Tag: Yes

Dasvidaniya Democracy

Dasvidaniya Democracy

Just as a thought experiment[1], imagine that the Russians were able to get a ‘Manchurian Candidate[2] into the White House. What would he do? Well, the first thing would be to divide the nation so that normal democratic interaction would become impossible; bipartisan initiatives[3] would become a thing of the past. The next step[4] would be to undermine the institutions of the rule of law[5]: the courts, the FBI, the CIA. Once this was achieved[6] he would buddy up to[7] dictators around the world to undermine[8] any vestiges of the idea that the USA is a force for freedom and democracy in the world. Finally, he would destroy America’s relationships with its long-term democratic allies[9]: Germany, France, Canada and the UK. This would mean that NATO would become dysfunctional and presumably would eventually[10] cease to exist. Five years ago, if this had been a film script, we’d have called it far-fetched[11].

[1] thought experiment – the mental evaluation of the implications of a hypothesis

[2] Manchurian Candidate – a Presidential Candidate who is secretly working for an enemy of the USA

[3] bipartisan initiative – proposal that requires the cooperation of the major political parties

[4] step – stage, stratagem

[5] the rule of law – the authority and influence of the law in society

[6] to achieve – accomplish, do

[7] to buddy up to – befriend, become friends with

[8] to undermine – debilitate, weaken

[9] ally – associate, friend

[10] eventually – (false friend) in the end, finally

[11] far-fetched – absurd, unconvincing because it is so improbable

Trump and King Lear

Trump and King Lear

It has become something of a cliché to compare President Donald Trump with Shakespeare’s fictional King Lear. Over the last year half a dozen newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic have made the comparison. In fact, there is nothing new about comparing Donald Trump to Shakespeare’s old tyrant. Elizabeth Bailey did so as far back as[1] January 2005 in The New York Sun. Back then[2] the similarities were limited: Trump was a capricious despot of a business empire whose unequal treatment of[3] his grown-up[4] children was already patent. However, it is since the property magnate became President of the USA that the comparisons have supposedly accumulated to the point at which ‘the leader of the free world’ seems to be openly parodying Shakespeare’s great tragedy.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is an old widower[5] who has three daughters. His youngest, Cordelia, is possibly from a second marriage. She is certainly his favourite. Some critics even suggest that the father feels a repressed sexual desire towards her. In any case the king decides to delegate the responsibilities of rule[6] while maintaining the privileges of monarchy. To favour his youngest daughter he decides to divide the kingdom between his three daughters (rather than[7] pass the realm[8] intact to his eldest daughter and her husband). To do this, he offers portions of the kingdom to each daughter in exchange for expressions of love towards him. The eldest daughters play along[9] and flatter[10] their father competitively saying that they love him more than life itself. However, the youngest daughter refuses to[11] play the game because it will mean benefiting materially from her genuine filial love. She is banished[12] and the elder daughters, now in charge, marginalize and humiliate Lear until he goes mad. Cordelia comes to his rescue with an army from France but is defeated[13] and, in the end, the entire family is destroyed.

Clearly, at a formal level, there is little in common between the story of Lear and the story of Donald Trump to date[14]. There are, nevertheless, points of contact. As an old, possibly demented, self-involved[15], approval-obsessed autocrat, Lear does remind one of[16] Trump (or vice-versa). The most famous scene from the play is Lear ranting against[17] the storm[18] at night. The temptation to compare this to Trump’s nocturnal Twitter storms[19] is irresistible.

Before the election the Trump campaign let slip that the plan was for son-in-law Jared Kushner to run[20] the country. When asked what Trump would be doing, the vacuous answer was, “Oh, he’ll be making America great again”. It seems that after a long life of wheeling and dealing[21] in business, Donald Trump thought that the Presidency would be a sort of retirement in which he would receive honours and praise[22] while others worked on the nitty-gritty[23].

Last year the Administration allowed[24] the TV cameras into a cabinet meeting and what was revealed was horrifying. One by one each of the members of Trump’s Government expressed what a privilege it was to work for the President, a public display[25] of competitive flattery[26] that instantly reminded[27] those of us who knew King Lear of the elder daughters’ insincere adulation. Indeed[28], Trump’s foreign visits confirm again and again that he is an easy victim of flatterers. Meanwhile, truth-tellers, from James Comey to Jeff Sessions, are routinely victimized, insulted and vilified by the President for not telling him what he wants to hear (but rather[29] doing their jobs).

Other comparisons can also be made. Trump’s favouritism towards his daughter Ivanka, who he has occasionally sexualized in shockingly[30] inappropriate ways, echo the Lear-Cordelia bond[31]. Lear’s supporters[32] conspire with a foreign power to undermine[33] the independence and sovereignty of Albion[34] – possible similarities with the collusion[35] with the Russians? Lear promises to take care of the poor who have been forgotten and ignored by the elite in the past (but in the end does nothing for them). Likewise[36], Trump has promised much to the ‘forgotten Americans’ but so far[37] has delivered little.

The end of the play bears little resemblance to[38] the Trump Administration so far. Nevertheless, it has to be said that Trump has been in power for only 14 months. If he is eventually[39] ousted from power[40] through impeachment[41] or simply in response to the incompetence and chaos of the Administration, he may still morph into the self-pitying[42] demented Lear of Acts III, IV and V. At least in his own mind and that of his supporters he may by then have achieved[43] the status of tragic hero “most sinned against than sinning[44].

For the present, most of us consider the current US Administration a rather[45] grotesque comedy. There is even a stage act[46] called Trump Lear, a one-man show in which comedian David Carl impersonates[47] and lampoons[48] the President. However, we would do well to[49] remember that the legend of King Lear was always considered a comedy until Shakespeare got hold of[50] it. Its early audiences expected a happy ending and were startled[51] and horrified when everything went pear-shaped[52] in the final scene. The world may be laughing at President Trump but beware[53]; this may well all end in tears[54].

At the end of 2016, Shakespeare scholar[55] Harold Bloom commented, “Incessantly I re-read King Lear, and find what takes my apprehension to its limits. Nature dwindles[56] to nothing. Familial love turns destructive. Intergenerational strife[57] becomes murderous. […] I echo Lear: ‘We cry[58] that we are come unto[59] this great stage of fools[60].”

[1] as far back as – as early as, as long ago as

[2] back then – (in this case) in January 2005

[3] unequal treatment offavouritism towards some of

[4] grown-upadult

[5] widowerman whose wife has died

[6] rule – (in this case) government

[7] rather than – as opposed to, instead of (+ -ing)

[8] realm /relm/ – kingdom

[9] to play along – participate in a charade/farce

[10] to flatter – express insincere admiration for

[11] refuses to – is not willing to, will not

[12] to banish – expel, exile

[13] to be defeatedlose a battle

[14] to dateso far, up until now

[15] self-involved – obsessed about oneself

[16] to remind sb. ofcause sb. to remember, seem similar to

[17] to rant againstrave against, shout at

[18] stormtempest

[19] Twitter stormsequence of furious Tweets

[20] to run sth. (run-ran-run) – govern sth., administer sth., manage sth.

[21] wheeling and dealing – unscrupulous activities

[22] praise – adulation, expressions of admiration

[23] nitty-grittypractical details

[24] to allow – permit

[25] display – exhibition

[26] flattery – insincere expressions of admiration

[27] to remind sb.cause sb. to remember

[28] indeed – (emphatic) in fact

[29] but rather – instead of, as opposed to

[30] shockinglyscandalously

[31] bond – relationship, connection

[32] supportersfollowers, fans

[33] to undermineweaken, debilitate

[34] Albion – prehistoric Britain

[35] collusion – conspiracy, complicity, connivance

[36] likewisesimilarly

[37] so farup until now

[38] to bear little resemblance to (bear-bore-borne) – not be like, not be similar to

[39] eventually – (false friend) finally, in the end

[40] to oust from power – dethrone, impeach, depose, evict from power

[41] impeachment

[42] selfpitying

[43] to achieve – get, attain

[44] more sinned against than sinning – (from King Lear III.ii) more of a victim than a victimizer

[45] rathersomewhat, surprisingly

[46] stage act – theatrical performance

[47] to impersonateimitate

[48] to lampoonridicule, caricature

[49] would do well to – should, ought to

[50] to get hold of (get-got-got) – (in this case) adapt

[51] to startle – surprise

[52] to go pear-shaped (go-went-gone) – go wrong, become a disaster

[53] beware – (interjection) be careful, be vigilant

[54] to end in tears – have a catastrophic result in the end

[55] scholarexpert

[56] to dwindle – decline

[57] strifeconflict

[58] to cry – (in this case) lament

[59] that we are come unto – (archaic) because we live in, because we find ourselves in

[60] this great stage of fools – this pantomime, this farcical situation

The Crisis in Efl: We Need to Talk

The Crisis in Efl: We Need to Talk

photo by Angélica Martínez

Over the last year I have done a series of MOOCs[1] including “English as a Medium for Instruction for Academics”, “Teaching for Success: the Classroom and the World”, and “Understanding Language: Learning and Teaching” to get myself up to speed[2] as to the state of play[3] in the Tefl[4] sector. The big idea in the three courses I have mentioned is that English no longer belongs to[5] Anglos; as a world language it is now a lingua franca. Overwhelming[6] statistics are bandied about[7]: “430 million people in China now speak English as a second language”.

The implication of all this, we are told, is that the Anglo standard (i.e. Trans-Atlantic English) is no longer the world standard. The important thing is that people can communicate effectively what they mean.

Meanwhile, nevertheless[8], all the internationally recognized examining bodies – IETS, TOEFL, TOEIC, etc. – continue to test for nuance[9] (the correct usage of prepositions, particles, tenses and articles). Does the student know her phrasal verbs? Does the examinee have a good grasp[10] of English idioms?

The two positions are clearly contradictory and leave English teachers exposed[11] and confused. Should we correct every prepositional error or should we encourage[12] fluency, confident[13] that an erroneous function word or two is not going to affect anyone’s ability to understand what the learner is saying (even if it may make an intolerant Anglo wince[14])?

Personally, I have some sympathy[15] for the idea that English is now the property of everyone who uses it and that Anglo standards are too strict, too pedantic and often too anal[16]. But the big problem is that there are no other standards. Nobody has set the bar lower[17] for second-language speakers; so it’s the Anglo bar or no bar. In other words if the learner of English as a second/foreign language has nothing to measure[18] whether[19] his or her usage is acceptable, then s/he’s going to be completely at sea[20]. Moreover, once a new non-Anglo standard for ELF (English as a lingua franca) has been established, then we are going to have to retrain[21] the quarter of a million Anglos and non-Anglos who work as Efl teachers. Ultimately[22], there’s no telling[23] which will win out[24]: ELF or today’s Efl since[25] it will be up to learners to decide[26] between an easier ‘pidgin[27] English for international communication and learning Anglo English for prestige and being in the in-group[28] of Anglo decision-makers in major multinationals. Remember the children of the elite from the People’s Republic to India to Brazil are already learning in Anglo-style schools and universities (if not directly in the schools and colleges of the Anglosphere[29]). Unfortunately, we may be heading for[30] a world in which most people speak English as a lingua franca but those ELF-speakers find there is a glass ceiling[31] excluding them from the really well-paid jobs of the 1%. Don’t say I didn’t warn[32] you.

[1] MOOCmassive-access open online course

[2] up to speedfully informed, up to date

[3] the state of play – the current situation

[4] Teflteaching English as a foreign language

[5] to belong to – be the property of

[6] overwhelming – formidable, irresistible, mindblowing

[7] to bandy aboutmention

[8] nevertheless – however, nonetheless

[9] nuancesubtle differences

[10] grasp – (in this case) understanding

[11] exposedhelpless, vulnerable

[12] to encouragefoster, promote, be in favour of

[13] confident – (in this case) tranquil, convinced, satisfied

[14] to wincegrimace, display a facial expression of pain

[15] sympathy – (false friend/in this case) approval, goodwill

[16] anal (retentive) – excessively punctilious, too perfectionist

[17] to set the bar lower (set-set-set) – offer a lower standard

[18] to measure – evaluate

[19] whether – (in this case) if

[20] to be at sea – be confused, be disoriented

[21] to retraintrain again, re-educate

[22] ultimately – (false friend) in the final analysis

[23] there’s no telling – it is impossible to know

[24] to win out (win-won-won) – be dominant in the end

[25] since – (in this case) given that, as

[26] to be up to sb. to decide – it will be sb’s decision

[27] pidginsimplified

[28] in-groupinner circle, exclusive clique

[29] AnglosphereEnglish-speaking countries

[30] to be heading for (UK English) – be headed for (US English), be moving inevitably towards

[31] glass ceiling – invisible barrier

[32] to warn – alert

Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim Fathers & the Spanish

Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim Fathers & the Spanish

Did you know that there would be no Thanksgiving if it weren’t for[1] Spaniards[2]?

Most people think that the Pilgrim Fathers[3] went to Massachusetts directly from England. In fact, they settled in[4] the Netherlands[5] for a decade first. Specifically, they lived in Leiden. However, by 1618 there was a threat[6] of a Spanish invasion of the Netherlands to restore Catholicism[7], so the Pilgrim Fathers decided to look for[8] religious freedom in the New World.

However, the Spanish were not only indirectly responsible for the first permanent English colony in North America but they were also responsible for the most quintessentially American holiday.

The First Thanksgiving was a harvest festival[9] to celebrate with the local Wampanoag Indians the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest[10] in 1621 (after half of the Pilgrims had died in the previous months). But where did the settlers[11] get the idea for a celebratory banquet? Well, every year on 3rd October the people of Leiden celebrated – and still celebrate – a special feast to thank God for the defeat of[12] the Spanish in the siege[13] of 1574. The Pilgrim Fathers adopted the idea of a thanksgiving feast to celebrate deliverance[14] from adversity and turned it to their own purposes[15]; thus[16] was born Thanksgiving.

[1] if it weren’t for – without the intervention of

[2] SpaniardsSpanish people

[3] Pilgrim Fathers – a group of 102 Puritan pioneers from England who went to Massachusetts and founded the first permanent English-speaking colony in North America in 1620

[4] to settle ingo to live in

[5] the NetherlandsHolland

[6] threatdanger

[7] because of Dutch interference in Bohemia

[8] to look fortry to find

[9] harvest festival – celebration of the annual harvest

[10] harvest – collection of crops (= agricultural produce)

[11] settlercolonist

[12] defeat oftriumph against, victory over

[13] siege – encirclement, situation in which a town is surrounded and attacked

[14] deliverancesalvation

[15] to turn sth. to one’s own purposesuse sth. in a different way

[16] thus – in this way

Are We Nearly There Yet?[1]

Are We Nearly There Yet?[1]


photo by Max Alexander

In the not too distant future I will be able to say that I have been teaching English in Spain for 30 years. There is nothing particularly[2] special about that; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Anglos in exactly the same situation. However, it does give me an excuse to take stock[3]: how much impact have people like me had on the level of English in this country? From one point of view, a lot. When I came here in the late 1980s most people spoke no English and the majority of those who did[4] spoke very broken English[5]; most were even ashamed[6] to try to speak English outside the classroom. It was a decade before I met my first Spaniard who could speak my language at a level similar to an Anglo.

Now the linguistic landscape[7] is very different. Most people – at least in larger[8] towns and cities – have a smattering of[9] English and many young people use English to a level we could only have dreamed of a generation ago. I regularly hear young Spanish people chatting to[10] foreign acquaintances[11] in English on the streets! Moreover, English is more ‘popular’ than ever. There are half a dozen English academies within a few hundred metres of my home in Madrid. And it’s not just[12] the capital; I recently visited Mairena del Aljarafe, a middle-class suburb of Seville, and there were – or at least there seemed to be – more English schools than bars! CLIL[13] programmes mean that English is present in schoolchildren’s lives as never before in Spain.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which the progress has been painfully slow – what one might call ‘official English’. I took the AVE high-speed train to Mairena (and may I just say that no trains in the UK are as clean, as efficient, as fast as the AVE). However, I was annoyed[14] the entire round-trip[15]. Why? Well, the LED[16] sign stated[17] every 20 seconds “Train with destination Seville” on the way there, and “Train with destination Madrid” on the way back. This is what I call the Spanish habit of half-translating – finding the English equivalent for each word and repeating them in the same order as in Spanish. No doubt the LED16 sign has been saying that for 20 years; who cares if it sounds completely unnatural?[18] I do. You make a tremendous effort to get everything about the on-board service[19] right, and then you spoil[20] it with lower-intermediate English!

I tried to look away from the LED16 sign but that only brought the label[21] on the window to my notice[22]. For example:

“Action for opening the emergency window” (it should be “How to open the window as an emergency exit”),

“Breaking with the hammer[23] the first and second glasses[24] of the window” (it should be “smash[25] both panes of glass[26] using the hammer provided”),

Remove[27] the broken glasses with the crossbar” (it should be “Use the crossbar to dislodge[28] any remaining shards[29]”), though I’m still not sure what they are referring to as a ‘crossbar’.

You may already know that one of my bugbears[30] is the deplorable English on the websites of many Spanish universities. Their stated aim[31] is to attract more foreign students but this simply isn’t going to happen[32] if they say so in woefully[33] deficient English.

The same is true for many official texts in English. Ironically, they are not strictly necessary; Spanish is a tall-building language[34] spoken by 400 million people. However, if you are going to translate, do it properly[35]. The problem is that when Anglos see something written in English, the quality of the English affects their perception of the quality of the goods[36] or services on offer. If you can’t see it yet, imagine translating “Are we nearly there yet?” verbatim[37]. It would sound awful compared to the correct idiomatic translation (¿Falta mucho?).

In answer to the question “Are we nearly there yet?” I will quote a British Rail advertisement from the 1980s which used to say, “We’re getting there” (= Hemos hecho progresos pero aun falta).

[1] are we nearly there yet? – (typical question asked by a bored child on a long trip) will we arrive soon?

[2] particularly – especially, very

[3] to tale stock (take-took-taken) – evaluate the progress that has been made

[4] who did – (in this case) who did speak English

[5] broken Englishpidgin English, pre-intermediate English

[6] ashamed – embarrassed, reluctant, uncomfortable

[7] linguistic landscape – panorama as regards language

[8] largerbigger, more significant

[9] a smattering of – a little

[10] to chat totalk in a relaxed way to

[11] acquaintance – sb. one knows

[12] just – (in this case) only

[13] CLILcontent and language integrated learning

[14] annoyedirritated

[15] the entire tripall the way there and all the way back

[16] LEDlight-emitting display

[17] to state – declare

[18] it should be “train to Seville”, “train to Madrid”

[19] the on-board service – (in this case) the service on the train

[20] to spoil sth.ruin sth.

[21] labelsticker, sign

[22] to my notice – to my attention

[23] hammer – utensil for hitting things

[24] glassesspectacles, eyeglasses

[25] to smashbreak forcefully

[26] pane of glass – the sheet of glass that forms a window

[27] to remove – (false friend) take out, eliminate

[28] to dislodge – displace, remove28

[29] any remaining shardsany pieces of broken glass that are left

[30] bugbear – pet peeve, cause of obsessive irritation

[31] stated aim – explicit objective

[32] to happen – occur

[33] woefullyvery, depressingly

[34] tallbuilding language – one of a few global languages that eclipse smaller languages

[35] properly – appropriately, correctly

[36] goodsproducts

[37] verbatimword for word

Closure: Looking Forward[1] & Thank You

Closure: Looking Forward[1] & Thank You


As you will have read, we are finally shutting up shop[2] after 18 years of Think in English and Your English supplement. If you are reading this you almost certainly know I have written thousands of articles over that period and planned and participated in something like[3] 180 hours of recordings. To accompany that, I’ve also written around[4] 300 pages of exercises. That’s enough material to keep you practising[5] your English for years to come[6]! If I re-read an article I wrote several years ago, it’s as if it’s completely new to me, so I’m sure – unless you are blessed with[7] a perfect memory – you will have a similar experience.

I plan to keep on teaching English at the UNED and hopefully I will still have something to say regularly on this blog. However, given my work habit, I certainly have too much time on my hands[8] and need more work. I think I have quite an impressive CV but the truth is that at 50 it’s proving quite difficult to redirect my career[9]. So, if you feel you have benefitted from the last 18 years of our interaction, please bear me in mind[10] if you can think of an institution or company that might profitably make use of my skill set[11]. You can see my qualifications and references on LinkedIn (Nicholas John Franklin). If you are a member of LinkedIn, I’d appreciate your endorsements and would be truly[12] grateful for your recommendations (in whatever language you prefer to write in).

Finally, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all our readers and subscribers. The truth is that nobody has benefitted more from Think and Yes than I have – not only in the vast amount[13] of subjects[14] I’ve had to research[15] but in my own knowledge of English. If you have learned a fraction of what I’ve learned, then the process has been worthwhile[16].

All the best and stay in touch[17]!


[1] looking forwardlooking to the future

[2] to shut up shop (shut-shut-shut) – close a business

[3] something like – approximately

[4] around – about, approximately

[5] to keep you practising (keep-kept-kept) – permit you to continue practising

[6] to come – (in this case) into the future

[7] to be blessed with – have the benefit of, be fortunate enough to have

[8] on one’s hands – available

[9] career – (false friend) professional trajectory

[10] to bear sb. in mind (bear-bore-borne) – remember

[11] skill set – combination of abilities

[12] trulyreally, genuinely

[13] amount – (in this case) number

[14] subject – (in this case) topic, theme

[15] to research – investigate, find out about

[16] worthwhileuseful, of value

[17] to stay in touchkeep in touch, remain in contact

The Pershing Bullet Myth

The Pershing Bullet Myth

Last week I wrote on US history according to Trump before hearing about the President’s “Pershing bullet[1] myth”, which obviously should have been included in that post. For those who aren’t aware[2], in the wake of[3] the Barcelona massacre Donald Trump tweeted about how General Pershing had executed Muslim rebels in the Philippines using bullets dipped[4] in pig fat[5] and that this ended Islamic insurgency there for decades. There is absolutely no historical evidence that the US general ever dipped bullets in pig fat and in any case the Muslim insurgency was not ended by Pershing’s activities. Pershing notes in his memoir – but does not condone[6] – the US practice of burying[7] the dead bodies of Muslim insurgents who had killed Americans with dead pigs because this meant that they would be excluded from paradise.

It seems that the bullet myth probably has its origins in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (previously known as The Indian Mutiny). However, the conclusions drawn[8] by Trump are the exact opposite from those suggested by this historical event. The spark[9] that led to[10] the uprising[11] against the British was that Indian troops[12] employed by the British East India Company were expected to bite open[13] cartridges[14] that were lubricated either with pigs’ fat or with cows’ fat. The first was of course offensive to Muslims, the second to Hindus. Incredibly, the officials of the East India Company mixed up the two types of cartridges, so the obvious solution of giving pigs’ fat-coated[15] cartridges to the Hindus and cows’ fat cartridges to the Muslims wasn’t an option. Rather than[16] bringing peace, the “pigs’ fat bullets” caused the death of 800,000 people, Mr Trump.

However, there is one idea that comes out of all this. Why not have a law that says that the corpse[17] of anybody killed perpetrating a terrorist act, as determined by a judge, should automatically be cremated? Cremation is forbidden[18] in Islam and is generally believed to deny[19] access to paradise. It would be non-discriminatory, would not affect the lives of peace-loving Muslims and might be a deterrent[20] against suicide bombers.

[1] bullet – projectile used in a rifle or a pistol

[2] to be aware – be conscious (of a fact)

[3] in the wake ofafter, following

[4] to dip – immerse, cover

[5] pig fatporcine grease

[6] to condone – approve of

[7] to bury – inter, put underground

[8] to draw a conclusion (draw-drew-drawn) – reach a conclusion, come to a conclusion

[9] spark – immediate cause

[10] to lead to (lead-led-led) – cause, provoke

[11] uprising – rebellion

[12] troopssoldiers

[13] to bite open (bite-bit-bitten) – open with one’s mouth/teeth

[14] cartridge – (in this case) a packet containing a bullet and an explosive charge for a musket

[15] coatedcovered

[16] rather than – instead of, in contrast to

[17] corpse – cadaver, dead body

[18] forbidden – prohibited

[19] to deny – prevent, impede

[20] deterrent – dissuasive factor