27 Aug 2014

Idioms: What do they mean and where do they come from?

So it is no secret that English as a language can be complicated, with all of the different variations not only from country to country but region to region and not to mention the crazy accents and the slang. And then there are these tricky little phrases just to make things slightly more complicated (particularly if English is your second language).

Idioms...every language has them but to language learners they pose quite the obstacle. They are phrases that you just have to learn and memorize - guessing the meaning might lead to some potentially awkward 'lost in translation' situations. So with that in mind, here are some English idioms, their meanings and origins.

    Source: chroniclesofdolliedaydream.blogspot.com

 1: Raining cats and dogs

Meaning: It is no secret that us Brits are slightly obsessed with the weather, so of course we have to include a weather related idiom. "Its raining cats and dogs" means that it is raining particularly heavily.  

Origin: Speculation to the origins of this phrase range from medieval superstition to Norse mythology but another slightly disturbing interpretation is that it is a reference to dead animals being washed through the streets by floods! :o

Source: lifeinthelostworld.com

 2: Mad as a hatter

Meaning: This phrase refers to someone who is completely crazy. "He's a mad as a hatter". A similar expression is 'Mad as a march hare'.

Origin: The hatter here refers to Lewis Carroll's mad hatter character in Alice in Wonderland. However, the origins of this expression lie in the effects of mercury poisoning that 18th and 19th century hat makers suffered from. Mad as a march hare refers to the behaviour of hares during the mating season.

Source: www.politics.ie

  3: In Stitches 

Meaning: If you are 'in stitches' this means that you are laughing so hard, your sides hurt.

Origin: It presumably is a comparison of the pain of laughter to that with a prick of a needle. The first recorded use of the phrase is of course by none other than Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

Source: www.boomsbeat.com


  4: Driving me up the wall

Meaning: This is used when something (or someone) is causing extreme exasperation or annoyance. A similar expression is 'your driving me round the bend'. A phrase many parents have used.

Origins: While its first use is unknown, it refers to someone desperately trying to escape by climbing the walls.

Source: www.i-ras.co.uk

   5: Head in the clouds

Meaning: Used to describe someone who is not realistic, it suggests they are not grounded in reality and prone to flights of fancy. For example, 'He's not right for this job, he has his head in the clouds'.

Origin: It has been used since the 1600's although the origins are rather unclear apart from the obvious image of someone who's a fantasist - having one's head in a cloud is clearly impossible.

More idioms and their origins here

18 Aug 2014

Our top 5 summer destinations

Summer has well and truly flown by, while it is still not over as it is drawing to a close we decided to make a list of some of our favourite destinations where you can best enjoy summer, foreign cultures and of course languages!

Every year we ask ourselves the same questions about where to spend the summer holidays. An economic and accessible destination, that is easy to get around, allowing us to go from the beach to the mountains, and offers activities, good food, friendly people (although not too many tourists), and with a rich history and culture. And what was I saying about languages? They have one of the largest swaying votes when choosing one destination over another.



It is a European country, therefore accessible. Need more persuasion? It is the most populous country in the European Union and its history and culture, both past and present, well deserve a visit.

We recommend a two week stay if you are planning on touring the country, if you are just planning on visiting one city, a week would suffice, unless you are a museum lover...

What not to miss: Berlin-Tempelhof. It is an old airport that has been closed since 2008, although not to the public who now use it as a park and recreational area. It is around 386 hectares, of which 6km is reserved just for cyclists, skaters and other sports. There are large areas for barbecues and family picnics as well as areas for dogs and other pets.

Tempelhof airport field. source:  http://www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/


It is the country of the moment, but with the World cup and Olympics aside, the Brazilian country, in particular Rio de Janeiro appears on all of the lists of cities to visit in the next few years. 

The fifth largest country in the world offers beaches, history, indigenous traditions and modern cities. We suggest around two weeks to make the most of Brazil.

What not to miss: the Iguaçu Falls. This natural wonder is located in the north on the border with Argentina. The Igazu national park was nominated one of the seven wonders of the natural world in 2011. 

Iguaça Falls, source: www.wikipedia.org


History, monuments, gastronomy and nature. The largest country in Europe offers diverse landscapes and a unique culture that welcomes over 80 million tourists each year. 

In this case it is difficult to suggest a particular destination, so we have some suggestions for you to make the most of the country and relax. Meandering through southern France, starting in Bordeaux to Lyon, to Toulouse, Montpellier, Marseille and finishing in Nice, which you could do in two weeks

What not to miss: Verdon Gorge. The Verdon Gorge is located in the Verdon national park in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. It offers gorges and lakes where you can enjoy the calm waters of one of the best natural destinations in this neighboring country.

Verdon gorge, source:  http://www.globeholidays.net/


The climate of Spain, its geographic location, popular coastlines, diverse landscapes, historical legacy, vibrant culture and excellent infrastructure, has made Spain's international tourist industry among the largest in the world.

As with France it is difficult to select just one destination as the country has so much to offer both in the way of varying topography and culture, most notably between the north and south. Two weeks would be sufficient to visit various different cities and enable you to get a feel for the country, for example starting in Madrid you could go to Valencia, Alicante to Murcia. 

What not to miss: the Sagrada Família. This Roman Catholic church was built by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona. Although it is incomplete is has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The anticipated date of completion is in 2026, the centenary of Gaudí's death.

Sagrada Família, source www.wikipedia.org




The sixth largest country in the world is also one of the most exotic thanks to its luscious scenery. Although it is rather inaccessible due to visa restrictions. Australia offers quite extreme landscapes varying from deserts to tropical forests, it is one of the driest and most barren inhabited countries in the world. However, the jungles, grasslands and forests in the north survive thanks to the tropical climate, where you can find more than 80% of the native species, such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats and the Tasmanian devil.   

What not to miss: The Great Barrier Reef. First explored in 1768, it is the world's largest coral reef stretching over 2,600km long. It is a world heritage site and a natural wonder. Its sheer size allows it to be seen from space and it is often considered as the world's largest living organism, but it actually consists of more than 2,000 species of fish, 5,000 molluscs, 400 species of coral and other creatures that inhabit the reef. 

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, source:  http://www.palmcove.net/palm-cove-tours.php

Original by: Blanca Díaz Blanco