Author Archives: Ruxandra Constantinescu

About Ruxandra Constantinescu

I was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. I had been traveling in my mind every since I can remember and then started doing it for real as soon as I could. I studied and worked in Romania, Germany, France and Spain and I am interested in books, movies & series, journalism & communication, and teaching EFL.

No, Not, and None. So Which Is It?

Negatives are tricky in any language, and apparently all the more so in English. But they shouldn´t be; at times, it´s just because English is all over that some of its simplest uses turn into headaches.

No and not are two of the most common English words to express negation. And it´s as simple as this:

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How to Say 0 in English

Spoiler alert: this is a text for all those who still believe English is simple because it has no overly developed vocabulary. To them and everybody else I suggest you take one simple item of vocabulary – the number 0 for instance – and try to think of at least three ways of saying it. Here is a hint for you: there are more than three.

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All the Love for English Past Tenses

The English language has something as romantic as an unreal past. What is that – a past that is not real? Is it because it never happened? Never will? It´s actually a down-to-earth grammatical term and it refers to situations that are not real, because did not happen. But the beauty I still see in it is the distance the past manages to encompass.

Only it´s not the distance in time the past usually sets, but the distance from reality, from things that actually did happen.

The unreal past is often used in conditional sentences or in situations that express wishes or regrets. Broken down, it´s the use of past tenses – past simple and past perfect mostly – for hypothetical situations that might exist at some point, but did not yet.

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Learning English: Do You Need a Teacher or a Native?

<<You cannot possibly teach English if you are no native; maybe you can explain grammar rules, theoretical phrasing and irregular tenses, but only a native can really teach the spoken, common, salt-of-the-earth, real language; English belongs to the native-speakers>>

My guess is some of the above is all too known to many teachers and learners of English alike, and unfortunately, it all comes down to a question of belief. That is, not based on any provable evidence from reality. And that is truly sad because most often than not, human beings are prone to embrace fiction, creativity, art, originality and then some more – but this suspension of disbelief is many times not even tolerated when it comes to teaching languages.

So basically, we are all too willing to accept the reality in a science-fiction movie, the love story of a power couple in showbiz, or even the given interpretation of the most beautiful impressionist painting – but when it comes to teaching languages, we know for sure that only native speakers can do it. It’s like a treasure that only natives have access to, a longed for good that only natives should be allowed to share, an earthly possession that only natives know how to use.

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No Love Lost for English in Spain

Yes, after several years of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, and after months of trying to inspire my students to love English for its versatility, liveliness, richness, and even playfulness, I have come to terms with the hard truth: Spaniards don’t like English.

Maybe there is no likability there; maybe that is a moot point; maybe there are several reasons to it. But the fact stands. I am not trying to make it a general statement, to fly this slogan over all Spaniards, or to impose my opinion on just about everybody. Let’s just say I currently don’t see any love lost for the English language in Spain.

From what I could gather, English has always been what Spaniards call la asignatura pendiente – a booed curriculum subject of sorts that pupils and students alike had to stumble upon at some point and that is doomed to never be ticked off the list. For some, the rejection started with the very first primary school English teacher who did not speak English and yet forced irregular verbs and plurals, tenses and adjectives on their pupils. For others, the resentment grew when once on a highly competitive and at the same time relatively restrictive labour market, they found themselves served with the mandatory English exam. To some, English is just the foul-smelling pill they have to swallow to have a chance at a job for life in the public sector. To others, it is just something they have to have in their resumes, since you know… you never know.

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A Plea for Bilingualism

To my most pleasant surprise as a language trainer, my students show an absolutely amazing English level even before we start classes. And this has to be addressed as such: in a country where English is not loved nor liked, where the subject has been subject to forced learning, despised grammar lessons and irregular verbs learning by heart, to actually meet people who speak English fluently, who make an excellent use of English and who know expressions and idioms I could only think of when teaching a specific class – well, that just leaves you in awe of them.

So imagine my bafflement when most of my students decidedly state, when asked, that they are definitely not bilinguals. To them – especially and specifically to those who have an admirable level of English – bilingualism has come to mean a perfect proficiency in both mother tongue and a second language.

But that’s just wrong. Bilingualism means speaking and understanding two languages, receiving and producing messages in two different languages. There is no limitation,

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Trinity College London: The Forgotten English Qualifications?

Who hasn’t heard about the Cambridge exams? They are the most important English qualifications for non-natives and everybody knows all about them. Some English students and teachers alike even dream about the structure and know the scoring and scales system by heart. But the careful observer should not fail to look elsewhere: there is an alternative to the highly demanding, stairway-to-professional-success Cambridge ESOL exams, and it is just as prestigious and internationally recognized.

The English qualifications offered by Trinity College London are almost as old as the Cambridge ones, dating back at the beginning of the 20th century. They are just as ruthless with non-natives trying to get an EFL diploma and they have an equally recognized certification level within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Nevertheless, in recent years, many a student made a move towards the ISE Trinity exams either as a second option after failing a Cambridge exam or even as the very first choice.

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The Great Divide: English Exams and Tests of English.

British English tests and exams, American tests, exams and tests for Spain… Where there is so much choice, there must be lots of differences. Relax! All these acronyms and abbreviations that sound like secret organizations have more in common than you would think: they are all about English, they all test both receptive (listening and reading) and productive (speaking and writing) skills and they all assess the level of English knowledge, whether for general or specific purposes.

So let´s take a closer look to what the differences are all about.

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What´s the difference between an English exam and a test of English?

Cambridge FCE or TOEFL? Advanced or PET? TOEIC or APTIS? The Oxford Test of English or IELTS?

There are so many of them and yet so little understanding of what each encompasses that you come to feel that much choice is not actually what you wanted. But English is a global language and depending on many different purposes, you might be asked to take one of them.

Well, first of all…

… there are tests and there are exams.

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If you were a man, would you not be a misogynist, too?

This was the question I was asked by a loved one when I was telling him my recent trials and tribulations at work. The boss was a man, and he was probably a misogynist in the original sense of the word: he abhorred he had to deal with women, treat them with at least a feigned form of respect due to social norms, and thus show such consideration by implementing said social norms through deigning women with the occasional hello, good-bye, and thank you. Of course, all that turned up once you had the ill luck of getting to know him.

He was young, smart, and successful. He had travelled the world, he liked books and movies, and he was interested in the trendy-fashionable left wing politics, dressed highly casually, and was not least of all what would generally be considered a socially charming person: he was perfectly able to have a witty conversation, show interest in his employees’ personal lives, offer advice and even help to some extent. He did voluntary work, had his eco-friendly collective farmers’ group and was genuinely interested in all things hip and not mainstream. The glass house was a perfect mirage.

He could have easily fitted into a pro choice or women’s rights demonstration. Only he didn’t. You spend enough time with someone, the honeymoon is soon over and the haunting truth starts to leak out of the fairy tale and dawn on you with its ugly dark face. It took me longer to realize it all, and I like to believe it was because I had never come up against anything not even remotely like it.

My fall was steep. But my friend’s question – if you were a man wouldn’t you be a misogynist, too? – made me wonder.

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