November 29, 2017

Book Reviews: Lagom, Lykke & Ikigai—the Art of Better Living

Last year, we explored the Danish word hygge: the essence of happy living in Denmark (you can read my reviews here). I must admit after reading books about hygge my usage of candles went up by 100%! Today, we’ll learn how to live a better life through exploring three concepts: the Swedish lagom, the Danish lykke and the Japanese ikigai. After all, according to research by Sonja Lyubomirsky happiness is 50% genetics, 10% circumstances and 40% our intention… We can improve 40% of our happiness, 🙂  so let’s get started!


Lagom is a Swedish philosophy meaning “not too little, not too much, just right”. The book written by Linnea Dunne is a beautifully illustrated and photographed guide to the Swedish art of balanced living. My favourite ideas are: picnicking, baking or eating cinnamon buns (mm, cinnamon), fika (a break for coffee or hot beverage with yourself, your friends or a book), “me time” (to recharge your batteries), simple pleasures and decluttering your living space.


Lykke means happiness in Danish and the book by Meik Wiking explores the idea of happiness in a deep and thorough way incorporating various world-wide perspectives. The publication has beautiful photographs and contains statistical data regarding happy living, along with some practical ideas which may help improve our feeling of happiness. One quotation: “Everything runs smoothly in Denmark. Well, almost. Four years ago, one train did arrive five minutes late. The passengers each got a letter of apology from the prime minister and a designer chair of their choice as compensation.” (p. 14)


Ikigai is the Japanese “way to a happier, more fulfilled life” (p. 18). “It is about discovering, defining and appreciating those pleasures in life that have meaning for you” (p. 17). The book written by Ken Mogi is a fascinating introduction to the Japanese mindset. Ikigai is formed of 5 pillars: starting small, releasing yourself, harmony and sustainability, the joy of little things and being in the here and now. The author gives many real-life examples of each of the pillars (including reasons to get up early in the morning!) and creates a beautiful story presenting Japanese lifestyle.


L. Dunne, Lagom. The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. Gaia: London 2017.

M. Wiking, The Little Book of Lykke. The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People. Penguin Life: UK, 2017.

K. Mogi, The Little Book of Ikigai. The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life. Quercus: London, 2017.

If you’re still looking for some ideas for your Christmas gifts, the above books will make excellent presents. You can also book our language courses as a Christmas gift 😉

Written by Kinga Macalla

November 22, 2017

Language teaching: What is pragmatics and why is it important when teaching languages?

What is pragmatics?

Pragmatics is a language in use, or even better, a meaning in use (the actual use of the language). We need pragmatics to understand how language is used in a specific context and to be able to use it appropriately.

Why is pragmatics important when teaching?

Pragmatics is a set of skills which allow us to know what to say, to whom and how to communicate ones message in a specific context (what, how, whom, and when). By teaching pragmatic language we teach our students how to use the language appropriately, for example when a student learning English is asked “how are you?” in England, do they need to provide a full and detailed description of their recent life or is it enough to shortly answer “All right” or “Not bad”? It seems obvious that the latter is correct, right? Hmm… it depends on the context and who your interlocutor is: if you are a doctor in hospital, your patient may provide a more detailed response which is appropriate given the circumstances. Another example of how to use English appropriately might be politeness, such as when to use “please” in English.

How to teach pragmatic language:

Firstly, I would start with observing and analysing the language that you, your friends and your colleagues use, why you use certain phrases in one context, how you understand hidden meanings and when it is appropriate to use certain phrases when talking to your manager at work. Secondly, you’ll need authentic resources, from podcasts and radio programmes to newspaper articles and documentary films. Thirdly, you’ll need time to find, prepare and make those resources accessible, providing the right context for the topic introduced, e.g. grammar.

I hope I have inspired you to look at teaching from a different perspective. If you’re interested in learning more about pragmatics, I would recommend this article: Paltridge, B. 2012. Discourse and Pragmatics. Chapter 3 in Discourse Analysis: An Introduction (2nd Edition). London: Bloomsbury.

Please let me know in the comments below if you teach pragmatic language and how you prepare your language lessons.

Written by Kinga Macalla

November 15, 2017

Travelling Corner: Polish Mountains in Autumn

I think I last visited Poland in autumn around 4 years ago and the Polish mountains even longer ago, so it was a real treat to go there in October this year. It was beautiful, colourful and foggy with pretty autumnal vibes.

Beskidy (Polish mountain range)

I went hiking in the Polish mountain range of Beskidy in the South of Poland, not far from Katowice and the border with the Czech Republic. I would say these mountains are medium in height, so the stamina level needed to walk there is quite average. I went to the small town of Wisła and chose two routes: one to admire views (Trzy Kopce Wiślańskie, 810 m n.p.m.) and another to reach a beautiful mountain chalet at Schronisko Soszów (Soszów Wielki, 886 m n.p.m.). The overall route to each destination took me around 5 hours there and back, but the whole experience was amazing: from white morning fog and autumnal colours to the beautiful interiors of the chalet.

Walking route signs

If you’re planning to visit any Polish mountains, it might be worth knowing about the walking route signs which come in 5 different colours. The route signs in Poland do not necessarily equal the level of difficulty and are usually marked in the form of a rectangle with three lines: white, another colour (black, red, blue, green or yellow) and white again. The colours describe the length, whether there are scenic views, if the route links with another route or if it has a specific destination.

Do you enjoy hiking? Have you visited any Polish mountains? Please let me know in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

November 8, 2017

Language learning–pleasant and fun? Yes, absolutely, if you know what type of learner you are!

Everyone can learn a new skill, and everyone can learn a new language – but did you know that different people learn in different ways?  Not all people’s learning techniques are the same.  The type of learner you are depends on how your brain is wired.  The categories of learner are: visual learner, auditory learner, kinaesthetic learner.  A visual learner learns best if they see something written down or represented visually; an auditory learner retains information best if they hear it and a kinaesthetic learner (from ‘kinaesthesia’: the awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs in the muscles and joints) is a hands-on learner or someone who learns through manual tasks or movement.  You might already know what kind of learner you are or you might recognise yourself in one (or more) of the learner profiles as we explore how to harness them in order to learn languages below.

Visual Learners

If you are a visual learner, you will remember things best if you have seen them represented visually.  There are a number of ways you could make use of this concept in order to learn a language.  If you are listening to a text you could write out the words or read the transcription so you see the words as they are read out.  You could draw a spider diagram of related words, e.g. with ‘dairy’ in the middle and ‘cheese’, ‘eggs’, ‘milk’ stemming off from the middle.  You could draw a table and put different categories of words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) in the different columns.  You could write out words in different colours so the image of them sticks in your mind.  You could use flash cards to learn and remember vocabulary – writing them out yourself or buying a set in a bookshop – or finding them or creating them online.  You could even draw pictures to represent words – concrete ones like a picture of a lemon to help you remember ‘lemon’ or an abstract picture such as those artists use to represent untranslatable words (you can also use them for words that have literal translations!).  You could also do this in the opposite way – creating images out of words that relate to their meanings, such as these.

Auditory Learners

If you are an auditory learner, you need to hear something in order to learn it.  You will learn a language best if you listen to it or speak it regularly.  You could listen to songs in your chosen language or listen to the radio or audio books.  Make a playlist of your favourite songs in your chosen language.  You could practise pronouncing words or read books aloud to make sure you hear the words as you read them.  You could join a conversation club, look for a language partner in your town or online or join a choir that sings songs in your chosen language.  You could watch films in order to practise your listening skills.  If you need to learn vocabulary, record yourself reading out the words and listen to the recording several times a week.  If you need to learn the spellings of words, sound out each letter and then read out the word as a whole.  If you have exercises to complete in a book, read them out as you fill them in.

Kinaesthetic Learners

If you are a kinaesthetic learner, you will learn things best if you use your hands to help you learn them or if you undertake a learning task whilst moving around.  A useful way of learning verb endings for a kinaesthetic learner could be to write them on building blocks and then work at piecing the words together to make different tenses of the same verb.  You could get a set of words or phonemes to stick on your fridge and have fun writing sentences or whole stories with them.  If you want to move your whole body and not just your hands, you could listen to an audio book in your chosen language whilst you are going for a run or working out at the gym.  Or you could join a drama group in your chosen language – speaking the words whilst acting a part will help you combine the words with their associated actions.


Of course, some people have more than one learning style or learn best when two or even three of these styles are combined.  If you think this might be you, don’t hesitate to give it a go.

Why not find out, and share what kind of learner you are – and your experiences of language learning – in the comments?

Written by Suzannah Young

November 1, 2017

BLS 5-year anniversary party: what an evening! (photo blog)

BLS 5-year anniversary party was a fantastic event. I’m still re-living the whole evening: the concert, the home-made chocolate cake and our wonderful attendees. Next year, we’ll be 6 years old. That’s a good reason to celebrate again, right? 😉 If you missed our party, see our photos below and a video here.
Speak soon,