jueves, 30 de septiembre de 2010

Alone, lonely, solitary, on my own, by myself

The word solo is a difficult one to translate into English for many Spanish speakers. We have several options at hand.

Alone  (never used before a noun) = without other people around you. It is the general word. It is neither good nor bad.
"When I came into the class, the teacher was alone."

Lonely = sad because you are alone and feel that nobody loves you.
"Ann hated her lonely weekends in that city."

On my own, on your own, etc.; by myself, by yourself, etc. = without anyone's help or supervision, independently.
"He built the house on his own / by himself."

Solitary (only used before a noun) = doing something without anyone else with you, often by choice.
"She enjoys her daily solitary walks."

Self-study activity:
Complete the gaps in the sentences with the corresponding word.

1. Do you like spending time ... ?
2. Fishing and walking are the two pleasures of the ... life that he enjoys.
3. Don't you feel ... being on your own all day?
4. I can manage ... now, thanks for your help.
5. She doesn't like travelling ...

1. alone   2. solitary   3. lonely   4. on my own   5. alone

miércoles, 29 de septiembre de 2010

Wonderful world

This is evidence of what a great song looks like when the new technology is applied to it. Simply enjoy Carmen Montoya and Rafael Perez's ability to patch up a beautiful online handout. And if you like songs, play Wonderful World and complete the missing words.

Internet safety

Beautiful online presentation by some US primary-school students about the hazards the internet poses and the precautions we should take. Just read their posts and enjoy them while you revise the imperative in English.

martes, 28 de septiembre de 2010

The Greatest New York Photo Book Ever

Is New York the greatest city in the world? Probably not, but those who have visited the place, simply love it and can't wait to get back.

Watch and listen to this slideshow from Time magazine.

Here's the script, in case you missed out anything Reuel said.

Giving directions

Giving directions is a difficult task in all situations and in all languages, in our first language (Spanish) and in English.

It can very helpful, however, that we memorise a few expressions and use very short and general questions and answers, and avoid getting into too many details. This video is a good example of what I’m saying.

Where’s Namdaemun?

Grade 5 Lesson 5 from Fisherman on Vimeo.

This other video from Real English, however, is a bit more difficult. The speakers talk much more quickly, and the names of the streets may cause us some difficulty.

Self-study activity:
Several people are asked about street directions. Stop after each person and note down both the question and the answer. You can self-correct the activity with the second part of the video, where the same situations are repeated, but this time you have subtitles that can help you fully understand the speakers' exact words.

Self-study activity:
Get together with an English-speaking friend and download some of the activities to practise street directions from Boggles World ESL. As you can see, all the language which has to do with questions and answers is very simple and general.

lunes, 27 de septiembre de 2010

The love of learning

Self-study activity:
Watch this beautiful video which pays a tribute to those who really want to learn and their teachers. Then complete the gaps in the text below with only one word. All the missing words are verbs, and all of them except one are regular verbs.

They (1) … us when we were right, (2) … us when we were wrong, and (3) … us when we didn’t know the difference.

They were tough when they had to be, fun when they (4) … to be, fair when they ought to be, and compassionate when they (5) … to be.

Sure, they (6) … us I before E except after C, A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y, and who, what, where, when, why and how.

But they also (7) … us that we could do anything, and they (8) … it.

Every good thing in the world, every song, every invention, every accord, every cure, every word exists because at some point, someone (9) … to teach and someone else (10) … to learn.

Here’s to the love of learning and all those who choose to embrace it.

You can self-correct the activity here.

When you have finished and after correcting the activity, try and read the text, putting special emphasis on the pronunciation of the regular verbs.

If you need to revise the pronunciation of regular verbs you can read this entry and this one.

If you need extra revision, you can try this activity from the Britsh Council. It is a bit theoretical and has no audio, but it can help you discriminate the way the -ed ending of regular verbs is pronounced.

domingo, 26 de septiembre de 2010

Will vs going to

Students sometimes find it difficult to tell the difference between these two forms to express the future. The web English Page offers a very clear explanation of the different uses of will and going to to refer to future actions. It also makes reference to the form of the verbs (contractions, etc.), gives lots of helpful examples, and presents the students with some activities.

However, I don't think they are 100% lucky when they explain the difference between will and going to to make predictions about the future (use 4 in their explanations).

They are absolutely right when they say that when we are making predictions or giving opinions about the future we are guessing about what might happen in the future and we have no control over it. Consequently, both forms can sometimes be used to predict the future:

Barcelona FC is going to win the league.
Barcelona FC will win the league.

The two Barcelona sentences are similar in meaning, although some may argue that in the first one (going to) Barcelona FC leads the table with a big point gap over the second, or is generally believed that they play football better or they clearly have the best players, whereas in the second one (will) it is just a Barcelona supporter who is expressing his/her wish at the beginning of the season.

Most grammar books point out that will is often used with phrases like I'm sure, I think, I don't think before will to express our prediction (which is often a wish): I'm sure you'll feel better soon.

We also use will for facts about the future: My daughter will be 15 next month.

However, we use going to for things that we predict often because the present situation gives us a good reason for our prediction:
She's going to have a baby (we see a pregnant woman).
You're going to fall! (you're standing on a ladder on one foot).
It's going to rain (you can see black clouds on the horizon).

Alex Case presents this Mr Bean activity to help us find the difference between will and going to to make predictions.

Self-study activity:
Watch and enjoy the video, but when it comes to answering the questions below, you must stop the counter at exactly the moment it is said in the question, so that you can make a prediction either with will or with going to.

What is Mr Bean going to do?
What will the other car’s reaction be?

What is the man going to say?
What will Mr Bean's answer be?

What’s Mr Bean going to do?
What will the man’s reaction be?

What’s Mr Bean going to do?
What will the man’s reaction be?

What is the teacher going to say?
How will the students react?

What is Mr Bean going to do after reading the questions?

What is Mr Bean going to do now?
What will the man's reaction be?

What is the man going to do now?
What will Mr Bean’s reaction be?

What is Mr Bean going to do?
What will the reaction be?

What is Mr Bean going to do?
Will it work?

What is the teacher going to say?
What will Mr Bean’s reaction be?

You can compare your answers with these suggestions I made, but remember both you and me were just guessing about the future.

Told to eat its vegetables

This New York Times article deals with the lack of success efforts are having at convincing Americans to eat more vegetables.

sábado, 25 de septiembre de 2010

MacDonal's poetry ad

This ad from MacDonald's is different, to say the least.

Self-study activity:
Play the ad with the sound off and describe the people having a meal at the MacDonald's restaurant. You can stop the video at different stages so that you can have enough time to describe what you can see.

Now play the video with the sound on. What's funny about it?

... Yes, you may never have thought that MacDonald's could have such a poetic soul. Now, if you wish, you can replay the video while reading the lines of the poem here. There are some difficult vocabulary in the poem, so this is the time to look words up.

Finally, you can practise reading the poem aloud in sync with the ad first and then with the sound off.

Self-study activity:
Get together with an English-speaking friend and discuss your MacDonald's experiences: How often do you go to MacDonald's? What different menus can you have at a MacDonald's? When did you last go to MacDonald's? Why do you like/dislike MacDonald's? Why is it so popular? What's the stereotype of the MacDonald's customer?

This activity is based on a video you can find on The English Blog.

viernes, 24 de septiembre de 2010

Journey, trip, voyage, travel

These words may be confusing for some Spanish students. Travel is a verb (‘viajar’), but we can also use it as a noun in some fixed expressions: travel agency, foreign travel, air travel, on my travels or when we mean ‘travelling in general’: My interests are music and travel.

Generally speaking the Spanish noun ‘viaje’ is translated as journey or trip into English. Journey emphasizes the distance or time travelling takes (a twenty-minute bus journey, a train journey) whereas trip dwells on everything -distance, purpose, return (a two-day business trip). Trip can also mean ‘excursión’ (a school trip).

Voyage is a long journey on a ship or spaceship.

We always use the verb make with journey, trip and voyage and the preposition on: She’s away on a business trip; I never make a journey without my ID.

Self-study activity:
Complete the gaps with travel, journey, trip, or voyage.

1. Our parents wished us a safe … as we drove away.
2. My parents are planning their first … abroad.
3. The whole family went on a (…) to Florida.
4. The ship sank on its first (…).
5. Before a holiday it’s convenient to make all (…) arrangements.

1. journey   2. trip   3. trip   4. voyage   5. travel

The Learning Edge

The Learning Edge is a newspaper-based site that will be great for younger students and English Language Learners.  Navigating the site is as easy as clicking on a headline within the newspaper and then beginning the activity. There are numerous activities within each newspaper that help with concept understanding, reading fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and much more.

jueves, 23 de septiembre de 2010

Want to be happy?

Do you want to be happy? Ok, who doesn't. If so, don't go  to the UK or Ireland to live. The quality of life in these two countries leaves a lot to be desired, according to this Guardian article.

Paris top 10 attractions

Self-study activity:
Watch this video that shows the top tourist attractions in Paris and answer the questions that follow.

a. Hotel de Ville is home of the ...
b. The obelisk in Place de la Concorde is ... years old.
c. In the Pompidou centre you can see a large collection of ...
d. Arc de Triomphe was built in the ... century.
e. Seeing the sights on a boat along the Seine takes a ... period of time.
f. There are ... rooms in Versailles Palace.
g. Notre Dame is ... years old.
h. Sacre-Coeur is painted in ... colour.
i. The Louvre Museum is perhaps the ... in the world.
j. The Eiffel Tower is one of the most ... monuments in the world.

You can self-correct the activity by reading the script here.

miércoles, 22 de septiembre de 2010

Book summaries in 60-second videos

60 Second Recap is a website that hosts video overviews of many classic book titles. Each title has a selection of 60 second videos explaining different parts of each book.

The level of language is a bit high, because the presenter speaks quite fast, but the length of the videos is very short (just a minute) and most of the videos deal with classics of English literature we might know something about or might even have read.

Self-study activity:
Get together with an English-speaking friend and pick one of the books in the library, preferably one you know something about.

Pool your knowledge of the title of your choice, that is, say as much as you know or remember.

Then watch one of the videos corresponding to your book (there are usually four or five videos per title, each discussing different parts of the book) and discuss what you understood and the way the video completes what you already knew about that book.

The most important thing in learning a language

Watch this video by linguist Steve Kaufmann, who airs his opinions about the essential ingredient to make progress when learning a second language.

What ingredient does Steve refer to? Do you agree?

martes, 21 de septiembre de 2010

Oyster fishing

Watch the silent movie Oyster Fishing at Whitstable and try to describe what you see in as much detail as possible.

Now read Anne Hodgson's description in http://www.spotlight-online.de/ and compare her description with yours.

Today, Atlantic oysters are an exclusive delicacy, brought fresh from the seabed to the dinner plate. In Falmouth, Cornwall, however, you can still experience oysters being fished by hand, the traditional way.

Back in 1920, in the heyday of oyster fishing, most of the oysters eaten in London still came from the Atlantic. This silent documentary was shot in Whitstable, a seaside town known as the "Pearl of Kent" for its famous oysters. We see fishermen rowing their dinghies out to the oyster smacks, as the flat-bottomed fishing boats used for trawling are called. Many are wearing oilskins for protection against the elements, and all are in boots. Once all hands are on deck, each crew hoists the sails and sets off. They throw out dredges, or metal nets that scrape the oysters from the seabed, and then haul in their catch.

When they're done, they load their plunder into their tippy dinghies and row back to shore, where the shellfish are packed for delivery to London, to supply the finer restaurants. Back in London, the oysters are shucked, or pried open, at a restaurant, just before serving. We then see men feasting on oysters, sucking them off of the shell and washing them down with large quantities of champagne. The producer of this film, Charles Urban, was a great pioneer in documentary film-making. You can actually see him in the film, sampling the oysters, squatting on the shore on the right (minute 3:15).

Finally describe what you can see in the film again, but this time try and use some of the vocabulary and expressions Anne taught us before.

Oral practice -Basic

This short slideshow is for lower-level students. You have to answer the questions on the slideshow and talk. You will be practising saying hello and saying goodbye; your nationality and place of birth; counting to ten; the alphabet; telling the time; your birthday; your likes.

Oral practice -Intermediate

D. Deubel gives us the opportunity to practise key conversation points through this presentation. Listen to his questions and answer them aloud. There's a variety of topics you will be practising:
directions; favourite dishes; shopping list; comparisons; the future; activities people have been doing; preferences; professions; choices, opinions; news; meals

lunes, 20 de septiembre de 2010

Sex and the City -The wedding

Self-study activity:
a) Watch the famous ill-fated wedding scene of the film Sex and the City, and say which of the questions that follow are true or false.

The little girl hid Carrie’s cell phone.
Carrie didn’t receive any calls.
Carrie didn’t know where her phone was.
Carrie didn’t receive Big’s phone calls or messages.
Big wasn’t confident enough to go into church by himself.
Big quit getting married.
Big took too long to apologize.
Carrie hit him with the wedding bouquet.
Carrie’s friend didn’t let Big explain what had happened.
Carrie went home in state of shock.
Carrie and Big didn’t get married.
They both had a horrible afternoon.

b) Now complete the sentences below by saying how things would have been different if the characters had acted differently. Use the third conditional in all the sentences and the verbs in brackets.

1- If the girl hadn't hidden (hide) Carrie’s phone,she would have received (receive) some calls.
2- If Carrie ........... (know) where her phone was, she ........ (receive) Big’s messages.
3- If Big ........... (take) too long to apologize, Carrie ........ (hit) him with her wedding bouquet.
4- If Carrie’s friend ..... (let) Big explain what had happened, Carrie ......... (go) home in state of shock.
5- If Carrie and Big ........ (get) married, they ........... (have) such a horrible afternoon.

c) Discuss with an English-speaking friend:
1- What would you do if you were in Carrie’s position?
2- Who was right? Why?
3- How could the situation be prevented from happening?

Key a):
All the sentences are true.

Key b):
2. had known // would have received 3. hadn't taken // wouldn't have hit 4. had let // wouldn't have gone 5. had got // wouldn't have had

This activity is taken from Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals

The articulate hand

Watch this video, which shows director and performer Andrew Dawson. Just don't get worried about how much you really understand, and simply enjoy the recording.

Self-study activity:
1) Counter 00:00-00:45. Sound off. Describe what you see.

2) Counter 00:45-1:30. Sound off. Which story is Andrew telling with his hand?
a A day in the life of a seagull    
b The Apollo 11 moon landing  
c My summer holiday in Greece

3) Counter 0:00-1:30. Sound on. Check your answers to activity 2.

4) Before watching. Put Andrew's story in the correct order.
a Last year he worked as a choreographer on an opera in New York.
b He then got fascinated by the hands and realised how he could tell stories with his hands.
c He also occasionally works as a hand model in commercials and photography.
d Originally, he was told by his drama teacher that he was a really bad actor.
e That led to creating his own theatre show and touring around the planet.
f As a result he became interested in dance and more physical theatre.

5) Counter 1:30–2:50. Sound on. Check your answers to activity 4.

6) Match the sentence halves to make complete sentences.

1 If we go back in evolutionary termsa- the fingers a little longer.
2 Then it became somethingb- that is unique to us.
3 Then little by little we became bipedalc- that you would walk on.
4 They could be a little softer,d- we wouldn’t have any of this around us.
5 We end up gaining an enormous amount of dexteritye- this hand was used for hanging out of a tree.
6 Without that dexterityf- and these hands were free.

7) Counter 2:50-3:40. Check your answers to exercise 6.

8) Counter 3:40–4:43. Watch the final part of the video and answer these questions.
1 Name two things Andrew says we wouldn’t be able to do without our hands.
2 What does he describe as ‘the most magical thing’?
3 Do you notice anything about Andrew’s hands?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript of the video here.

Adapted from Global Lessons online, MacMillan Publishers

domingo, 19 de septiembre de 2010

Subject questions 2

Before doing the activity below, please revise the information about subject questions in this entry.

Self-study activity:
Write the correct subject or object questions for the text below.

City People
In last week's episode of this popular series, a lot happened. Harry and Chris had a big argument and Harry killed Chris. Olivia saw what happened and she ran away. Now Harry is trying to find her because he wants to kill her too.

Sharon has left her husband and she is now living with her parents again. She's left her job and she's going to start a new life in Australia. But Geoff is in love with her and he wants her to live with him.

Who / a big argument? > Who had a big argument? Harry and Chris
Who / Harry? > Who did Harry kill? Chris
1 Who / Chris?                                   Harry
2 Who / what happened?                    Olivia
3 Who / Harry / to find?                      Olivia
4 Who / to find Olivia?                        Harry
5 Who / to kill?                                   Olivia
6 Who / her husband?                         Sharon
7 Who / now?                                     Her parents
8 Who / a new life in Australia?           Sharon
9 Who / Sharon?                                Geoff
10 Who / Geoff?                                 Sharon

1. Who killed Chris?   2. Who saw what happened?   3. Who's Harry trying to find?   4. Who's trying to find Olivia?   5. Who does Harry want to kill?   6. Who has left her husband?   7. Who's Sharon living with now?   8. Who's going to start a new life in Australia?   9. Who's in love with Sharon?   10. Who's Geoff in love with?

From Oxford Living Grammar Pre-intermediate, Oxford University Press

Subject questions 1

Most of the questions in English keep to this word order:

[Question word] + Auxiliary verb + Subject + Main verb

They are information questions or yes/no questions. Examples:

What did you have for dinner? I just had some fruit.
Who do you live with? I live with my family.
Do you know my English teacher? No, I don't.

However, there is a small percentage of questions which do not keep to this word order, but have the same word order as a statement (affirmative or negative sentences). They are called subject questions. We use subject questions when we want to know who the subject of the action is. Examples:

Who won the game? Esther [won the game].
Who went to the concert with you? John [came to the concert with me].
Who hasn't been to London? Joanna and Pete [haven't been to London].

We use the third person singular of the verb in a subject question. The answer may be more than one person, but the verb after who in the question is always singular. Example:

Who knows the answer to this question? Only three people know it.

Listen to the teacher Mark Roberts explaining subject questions.

Wonder vs wander

We very often confuse the pronunciation of the verbs wonder and wander, despite the fact we might well know their meaning.

wonder if you really know what you want [ask yourself, 'preguntarse'].
I often wander around the city [go from one place to another without a purpose, 'vagar'].

Wonder is pronounced / ʌ /, and has the same vowel sound as fun, sun, run, son.
A lot of English words with the letter o are also pronounced / ʌ /: one, done, money, won, love.

Wander, on the other hand, is pronounced / ɒ / and has the same vowel sound as want, what, dog, job.

Short stories -British Council

The site of the British Council has endless resources for everybody to learn and practise their English, ranging from elementary learners to the most advanced ones.

I would like to draw your attention to the section Learn English Kids, where you come across Short Stories. Here you can find dozens of stories that you can listen, read and even do activities about. But the fact that the stories are aimed at children doesn't make them any easier. There's quite a lot of vocabulary to learn and practise, and the sound is a bit tinned, which sometimes makes the stories difficult to understand.

Subtitled music videos

This article from the Boston Globe is about the use of subtitles in music videos as a tool to teach native-language literacy, and shares some good stories and research. Consequently, it seems that music sites and karaoke sites may come in really handy to help us improve our English.

Self-study activity:
Why not visit the Tune into English karaoke section and have a go at any of the 7,000-plus songs on the site on a regular basis. You will certainly enjoy yourself, improve your singing ability and boost your grip of English, both vocabulary-wise and listening-wise. Just one minor catch -you may need to register before you start singing in the karoake.

sábado, 18 de septiembre de 2010

Islam: Not in my backyard!

The building of a Mosque near the Ground Zero area has brought about a lot of controversy in New York. On this New York Times video some New Yorkers express their views about this issue. Watch and try to understand as much as possible. What views do you sympathise with?

You can read the transcript of the video here.

Personality quiz

Here's an eleven-question personality quiz that can give you some excuse to get involved in conversation with an English-speaking friend while you learn something about US founding fathers.

viernes, 17 de septiembre de 2010


In this time and age, we all know that Twitter is a very popular micro-blogging service that helps us being connected with the people we wish through very short messages.

The word twitter originally refers to the sounds birds make. That's something you might not know. Similarly, there might be other facts you are unaware of concerning the twittering service.

Self-study activity:
Watch this Common Craft video where some basic facts of Twitter are explained and complete the sentences that follow with information from the clip.

1. Some people want to know about ... that happen in our life.
2. Carla is addicted to ...
3. Carla feels ... about Twitter at first.
4. Signing up for Twitter costs ...
5. Julia in London is reading a new ...
6. The Twitter messages have a limit of ... characters.

You can self-correct the activity by reading the script here.

jueves, 16 de septiembre de 2010

How to use a GPS

Self-study activity:
Watch this video clip in which someone explains how to use a Tomtom One Satellite Navigation system. Then answer the questions that follow. The listening activities are divided into three parts.

1) Counter: 0:00-1:30 -Watch and put these instructions in the correct order.

a. push address
b. touch the screen to bring up the main menu
c. push the button at the top
d. press postcode
e. hold it until the screen lights up.

2) Counter: 1:30-2:50 -Answer these questions.

a. What postcode does he enter?
b. Which route option does he choose?
c. How long will the journey take?
d. How far does he have to travel

3) Counter: 2:50-3:25 -Complete the instruction the voice gives.

At the end of the road...
Then take the...

1) a 4 b 3 c 1 d 5 e 2
2) a DY81TA b fastest c 7 minutes d 2.4 miles
3) At the end of the road... turn right; Then take the... second right
You can read the transcript of the video here.

This activity is adapted from It's Magazines issue 113

miércoles, 15 de septiembre de 2010

Past continuous

Self-study activity:
Watch the first part of this Mr Bean video (up to minute 4'00) and answer these questions:

What was Mr Bean doing at eight o'clock yesterday?
What was Mr Bean doing at quarter past eight yesterday?
What was Mr Bean doing at half past eight yesterday?
What was Mr Bean doing at ten to nine yesterday?

In English we use the past continuous to show that an action was in progress at a specific moment in the past. Examples:

At eight o'clock yesterday Mr Bean was sleeping.
At ten to nine yesterday Mr Bean was shaving / getting ready to go to the dentist.

Sometimes, we combine the past continuous with the past simple to express an interrupted past activity:
Mr Bean was sleeping when the alarm went off.
Mr Bean was getting ready when his shaver got stuck with his nose hair.
When the phone rang, I was having a shower.
While we were playing tennis, it started to rain.

You can read a more detailed explanation of the past continuous in Englishpage.com. You can also do some online activities there.

Self-study activity: Get together with an English-speaking friend and ask each other what you were doing at specific times yesterday xample:
What were you doing at quarter past eleven yesterday?

Moving the conversation

When we are having a conversation, there are times when we wish to show our interlocutors that we would like the conversation to progress in a certain way.

There are some phrases we can use to start the conversation, to clarify points, to manage the conversation or to bring the conversation to an end. Learning a few of these phrases can help us feel more confident with our English.

In fact, many students mishandle the interaction part of the oral exam at EOI from the very beginning because they do not know how to go about these conversation markers. Phrases like Start?, I start?, which are obviously wrong, are frequently said by students in exams and in class.

Here are some phrases that may come in handy for you:

Beginning a discussion
Shall I start? or Shall we start?
Let's start by talking about ...
OK, let's begin.

Clarifying points
I didn't quite catch that.
I don't quite follow you.
I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean.

Managing the discussion
Let's move on to another point.
Moving on to the next topic...

Closing the discussion
Is there anything else to cover?
Shall we stop now?
Is that it?

Self-study activity:
Get together with an English-speaking friend and discuss the topic below. Do not forget to use some of the above-mentioned phrases to signal the different stages of your talk.
Parents, not teachers, are primarily responsible for their child's education.

martes, 14 de septiembre de 2010


Whenever we take part in a conversation in which we need to reach an agreement with our interlocutors, a negotiation is taking place.

This way, the term negotiation is not just restricted to the business world, but it can be applied to many aspects of our everyday life -deciding which present to buy for a friend or deciding which film to see at the weekend are examples of this wider sense of a negotiation.

In our academic life, the second part of the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas oral exam, the interaction, is in fact a negotiation.

Whenever we take part in a negotiation, we must consider our friends' or classmates' perspectives on a given topic as much as our own. To do so, some expressions can help us to give a framework to both our ideas and those expressed by the people we are talking to.

There are some expressions we can use to fully agree with someone:
I completely agree with you.
You are absolutely right.
Yes, you have a point there.

There are some expressions we can use to fully disagree with someone:
I'm afraid that's not how I see it.
I'm not sure I agree.
I'm sorry but I don't agree.
I can see what you mean but ...

There are some expressions we can use to show partial agreement.
I agree with you to some extent.
I agree with you up to a point.

Self-study activity: Get together with an English-speaking friend a discuss this topic:
The only reason to learn a language is if the language will help you gain a good job.
Don't forget to use the above-mentioned expressions to agree and disagree with your friend.


Read this article by Anne Hodgson from http://www.spotlight-online.de/, where you will learn and revise work-related vocabulary. Remember you can work out all your vocabulary problems by double-clicking on any word you don't know or by using the MacMillan online dictionary box on the left-hand side of this blog.

[A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is somebody who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long term.]

In the 90s, I was working at an institution going through a wave of layoffs. Many employees were afraid they'd lose their jobs to people like me, willing to freelance on fixed-term or service contracts to gain experience. Feeling the tension, I attended a meeting organized by the works council. The chairman launched into a rant: "Freelancers", he told us, "are self-employed, so they don't get social security benefits, like a company subsidised pension or unemployment compensation, and don't have a vested interest in the good of the company. They'll take the money and run, and ruin your job and our social system."

What freelancers give

I was shocked. I had no job security, and my prospects were precarious. The only capital I had was inside my head, and I was applying it like an entrepreneur for the good of the institution, knowing that only good work would get me more work. How was I a threat to the social system? I was paying statutory health insurance out of my own pocket and making provisions for old age by contributing to the public pension fund. Not to mention the taxes I was paying, like everyone else. And I had invested heavily in my education, and was continuing to invest, without any support from an employer. Paid holidays or sick leave? In your dreams! Yet in this man's eyes I was no more than a mercenary exploiting the system.

Why companies hire freelancers

His point of view was understandable. Outsourcing work lets employers handle staff costs flexibly, which at first glance undermines job security. But under economic pressure, jeopardized companies often have no other option. They can't always afford to award permanent contracts for part-time work because of the social contributions they would have to pay. This is why the number of freelance jobs is growing and has become a way of life for the legions of journalists, copy editors, programmers, media designers, consultants, trainers, translators and tour guides who form the backbone of our knowledge-based economy.

What freelancers get

It wouldn't work if it wasn't good for freelancers, too, providing a high degree of income security and longterm job stability through the diversity of contracts. The lifestyle also allows for unfettered independence to choose the most attractive jobs. According to a recent survey, 70 percent of freelancers say they are in fact happier than they were back when they were salaried employees. So sorry, Mr. Chairman, but I'm afraid freelancers are here to stay!

lunes, 13 de septiembre de 2010

Mr Bean goes out to lunch

Self-study activity:
Watch this famous clip by Mr Bean and number the different kinds of foods and drinks as they appear. Look up the words you don't know.

coffee      bread      meat      black pepper    tea       cake       fish      
salt      beer      lettuce      pasta      garlic      milk      tomato      rice     
butter      coke      cucumber      omelette      mayonnaise

Now make instructions on How to make a sandwich according to Mr Bean. You may wish to include these verbs:

to cut; to cry; to pour; to shake; to wash; to put; to boil; to kill; to spread;to add; to open

Remember that English uses the imperative to give instructions. To show the order of the instructions, use the following adverbs: First, then, next, after that, finally.

First cut the bread with the scissors.
Then spread butter on the bread with a credit card.
Next wash the lettuce and shake it with a sock before putting it on the bread.

Now write similar instructions about how to make your favourite sandwich.

This activity was shown to me by the teacher José Mª Zarranz.

Happy Birthday, Moon!

Watch and read the story of Bear and the Moon.

Self-study activity:
Practise your pronunciation by repeating Bear's phrases after him.
You can also try to retell the story in your own words.

domingo, 12 de septiembre de 2010

Basic English

Revise some basic English expressions with this video.

Embrace life

Self-study activity:
Watch this ad but freeze the screen after 20 seconds. Can you predict what the ad will be about?

Then watch the ad through (from beginning to end): Were your predictions correct?

Self-study activity:
Make a list of things drivers must or mustn't do at the wheel. Examples:
They must put on their seat belt.
They mustn't talk on their mobile phone.

The animal odd couple

Self-study activity:
Watch the news item and answer the questions that follow.

1. All the animals in the sanctuary have a ...
2. How many stray dogs are there in the sanctuary?
3. How big is the sanctuary?
4. How often did Bella visit Tara during Tara's recovery?

You can self-correct the activity by reading the transcript for the news here.

Self-study activity:
Do you know any other stories of loyalty between friends?
And stories of disloyalty?
Discuss with an English-speaking friend.

sábado, 11 de septiembre de 2010

Study habits revisited

Read this short article by Dr Jennifer Hartsein on the CBS site. It deals with key issues concerning how we should study, and learning a foreign language is mentioned as an example. You might wish to contrast Hartsein's ideas with those expressed in this other entry about the same topic.

viernes, 10 de septiembre de 2010

Waiting for Superman

Watch the trailer of the documentary Waiting for Superman, which deals with key issues of education in the US.

Self-study activity: Watch the trailer again and answer the quiz.

You can read the transcript of the trailer here.

Self-study activity: How does the situation of education in the US as shown in the trailer compare with Spain? What are your ideas about this topic? Discuss with an English-speaking friend.

jueves, 9 de septiembre de 2010

Presents -A dictation

Self-study activity: Get together with an English-speaking friend and discuss these questions:

When did you last get a present? What did you get?
When did you last give a present?
How do you decide what presents to give?

Watch this ad from Ewan Macgregor. He gives us some ideas about what presents to buy.

Now try to transcribe everything Ewan is telling us. Transcribing is an activity that can help us improve our listening ability when learning English.

Check the "dictation" here.

The Graduate -Indirect questions

Self-study activity:
Watch this short clip from The Graduate and note down the questions the receptionist asks Dustin Hoffman.

You may have noticed that all the questions the receptionist asks are direct. However, in this kind of situation English frequently uses indirect questions to sound more polite. Typical indirect questions start with an introduction. After the introduction, we use normal affirmative sentence word order (subject + verb):

Can you tell me... what time the train arrives?

For yes/no questions, we add if (or whether) after the introduction:
I'd like to know if... you would like a double or single room.
Could you tell me whether... you have any luggage?

For wh-questions we don't add any words:
I wonder... where your luggage is.
Do you think you could tell me... where it is?

The word order in indirect questions is similar to the word order in reported questions:
Direct question: What's the time?
Reported question: She asked what the time was.

Direct question: Where do you live?
Reported question: She wanted to know where I lived.

Self-study activity:
Get together with an English-speaking friend and ask each other the questions below using indirect questions:

Which day of the week do you prefer?
Where do you go to relax?
Do you watch soap operas on TV?
Who is the most interesting person you know?
What is your favourite building?
Which magazines do you usually read?
What are your best characteristics?
Who is the first person you fell in love with?
Can you remember the best teacher you've had?
What objects do you always carry with you?

You can read the key to the exercise and the transcript of the scene here.

This activity is adapted from Nick Peachy.

martes, 7 de septiembre de 2010

Questions tags

Question tags are very common in spoken English. Speakers use them to keep the conversation going by involving listeners and inviting them to participate. A question tag is a statement followed by a mini-question, the question tag.

The most common structure in question tags is that in which
either a positive statement takes a negative question tag
or a negative statement takes a positive question tag.

Positive statement, + negative question tag: Snow is white, isn’t it?
Negative statement, + positive question tag: You don’t like me, do you?

We repeat the auxliary verb of the statement in the question tag. If there is no auxiliary, we use do/does/did.

Positive statement
Negative statement

You are sick, aren’t you?You aren’t sick, are you?
It is true, isn’t it?It isn’t true, is it?
I am OK, aren’t I? (no amn’t I?)I’m not OK, am I?
I will sleep, won’t I?I won’t sleep, will I?
You can swim, can’t you?You can’t swim, can you?
They like it, don’t they?They don’t like it, do they?
They did their work, didn’t they?They didn’t do their work, did they?
They have money, don’t they?They don’t have money, do they?
They ate it, didn’t they?They didn’t eat it, did they?
He's been to the UK, hasn't he?He hasn't been to the UK, has he?

We can also use question tags as real questions, but if this is the case there is a variation in the intonation of the statement. If we are guessing (You are from Korea, aren't you?) or we really want to find out information (You are in advertising, aren't you?), the question tag has a rising intonation, similar to a yes-no question.

But in most cases, if we only want to engage the listener in conversation or give emphasis to what we are saying, the question tag has a falling intonation, similar to a statement (Beautiful day, isn't it?)

LinguaSpectrum has an excellent video guide on question tags.

Self-study activity: What are the question tags corresponding to these statements?

1. They enjoy playing football,
2. She isn’t thinking of moving,
3. He can drive a car,
4. She hasn’t studied for very long,
5. Jack bought a new car last week,
6. They aren’t serious,
7. You live in an apartment,
8. She doesn’t speak Russian,
9. They won’t shut up,
10. He isn’t concentrating,
11. They hadn’t visited you before,
12. This music is fantastic,

Key: 1 don't they? 2 isn't she? 3 can't he? 4 has she? 5 didn't he? 6 are they? 7 don't you? 8 does she? 9 will they? 10 is he? 11 had they? 12 isn't it?

The plastic bag

Jeremy Irons narrates this documentary which tries to draw our attention to the damaging effects plastic bags have for the environment.

After watching the clip discuss with an English-speaking friend your reaction to the documentary. Also comment on how often you use plastic bags and the way we could cut down on their use.

You can read the transcript of the documentary here.

Study habits

Click on the image below to read this article about study habits from The New York Times. It's quite lengthy and dense, but it's well worth a read because we might have to rethink our ideas about varying the type of material we study, the place where we study and the importance of tests.

lunes, 6 de septiembre de 2010

Picturing America

Picturing America is a site that can help us fully understand American culture and history through art. Just browse all over it and read the short explanations for the endless art works. And do not turn a blind eye to the extra resources the site offers you.

Writing real reviews

Hello Hype is a site that can come in really handy for us to write authentic film, book and music reviews and share our ideas with other people about these topics.

Learning a language is a question of using the language is real communication contexts. So why not give it a try? Needless to say, registering is a must before we get started on the site.

sábado, 4 de septiembre de 2010

The English alphabet

Revise the pronunciation of the English alphabet with this video.

You can check how well you know the alphabet with this interactive game of National Museums Liverpool.

You can revise the English alphabet with the activities, games and songs from this site.

People's planet

Watch Severn Suzuki's famous speech back in 1992. Her words, although almost 20 years old, sound really updated.

Self-study activity: What is your reaction to Severn's speech?

You can read the script of her speech here.

Child prodigy

Self-study activity: Discuss with a friend or classmate in English: Do you know any especially clever or gifted children? How are they different from other children? Do you remember any famous child prodigies throughout history?

Watch this video about Kieron Williamson, a child prodigy. Try and understand as much as possible, but remember it is an authentic piece of news, so it will be quite difficult to understand everything.

Watch the video again, or as often as necessary, and complete these sentences or answer the questions:

1 Kieron Williamson is ... years old.
2 His paintings have sold for a total of ...
3 All Kieron's paintings were sold in ... minutes.
4 Kieron started painting when he went ... down Devon and Cornwall.
5 Kieron takes ... hours to paint each of those paintings.
6 Who is Kieron's favourite painting?
7 Kieron's mother feels ...
8 What does Kieron's father do?
9 How many pastels are there in the box Kieron is planning to buy?

Key: 1 seven 2 $28,000 3 fourteen 4 on holiday 5 two 6 doesn't have one 7 very proud 8 art dealer 9 700

You can read the transcript of this piece of news here.

Moctezuma in the British Museum

Self-study activity: Watch this promotional video of an exhibition of the Aztec civilization in the British Museum and complete the gaps in the text below.

(1)____ - Moctezuma becomes the last elected ruler of the Aztec (2)____. At his capital Tenochtitlan he gathers (3)_____ and craftsmen who create some of the greatest masterpieces in the world. A commander of great (4)____, he consolidates an empire which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific (5)____. Moctezuma is the divine mediator between his (6)______ and the gods. With rituals and offerings he maintains the cosmic order and ensures the daily rising of the (7)____. His world is unrivalled. And then, strangers come… the (8)____ conquistadores. Come to the British Museum to rediscover the lost (9)____of Moctezuma.

Key: 1. 1502;  2. Empire; 3. artists; 4. armies; 5. Coast; 6. people; 7. sun; 8. Spanish; 9. world


Self-study activity: Watch Queen Rania contributing to the 1Goal campaign. First watch the video through (from beginning to end) and then complete each gap in the text below with just one word.

Today there are 72 million children in the world who are denied the chance to go to school. Think about the enormous amount of (1)____________ we are losing every year. These children could be our next generation’s leaders or doctors, teachers and even sports stars. Instead, their lifelong (2)____________ against poverty keeps them out of the classroom.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Education beats poverty and gives children the (3)____________ they need to help themselves. The 1GOAL (4)____________ brings together football stars, FIFA, and millions of fans like you to ensure that education is made available to every child. We’re asking people around the world to lend their voice to the 72 million children out of school by calling on world leaders to (5)____________ the necessary funding to achieve education for all.

It’s Africa’s World Cup moment and together we can leave a (6)____________ for children everywhere. With your help we could have millions of fans cheering not just for their teams but for 1 team and our 1 goal—education for all. Please join 1GOAL. Together we can make education the lasting impact of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Because education beats (7)____________. Join 1GOAL.

Get together with a friend or classmate and discuss these questions: What do you think of the 1Goal campaign? Personally speaking, what are you goals?

Key: 1 potential; 2 struggle; 3 tools; 4 campaign; 5 pledge; 6 legacy; 7 poverty

This activity is adapted from It's Magazine, issue 116

jueves, 2 de septiembre de 2010

Inside Google translate

Watch this funny video by Google on which we can see the analogy between the way this Google aplication works and the way people learn foreign languages.

The video is presented with subtitles in Spanish. Unfortunately, I was unable to spot one without any subtitles at all. However, I have made up my mind to to publish the video because of the idea it conveys about language learning: The most important thing is being exposed to the language as much as possible.