The Royal Family
In this podcast, Jack talks about C1 vocabulary related to the royal family.
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
The Royal Family
Today’s topic is in response to a suggestion by a listener who has asked about language connected to the royal family. But before I get to today’s topic, I want to apologise for not posting in months. I’ve had emails from Arian and Jess asking if I am OK. In this time of covid, I can understand your concern and want to assure you that I am well. Thank you for your messages. I am very lucky; I’ve had three vaccination shots and so far, haven’t had covid. There are still lots of cases around, so we’re all being careful.
Sorry for not publishing a podcast
I haven’t published a podcast in a long time for two reasons. The first is that I have been very busy. I work three days a week on a project for the British Council and Premier League called Premier Skills English. I started a podcast for that project in 2015 and worked on it for years with a colleague who lives in Spain. My colleague recently left the project and so I’ve been trying to cover what he did each week and my own job so this has left me very busy. I also do some work for the Bell foundation so finding time to work on this podcast has been difficult.
A new website
The second reason is that I am building a new website for learning English that’s based around speaking. I’ve been an English teacher for over 20 years and in my time teaching, I’ve found that speaking practice is the most important part of learning a language. Speaking a language is a bit like playing an instrument. You need to be able to focus on what you want to say, to focus on the tune. The fingering and chord shapes need to be automatic. You need to practise speaking so you don’t have to think about how you say things and you can think about what you are saying. I have had students who have amazing vocabularies, who can read newspapers and pass every grammar test, but who can’t hold a normal conversation because they don’t have the fluency. The best lessons I have ever taught have had learners speaking together from the very beginning; learning through communicating. It seems to work partly because that’s how you learn any skill and especially for language because things just seem to click better for learners.
When my new school is ready, I’m going to give away some free courses so you can see what I’m talking about. I’ll let you know when it’s ready, but as I said before, it’s been taking up a lot of my time. I think I should have a sample lesson ready in about a month.
OK. The topic of today’s podcast is the British royal family. I’ve done a bit of research and made a list of the most important vocabulary related to the royal family. This language is all quite advanced so I’d say that this is a C1 podcast.
A constitutional monarchy
In the UK, our form of government is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Straight away there are some difficult items to look at.
OK the word parliamentary relates to the noun parliament which is the meeting of the elected politicians to decide on laws and oversee the government. It’s written strangely with an extra i-a in the middle, but you just say par-le-ment. This meeting in the UK takes place in a building called the Houses of Parliament which is quite famous for having a clock tower that most people call Big Ben. I think that people who work at the Houses of Parliament call the tower the Elizabeth Tower and they insist that Big Ben is actually the largest bell inside the tower, but if you visit London and ask for directions, it’s better to say Big Ben because that’s just what everyone calls it.
The government is a parliamentary democracy. A democracy is a system of government that includes the people in a state, usually through elections. We elect, that is, we vote in elections for members of parliament or MPs to represent us in the Houses of Parliament.
So what does the Queen do?
Well, we have a constitutional monarchy which means we have a monarch, but the monarch has to do what it says in the constitution.
A monarch who is not sovereign
The word monarch just means king or Queen. The word is written m-o-n-a-r-c-h but it’s pronounced mon-uhk. Normally a monarch is the ruler of a country; they are the person that makes the laws. Another noun that is sometimes used is sovereign. The word sovereign has the word reign in it which means rules or is in charge. In the UK, post boxes, where you post letters, have two letters on the front. Most of them have ER, but some have GR and some even have VR. Now these initials stand for the name of the monarch and the latin word regina which means Queen or rex which means king. You can see the connection between the latin for Queen and the verb reign. In fact, when I was a kid, I thought ER stood for Elizabeth Rules and then Elizabeth reigns and only relatively recently did I learn about the latin. The older post boxes say GR for George Rex or ER or Edward Rex or VR for Victoria Regina.
So the sovereign is the person that reigns. Sovereign can also be an adjective and means is the ruler or in charge. This is quite interesting because in the UK we have a constitutional monarchy, so we have a sovereign who is not actually sovereign. A constitutional monarch has to do what it says in the constitution. A constitution is normally a list of rules that determines how something is governed, that says how everything should be organised and run. In the UK, we don’t have a written constitution, but there are several documents that have been written throughout history to limit the power of the monarch and now it’s understood that parliament is sovereign and the Queen has to do what they say.
Royal duties and obligations
The royal family is the Queen, Queen Elizabeth and then her children, the princes and princesses and her grandchildren. Some of these members of her family perform royal duties. I am not sure what this means, but I think they do official openings and visit places and look at things. We use the verb perform with duties. A duty is something that you have to do. If you witness a crime, it is your duty to report it to the police, for example. The royal family has duties or obligations. I think that the Queen still has to sign some documents when the government passes or makes a new law. This is called the royal assent, which just means the royal agreement. When the Queen fulfils these duties, you can say that she performs her duties.
Some of her family, her son Prince Andrew and grandson Prince Harry don’t have any royal duties. They are still princes, but I don’t think they have other titles because they have quit or been sort of sacked. Three of the Queen’s cousins also have some royal jobs.
Dukes, Earls and Viscounts
Now, here is where it gets complicated. The monarch can give anyone they want a title. So the Queen can make you a duke or a duchess or a marquess, earl, viscount or baron. In the past, these titles were called peerages and they meant you could sit in the House of Lords which is like a second parliament, but it’s not democratic. These people have to approve the decisions made by parliament. Now, these titles were passed down through families. The people who inherited the titles when the duke or viscount died are called hereditary peers. Hereditary is an adjective and it describes something that is passed from parents to their children. These can be medical conditions and also titles and positions of power. These hereditary peerages gave these dukes and earls power. If you were rich enough and owned land, you would probably get one of these titles at some point and all these rich people together were called the aristocracy. The members of this club of rich and powerful people were called aristocrats and they are still disgustingly rich and powerful today. Something like half of England is owned by aristocrats and about 90 hereditary peers still sit in the House of Lords.
The Lords – Life Peers and Hereditary Peers
Most of the members of the House of Lords today are appointed by the government and they are called life peers because their title is not hereditary. Men have the title lord and women have the title baroness.
The word title is quite interesting. I’m not sure that titles are used everywhere, but on UK websites, when you register you often have to put your title. Normally that’s Mr or Miss or Mrs. If you have a PhD, you can put Dr or if you are a medical doctor. On forms, there aren’t usually aristocratic titles like duke or earl, but I suppose people with these titles don’t mind that much. According to these people, I am a commoner. A commoner is a person without a title. So even if a person is really rich, they are still a commoner until the Queen gives them a title.
How to say hello to the Queen
There are rules about how you are supposed to approach the Queen and other aristocrats, about who speaks first and what you are supposed to call her. For the Queen, you are supposed to call her ‘your majesty’. For male members of the royal family you are supposed to call them your royal highness. Majesty is a noun and it means impressive and beautiful. It also just means royal power. I suppose nowadays it’s just a convention. The word highness is only really used to talk about royal people. Aside from perhaps if you’re saying that something is high, but that would be slightly strange. Even dukes and earls have ways that commoners are supposed to address them. But all of these rules were just made up by aristocrats so I don’t really see why people use them.
Not a royalist?
Now, you might be able to tell from my tone that I am not a fan of the royal family as I believe much of the inequality and corruption in modern British Society comes from the aristocrats’ political power which they have used over the centuries to look after themselves and not the people.
I have nothing against Elizabeth and Charles and William and Harry and the rest of them, they didn’t choose to be royal. In fact, I feel quite sorry for them in some ways.
The royal family are symbols and prime examples of the aristocracy. I know they work for the country, but when there are scandals around members of the royal family like Prince Andrew because of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and others, I think they do more harm than good.
What do you think?
What do you think? Are you a fan of the royal family? WOuld you like to meet the Queen or one of the princes? Or do you think that the whole thing is ridiculous in this modern age that we are still paying money and respect to these people because they were born? I’d love to hear your ideas on the page for this podcast on Learn English Vocabulary or on the post for this podcast on the Learn English Vocabulary Facebook page. If you would like to read the transcript for this podcast, you can find it on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk in the C1 podcasts section.
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Thanks for listening.