English column 'Eye on the UK'
English column 'Eye on the UK'

Eye on the UK’ is a monthly English column brought to you by the British Council Taiwan and CNA magazine. Each month, we aim to broaden your knowledge of the UK and help you prepare for the IELTS exam by providing IELTS style reading texts, covering topics such as pop culture, history and customs. Each article comes with a glossary of useful vocabulary, and an IELTS style question with answers, to help you prepare for the IELTS exam, or just give your English a boost.

European Science in the Age of Galileo

Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was as famous for his struggles with the authorities of his day as for his scientific discoveries, which included the nature of the physical universe. An able inventor, he also significantly improved the telescope and used it to prove his theories about astronomy. He faced controversy in part because science was undergoing profound upheaval.

Read the latest issue of Eye on the UK


Technology and Neuroscience

Have you ever looked at a beautiful wood carving of a bunch of grapes or of a small animal and wondered how someone could create it? Or wondered what steps were involved, from selecting the wood to envisioning the final product to planning the process one step at a time?

Julius Caesar the Anthropologist

Anthropologists are social scientists who, when they began their discipline over a hundred years ago, tended to be interested in far-away cultures that no American or European had ever before encountered. Some even ventured to Pacific Islands and wrote famous accounts of these peoples.

Chinese Art: The Search for Elegance

Chinese art takes many forms, from ceramics and landscape paintings to calligraphy and carvings. Throughout the centuries, the emperors played a vital role in developing and promoting these arts. Some, such as Taizong (598-649), were also artists themselves. Emperor Hsuan Tsung (1399-1435) was an accomplished calligrapher and painter. In his artwork he depicted the countryside, individuals, flowers, birds, and even insects.

Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion

Have you ever bought something because of how someone talked about a product or service, and then later couldn’t believe that you had got hooked? Have you ever voted for a politician after hearing powerful words and ideas, and then realised later that you had been fooled?

Alchemy’s Search for the Elixir

It’s a scene right out of Harry Potter. In a dark room with a roaring fireplace to his back, a whitebearded man with a long black robe pours a mysterious liquid from a fancy glass bottle. The liquid collects in a large metal bowl before disappearing through long pipes. It drips out at the end, a different colour and smell than when it was poured in. All his life, the man has been working on perfecting that liquid, the drink that would cure everything. Has he finally succeeded?


A small, curving palm tree grows out of still water. Enormous chunks of fallen buildings, mostly columns which once held up heavy structures, lay in pieces on their side, sticking out of the water. In the background, a few people are standing around, fishing, or talking. Behind the people are enormous Roman ruins, several stories high, only half standing and mostly roofless. Bushes and other plants grow out of the walls. We are looking at the artwork of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who lived between 1720 and 1778.

The Quantum Brain

What is quantum physics, and how might it help us to understand human psychology? Quantum physics is the study of the behavior of very small particles. These tiny elements do not behave in the way that Newton’s laws of physics say they should. Scientists cannot predict with certainty how they will act. Now, new research is trying to understand how this mysterious world of the super small affects the brain and therefore how we think, feel, and imagine things.


One of the world’s oldest cities, Aleppo in modern Syria traces itself back thousands of years. Syria’s largest city before the current civil war began, it differs greatly from the country’s capital, Damascus. During its time it has been the country’s financial and industrial centre.

Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Modern World

As a resident of Taiwan, when you get sick, there is the option of going to a western doctor, or you could go down a more traditional route - visiting a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, also known as TCM. With its beginnings in China, it has slowly grown and evolved over a few thousand of years, with many TCM universities and practices popping up in Europe and America. TCM also includes acupressure massage, herbal medicine, acupuncture, and cupping.

The Rise of the Podcast

Podcasts are a relatively recent phenomenon. In 2000, the first system that enabled people to download and store episodic content such as podcasts, for computers and portable players was created, and in the early 2000s broadband internet and the release of the iPod meant that podcasts started to become popular. The word ‘podcast’ was first used in 2004, and by 2005 Google had over 100 million hits for the word. Also in 2005, The Ricky Gervais Show -- a comedy podcast that introduced the world to the weird and wonderful mind of Karl Pilkington -- was the first podcast to have over a million downloads.

St. Mark’s Horses

If you have ever been to Italy, you know how much of the ancient world's art still exists. Having survived centuries of war, disease, and revolution, every piece has its own history. The statues of four famous horses found at the front of Venice's basilica (a large and important Catholic church) of St. Mark's show this as much as any other work from antiquity, or the ancient world. The horses reflect the power and beauty of the real animals. Elegant and strong, these horses seem to have always been there.

Long Live the Queen!

2016 saw a new head of state elected in the USA. But on the other side of the globe, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II just celebrated 65 years on the throne, the only monarch to ever celebrate the Sapphire Jubilee. She has also made history by being the longest reigning monarch in British history, and is an upstanding example of a strong female leader, one who is capable of modernizing the government and able to work endlessly for the benefit of her country.


Have you ever wondered whether your dreams have any meaning? Can they tell you anything about your life? How often do you dream? Why do you dream?

False Flags: From Pirates in the 1720s to Modern Warfare

Pirates were criminals at sea who tried to take over other ships to steal whatever they could and kill whoever tried to fight back. They sometimes flew a flag identifying themselves as pirates. The famous pirate flag, generally a white skull and crossbones with a black background, was called the Jolly Roger. Sometimes the flag had two crossed swords instead of the bones. Variations in the Jolly Roger signaled who the pirates were to other pirate ships. The Jolly Roger was particularly popular in the 1720s. But did pirates really fly a flag that identified them as bad guys? Why would they have wanted to tell everyone they were villains? 


Have you ever taken a two-week vacation to a majestic beach that is beyond your wildest dreams? Consider spending two weeks soaking in the clear waters and white sands of Indonesia. Indonesia consists of about 13,000 islands, of which, about 6,000 are inhabited (this number varies with sources). Due to its geographic position, it is believed to be once inhabited by Austronesian people around 1.5 million years ago. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are prevalent religions throughout the country.


Harry Potter is back on the stage, both figuratively and literally, in new ways for its next act. The eighth book is actually a script for a play showing at the Palace Theatre in London that was written by playwright Jack Thorne but based on an original story written by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. It comes eleven years after the seventh and final book in the wildly successful Harry Potter series, but this time the plot features Albus, Harry and Ginny’s youngest child.


Autism & ‘Pokémon GO’? Yes. Since the release of the new mobile app, parental guardians of children with autism have been sharing their stories online of how ‘Pokémon GO’ has given a platform for their children to break out of their shell. Autism is commonly misunderstood due to stereotypes or misrepresentation in media, therefore this article aims to have an initial understanding of autism and how ‘Pokémon GO’ is involved.


Even in the 21st century, there are still mysteries on Earth and in our solar system. Jupiter is one of them. Scientists are eager to know more about what is beneath the storm clouds and enormous magnetic field of Jupiter, as well as how much oxygen there is within its water. They additionally question why the ‘Great Red Spot’, or eye-shaped storm that has been going for hundreds of years and is twice as wide as Earth, is shrinking and if Jupiter even has a solid core.


Has it been your dream to see the Aurora Lights? Scientists expect that 2016 will be the last year to easily see the Aurora Lights until 2023, so hurry before you miss your chance! 


The 2016 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad and commonly known as Rio 2016, will be held in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro from the 5th to the 21st of August, 2016. The Olympics were previously held in London in 2012, when the USA took home the most gold medals (46), followed by China (38) and Great Britain (29).


In the past few years, British schools have suffered from a large teacher shortage, which in some schools and areas has caused larger class size or forced children to take places in another school further from their home. Various schemes have been introduced to train teachers in order to fill vacancies, one of them being the ‘Troops to Teachers’ program that recently started in 2014. This £2 million government-run program allows some ex-military service personnel to train to become teachers after completing a two-year program, as well as aids in transitioning back to civilian life.


The first 'baby box'’ gained attention in the UK in July 2013 when the Finnish government gave a baby box to Prince William and Kate when Prince George was born. Since then, there have been a number of conversations surrounding the origins and benefits of the baby box. Now, Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London started a pilot project in April 2016 to give 600 ‘Baby Boxes’ for free to new mothers. The baby boxes include essential items for a newborn baby, such as clothing, bedding, hygiene products, and the box itself can be used as a portable crib. The main objectives of the project are to decrease the infant mortality rate and to provide education to expecting mothers.


The Elizabethan era is a period in English history that covers a period from 1558-1603, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, from whom the period takes its name. In fact, many periods in English history are also similarly named after ruling monarchs, such as the Georgian era (Kings George I to IV) and the Victorian era (Queen Victoria).


"The worst refugee crisis since World War II.” That is what the media is calling the current diaspora of asylum seekers that Europe is experiencing. Approximately 50 million people fled their homes last year, most due to war. As a result, the UK, like many other European nations, has opened their doors for asylum seekers, giving them an opportunity to escape their war-torn nation.


Poet, actor, and playwright, this 16th century British iconic figure has managed to transcend time and boundaries as his legacy stills lives on after 400 years and has spanned the globe. Widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare’s worldwide fame is without doubt, yet surprisingly little is really known about his personal life.


With 2015 coming to an end, United Nations (UN) leaders and delegates have gathered to evaluate how far the world has come in achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out in 2000. Of the eight goals, the top two goals were to ‘Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty’ and ‘Achieve Universal Primary Education’. Although not official yet, in September 2015 the UN has released the seventeen new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next fifteen years. 


The list of great British writers is long, as is the list of great speakers and religious figures. Few, however, can hold a candle to the remarkable life and career of Clive Staples Lewis, better known simply as “C.S. Lewis”.

The Yeomen Warders: England's Champions!

If you were one of Great Britain's Yeomen Warders, you might be hard pressed to fit your official job title on a standard business card. Officially known as the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, the title is quite a mouthful. Today they are better known as simply "Beefeaters".


Of all the fascinating tourist attractions in England and throughout the United Kingdom, the various castles, stately homes, and manor houses are among the most impressive. The very mention of England evokes images of grand old homes surrounded by elaborate gardens, and rooms filled with ornate decoration and priceless works of art. While some of England’s famous properties continue to be privately owned and serve as family homes, many, due to the cost of maintaining them, have been sold off, demolished, or donated to the National Trust.


Without a doubt, one of the most famous residences in all of England is No. 10 Downing Street. It is colloquially known as "Number 10", and is the home and headquarters of the Executive Arm of the British Government. Originally the residence for the First Lord of the Treasury, it is now where the prime minister , who also holds this post, resides. Described by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as "one of the most precious jewels in the national heritage", "Number 10" has been through some major changes.


If asked to name a famous explorer, or to think of a well-known captain, certainly “Captain Cook” would pop into many people’s heads. Captain James Cook, sometimes confused with Captain Hook, the antagonist of the popular Disney movie, Peter Pan, was born in Yorkshire, England in 1728, and was an explorer and cartographer in the British Royal Navy.


In the UK, one of the greatest honours to receive is the knighthood. To be knighted by the King or Queen, and referred to as "Sir", (or "Dame" when the honour is awarded to a female), has been a tradition in the UK for ages. In medieval times, the title was awarded mainly to candidates who displayed great courage in battle, and who were considered to be chivalrous. Since 1560, however, the award has been extended to recognise non-military service, and includes champions in the fields of the arts, science, and business.


Hands down, one of the most fascinating and popular tourist attractions for visitors to London is officially known as the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster. This name, however, is quite a mouthful, and the building is better known by its nickname, "Westminster Abbey".


For many, long gone are the days of cumbersome maps, wrong turns, and embarrassing pit stops at the petrol station to ask for directions after succumbing to the reality that you haven't a clue where you are or where you're going. The convenience of satellite navigation technology (GPS) and mobile phone apps make it possible to simply key in your destination, and voila! A digitised map and friendly voice guides you straight to your destination. With such technology, you could be forgiven for assuming that functioning as an effective taxi driver has become a cinch. You'd be terribly mistaken, however, if you were referring to the plight of the would be London cabby.


More and more these days, UK parents and students who think that a university education has to begin immediately after high school (or secondary school) are reconsidering. According to one study, in 2012 over 2.5 million students opted for a gap year, with over 20% of parents agreeing to fund it!


No one in the UK has ever studied at Oxbridge, but everyone knows where it is – or rather, where they are. The name is a compound of two of the world’s most famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge.


 While many people think of England when they think of the United Kingdom, September’s vote on Scottish independence brought the British Isles’ second largest country into sharp focus.

Sweet Tooth: The history of British puddings

British people have long been famous for their taste for sweets, and pudding itself can be claimed to be a British invention, with the word first appearing in the Middle Ages.

Glastonbury 2014 - A Festival Review

For one week in late June 175,000 music fans descend on Worthy Farm and the small local villages in Somerset to revel at the world’s largest greenfield music festival – Glastonbury.