Our favourite English words & expressions

It doesn’t matter how much time your English teachers at school spend explaining the differences between American and British spelling or how often they tell you to pronounce privacy (with a short “i”) instead of priiiiiivacy. With American TV-Series, books and adverts abound, most non-native English speakers will likely end up with American vocabulary and a ‘weird’ accent.

There is not much you can do about the accent, only practice – my tip: listen to the BBC and you’ll get it eventually.

As far as vocabulary goes, here are some very useful tips:

– a biscuit is a biscuit, not a cookie

– something goes in the bin, not in the trash

– don’t use “awesome” too often

– and most important: don’t finish your sentences with “Dude!”

In addition to that, here are some great, funny and very British expressions, which will help demonstrate your grasp of Her Majesty’s English and earn you respect with her subjects:


“Wonky” is used to describe something that is crooked or not straight, e.g. he has a wonky nose, that shelf is wonky.


It might look, like someone just made this up or drunk-texted it, but the word dates back to the 18th century, meaning astonished. How flabbergasting!


Not a rival to a popular chocolate bar, but a rather cute way to describe ladies’ undergarments.


This is really confusing for people who visit the UK for the first time, as it’s not only used as a toast when raising one’s glass “Cheers!” but can also be used to thank someone, to end a conversation or simply to say goodbye.

Rubbish – noun & adjective

“Rubbish” is another very useful word that may be used in a lot of different situations. As a noun it can simply refer to litter, which belongs in the bin, not trash (see above). Similarly it can be used as an adjective to describe something or someone (not very nice!) as being poor, worthless, very bad or worse… e.g. “His new song is rubbish!”

“Awesome sauce!”

A funny expression I found online along with this humorous description: “The invisible substance emitted by anything awesome, inherently making itself, and anything it covers, awesome.”

Please see warning notes re frequent usage of “awesome” above. “Awesome sauce” on the other hand, is safe and can’t be said often enough.

Shenanigans or Malarkey

“Shenanigans” was one of my favourite words long before I even knew what it meant, namely nonsense. As it turns out there is a wealth of words on offer to paraphrase “humbug” including another favourite of mine “Malarkey”.

knackered – adjective

Another great word that reminds me a lot of “knickers” (although there is no relationship to my knowledge) – it’s a quintessentially British way of describing that something or someone is extremely tired or worn out.


If you’re bored of calling your better half “my dear” or you simply like to stand out from the crowd, you should definitely go with “snookums” – defined by the Urban Dictionary as an endearing nickname, often with a gentle note of sarcasm or humour – also a small blue dinosaur from Moshi Monsters….

We hope you have enjoyed Clara’s journey through Her Majesty’s English and will find use for some of the words and expressions – which will have you sounding more British than 007 in a jiffy.

Join us again next time for more of our favourite foreign words and expressions!

Next up: French

The most delicious idioms in the French language

The French boast one of the most refined and delicious cuisines in the world and amazing, subtle idioms alike. A significant number of them are inspired by gastronomic references. 

Idiomatic expressions exist in all languages but they do not always use the same images for comparison of one object or phenomenon with another. The food-centred expressions are based on the names of fruits, vegetables, desserts, the most common and popular dishes.

Everybody seems to be familiar with la crème de la crème, the expression indicating something superlative and the very best. One of its meanings, the highest social set, has another edible idiomatic synonym, tout le gratin, meaning the upper crust, everybody who’s anybody, while le gratin itself is a baked dish with crusty top, common every day dish enjoyed by all the French.

Être tout sucre tout miel, literally to be all sugar and honey, refers to acting in a polite and considerate way, sometimes hiding negative feelings. Ménager la chèvre et le chou, to tend both goats and cabbages, stands for having a foot in both camps, in English. Tomber dans les pommes, to fall in the apples, is nothing else but a more elegant way of saying to faint, to be unconscious, to knock out even if there is no obvious link between apples and passing out. Making things up, telling tales becomes raconter des salades in French, which evokes the green lettuce, a typical French starter or a side dish.

La lune de miel, another honey-based metaphor, seems to be a literal translation of honeymoon with exactly the same meaning of the happy holiday taken by the newlyweds, which is in French a calque from English. Etymologically, the sweetest first month of a relationship was linked to a phase of moon, which has produced the same image in a variety of languages. 

A similar image is used to say ‘it’s a piece of cake’ (c’est du gâteau), both referring to something easy and enjoyable. When a French speaker feels like drawing a line between their own private space (or a garden ?) and that of the curious neighbour they usually say occupe-toi de tes oignons (Take care of your own onions) sounding as rude as ‘that’s none of your business’. It is not all sugar and honey, you see!

It would be wrong not to mention cheese-related idioms in the context of food-centred expressions since France is proud of its various sorts of cheese, and one of the most common is the idiom, en faisant tout un fromage (making a whole cheese out of it), which translates as to ‘make a big deal’ out of something.

Such idioms often sound funny and it takes not only an excellent command of the language itself, but also a good sense of humour, to appreciate them fully. For example, comme un cheveu dans la soupe means literally like a hair in soup, while its figurative meaning is to appear unexpectedly, as a surprise, to be inappropriate. 

The French delicious idioms se vendent comme des petits pains chauds, they ‘go like hotcakes’ being des cerises sur le gâteau, cherries or icing on the cake in terms of language learning – they make everybody’s speech spicier and savvier. In the classroom, they introduce a relaxed atmosphere, getting students more motivated to learn long lists of vocabulary and to work on sophisticated recipes language-wise. Making up dialogues as pair work on delicious idioms, flashcard activities or even writing a one page long short story using a sequence of as many food and cuisine-related expressions as possible that makes sense is an extra challenge for French learners. 

For more sweet and salty idioms and food visit https://www.chocolateandzucchini.com.

Cactus Language offer a variety of French language courses in the UK, New York, France and Canada!

October 2012: Time for some fun this autumn…

With the new school year acting as perfect incentive to learn something new, and summer now behind us, October is a good month to get those grey cells working. How better to brighten up the darker evenings than to learn a language and dream of exotic, far-off locations…we have new autumn evening courses starting this month, and are excited to be launching long-term academic courses in the new year.

Click here to read the newsletter

Cactus announces winner of 2012 Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship

The Suzanne Furstner Foundation supports language and educational training across the world. Introduced in 2007 in memory of a friend and colleague who died tragically in a road accident, the foundation funds an annual scholarship enabling one aspiring TEFL teacher to take a training course to help them on their way. The TEFL course has been offered in a different place each year: Seville, Playa del Carmen, Milan, San Francisco and Barcelona. This year, applicants were competing for the opportunity to take a CELTA and a language course close to Suzanne’s home, in the seaside town of Brighton.

All scholarship applicants are assigned a task, involving both a language awareness exercise and a piece of creative writing based around the TEFL course destination. As ever, the standard of the applications that we received was exceptional, and it was a very hard choice. Anna’s entry was original, touching, passionate and relevant, and we would like to congratulate her on her success.

We all loved reading Anna’s piece and hope that you will too.

Congratulations Anna!

6 Weeks in Brighton: – A girl named Su.

We met at a pancake party. That’s what she called it. In fact, it was Pancake Day and us Brits had congregated with our new international friends to celebrate. At home it was an occasion that passed many of us by, however out here it seemed to be an integral part of our cultural heritage.

I’ve been friends with her since then. Her name is Su.

Su made the ideal companion for a culture shocked English teacher embarking on a South Korean sojourn. She was born and bred in the city of Busan. Su is a seaside girl. The lure of other coasts took her to Brighton to learn English, but now back in Busan and educated in the British lingo, Su was on hand to educate me. Whenever I muddled my way through a menu of unrecognisable letters, fearful of ordering live octopus or silkworm, Su was there to ensure the table was filled with soups, dumplings and Korea’s own spicy take on a pancake.

Six months on, the world around me had become more familiar. Coming up the steps of the underground I barely noticed the old lady behind me tugging on the hem of my skirt, fixing a loose thread. Or the tie-dyed puppy in front of me, with it’s teeth wrapped around the strap of my bag. These occurrences had become everyday. I had far more pressing matters. Typhoon Bolaven was forecast to strike in the coming hours and the black clouds were looming over Busan. I was more than a little nervous. However, Su had convinced me that my worries were unfounded. ‘They say it won’t be that bad,’ she had told me over the phone earlier. ‘Sort of like a British summer day.’

‘Anna.’ She waved. She whisked me away from the neon glow of the main streets to a road which was empty, except for one solitary wooden coffee hut. ‘This is my friend Hyong. Introduce yourself,’ she said with wicked encouragement. ‘Jonun Anna immnida! Bangapsamnida!’ Her friend’s eyes lit up at my attempt at basic conversation.’

‘You see, that’s why I learnt English,’ she sighed. ‘I just wanted to be able to talk to people.’ Su and I always ended up discussing our passion for language and affectionately mocking each other’s cultures. Our coffees arrived. ‘Do you have an extra sachet of sugar? Do you know if you are going to use it?’ I asked. ‘No, it’s all yours.’ She gave me the sachet and smirked.

‘That’s what confused me the most when I first arrived in Brighton. I thought I could speak English well. But this British way of speaking, I didn’t know if it was a question or a request or a statement.’ Having confused many non-native speakers with my own convoluted British indirectness, I am sympathetic. I recalled the array of cross-cultural mishaps I have been involved with, or the cause of. One particular with a melon, but that’s a story for another day. It reaffirms to me that the language classroom has to be brought to life. Real life.

She continued, ‘But you’ve just got to let yourself get it wrong. If you want to learn a language you have to open your mind first. ’ She doesn’t know how perfect a soundbite she has whipped out for me. But there is no PR spin behind her statement. It ’ s honest. She’s been through the exhilarating, exhausting, baffling and life changing process of learning another language.

They say that the course of true love never runs smoothly and my own route to becoming infatuated with English was a tumultuous one. In fact, I had to break contact with my native tongue altogether before I returned enamoured , with my tail between my legs. After University, I moved to Germany to become an intern at a cultural organisation. I barely spoke any German, but I threw myself into it.

It wasn’t the shuffling around of verbs that surprised me, or the cases. I knew what I was letting myself in for. However, what blew my mind was getting to understand the true meaning of words. The world became a different place when I spoke German. After that, all the idiosyncrasies of English came to light and I suddenly wanted to go around and tell everyone about grammar and semantics and tenses. I didn’t, instead I decided to become an English teacher.

I think about how learning a language has changed me and influenced the choices I have made in my life. I think about all the people I met because I was able to communicate with them. I look over at Su and think about who she is and who she’s met and the world she has got to know. She may have been born and bred in Busan, but when she speaks English, she is a Brightonian.

She is Su, the girl who used to go to the corner cafe every weekday, and chat to the owner whilst he made her a sarnie.

She is Su, who used to sit on the promenade with her friends, eating mushy peas and cheek biting vinegary chips.

She is Su, who drank a cuppa every morning with her single parent landlady nattering about the unpredictable British weather whilst the kids ran around looking for their thingamajig.

She is Su, whose weekends included pubs, tea rooms and pavilions. Piers, greasy spoons and boutiques. She met hippies, rockers and old ladies sat on benches and Spanish friends who told her to take a Friday afternoon siesta, in preparation for those weekends.

After a year of testing the TEFL waters, I am sure this holiday romance is going to get serious. A CELTA is what I need to make this my future. I imagine that future. I’m back in England, standing in front of classroom full of adults from all around the world. I’ll tell them that they aren’t too old to learn a language. I’ll tell them that they aren’t naturally bad at languages. I’ll tell them my story. And if they still don’t believe it. Well, I’ll tell them about Su.

If you are interested in being considered for future Suzanne Furstner Scholarships, please find more information here: https://www.cactustefl.com/about_us/suzanne_furstner_foundation/

Tags: scholarship, iatefl, efl, course, cactus, learning, tefl, english, tesol, language, celta, england,

Please read about previous Suzanne Furstner Scholarship winners:

Winner of the 2011 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Winner of the 2010 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Winner of the 2009 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Winner of the 2008 Suzanne Furstner Scholarship

Our favourite German words & expressions

To kick this off, this week she has been looking into some favourite, funny and quirky German words and expressions. The list was long, so here a selection of Clara’s favourites as collated by Cactus staff, family and friends.


Discussing Pfannkuchen (pancakes) in Germany can be rather controversial because it depends upon the area you are in, as to what pancakes are called. Terms vary from Pfannkuchen to Eierkuchen to Palatschinken, to Flädle to Plinsen… and Austrians just rip the pancake apart and call it Kaiserschmarrn!

And as if that was not confusing enough, there is another type of pastry people call Pfannkuchen in Berlin, but everyone else calls it Berliner (the pastry, not the people!) or Krapfen, or something completely different.

It is almost impossible for non-German natives to understand this complicated system of designations. In fact, most Germans struggle with it, too!

Play it safe and just call them Pfannkuchenspezialitäten! (pancake delicacies)

Wunderschön – Adjective

Wunderschön is usually translated as very beautiful or gorgeous. It doesn’t only refer to people, but can describe actions or simply express delight. Everything can be wunderschön!

Foul, Elfmeter, Tor!

Football plays an important part in the German culture. Watching a football game in Germany can be a unique experience, especially when you know the most important vocab.

A Foul (nice and simple) in the Strafraum (penalty box) is usually followed by an Elfmeter (penalty kick), which should be closely followed by a Tor! (goal)

“Dickbauchig“ or “Knollig“- Adjective

Dickbauchig (literally: fat-bellied) or knollig is usually translated as bulbous and used to describe the shape of items like bottles, vases or jars. In some cases dickbauchig may also refer to other people (also see “Fettsack” below).

“Fetter Sack“ or “Fettsack”

While dickbauchig and knollig can be used in a factual, non-offensive way, describing someone as Fettsack (literally fat sack) or fetter Sack is neither polite nor very nice!

Ossi & Wessi

Germans don’t only have nicknames for people from other countries, they also have nicknames for each other. Someone from former East Germany is called an Ossi and someone from the West is called a Wessi. Neither term may endear you to the person described as such.

“Besser als in die hohle Hand geschissen”

You won’t hear this phrase very often, but we like it because of its vividness. The English equivelant would be “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”.

You would use this phrase to emphasize that what you’ve got is still better than having nothing at all…or having someone’s poo in your hand.

Pulverschnüffler = Powderhound

Pulverschnüffler is the German expression for powderhound – a skier who insatiably seeks the best powder snow. Sick!


One of the great things about the German language is that you can make everything smaller or cuter by putting a “chen” at the end of the word – e.g. the world-famous German Wurst (sausage) becomes a Würstchen (cocktail sausage).

While armes Würstchen (“poor little sausage”) is a tenderly pitying expression for someone unlucky, referring to a gentleman’s pride as Würstchen is generally not considered tender, or well received.

In some southern parts of Germany “chen” is substituted for “le” in this case a Würstle, and in Switzerland it is “li”, so a Würstli.


Literally translated, Glocke means “bell” as in “church bell”. But the word Glocke has a number of meanings: It can refer to a cowbell, cloche or doorbell.

The plural Glocken also describes certain female and male body parts or in some cases the blossom of a flower, e.g. Osterglocken (literally: Easter bells or Daffodills).

Jemandem auf die Glocken gehen (“walk on someone’s bells”) means annoying someone.

Kompletter Unsinn/Blödsinn!!

A great way to end (or start) an argument is telling your opponent that what he/she is saying is kompletter Unsinn or Blödsinn. It means something is complete nonsense or bullsh*t.

Dicke Wandersocken

Germany is world-renowned as an engineering nation, and this talent is not limited to the automobile industry. Germans like to apply their engineering prowess and enthusiasm to all areas of life, producing a multitude of more or less useful gadgets to solve some real (and imaginary) problems. One such invention includes dicke Wandersocken or dicke Skisocken – thick socks that apparently are specially engineered for Wandern (hiking) or skiing.

Nacktschnecke and Schildkröte

One of the great qualities of the German language is its vivid descriptiveness. Germans like to be precise and factual, so they describe things and objects exactly as they see them.

Nacktschnecke (slug) for example is literally a nackte (naked) Schnecke (snails), due to its lack of a shell.

Another good example is the German word for tortoise or turtle Schildkröte, literally a “shield toad”, i.e. a Kröte (toad) carrying a Schild (shield).

Nicht kleckern, klotzen!

Translating this phrase is pretty difficult. An English equivalent would be “doing things in a big way” or “not taking half-measures”. Kleckern literally is to dribble or make a mess, while klotzen is a colloquial term for showing off.

Be careful to pronounce the “L” in klotzen though, and not to say kotzen (to vomit) instead. That would give the sentence a completely different meaning!

“Genau” and “Genau!”

The adjective genau describes something or someone as very exact and precise. It can also be used as an expression Genau! – meaning you are in agreement with someone.

“Diese Beschreibung ist sehr genau.“ “Genau!“

(These descriptions are very precise. Exactly!)

We hope you have enjoyed our journey into the intriguing and humorous nature of the German language (who would have thought?!).

Join us again next time for more of our favourite foreign words and expressions!

Next up: English

The Academic Credentials of the Cactus Language’s Academic Team

Our Academic Department consists of two highly qualified individuals, who are experts in teaching, and experienced in language learning. They are responsible for helping develop our language courses and resources enabling them to offer ongoing support and training to our vast network of tutors and trainers, and of course, they are always on-hand to answer your queries.

Meet the Team

Our Director of Studies in the UK, has a BA (French, Indonesian; James Cook University), a PostGrad DipEd (ESL/EFL/French; University of Queensland), and a Masters in Linguistics (JCU).  Rod has close to 30 years of TEFL experience, Cambridge Speaking examining, linguistic research at UQ, JCU and Oxford, Torres Strait music research, computer networking,
CALL and database development/management.

image – Our Assistant Director of Studies in the UK,
has a BA Hons in Hispanic Studies and Politics from the
University of Liverpool, a certTESOL from Trinity College London
and a post graduate Diploma in English Language Teaching
Management from Trinity / English UK. She has worked
extensively as a languages teacher, teacher trainer and
educational manager in the UK, Spain and Mexico.

Here at Cactus Language we offer free language level tests for anyone who is unsure of their language level.  However, should you have any academic inquiries then please do not hesitate to contact one of our team either by email or by calling: 0845 1304775 (UK) or 1-888-577-8451 (US) and selecting option 5.

Cactus Language offer a variety of language courses in the UK, New York and worldwide.

Russian Evening Course: Staff Review

“As I have not learnt a language since my school days, I was very apprehensive about entering back into a language learning environment; particularly as I had struggled with learning French and German at secondary school. I was up for a challenge though and quite excited about learning such a different language and new alphabet. I had also read about how being bilingual could delay Alzheimer’s and boost brain power (an added bonus); not to mention increase confidence and add to my current skill set.

I was extremely happy to learn that our Russian teacher was a native speaker, as we could learn so much more first-hand about Russian culture and customs. He had also learnt a repertoire of languages including Mandarin, so he was able to compare other languages to Russian and was aware of which sounds and letters we might struggle to pronounce.

Our lessons compromised of listening, reading and speaking, which was interactive and engaging and helped our teacher correct any words we weren’t pronouncing correctly. The majority of the writing exercises were given as homework.

One of my main concerns was speaking aloud in class and getting things wrong; a fear that also dates back to my school days. But I found that after the first lesson I felt quite comfortable speaking Russian in front of the other students. My confidence grew quickly and I was not worried about making mistakes anymore.

I also found that my lessons were nothing like they were back in school, because I was surrounded by adults who were enthusiastic about learning. We were actively encouraged by the teacher and our fellow students to just get on with speaking Russian and not worry about whether it was correct or not. Generally when one student found a particular word or sentence difficult, the rest of us did as well, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about. 

I really enjoyed being in a classroom environment again and interacting with other students who all had an interest in learning Russian. I especially enjoyed when I pronounced a sentence correctly or my homework was correct, as I felt a great sense of achievement.

My class was small, which created the perfect leaning environment, and the school was centrally located just a five-minute walk away from my work – no excuse not to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of learning a language, and particularly one that was so different to my own. I was surprised at the progress I made in only 10 weeks. 

I would definitely recommend learning a language to anyone who wants to be able to interact with the locals of a particular country and wants to learn more about a country’s culture. “

Spasibo Lucy, for sharing your experience!

To follow in Lucy’s footsteps and get to grips with Russian, check out Cactus’ Russian Courses in London & nationwide.

Why study English in New York?

In my case, although there are a lot of Koreans in New York, I chose to come here to learn English. I was studying English in Florida and Hawaii because I was worried that I would not have as many opportunities to practise my English in New York, due to the number of Koreans studying here. However, my opinion has changed since I moved to New York.  The number of Koreans did not make a difference for me and in my opinion, it is better to learn English in New York than any other city in the U.S.A. Read more