Cats and Dogs - a blog for English learners

Occasional tips and tricks to help you learn more than the useless phrase "it's raining cats and dogs", brought to you by Craig Meulen, an English teacher in Germany. (Blog discontinued.)

October 18, 2008

Learning new words - another flashcard tool

A couple of days ago I wrote about 'Phase 6'. This is a software program that help you to learn new words. I like Phase6 a lot and I think it is good value for the price. The programmer is a young businessman (not a big faceless company) and I think we need to support small businesses which produce good products.

However, the 'open source' and 'shareware' software movement is also a good idea and yesterday I discovered an open source program that is very similar to Phase 6. You can install it and try it for free and if you like it you can make a donation to support the developers.

It is called 'jMemorize':
jMemorize is a free open-source Java application that manages your learning processes by using flashcards and the famous Leitner system. jMemorize makes memorizing facts not only more efficient but also more fun. It boosts your whole learning experience and features categories, statistics and a visually appealing and intuitive interface.

Try it out - I am sure it will help you learn your vocabulary much more quickly!

October 17, 2008

Keep shtum

I was just listening to the latest episode of 'The Archers' – a radio soap opera from England – and it finished with a character saying "So let's keep shtum about it."

What did he mean? Well, this is a German word being spoken in English – 'stumm' means silent or mute.

And the phrase therefore means: "Let's keep quiet about it." or "Don't tell anyone about it."

Here's the entry:
and an interesting internet debate about the phrase

The phrase probably didn't come into the English language directly from German. Instead, it is an example of 'Yiddish' – a dialect spoken by Jews, which is still used by Jewish people in many countries:

As well as 'kindergarten' and 'abseil' there are lots of German words that we use in English:

October 14, 2008

Learning new words

One of my all-time top tips has to be the wonderful software program "Phase 6", which can help you learn your new vocabulary.

I met the programmer at a trade fair in Berlin several years ago and started to use his software myself to improve my German vocabulary. Then it was very simple. Now he has made a lot of improvements:
- better graphic design
- vocabulary sets from leading publishing houses, such as Cornelsen
- you can link in pictures and sounds

How does the software work? Well, it is like the old system with little cards and a tray to hold all the little cards. You write a new English word, with the German word on the other side. Then you put it in the tray. After a couple of days you look at the word again and try to remember what it means. In total, you need to do this 5 times. If you remember the word 5 times then the word is in your memory and you won't forget it again.

But the computer can organize these cards in a special way. So after the first time, it waits a few days then shows you the card again. After this it waits a whole week. Then two weeks. And so on. The time until each 'phase' gets longer, which helps your brain to remember the words for a long time.

You can read about it in German at:

or in English at:

And here is a story about a bus ride in Poland – this is the reason why the programmer wrote his program!!

Fantastic photos of London at night

A lot of people who learn English are also interested in England, and many visit London. Some do this to improve their English, others do it because London is such a famous city and has a lot of sights to see.

If you haven't been there yet, these pictures may provide you with motivation.

If you have been there, you may recognise some of the sights.

Either way, the photos are simply amazing!

(Thanks to Lorcan Flynn for this link)