Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Christmas on Canada’s East Coast: A Beginner’s Guide

Posted on December 22nd, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Food, Language, Travel | No Comments »

Christmas in Canada has some pretty solid staples all over: Christmas trees, family gatherings, lots of food, the usual Christmas parties. On the East Coast you can find some deviations to the norm, and some adaptations to what you would typically expect for a Christmas celebration that makes Christmas on the coast all that more interesting. Here are just a few Christmas traditions from the Canadian Maritimes to get you into the holiday spirit!


Photo by Jenny Neal/Flickr

Mummering is something you’ll find in Newfoundland. During the 12 days of Christmas, families and friends will travel in groups dressed in disguises. The goal when mummering is to make sure no one will recognize you and that you use items from your house when dressing up. If you can make yourself taller, slimmer, fatter, bigger (anything at all to confuse those who know you) then that is what you need to do before leaving your home to go mummering. After your disguises are in place, you travel from house to house in your neighbourhood, knocking on doors and asking to be welcomed in. If you are allowed to enter a home, you and your group must perform some sort of entertainment. It can be a dance, or you can tell jokes, or sing a song – really anything you’d like.

When the entertainment is finished, the owners of the home must try to guess your identities before offering you food and drink. They’re allowed to ask each of the mummers questions and feel around their costume for help in deciding who it could be. When all the mummers’ identities have been guessed, and the food and drinks are finished, a newer, larger group is formed (in some cases though not always) and they travel together to another house.

Trees and Christmas Presents!

Eastern Canada has amazing fir and pine trees, so if you are purchasing a real tree at Christmas, which many families do, it would be one of these. It’s quite common to buy Christmas trees around the beginning of December and they are decorated by the family. One thing most people don’t know is that every year, the biggest and best fir tree in Nova Scotia is sent to Boston, USA. This is done in memory and in thanks of the aid received from Boston during the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Presents are generally placed underneath the Christmas tree, and in many homes on Christmas Eve after a rather large family supper you are able to open one Christmas present early.

Yummy Nibblin’s

East Coasters are more likely to eat a big feats of lobsters and shellfish for Christmas dinner than they are to eat the more traditional turkey or ham. Taffy pulls are also quite common during the holiday season, which is usually used as a matchmaking event for single ladies and single gentlemen in the community.

Barley candy and Chicken Bones are popular candies to eat around Christmas time on the East Coast. Barley candy is usually on a stick and is shaped like a Christmas object; Santa, reindeer, snowmen or something equally seasonal. Chicken Bones are a hard pink candy that tastes like cinnamon, though once sucked on long enough they reveal a secret chocolate centre.

Polar Dips

Photo by Jim Sorbie/Flickr

Photo by Jim Sorbie/Flickr

We would be remiss not to mention polar dips on our list, and although it’s more of a New Years Eve tradition, it does happen around the Christmas season. Polar dips make many people cringe just hearing about them, but they are a pretty common occurrence on the coast. Around Christmas and New Year people will get together, sometimes in teams, and jump off a wharf or a pier (or in some cases just simply run) into the Atlantic Ocean. The water is usually ice cold, and bathers are meant to jump in with as little clothing on as possible. Usually these are charity events and a lot of drinking is done right after the polar dip is completed. It’s a chilly way to raise money for others and good fun all around.

How do you celebrate Christmas in your neck of the woods? Let us know in the comments section below. If you’re interested in Canadian culture (and the very specific English spoken in the country), contact us for courses today.

The Best Canadian Comedies You (Probably) Haven’t Seen

Posted on November 12th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Language | No Comments »

Canada is the land of comedians, though you may not know it. Greats like John Candy, Colin Mochrie and Jim Carrey hail from the Great White North, as does Sean Majumder, and Martin Short. It’s no surprise then, that there are more than a few good quality Canadian comedies that will leave your sides aching and your world view slightly altered.

The comedies that made our list are a little bit strange in their own right; some deal with controversial topics, and some take a topic you didn’t think you could laugh at and turn it on its ear. If you like situational comedy, and you can connect with feeling like an outsider, or trying to make something of yourself and the world around you, then these comedies are a must-watch for your next movie night:

Fido (2006)

We’ve started off the list with one of our most off-kilter options: A zombie comedy. It’s nothing like “Sean of the Dead”, with the premise taking an entirely different turn on the traditional zombie movie cliché. The film is set in a 1950s styled alternate reality, where zombies are used as a sort of servant/slave depending on your need and reason to ‘own’ one. The zombies are fitted with a sort of shock collar, which allows you to control their appetite for human flesh, and essentially bend them to your will.

The film focuses around a family and their zombie, Fido. Without giving too much away, this movie deals with the power of the all-mighty corporation, forbidden love, loyalty, friendship, and the darkness of humanity. It all comes off with a warm fuzzy ending, well… as warm and fuzzy as a zombie comedy can be! A definite conversation starter and an entertaining film you’ll be happy you took the risk to see.

Did we like it? 4.5 out of 5.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

The title of this film might have tipped you off, but this movie is bilingual. It features dialogue in both of Canada’s official languages; English and French. Two cops, one from English speaking Ontario and one from French speaking Montreal come together to solve a murder. Their two personalities collide in such stereotypical ‘good cop-bad cop’ ways, that you may think the movie will be too cliché and too formulaic, but director Eric Canuel makes sure you never get too comfortable with the police genre stereotypes.

This film has sex, drugs, crude humour, swearing (in multiple languages), and a great storyline that keeps you guessing until the very end. It’s a bit of a dark comedy, so if jokes about murder victims or hockey teams aren’t for you, you might want to give this one a miss. The film itself is shot in darker shades, adding to the atmosphere and helping to contrast the humour found throughout. This film did very well in Canada, and it’s one you should definitely try.

Did we like it? 5 out of 5.

Men with Brooms (2002)

A romantic comedy that revolves around a curling team; it sounds strange and that’s because it is a bit, but it’s also a pretty amazing film.  It starts with the death of a small town’s curling coach, and his dying request for his old team to be reunited and band together to win a championship and bring glory back to their small town ice rink. The motley crew comes together, each member of the team with their own story to contribute, and because of their sordid, and sometimes complicated history, humour ensues. There’s love, there’s anger, and at the core there is a heartwarming underdog story to follow along and root for. With a cast including Leslie Nielson, Molly Parker and Paul Gross, this film delivers on the laughs and in entertainment.

Did we like it? 4 out of 5 stars.

If these films challenged your vocabulary with their Canadian slang, interesting accents, and unique subject matter, why not contact us and see what English courses we have available near you, to help you master Canadian lingo?

5 Fantastic (and Cheap!) Things to do in London

Posted on August 14th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Language, Travel | No Comments »

London seems to exude history and culture at every turn. With so many boroughs with different specialties, it’s easy to find just about anything you could want somewhere in the vast metropolis. One word that can’t usually be used to describe London is ‘cheap’, but where there’s a will, there is a way. We’ve put together a list of things you can do for very little to no money in the city, so you can save your pounds for pints and souvenirs. Check out some of our top recommendations:


1. Walk around the British Museum.


The British Museum has existed since 1753 and is home to over 8 million exhibitions. It is said to have the most extensive and varied collection in the world. It focuses mainly on human culture from the beginning of civilisation until today. The best part? It’s absolutely free! It’s open daily from 10:00 until 5:30 and until 8:30 on Fridays, it’s in a beautiful area of London for walking around, and it’s not the only (free) museum worth checking out.Try the Tate Modern while you’re there – some exhibitions are available at an additional fee, though these are usually no more that £15.


Photo by Diliff

Photo by Diliff


2. Listen to some interesting public speakers at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.


In the north-east corner of Hyde Park (near the Marble Arch tube stop) you can find an interesting mixture of orators, speaking on any number of topics from religion, to relationships, to politics, and everything in between. You can even participate if you have something to say and are willing to make a public speech of your own. The only caveat is that all topics and discussions must stay within the laws of free speech.  You can find Speakers’ Corners in other parks in London as well (such as Victoria park) though the one in Hyde Park is one of the more famous. While you’re there, why not have a picnic by the lake? Hyde Park itself is an amazing place to spend an afternoon.


3. Watch a movie or a play at The Scoop.


The Scoop is a sunken amphitheatre capable of seating around 1000 people. In addition to the amphitheatre they also have events and showings on the riverside, which is much more public and receives a lot more foot traffic. It’s located near City Hall and close to Tower Bridge and often has some of the most interesting plays and film screens available for free or cheap during the summer. They also host live music and are a great starting or finishing point to a walk around City Hall.


4. Wander around a famous street and buy a few cool souvenirs.

London has some of the most interesting outdoor markets and shopping streets in Europe, many of which are famous. If you’ve ever seen Bedknobs and Broomsticks (one of my favourite Disney movies growing up), you’ll remember the song about Portobello Road. The place is insane on weekends, packed with people and street vendors selling some interesting antiques and clothing. It’s a great place to go shopping for your more eccentric friends. Once you’re finished with Portobello Road, head to Camden Market, where you can find souvenirs of the “Great Britannia” style, bizarre garage sale finds, clothes, jewellery, furniture and some really interesting art pieces and statues.


Camden market is also a mecca for international food stalls; you’ll find Hungarian, Spanish, Moroccan, French, Jamaica, American style BarBQ… you name it and it’s probably there. Last, though definitely not least, check out Brick Lane. This is much more of a food exploration but you’ll find some of the best curries, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian (East and West) food on display here. Brick Lane also has an amazing collection of street art and graffiti, so bring your camera so you can take some really original holiday snaps. You only really need to spend what you want to at any of these venues, and the food is plentiful and not terribly expensive.


Portobello Road 26/05/12 - 26

5. Get a Boris Bike and Explore!


Named for the Mayor who introduced them, Boris Bikes can be found all over the city and don’t cost very much to rent – about £2 per 24 hour period, and £10 per week. You can pick one up at any docking station (you can find them all over the city) and drop them off at any docking station. They work for just about any height and they seem to glide through the streets of London without any effort at all. Pack a lunch and explore the city on a Boris bike, you’ll be happy you did and it’ll save you the tube fair while still giving you some exercise!

Want to learn more about London while learning English? Why not contact us here to see what courses we have available for you!