Ask Anna about life in Britain
Is there something about British life and culture that you've always wanted to ask? I work with the BBC Vietnamese section in London and as you can see, have spent time in Vietnam where lots of people had questions about Britain.
So we've set up this page as a place where you get the answers to things about Britain that you can't find in textbooks. You might also want to share your own experiences of British culture.
Perhaps you want to know what family life is like in Britain, or how university students spend their time. Do you want to find out how you should address your English teacher or know how much it costs to post a letter in the UK?
The Labour Party has won the UK General Election with 36.3% of the vote. There have been some surprise results overnight in some constituencies and it is clear that war in Iraq was very important to most voters.
What do you think of the election result? Is there anything you want to know about politics in Britain or what the British voters are thinking today?
The minimum age for voting in the UK is 18, although occasionally there are suggestions that this should be lowered to 16. All people of any age are free to write to politicians about issues which concern them or to make an appointment to visit their local politician. Many young people are involved in action groups or charities and take part in demonstrations or protest marches and other such action. For example, the anti-war protests in Britain have involved a huge number of young people.
A big problem for the politicians in this and every other election has been to try to convince young people to vote. 'First-time voters' are a very important group but it can seem that young people are not interested in politics at all. One survey this week found that less than a third of first-time voters will definitely vote on Thursday. However, saying that they will not vote does not necessarily mean they are not interested in politics. A lot of young people have very strong ideas about the things that matter to them, for example education, taxation, transport, drugs and violence, policing or family welfare, but the argument often used is 'it doesn't matter what I think' or 'they're all the same.' The challenge for the politicians is to convince young people that their votes do make a difference.
Phương Linh, Hà Nội
Thanks very much! Don't forget that this is a page for all of you so if there's something you want to talk about just let me know.
Le Anh, Vietnam
Every child has to study at least one language at school up to the age of sixteen, usually starting when they are about 11 years old. This is usually either French, Spanish or German. It has to be said, however, that British people are not great at learning languages. It's not that we can't do it, we're just lazy. Many people assume either that they won't travel so don't need a foreign language or that everyone else speaks English so they don't have to bother. This is causing real problems in the employment market as it becomes more and more important to communicate effectively with business contacts around the world. And of course it doesn't give a very good impression of our country if we don't take the time to learn. It has been suggested that instead of European languages, schools should start to teach the main languages of global business, such as Chinese or Japanese.
Look at the Beckhams as an example. Both David and Victoria came from working class backgrounds but because they both made enormous amounts of money and gained such respect they have become almost like the unofficial king and queen of Great Britain! However, although there is more class mobility in terms of wealth, there is still a sense of 'old' and 'new' money when it comes to the upper class. To be considered truly upper class you would have to born into 'old', inherited money.
Ngoc Nguyen Thi, Hai Phong, Vietnam
This is to do with what the company is actually setting out to do and what will also happen as a result of their action. 'Explicit' means something that is directly stated or refered to, without any room for doubt. 'Implicit' means something that is implied or refered to in a less obvious fashion. In this example, 'ecological sustainability' is what this company says it wants to achieve, but justice/equity are also being aimed for, without the company saying this directly. I think the author means that if you try to achieve ecologial stability, you will also bring about greater justice and equality without working towards that alone.
Apu, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hi Apu, you'll very rarely hear Brits using this phrase as it sounds very old fashioned. If you do hear it now, it is more likely to be as a way of saying good bye, not as a greeting. You might hear Australian people using an abbreviated form, 'G'day!' It's a bit of a joke that Australians say this all the time, although they might tell you that this is just a stereotype.
Hanh Nguyen, Hanoi, Vietnam
If anything, using 'um' and 'ah' makes your spoken English sound better because it's so natural. I 'um and ah' all the time. All languages use these 'fillers' as they give you time to think about what you want to say and make sure you chose the right words. One very popular 'filler' at the moment is 'like.' For example, 'I went to France in, like, 1975.' 'Like' here has no real meaning but serves to give the speaker more time to get their thoughts together. It also seems to lessen the impact of what someone is saying, for example, 'I was, like, really annoyed by what he said,' sounds less forceful that 'I was really annoyed with what he said.' It would sound strange for a non-native speaker to use this in conversation, but it's something you should be aware of as it's very fashionable at the moment.
Surprisingly, most people do absolutely nothing to celebrate St George's Day in England. It is not a national holiday and there are rarely special events to mark the occasion. In fact, I think a lot of English people wouldn't even be able to tell you when St George's Day is! A lot of people say that we should do something to celebrate, or at least have a public holiday. There are parades and festivities for St Patricks Day, the Irish National Day, but rarely for St George's.
Perhaps it has something to do the English character, that we don't want to make a fuss about it and also that few people know who St George was or why he is the patron saint of England - after all, he wasn't even English but probably from the Middle East. Personally, I like to celebrate the fact that April 23rd is also Shakespeare's birthday, and everyone here knows who he was!
Hoang Le, Hanoi, Vietnam
That's right, public holidays are called bank holidays. This is because traditionally every business, even the banks, were closed. These days a lot of shops stay open to take advantage of all those people who have spare time to go shopping. However the banks do tend to stay closed.
It's not clear why St George is the patron (guardian) saint of England, or even who St George was, but there are many myths and legends surrounding him. The traditional story of St George is that he killed a dragon that was terrifying villagers and, like all good heroes, rescued a beautiful young woman! The red cross on a white background was first used in the Crusades in the 12th century (the religious battles in the Middle East) as a way of identifying the troops and it became a symbol of England. Why we celebrate (or rather don't celebrate) St George on April 23rd every year is also a bit of a mystery. It seems to have been introduced all those years ago, when it was seen as a good excuse for a feast, and it has stayed on that day ever since.
Dan Ha, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The traditional view has always been that a family with a mother and father and children living in a nice house is the 'perfect' family, but that idea is certainly fading away as society recognises the importance of all types of family. It is very common now to find all sorts of family, including single-parent families, adopted children, step-children, unmarried parents, same-sex parents, older parents and so on. I would like to say that there is no criticism of alternative families, but of course that isn't true and more traditional people still say that two parents families are the best. It often becomes a very political issue.
As for your question about graduating, that depends very much on the sort of career you want to go into. For many jobs a first degree is a requirement but there are also careers where the experience you have is more important than your qualifications. More and more people are going to university so having a degree doesn't necessarily give you a great advantage anymore. In fact, there are lots of very well-educated people leaving their professions to go into trades like plumbing, where there is a great shortage of skilled workers so wages can be very high.
Thang Tu Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The BBC has a department dedicated to providing help with learning English. There is a huge amount of material on the Learning English website. If you prefer to have Vietnamese instructions, BBC Vietnamese has an English by Radio page where you can join discussions about learning English, download scripts and helpful tips and test your skills in online quizzes.
As you are a teacher, you might be interested in the website that the BBC have developed with the British Council. This is a site for teachers of English where you can find lots of advice, activities and research which can help you in the classroom. You'll find all these links at the side of the page.
Duc An Nguyen, Dong Nai, Vietnam
'Used to' is a tricky phrase as it means different things in different contexts. If I say 'I am used to eating dinner at 7pm,' it means that I am accustomed to this or that it is my habit. However, if I say 'I used to eat my dinner at 7pm' it means that in the past I always ate my dinner at 7pm but I don't anymore. So, 'Used to V+ing' means accustomed to or in the habit of, whereas 'used to + infinitive' means something that was done in the past but isn't any more. Note that although it is in the past we don't use the past tense as 'used to' shows us that this was in the past.
What a sad scenario for your second question - I hope it's not a real one! This is quite a formal way of speaking, I would probably say 'I don't love him anymore' instead. However, you can use it if you want to sound a little more dramatic or romantic. The ordinary way to use this phrase is to say 'I no longer love him.' You could use the other versions but it sounds rather old-fashioned. You might come across this word order in poetry or songs.
Perhaps the most famous British composer is Edward Elgar, who lived at the start of the twentieth century. His best known composition is 'The Enigma Variations' which is a romantic and soothing piece of music, and something of an unofficial national anthem. He also wrote an oratoria (a story set to music) called 'The Dream of Gerontius', about what happens to one old man's soul after he dies. Other names to look out for are Henry Purcell, born in 1659, who wrote wonderful church music, and Malcolm Arnold, another twentieth century composer who wrote, among many other things, the music for the film 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai.' Incidentally, he was also born in my home town!
One of my favourite British composers is Benjamin Britten, who wrote some beautiful music for choirs and soloists, as well as a piece called 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra,' which is a great introduction to classical and orchestral music.
Da Han, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
You're right, it doesn't seem to make much sense at all. It's one of the stranger phrases that we use. I wouldn't try to analyse it too much, because it won't become any clearer if you try to apply grammatical rules, just accept it as a colloquial term that's based on bad grammar. It's an informal way of saying 'how are you' which I use with friends. You'd probably say this after saying 'hello' or 'hi', for example, 'Hi, how's things?' Like most greetings in English where we ask how someone is, we don't expect an honest and lengthy answer - you should just say 'fine thanks, how are you?'
Personally, I don't get offended by being called a 'Brit.' It's a lot quick than saying 'the British' or 'British people' and is accepted by most people. However, the ease of saying something should not be more important than people's feelings, so it's best not to use a term if you're unsure about it. Some terms for nationality can cause real and damaging offence. Also, although many Americans use the term 'yank' to refer to themselves, it's not a particularly respectful word and many people dislike it. It's probably safest not to use it.
There's not a great deal of difference between them, but 'right' seems a bit more abrupt than 'isn't it.' If you use 'isn't it' as a tail (or 'tag') question you give the other person more space to answer, but 'right' is slightly more demanding and you would expect to give a short yes or no answer instead of an explanation. Is practise, they are pretty much interchangeable although 'isn't it' comes across as a little more polite. Remember, though, that these are only used in spoken English, you shouldn't really use them when writing except in an informal situation such as an email to a friend.
Quang Minh, Saigon
It's more likely that you are having problems with someone who has a different accent to those you are used to. There are plenty of accents in Britain that other British people find hard to understand, and plenty of people who speak very quickly as well. What else can you do but ask someone to speak a little slower? There's no harm in that. Don't forget though that you don't need to understand everything someone is saying to get the main points. You can always repeat something that has been said if you want to make sure.
Ton That Hoang, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
'Good Morning teacher' is not something that students in Britain would say anymore. It's rare in Britain to address someone by their job title unless their job gives them a particular rank, for example someone in the police force, the army or the medical profession. The usual greeting is to use the teacher's surname, for example, 'Good morning Mrs Clarke'. It is also common in schools to call male teachers 'Sir' and female teachers 'Miss,' regardless of whether the female teacher is married or not.
I haven't been to Singapore, but it's a good question about accents. A lot of people worry that if they aren't speaking in a 'perfect' English accent then their English is not good enough. That's not the case. Although it is important to make sure you are understood, there are so many versions of English that I don't think it matters which accent you are speaking in. The important thing is that what you are saying makes sense to other people, wherever you are in the world. If you have the chance to go to Singapore to improve your English, then why not? Make the most of the opportunity to build up your confidence in spoken English.
Le Nguyen, Hanoi, Vietnam
This is mostly to do with the size of the gathering. A conference is usually organised a long time in advance, is attended by a lot of people and has several different meetings within it. For example, a large company might organise an annual conference where all important issues from the year are discussed and people get to meet each other. A meeting is for fewer people and would be less structured. It would usually be to discuss only a few issues. A boss might call a meeting to talk about an important deal with his colleagues for example. A forum is like a meeting but suggests a more relaxed atmosphere where people are expected to swap ideas and opinions in a creative way.
K. Tindale, UK
This is another example of English sometimes having too many words! It is mostly to do with how much something hurts and for how long. An ache is a small but continuous pain, for example, 'I have an ache in my shoulder' means it has been hurting all the time for a while. 'Sore' is an adjective here, meaning tender or painful when touched, for example, 'my head is really sore where I banged it yesterday' or 'I burned my hand and it is really sore.'
Pain is a more severe sort of hurting which causes real distress and discomfort. You could say 'I am in great pain' or 'I have pain in my back'. If you use it to refer to a person, however, it can also mean annoyance, for example 'you are being a pain' means, 'you are really annoying me.' If someone is really irritating you, you can might refer to them as 'a real pain in the neck.' Although be careful when you say this, it's quite strong!
Nguyen Trung Hieu, Hanoi, Vietnam
They are very similar in meaning but it's good that you've recognised they are used differently. 'Historic' means something that is, or will be, important in history. You could say 'this is an historic agreement between the two countries,' meaning it is important and will be remembered, or 'this is an historic monument,' because it is an important reminder of history.
Historical means anything that belongs to the past, whether or not it is important. You could say 'I've looked at lots of historical documents' meaning lots of documents from the past, not necessarily important ones, or 'she is an historical figure,' meaning she is a person from the past. Don't worry too much about these differences though, as you will understand what is meant from the context in which the words are used, and you will sometimes see them interchanged.
Nguyen Thi Tuyet Nga, HCMC, Vietnam
People often find that they can reach a certain level in learning English but then find it hard to go any further. The only way to keep improving is to keep practising. Perhaps you need to find some other people who also want to practise. Learning English does not need to be in a classroom or using a textbook - even watching some films in English, reading books or newspapers or chatting on the internet can help you.
Thanh Son Le, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Thanks for noticing that there is a difference! Many people assume that British, American and European cultures are all the same but there are many differences, which might be hard to notice from the outside but are very important to us. People often say that British people are more traditional and reserved than Americans, but as the two cultures mix more and more, the differences are growing harder to spot. I think one difference is that Americans seem to have a very postive or 'can do' attitude whereas Brits are perhaps more cautious about trying new ideas. Do any of you have any stories of these differences that you can share?
Binh Minh Nguyen, Coloraso Springs, USA
''I'm looking forward to helping you'' means that I am excited about helping you. You could also say 'I am looking forward to meeting you' or 'I am looking forward to going on holiday.' However, "I am looking to help you" means 'I intend to help you ' or 'I am trying to'. You could also say 'I am looking to sell my car' or 'I am looking to change my insurance.' It is also a more American phrase which you don't hear much in Britain. The first way shows more interest and excitement, the second is more of a duty.
Hoang Tran, Hanoi, Vietnam
You should use titles like Mr, Mrs and Miss with the family name, for example, I am Miss (or Ms) Jones. It sounds quite old-fashioned to say 'Miss Anna'. It is more common now to call someone by their first (or 'Christian') name but it is still safest to call them Mr Brown first and then they can tell you to call them John instead. You are all welcome to call me Anna!
Phan Lac Dong Quan, Seatle, USA
The main difference between American and British English is the accent, which you can start to understand by listening to a wider variety of spoken English, don't just assume that 'BBC English' is the only 'correct' way of speaking. There are some differences in the vocabulary as well, for instance in Britain the lid on the front of a car is a 'bonnet' and in America it is called a 'hood' and so on. Usually, however, this won't cause any problems because most people are used to hearing both types of English so they will understand you whichever you use.
Le, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
That's true, especially among younger people. It is becoming increasingly common. I usually hug my friends and family when I meet them and perhaps give them a kiss on the cheek. Sometimes people hug when they first meet a person, perhaps if they are a friend of a friend. However, people rarely hug in business situations and it is always safest to wait and see what other people do. Don't be embarassed about hugging or not hugging, it's up to you. You can always shake hands with someone instead, this is perfectly acceptable and no one will criticise you for it.
Yes, it is a fairly new thing. Older generations certainly didn't hug as much, not even within families. My mum would often comment on it when I hugged my friends. It probably comes from the European tradition of greeting people with a hug or a kiss. There used to be a lot of jokes about 'air kissing', where you meet someone and kiss into the air next to their cheeks instead of actually kissing them, and it was seen as rather pretentious. I think now though, it is quite normal. Personal space is certainly an important thing in British culture and people don't like it to be 'invaded.' However, if you travel on the London underground or on buses, you don't have a lot of choice about this!