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Expressions in English: Part 2

Last week, we looked at 10 French words and expressions that are used in English. Read part 1 here and scroll down for part 2. excusez-moi ‘Excusez-moi!’ he gasped, looking annoyed. Excusez-moi means ‘excuse me’. faux pas He had no idea he was making a faux pas by putting his elbows on the table. A faux pas is the embarrassing mistake of violating unwritten social rules. The phrase translates to ‘false step’. haute couture She only wore haute couture. Haute couture literally means ‘high dressmaking’. The expression describes expensive and exclusive (often custom-fitted) clothing created by leading Parisian fashion houses. j'accuse ‘J’accuse!’ he...

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Expressions in English: Part 1

à la carte As well as a lunchtime offer, the restaurant offered an à la carte menu. The phrase à la carte translates to ‘on the card’. If you order à la carte it means you order individual dishes as separate items from the menu rather than choosing a set meal that has a fixed price. apropos ‘You tell it better,’ he told her apropos of the story about their adventure in Venice. From the French à propos de, this word means ‘regarding’ or ‘concerning.’ au contraire ‘Au contraire,’ he replied when she asked him if he was bored. Au contraire translates to ‘on the contrary’. au naturel She decided to go au naturel and didn’t wear any make up. ...

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Six Tips for Lesson Plan Success with Spellzone

Welcome to a new school year! Here are our top tips on how to use Spellzone for lesson plan success: Set the Spelling Ability Test Even if your students are seasoned Spellzone users and you have their activity and results from previous years, it’s still worth setting the Spelling Ability Test to confirm they are at the level you expect. The site will provide a tailored version of the course for each student depending on their results and the gaps in their knowledge. A baseline spelling score will also help to document the student’s progress and achievements. Find out more about how the test works here. Which course is best for your students? Spellzone is adaptable and...

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Fifteen German Loanwords

What is a loanword? A loanword is the term given to a word which is directly borrowed from another language and used in the recipient language without being translated first. One of the reasons why English is such a difficult language to learn (and why its spellings are so inconsistent!) is because the language is full of loanwords. The term ‘loanword’ itself is a loan translation from the German ‘Lehnwort’. Some loanwords are obvious, such as words used to describe food traditionally from other countries (such as ‘bratwurst’ or ‘hamburger’ or ‘frankfurter’), whereas others were borrowed so long ago that you might be surprised to discover they are loanwords at all (such as: ‘abseil’ or...

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Four Famous People with Dyslexia

This week we’re looking at four famous people with dyslexia who flourished in their respective fields. Leonardo da Vinci Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath, celebrated for his technological skill and creativity. He is also famous for many of his many paintings including Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Although there is no way of truly knowing if Leonardo was dyslexic, many researchers have suggested that he may have been. One indication is his use of mirror writing, which is a skill shared by many left-handed dyslexic people. Furthermore, his spelling was often quite irregular, but his illustrations were extremely precise. Read more here. Steven Spielberg Steven...

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Commonly Confused Words: Capital vs. Capitol

What does each word mean? Among other things the word capital can refer to a city or town that functions as the seat of government and administrative centre of a country or region, one of the types of alphabetic letters, wealth in the form of money or property, or a centre associated with some activity or product. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is capital used in some example sentences: Spain’s capital city is Madrid. Sentences should begin with a capital letter. The return on invested capital was high. New York boasts a reputation for being the fashion capital of the United States of America. Click here to find the Spellzone...

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Commonly Confused Words: Hoard vs. Horde

What does each word mean? A hoard is a secret store of valuables or money. As a verb, the word refers to the act of gathering or saving supplies for future use. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is hoard used in some example sentences: While cleaning out his late mother’s house, he found a hoard of old coins. Some animals hoard food for the winter. Click here to find the Spellzone study lists related to the word hoard. The word horde refers to a large group of moving people like a crowd or a nomadic community. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is horde used in an example sentence: She...

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Five Writing Prompts

A few weeks ago we shared Five Ideas to Keep You Writing Over the Summer Holidays. Writing is an excellent way to practise your spelling, but what do you do when inspiration doesn’t strike? Here are five ideas to help you get those creative juices flowing: Automatic writing A method the writers across the world swear by, this exercise is bound to help you generate ideas. Set your timer for five minutes and start writing – don’t let your pen (or fingers if you’re typing) stop moving until your alarm goes off. Write whatever comes into your head, even if it doesn’t make sense. If you’d prefer, you can change the period of time you’re writing for to ten minutes, twenty minutes, or even...

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Are you from Mars? and Other Idioms About Space

At the end of this month, we will have the closest view of the planet Mars since 2003. When Earth and Mars line up directly with the sun, it is called an opposition and this year this takes place on July 27. From this date until July 30, Mars will appear at its brightest since 2003. The planet will be visible for most of the night, hitting its highest point around midnight. Mars will reach its closest approach to Earth on July 31 and then become fainter by the middle of August. Here are 25 idioms about space: are you from Mars? – a question used to indicate that someone is out of touch with reality/the norm everything under the sun – everything on earth failure to launch – struggling...

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Five Ideas to Keep You Writing Over the Summer Holidays

One of the best ways to improve your spelling is by making writing a part of your daily routine, but while you’re not at school, university, or work, chances are you won’t have as many opportunities to practise. Whether you’re going away for just a few days or you have the whole summer off, here are five ideas to make sure you keep writing: Look out for opportunities to practise in your established routine From texting, to commenting on social media posts, to writing shopping lists, it’s possible that your day is already filled with writing that you don’t even realise you’re doing. Pay attention to these moments and commit to using full words (instead of abbreviations and emojis!)...

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Five Tips for Using Commas

Do you find commas confusing? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Commas have a variety of functions yet many people are uncertain of how to use them. The main purpose of a comma is to clarify meaning by grouping together specific parts of the sentence. Each group within the sentence is separated by a comma which marks a slight break. Let’s look at five instances when you need to use a comma in more detail: Use commas as part of a list When you’re writing a list, the most common way to differentiate between each item by using a comma between them. For example: My favourite foods are jacket potatoes, quiche, spaghetti and fish and chips. Learn more about how to use commas...

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American English vs British English: Six Key Spelling Differences

July 4th marks Independence Day in America. You can read more about why this day is celebrated here. The internet means choosing whether to use American spelling or English spelling no longer just depends on what country you live in. More and more people work with colleagues from all over the world and different institutes, organisations, and publications have different style guides. This means it is likely that you will have to change between American and British spelling every now and then. While there are some one-offs that are best to learn as you go along (read more about these in Unit 36 of Spellzone), here are six general spelling rules to help you learn the key differences between...

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Twenty Idioms for the Start of Summer

Last week marked summer solstice – the longest day of the year. The word 'solstice' has been used in English since the mid-13th century. It comes from the Latin ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘sistere’ meaning ‘stand still’. To celebrate the end of spring and the beginning of summer, here are twenty idioms about the warm weather seasons: a place in the sun – a position of advantage a touch of the sun – slight sunstroke come rain or shine – whatever the weather/situation everything under the sun – everything on earth happy is the bride the sun shines on – old proverb saying that if the sun shines on your wedding day, you will have good luck high season – the most popular time to visit...

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Commonly Confused Words: Father vs. Farther vs. Further

Happy Father’s Day! Make sure you spell ‘father’ correctly on your card this year. What does father mean? Father is the word used to describe a male parent. In Christianity, God is also sometimes referred to as the Father (usually as the first person in the Holy Trinity) and in some churches (particularly within Roman Catholicism), Father is a term of address for priests. As a verb, the word refers to a man creating a child. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is father used in some example sentences: My father’s favourite colour is yellow. The boy didn’t know his father. ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,’ the vicar...

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How to use Idioms to Express Yourself More Interestingly

If you’re one of our regular readers you’ll be familiar with articles about idioms, but every now and then we like to share a recap for our new subscribers. Here are Spellzone we believe that one of the reasons English is such a difficult language to learn is because it’s full of idioms and every few weeks we take a list of popular idioms and translate them for our second-language English speakers. An idiom is an expression which has a figurative meaning rather than a literal one. For example, when someone says ‘needle in a haystack’ they probably aren’t actually talking about a needle and a haystack, but about something that is as difficult to find as a needle in a haystack would be. ...

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Twenty Idioms about Insects

a hive of activity – a place/situation where everyone is busy a flea in (someone’s) ear – an unwelcome idea or answer ants in your pants/antsy – agitated or restless due to nervousness or excitement as busy as a bee – very busy as gaudy as a butterfly – very gaudy as mad as a hornet – very angry as snug as a bug (in a rug) – very comfortable/cosy bee’s knees – an excellent person or thing, of the highest quality birds and the bees – a euphemism for the basic facts about reproduction as told to a child bug-eyed – with bulging eyes dropping like flies – dying or collapsing in large numbers, giving up on or pulling out of an endeavour fly in the ointment – a small...

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Five Tips for Exam Day Success

Whether you’re embarking upon end-of-years exams, A-levels, or university finals, here are five top tips to make sure your exam day goes as smoothly as possible: Prepare everything you need the evening before The evening before your exam, pack your bag for the following day. This will make sure you are less rushed in the morning. Start with everything you will need for the exam itself (or exams if you have more than one). Check whether are any rules about ink colour or writing in pencil. Pack extra pens and pencils, ink, and a sharpener and eraser. Will your exam require you to bring any specialist equipment? For a Maths exam, you may need a compass, protractor, or calculator....

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Commonly Confused Words: By vs. Bye vs. Buy

What does each word mean? By is a preposition that is used to identify who or what performed an action, the means by which something was achieved, the amount or size of a margin, a deadline or the end of a particular time period, the period in which something happens, or the location in relation to what is beside it. As an adverb it means ‘to go past a certain point’. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is by used in some example sentences: The damage was caused by a tornado. The house was cleaned by my brother. He got full marks on his spelling test by practising every day. Coursework must be submitted by the end of the month. Owls hunt...

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Idioms about Royalty for a Royal Wedding

With the birth of Prince Louis last month, and Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle just a few days away, we decided it was the perfect time to look at idioms about royalty. An idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the actual definitions of the words used. With an estimated 25,000 idioms, it’s no wonder English is such a difficult language to learn! Here are the royalty-related idioms we managed to come up with – can you think of any others? a cat may look like a king – someone of low status still has rights a horse, a horse, a kingdom for my horse – a quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard III that is sometimes repeated ironically when...

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Commonly Confused Words: Hair vs. Hare

Last week we looked at the difference between the words ‘heir’ and ‘air’. Here are two very similar words that people also often mix up. What does each word mean? Hairs are thin strands that grow from human and animal skin. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is hair used in some example sentences: Goldilocks is famous for her golden hair. Rapunzel is famous for her extremely long hair. Medusa is famous for having snakes instead of hair. Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word hair. A hare is a fast, long-eared mammal similar to but larger than a rabbit. The word is also used as verb to describe running...

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