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TOPIC 5.

GEOGRAPHIC,

HISTORIC

AND

CULTURAL

BACKGROUND

OF

THE

ENGLISH

SPEAKING COUNTRIES. DIDACTIC APPLICATION OF THE MOST IMPORTANT


GEOGRAPHIC, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL ASPECTS.

1. - Introduction
2. Geographic, historic and cultural background of the English speaking
countries.
2.1. - English as a Lingua Franca.
2.1. - United Kingdom of Great Britain.
2.1.1. - Geographic background.
2.1.2. - Historic background.
2.1.3. - Cultural background.
2.2. - United States of America.
2.2.1. - Geographic background.
2.2.2. - Historic background.
2.2.3. - Cultural background.
2.3. - Canada.
2.4. - Australia.
2.5. - Republic of Ireland.
2.6. - New Zealand.
2.7. - Caribbean.
2.8. - South Africa.

3. - Didactic application of the most important geographic, historic and


cultural aspects.

4. - Conclusion.
5. - Bibliography.

1. - INTRODUCCION
Nowadays, there are nearly 500 million native speakers of English spread
all over the world which gives us a good idea of how important the language
is. Indeed, geographically English is the most widespread language in the
world and it is second in terms of number of speakers after Mandarin
Chinese.

For economic and trading reasons, English is used every day by millions of
non- native speakers in order to buy and sell products, and not only this,
Politics is spoken in English. In this sense, we can state that English has
become a lingua franca since many people use it in order to communicate
with other people who do not speak their own language.
For example, English is an official language in the following countries:

Kenya, Liberia, South Africa.

USA, Canada, Bahamas,

United Kingdom, Ireland, Gibraltar.

India, Pakistan.

Australia, New Zealand.

The majority of English speaking countries are those that during or prior to
the 19 th century were part of the Great Britain Colonial Empire.
At the moment, English is used in business and trading, and it is one of the
official languages of UN. In many Western countries, English is spoken by
nearly half the population, especially in the Scandinavian countries and
Holland, because the importance of their own languages is very small by
comparison to English.
We are living in a new international context known as the knowledge
society in which speaking foreign languages is a widely accepted need all
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over the world. There are different reasons to support this statement:
learning a tool to access knowledge, development of open minded attitudes,
development of learning skills, enjoyment, opportunities to find a better
job, etc. All these reasons are enough to follow the European Union
recommendation to speak two foreign languages: a language used as an
international means of communication, English, and one of the languages of
a nearby country, for example Portuguese, French, Italian or Arabic in our
case. As a matter of fact, some European countries, for example Finland,
bilingual education is a reality. In Spain it is one of the new educational
goals proposed by different political parties. In Andalusia, the Plurilingual
Plan is becoming a reality.
According to the Andalusian Educational Act, (Act 17/2007, 10 th of
December) a communicative approach should be implemented in the
teaching learning processes that take place in the Andalusian educational
centres, and in order to do it, not only the foreign language but the culture
it transmits have to be approached in the EFL classroom. Language is
considered the natural means of communication among human beings. It is
through the knowledge of a language that we can learn about other cultures
and countries. Language and culture are closely related as the first is the
reflection of the second one, and culture could not exist without the
language that represents it.

2. - GEOGRAPHIC, HISTORIC AND CULTURAL FRAMEWORK OF


ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRIES.

2.1. - English as a lingua franca


A lingua franca can be defined as a language widely adopted for
communication between two speakers whose native languages are different
from each others and where one or both speakers are using it as a second

language (J. Harmer, 2001, p.1). English has become one of them, the most
important one, due to different factors: historical, economic, etc...

2.2. - United Kingdom of Great Britain.

2.2.1. - Geographic background.


The United Kingdom, in its conventional long form United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland, U.K. in abbreviation, consists of four
geographical, historical parts:
COUNTR

CAPITAL

LANGUAGE(S)

S.PATRO

Y
England
Scotland

N
St. George
and St.

London
Edinburg

English
English

Wales
N.

h
Cardiff
Belfast

Scottish
Andrew
English and Welsh St. David
English and Irish
St. Patrick

Ireland

FLOWER
Tudor rose
Thistle
Leek/Daffodil
Shamrock/Fla
x

The United Kingdom is divided into three main geographical areas: The
Highlands (Scotland and the North of England), the Midlands (valleys and
plains) and the Lowlands (the south of the territory).
It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English
Channel, the Celtic Sea, and the Irish Sea, as well as by the Republic of
Ireland to the south of Ireland. It is a quite flat country with no high
mountains (the Pennines and the Cambrian Mountains). The most important
rivers are the Thames, Humber, Tees, Severn and Wye. As far as economy
is concerned, mineral resources such as iron, coal and oil, have been very
influential in British history. Based on market exchange rates, the UK is
the second largest economy in Europe, after Germany, and the fifth in the
world. Chemical and pharmaceutical industries are also as well as the
financial services and tourism from the service sector.

The main industrial a commercial areas are the great conurbations, where
about one third of the countrys population lives. The administrative and
financial centre and most important port is Greater London, which also has
various manufacturing industries. London is Europes foremost financial
city. Metal goods, vehicles, aircraft synthetic fibres and electronic
equipment are made in the West Midlands conurbation, which with the
addition of Coventry roughly corresponds to the former metropolitan
county of West Midlands. The industrial Black Country and the city of
Birmingham are in the West Midlands. Greater Manchester has cotton and
synthetic textiles, coal and chemical industries. Leeds, Bradford and the
neighbouring metropolitan districts are Britains main centre of woollen,
worsted and other textile production.

3.1.2. - Historical background.


McDowall (1989) dedicated the first chapter of his History of Britain to
Prehistory and then to the Celts, whose language still survives in different
areas of the country. The Romans occupied Great Britain for some
centuries.
In the 5th century, the island was invaded by the Jutes, the Saxons and
the Angles. Later the Vikings came and the Anglo-Saxon civilization
flourished for some time. Due to the frequent raids of the Danish invaders,
the Danes took the lead and imposed their consuetudinary system of rules
in the 9th century.

After the Danish invasion, the most significant event was the Norman
Conquest in 1066, which gave birth to a new civilization, including a new
language with a lot of Latin influence. William I introduced Norman style
political and military feudalism. The Normans were of German origin and
brought the Gothic art to the island, which was going to have such an
important role in the English history of Art.
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After the Norman Conquest England became a powerful and influential


monarchy in Europe. In the early 13th century, a series of circumstances
led to the barons revolt and the "Magna Carta". From 1338 to 1453 it took
place the "Hundred Years' War". Almost a century later, in 1534, King
Henry VIII cut England off the Catholic Church of Rome and made Wales a
part of the his kingdom in 1535. It was the beginning of the British Empire.
Ireland was occupied in the 16th century.

In the 19th century it was the biggest empire in the world. Due to the
Industrial Revolution, England became the biggest exporter of cloth,
machine and other products.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, many of the old British colonies
achieved their independence. The UK took part in the First and the Second
World Wars and its predominant role was darkened by other economical
empires. In the mean-while, it has established a leading and close union with
Europe. The end of the 20th century saw major changes to its governance
with the establishment of devolved national administrations for N. Ireland,
Scotland, and Wales.

In May, 1.979, the conservatives returned to power under the leadership of


Margaret Thatcher, who set out to reserve the post war privatizing stateowned industries.
She led the conservatives to victory again in 1.983 and 1.987, the latter an
unprecedented third consecutive general election win.
In 1.990 John Mayor, Conservative Party became leader and Prime Minister.

In the elections of May, 1.997, Labour won 418 seats in the House of
Commons and Tony Blair became Prime Minister, the same year Princess

Diane, the former wife of Prince Charles was killed in a car accident in
Paris.
Following the devastating September 2.001 terrorist attack in the USA,
the British government became the most visible international supporter of
the Bush administration in its war on terrorism. The British forces joined
the Americans in launching attack against Afghanistan after the Taliban
government refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden.
The Blair government was, and is, a strong supporter of the USAs position
in the invasion of Iraq, that began in March 2.003.

3.1.3.- Cultural background.


The culture of U.K. is informed by its history as a political union of four
countries which each have their own preserved and distinctive heritage,
customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence
can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its
former colonies such as Canada, Australia, India, and the United States.

British people have a strong civil sense and participate in public issues since
childhood. There are thousands of registered volunteer organizations,
which depend on their individuals time, money and skill.

The contributions of the UK to the world of Arts, Science and culture in


general, greatly exceed the possibilities of this essay. The architecture of
the Gothic, the landscapes of Constable and Turner, the portraits by
Reynolds or the Modern Tate Gallery are just a few examples of the
importance of British Art for the rest of the world. It would be endless to
list the poets, writers and theatre players whose work has been enjoyed by
millions of people all around the world in the past and in the present times
(Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, etc.). In addition, one of the most
extended traditions in the British culture is their love for theatre and
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there has been extraordinary theatre actors born in the UK. On the other
hand, philosophers and musicians have also taken a part in the history of
the British culture.

In Britain children go to school from age five to 16. they spend six years in
Primary School and then they go to Secondary School. In Britain, like the
USA, there are State Schools which are free and Private Schools which are
paying.

Britain has established an obligatory national curriculum. The national


curriculum is divided into:

Core Subjects.

Foundation Subjects.

Basic Curriculum.

The Central Department of Education and Science in London gives advice


and inspects how the National Curriculum is being taught at schools. Local
Education Authorities which are controlled by the Education committees of
the county and metropolitan district councils plan and organise education at
a local level in England and Wales.

Students who study for two years, from 14 to 16 obtain the General
Certificate of Secondary Education, consisting of five core exams
and with the option to sit further exams.

The next national qualification are called A levels or Advanced


Levels and is taken by students who stay at school for two more
years, from 16 to 18, in order to take qualifications for University or
a professional course.

The University takes three years or even four.

Sport is another shared value by the British. Britain was the first country
to organise sport as a national activity in the 19 th century. Football, tennis,
golf or cricket are some of the games exported by the British. The most
popular sport in the UK is soccer, usually referred to as just football.

The most well known festivals celebrated in Great Britain are these:

Guy Fawkes, November 5th

Valentines Day, February 14th

Halloween, 31st October

Christmas

3.2. - United States of America.

3.2.1. - Geographic background.


The United States of America is a federal republic composed of a national
government and 50 state governments. There are 48 contiguous states
occupying the mid- latitudes of the continent, together with the State of
Alaska at the northwest extreme of North America and the island state of
Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

There are two legislative houses:

Senate embodies the federal nature of the Constitution, with two


senators from each state. Each senator is elected at separate
elections.

House of Representatives, has a fixed number of seats and each


state has one seat for each.

The Senate and the House of Representatives together form the Congress,
which is the law- making body, and no federal taxes can be collected or
money spent without the approval of both Houses. The President signs the
laws. If he refuses, his veto can be overridden by a two thirds majority in
both Houses.
The head of State and government is Barack Hussein Obama. born August
4, 1961) is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the
first African American to hold the office. Obama was the junior United
States Senator from Illinois from 2005 until he resigned following his
2008 election to the presidency. He was inagurated as President on
January 20, 2009
The capital city is Washington D.C. and the monetary unit is the dollar.

The United States is situated mostly in central North America, between


the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. The USA is bordered by Canada and
the Arctic Sea to the North and by Mexico and its Gulf to the South. In a
very broad sense, this huge nation can be divided geographically into four
areas: the East Coast, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the West
Coast.
The geographic variety of USA is complete and there can be found almost
any kind of climate and landscape in its territory. The North has a humid
continental climate, but Florida and Hawaii are tropical and Alaska has a
polar climate.
The United States has a capitalist mixed economy, which is fueled by
abundant natural resources, a well-developed infrastructure, and high
productivity. The country is the first largest producer of electrical and
nuclear energy, sulphur, liquid gas and salt, and it is the third largest
producer of oil. Its industrial power makes it lead the manufacturing field.
To their economical power it could be added the large number of inhabitants

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that live in the USA. The population of the US has always been
characterized by its ethnic and racial diversity.
The USA is formed by 50 states and the capital city is Washington. It is a
federal constitutional republic. Throughout its history, the USA has had only
two major parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. On the other hand, the
chief of the executive is the President of the USA, elected to a four year term.
B. Obama was elected as the 44th president in 2008, the first Afro-American to
be in the White House.

3.2.2. - Historical background.


The U.S. is relatively young country that is only 200 years old.
The colonial period (1942-1763) began with the discovery of America by
Columbus and the first British settlements and ends with the war in which
the colonies won their independence from Great Britain. After 1763 is a
change in the administration of the British Imperial Colonial policy led into
revolution in 1775. In 1776, Jefferson made the Declaration of
Independence and the colonies in North America declared themselves
independent of Great Britain (on July 4, 1776). This caused the
Independence War.
In the nineteenth century democracy gradually began to take form. By
1850, U.S. was the main centre of finance, commerce and manufacturing. A
terrible Civil War took place from 1861 to 1865 and led to the abolition of
slavery. After the Civil War, the USA experienced a great growth and
transformation. Millions of people arrived from other countries to the land
of opportunities, and the population moved to the Western region as
miners, cattle ranchers or sheep farmers; it was the time of the "Wild
West". Meanwhile, the Native American tribes were moved to lands
reserved, which provoked the "Iridian Wars".
The First War in Europe affected the US interests from the start and
they finally joined the allies in 1917. By 1929 they faced the Great
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Depression, a period of recession worldwide. In 1930, President F.


Roosevelt proposed a "New Deal". The USA tried to maintain neutral in the
face of totalitarian regimes in Japan, Italy and Germany. But the attack at
Pearl Harbour forced the US to enter the World War. The early post-war
period was dominated by the Cold War (1947-1991) due to disagreements
between the Soviet Union and the US.
By the 1950s and 1960s the US experienced a boom in births and economic
gains, but not all the Americans could benefit equally as African-Americans
remained segregated. The social changes grew out an open, fluid and
diverse society. The attack on September 11th 2001 was a turning point in
the US politics and has had a deep impact on their people's selfconfidence. The US values of freedom, democracy and opportunity to all
are a legacy since the promulgation of their Constitution and should be
maintained in the future of this "first universal nation".

3.2.3. - Cultural background.


In general, the culture of United Stated is influenced by the waves of
immigrants, first from Europe and Africa and later from Asia. Overall,
significant cultural influences came from northern Europe. Some have
described American culture as a melting pot in which immigrants eventually
assimilate into a unified American culture that incorporates contributions
from immigrant culture. A key component of American culture is the
American Dream: the idea that, through hard work, courage, and selfdetermination, regard-less of social class, a person can gain a better life.
In spite of its comparatively short history, the USA has been the origin of
several artistic movements, and excellent authors in the field of Literature were
born in the USA, as well as scientific development and discoveries have their
origin in the US. From the field of Science, the deep impact caused by the NASA,
their scientists and engineers when they first step on the Moon is still
considered one of the most important hits in the history of human race. It was in
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the USA that some artistic movements took place since the Naturalism of the
Hudson River School in the mid of the 19 th century to the abstract
expressionism. In addition, the new technologies basically created and developed
in the US, their web portals, the web engines, the e-mailing, Blogs and etcetera
are promoting a further proximity among humans all over the world.
Since the late nineteenth century, baseball has been regarded as the
national sport. American football, basketball and ice-hockey are the
country's three other leading professional team sports. Boxing and
horse racing were once the most watched individual sports, but they have
been eclipsed by golf and auto racing, particularly NASCAR. Soccer is
played widely at the youth and amateur levels and is growing in popularity as
a professional spectator sport. Tennis and many outdoor sports are popular
as well.

In the USA the main festivals are the following ones:

Independence Day, 4th of July.

Thanksgiving Day, 4th Thursday on November.

Halloween, 31st of October.

Accordingly, education standards and requirements differ from state to


state. Some school systems require that a high school student complete
three years of mathematics before graduation. Although, there is no
national curriculum, certain subjects are generally taught in all state
schools systems across the country.
After elementary school children start with their secondary education at
the age of six until the age of 18. This is where children/ young adults get
the education they need. Often the education systems are:

Aged 6- 14 or Elementary School, known as grades 1- 8.

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Aged 14- 16. Four years of High School of which two are spend in
Junior High School, and known as grades 9- 10.

Aged 16- 18, the last two are spent in Senior High School, known as
grades 11- 12.

3.3. - Canada.
Canada is a country occupying most of northern North America. It was a
British colony until 1931 that it received the independence. Today is a
federal democracy with bicameral parliament: The Senate and the House of
Commons. The constitutional head is the sovereign of the United Kingdom.
In the latter part of the 20th century an increased immigration from
Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia, added to the culture of native
Indians and Inuit, has made Canada more broadly multicultural. French and
English are spoken in different areas with an important bilingual population.

3.4. - Australia
Australia is the sixth largest country on Earth, but with a small population.
The official language is English. Australia is the largest wool producer and a
major supplier of cereals, dairy products, sugar, fruit and cotton. It has
many mineral resources and an important forest industry. Until the World
War II almost all immigrants came to Australia from the British Isles. The
aborigines represent a minority of the population.

3.5. - Republic of Ireland.


The Republic of Ireland occupies the southern part of Ireland.
Economically, the agriculture is important. Beer, lactic products, cereals,
computer software, equipment international services and tourism are the
most important sectors of the economy.

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3.6. - New Zealand.


It is situated in the South Pacific, Southeast of Australia. His land area is
above twice the size of England. The country comprises two main islands,
North and South Islands, and a number of little island. The official
languages are English and Maori. It is Unitarian parliamentary democracy
with the British Sovereign as Constitutional Monarch. It was a British
colony, reaching independence in 1947.

3.7. - Caribbean.
The Caribbean is a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most
of which enclose the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located
southeast of the Gulf of Mexico. These islands were called the West
Indies because when Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492 believed
that he had reached the Indies (in Asia). After contact, war and disease
led to a decline in the Native American population.

3.8. - South-Africa.
Officially Republic of South Africa, it is the southernmost country on the
African Continent. English and Afrikaans are the official languages, though
the most predominant is English. The population is heterogeneous, there
are white, black, half-caste (black and Afrikaners) and Asiatic people.
Although it has the most unknown and worse economic situation, is one of
the richest in cultures, tradition and nature.

4. - DIDACTIC APPLICATION OF THE MOST IMPORTANT GEOGRAPHIC,


HISTORIC AND CULTURAL ASPECTS.

The English Classroom is not limited to learn a foreign language as a set of


strange and lexical items. We, as English teachers, must also show the
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elements of the geographical, historical and context surrounding this


language in its natural environment. This extralinguistic dimension added to
the didactic units of integrated activities presenting linguistic contents at
the time. In this way we develop our student s interest in knowing a
different way of life and the sociocultural aspects of the English speaking
countries. The English teaching in Primary Education is based on its
communicative characteristics and the insertion of such cultural elements.

The student must realise that he/ she himself/herself is a cultural being.
Once the student recognizes that people are a product of their own culture
he will be better prepared to accept the behaviour of people from other
cultures without value judgements.

Along with the acceptance of people comes the acceptance of the language.
What, we, the teachers, need to achieve is a perspective of how language
and culture are related and knowing how to communicate this in the English
classroom.
The general aim in Primary Education, as far as socio- cultural contents, is
concerned is to get our pupils to show an understanding attitude towards
and respect for the English language, its speakers and their culture.

The Royal Decree 1513/2006 states as a general aim in primary education


to value English and languages in general, as a means of communication and
understanding among people from different origins and cultures. The
importance of the cultural element is also admitted in the Andalusian
Educational Act (Law 17/2007, December 10 th). Consequently, it is expected
that learning a foreign language will contribute to the development of our
pupils competence as citizens as it increases their interest of knowing
about the target culture, it favours the understanding of the differences
among countries and promotes social and cultural tolerance.
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The inclusion of cultural contents in the curriculum should avoid


stereotyping. Besides, the linguistic and cultural diversity in our classes can
be indeed a further resource which enables teachers to do a better job
and learners to be more accountable for the culture learning that takes
place in our FL classes.
The Curriculum for Primary Education indicates that the cultural contents of the
target language are to be integrated within the rest of contents of the English
curriculum. In order to promote intercultural communication and tolerance values,
children must have some knowledge of the customs, characteristics and
peculiarities of the English-speaking countries.
There are many enjoyable and effective ways to reach those objectives.
Introducing motivating materials ready for their use in our primary classroom or producing our own materials is a way to do it. Literature (tales,
comics, rhymes,), songs (pop songs, traditional songs, chants,..) games
(cooperative games, competitive games,

) I.C.T. (CALL programmes,

presentation programmes, Internet, ) and other types of materials (wallcharts,

flashcards,

word

cards,

picture

cards,

chalkboard, flannel-board, photographs or slides,

realia,

flipcharts,

videos or DVDs,

magazines, newspapers, T.V. programs, transparencies, ..) can help us to


include different ggeographic, historic and cultural elements in our lessons.
Creating a bank of educational resources in which we include all we can find
ready to be used when we need it is a good idea.
All these materials can be applied to specific lessons in the different levels
throughout the school year and others can be worked by all the school
community at a specific moment. We can design different lesson plans in relation
to the festivities (Halloween, Christmas), we can design some lesson plans on
some aspects of traditions and daily life, we can focus on a different region
every school year or we can even celebrate a cultural week.

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Besides, the Royal Decree 1513 and the Order of 10 th of August, we can
show students the sociocultural aspects by means of the fourth block of
contents. It is called: Intercultural understanding and sociocultural
features. These contents are developed taking into account:

Knowing English costumes and particularities of English speaking countries.

Knowing different ways of life.

Promoting tolerance.

Improving interest about other social and cultural expressions.

Showing a respectful attitude towards people from different cultures.

All these of contents are related to the eight basic competences that Real
Decree 1513 establishes (y las nombrais). In order to improve our students
skills we, as English teachers, develop activities as these:

Visit to the supermarket.

Pen pals.

Role- play.

Classroom decorations.

Films.

Celebrations.

Books.

Recipes.

Postcards.

Magazines.

Folklore.

Historical aspects.

5. CONCLUSION.
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To conclude with, we would like to underline the importance of this topic


for teaching English at Primary level. If we, as teachers, are not aware of
the importance English has in the European framework, it will be difficult
to convince pupils to study English.

Although we have studied the main geographical, historical and cultural


aspect of the English-Speaking countries, such a detailed knowledge is
obviously not expected from our pupils but according to our Spanish Law
and European regulations, we, as English teachers, need to develop our
students socio-cultural competence. This means to face them with other
realities, peoples, traditions, places and language.
Children have a natural curiosity to discover new worlds, places and people
too. Showing them how and where other people live will improve their
attitude towards those communities and their culture and language. By
doing this, we will help our students to develop a positive attitude towards
that culture and therefore towards its language. We will also help them to
develop and open mind and tolerant attitudes and to increase their
curiosity towards the world.

8. BIBLIOGRAPHY.

BROMHEAD, P. (1986). Life in Modern Britain. Longman.


FARRELL, M: (1995). The World of Eglish. Longman.
FIEDLER, E. & alts. (2004). America in Close-Up. Longman.
THOMSON, D. (1980). England in the Twentieth Century. CUP.
www.great-britain.co.uk
www.usinfo.state.gov

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