teacher at a primary school in Slovenia. She is interested in literature, creative methodology and raising cultural awareness. E-mail:


Community College Whitstable
Political correctness
>>A black person<<
Youth culture
Beer festival


I was one of the lucky teachers to be granted the COMENIUS funding in 2006 for attending the Pilgrim's course in Canterbury titled >>British Life Language and Culture<<. As I later proved to be correct, the course offered a great opportunity of updating on changes in English language, social life, youth culture, education and many other aspects of British life, language and culture. I think that it is of vital importance for us, teachers of English to be able to spontaneously at unpredicted and unplanned moments give our students some first hand experience and knowledge on Britain today. It not only enriches us but even makes us better and much more convincing teachers.

The course, ran by an excellent and resourceful teacher Paul Davis, consisted of visits to local institutions, authentic lectures on a variety of topics from visiting native speakers, analysis of varieties of spoken English and many other activities dealing with lexis, culture, registers, Englishness, understatements, hedging and so on.

A wonderful view of the Canterbury Cathedral (a UNESCO world heritage site) afforded from the hill on which the University of Kent is situated and the numerous rabbits jumping out from the bushes and running around the University lawns made the whole stay at Pilgrims absolutely charming and fairly like.

This article is giving a short insight into several aspects of British life, language and culture that were introduced during the course.


On the first morning of our course, we did not go to attend a service in a church; however we visited a Roman Catholic Church at the University of Kent. There, we were warmly welcomed by a friendly Chaplain. Tea, coffee and biscuits were already waiting for us. The Chaplain converted his house into a cosy place thus avoiding strict >>high table<< atmosphere.

Rather unusually, the priest happens to be a married Catholic priest due to formerly being devoted to the Anglican Church of England. (In 1553, during the reign of Henry VIII England broke from Roman Catholic Church to form Anglican Church. Since then The Head of The State has been The Head of the Church too.)

Each university year a great catchmen of young people (about 15.000) not only from EU countries but also from Africa, Asia and South America come >>bright eyed and bushy tailed<< to the University of Kent to study. Some of them >>slip through the net<<, though. Binge drinking is one of the >>temptations<< young people throughout England have been exposed to. The term >>binge drinking<< relates to the entertainment of which the only purpose is to get drunk. Should such problems occur, the Chaplain and the whole support structure of the University act.

Very straightforwardly, the Chaplain told us how lots of students, mostly atheists become baptized Catholics. At occasions as Christmas, homesickness and longing for warm atmosphere prevail the Campus. Then the Chaplain invites the students to his cosy church which is comfortably furnished with furniture that create the intimacy of a home and can hardly be found on the Campus. There, they prepare Sunday dinners of all nationalities (Japanese, Spanish, Italian etc), discuss various topics, play music and eventually find their comfort. Having spent such a good time, the students usually keep coming back to the church and some of them become baptized Catholics too.

The main religion in England is Christianity as practised by the Church of England. 72% of population are registered as Anglicans, but namely only 50% believe in God. According to the information we got during our course, England seems to be rather an irreligious country in spite of the fact that 20' of religion at schools is a legal request.

Community College Whitstable

Whitstable is a village just 15' drive from the University of Kent. It is a historic harbour and a tourist resort famous for its beaches and oysters (Oyster Festival takes place in July every year).I adore sea food therefore was happy to enjoy fresh sea food too.

"Strive for excellence" is the motto of this Community College. It is a non-selective state community school for girls and boys from 11-18. The interesting fact about the school is that the children are, according to their learning abilities being streamed into either vocational education or education that prepares them for academic education. Covering both types of education, the possible embarrassment of less successful pupils is avoided.

We attended a 60' lesson of English. It was revision of the parts of speech (noun, adjectives, adverbs etc). In his teaching process, the teacher employed the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic approach. At the end of the lesson, the pupils evaluated themselves by marking their knowledge of the parts of speech from 1 to 10. It was by all means an interesting and useful lesson.

This school caters for both sexes. However there are many grammar and secondary schools in England that are single sexed.

Political correctness

The issue of avoiding >>she/he<< and >>his/her<< in generalizations and how to become a non-sexist writer can be solved by using plurals wherever possible like in the following examples:

  1. Someone's left their umbrella behind.
  2. Any student wanting to see their tutor before the beginning of term should leave a note with the secretary.
  3. Lay the injured person on their back and blow air into their mouth.
  4. If a person has stopped breathing, you must try to start breathing within three minutes, otherwise they will die.
  5. It's enough to drive anyone out of their senses.
  6. Any attempts to list qualities of good managers demonstrates why they cannot exist: far too many of the qualities are mutually exclusive. They must be highly intelligent and they must not be too clever. They must be highly forceful and they must be sensitive to people's feelings.

The following phrases have been successfully changed therefore not excluding women:

  1. chairman - chair
  2. spokesman - spokesperson
  3. businessman - businessperson
  4. firefighter - fire fighter
  5. the average man - an average person
  6. man - human being, a person
  7. mankind - humans
  8. manpower - human resources, work force, the stuff
  9. cameraman - camera operator
  10. man made fibres - artificial fibres

It is also non - PC to call ethnic groups names they have not chosen themselves. Therefore words like >>chink<< or >>nigger<< are completely out of question. If you tell somebody that >>the grocery store down the street was robbed by a black person<<, you've already made the skin of the robber relevant. Many people claim that all words containing the word black having negative connotations should be removed. Such words are >>black humour<<, >>black mark<< or >>blackmail<<.

>>A black person<<

A wonderful lady of Jamaican and Irish origin visited our group too. Being a teacher she told us something about private schools in England. And being a >>black<< person, she told us her personal experience and her account on the present situation in England. It was a very moving speech leaving nobody indifferent. Moreover, finding out that one can still hear >>Monkey! Go home! <<, that schools rarely employ >>dusky<< people is discouraging enough. If it weren't for the racism, she says, there wouldn't be so many >>associations<<, like Black Lawyer's Association, Black Policemen's Association etc.

As a mother of a >>black boy<<, she observes how hard it is especially for boys to make their way through life. She says, >>I teach him to smile with his teeth. Not with his heart.<< Curio

usly, especially in a hip hop culture, there are young >>white<< people who dress trousers without belts, caps and shirts in slangs and fashions stereotypically associated with Urban African Americans. The popular expression referring to such persons is WIGGER. It combines two words white and nigger.

Youth culture

We might very well feel embarrassed when hearing or reading English we almost do not understand a word of it!

Try how well your students can understand the following text. First dictate the text without stressing any punctuation and without intonation. If it seems too difficult for your students, you may tell them that in the text, a girl is telling her girlfriend what had happened between her boyfriend and her.


he is like you coming i am like no way dad is here he is like so i am like hello this is so not happening he will lose it he is like whatever chill i will split i was well gutted

After the students have inserted punctuation and capital letters, the text should look like this:

He is like, >>You coming? <<
I am like, >>No way. Dad is here.<<
He is like, >>So!?<<
I am like, >>Hello! This is so not happening. He will lose it.<<
He is like, >>Whatever, chill, I will split.<<
I was well gutted.


like - very commonly used as a marker of reported speech
He will lose it. - He will go mad.
I will split. - I will go away.
I was well gutted. - I was extremely disappointed and unhappy.)


Give your students the following vocabulary that is widely used among young population. First, let them try to guess the meaning of the words and then give them the translation.

Things you wear
Shades: Sunglasses
Bling: Jewellery
Keks: Underpants
Hoodie: Hooded top

Ways of losing control
To go ape (shit): to go crazy
To trash something: to destroy something
To get wasted: to get drunk/stoned

Positive adjectives
Wicked: Fantastic
Funky: Describes objects
Phat: Pretty hot and tempting

Negative adjectives
Dodgy: Suspicious, untrustworthy
Lame: Pathetic
Sad: Pathetic
Pants: Bad
Tacky: Bad taste

People (positive connotation)
A dish: good-looking
A hunk: good-looking big man
A babe: beautiful girl
A chick: girl
A mate: friend

People (negative connotation)
A nerd: person obsessed with computers
A weirdo: strange person
A minger: an ugly person

To smog: to kiss passionately
To fancy: to be attracted to
A crush: an infatuation
To dump someone: to break off a relationship

Dosh: Money
Skint: Broke

Bodily functions
To puke: to vomit
To gob: to spit

To rate something/someone: to admire
To be gutted: to be devastated
To have the crack: to enjoy

One of the words that also appears on the Slanguage list is >>hoodie<<. The word >>hoodie<< can be often seen in the newspaper headlines or on the notices outside the pubs and shopping centres. The word is associated with shoplifters and other outlaws wearing hoodies with caps underneath them so to hide their identities from CCTV cameras. Therefore, people wearing hoodies and baseball caps are not allowed to enter some pubs and shops in England.


One of our favourite topics during the course was >>pubs<<. We have learnt a lot of things about the history of pubs as well as about the culture of the pubs. We were very diligent students and put our knowledge into practise almost every evening.

The word >>pub<< is short of >>public house<<. Another common name for a pub is also >>local<<. During the Middle Ages a large number of people were illiterate so Richard III imposed the rule by which all public houses had to put up the signs i.e. pictures outside their premises. The names of the pubs are sometimes related to heraldry (coat of arms), sports, animals, royalty etc. (>>The King's Head<<; >>The Rose and Crown<<; >>The Bishop's Finger<<;<>Goat and Compasses<< formerly >>God encompasseth us<<.

Children, at the age of 10 are allowed into the pub but not to stand in the bar area.

Some useful tips:

  • If you want to order a drink: do not wave your hands, do not call the bartender. Go to the bar and establish an eye contact with a bartender. They know whose turn it is.
  • Do not put the money onto the bar. Put it into the bartender's palm.
  • You never tip the bartender. Anyway, if you would like to tip them, you should say >>And one for yourself.<< Then, they might answer, >>Thank you. I'll have it later.<<
  • You should never keep sitting over an empty glass. It is considered impolite. In case you do not want another drink, you should >>nurse a drink<< i.e. leave something at the bottom of the glass.

Some useful vocabulary:

PUB GRUB - food (ex. They've got really good pub grub in the pub near the bridge.)
GRUB'S UP - the food is ready
KITTY - money given by each person you're in company with, used for buying drinks. (ex Shall we put the money into the kitty?)
PUB CRAWL - participants >>crawl<< from pub to pub after getting drunk at the first few pubs.
BITTER - most popular British beer. It's dark and served at room temperature.
BOOZE CRUISE - As drinks are cheaper in France some people go by ferry to France to buy drinks. They usually drink it already on a ferry which is then called >>booze cruise<<.

Beer festival

The last visit to an institution was a visit to a beer festival. Casks of ale from many different brewers were placed on stillages behind the rows of trestle tables. The staff served beer directly from the casks and took payment via token system. A beer list was also available. At certain hours one could enjoy music of different kinds.

If you would like to get more information on beer, pubs, beer festivals you should visit CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) website:


There were also many other things discussed, presented as well as experienced during the course like: understatements and hedging, the nature of Englishness, books and bookstores, newspapers, police, art and music, cultural awareness and the lucid. It is not possible to put in an article the complete content of the two weeks course. Nevertheless, the aim of the article is to open the door to further research and study of England, English and Englishness.


Please check the British Life, Language and Culture course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the English for Teachers course at Pilgrims website.

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