sábado, 31 de marzo de 2012

Shortest American president

Self-study activity:
Watch this CBS video clip on William Henry Harrison, the shortest president in the US history and answer the questions below.

1 How long did Mr Harrison stay in office?
2 Why was the 1840 campaign remarkable?
3 Why did Mr Harrison win so many battles against the indians?
4 What did he look like?
5 Why did he win the elections?
6 How many people voted in the elections?

You can read the transcript here.

1) thirty-one days 2) there was the first campaing slogan 3) his soldiers outnumber the indians 4) he was very tall and thin with a great Roman nose 5) Because he managed to identify with the social background of most voters 6) 80% of eligible voters

viernes, 30 de marzo de 2012

Sunken treasure heads back to Spain

Self-study activity:
Watch this short BBC video clip and complete the blanks in the transcript below with the missing words. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 students.

Flying in to claim its rightful property, these black parcels contain part of Spanish heritage, the most valuable haul of sunken treasure in history. Inside them, a nearly (1) ... gold and silver coins like these worth (2) ... of dollars. That’s why the Spanish Navy has come to collect them.
The US Navy thinks like us in the sense that our sunken (3) ... are these, as I told you before, these secret places they are cemeteries, and we don’t like that anybody go there to touch them, so the US Navy and us, we are in the same ship.
The treasure was found (4) ... years ago in the wreck of the Spanish galleon Our Lady of Mercy. She was sunk in the Strait of Gibraltar by the British in (5) ... . The treasure was taken from there by Florida-based marine explorers. They said it was a case of find its keepers and took it home, but US courts have finally decided the treasure was the property of the country of origin, and that’s why it’s on its way back to Spain.
This is historical heritage. This is not to be (6) ... . This is to go to a museum. This is a graveyard at the same time. So, if there are agreements in the future, that will be acceptable, but we have to fight against those who go and salvage sunken objects.
Everyone wants to get their hands on this treasure, but more than 20 tons in 7) ... , it’s taken some effort to get it home.

Tim Allman, BBC News.

1) 600,000 2) millions 3) ships 4) five 5) 1804 6) sold 7) weight

jueves, 29 de marzo de 2012

Cultural differences when doing business

Self-study activity:
Watch this video from the series Business Result Intermediate, Oxford University Press.

Say which of these topics Michael talks about.
1 Avoiding misunderstandings between different cultures.
2 Speaking English and German.
3 Talking to students.
4 Paying bribes.
5 Being polite and punctual.
6 Disciplining people who are late.
7 Voicing your opinion to your boss.
8 Objecting to power distance.
9 A hamburger approach.
10 Taking your boss to lunch.

Watch the video again and answer the questions.
1 What can cause misunderstandings between cultures?
2 What two things are immediately noticeable in a business context?
3 What is ‘power distance’?
4 What is the phrase ‘a hamburger approach’ used to describe?
5 Match the country to the Hamburger Approach.
a USA 1 no meat, just the bun
b Japan 2 meat no bun
c Germany 3 typical hamburger – bun, meat, bun

You can read the transcript here.

The topics mentioned are:
1 Avoiding misunderstandings between different cultures. / 3 Talking to students. / 4 Paying bribes. / 5 Being polite and punctual. / 7 Voicing your opinion to your boss. / 9 Taking a hamburger approach to performance

1 The way people communicate i.e. language misunderstandings and cultural misunderstandings.
2 How polite you are, and how punctual you are.
3 It is the relationship between the boss and the staff. In high power distances you wouldn’t criticise your boss, but in a low power one you need to speak up.
4 The phrase ‘hamburger approach’ is used to describe a way of evaluating / giving feedback to an employee.
5 a USA – 3 typical hamburger – bun, meat, bun
b Japan – 1 no meat just the bun
c Germany – 2 meat no bun

miércoles, 28 de marzo de 2012

Talking point: How do male and female roles differ in your family?

Who would you say does most of the “parenting” in your house?
Who does most of the housework?
Who helps with the homework?
Who usually attends school functions and meetings?
In what other ways do gender roles play out in your family?
To what extent do the roles in your house seem to fall along traditional gender lines? Why?
If you have children, how do/would you divide the work of running a household and raising children? Why?

These are the questions The New York Times Learning Network posed a few weeks ago for their younger readers to comment on. I thought it would make a nice topic for our intermediate students' weekly discussion.

In preparation for your talking sesssion and to gain more insight into the topic, you can read this article from The New York Times, The Census Bureau counts fathers as 'Child Care.'

martes, 27 de marzo de 2012

Speakout Intermediate: Good neighbours (communities)

How well do you know your neighbours?
What makes a good neighbour?
What about a bad neighbour?
Tell me about the best or worst neighbour you’ve ever had.

These are the questions the people interviewed on the street by the Speakout team answered. Watch the video and note down the answers the different speakers give.

Now it's over to you. Get together with an English-speaking friend or relative with the same level as you and answer the questions above about yourself. Try and use some of the expressions you heard the native speakers use.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 26 de marzo de 2012

Writing Workshop 25: A report

Writing a report is something we might find useful in an English speaking work context as well as being a type of written task we may have to do in an English exam.

The important thing to bear in mind about reports is that they are written for somebody else, so they must be clear and concise, and they will be divided in paragraphs or sections, each of which with its own heading/title.

The basic structure of a report will consist of:

In the introduction you must say what the aim of the report is. A standard phrase commonly used in the introduction is: The aim of this report is to assess…

In each section (or paragraph) we will deal with a specific aspect, and we must state its strengths (positive points) and weaknesses (negative points), and then make a recommendation for improvement. Each section or paragraph deals with a specific point and has its own heading or title.

For this reason, we must use a variety of expressions to refer to the strengths and weaknesses within a section:
As for / As regards / Regarding  the layout of the office,…
As far as the layout of the office is concerned

We must also be familiar with different expressions to make suggestions:
We suggest buying new computers.
We propose purchasing computers.
I strongly recommend buying computers.
It would be advisable to buy computers.
It would be far more preferable for each employee to have their own station.

Similarly, we must be well acquainted with linking words for generalizing:
Generally speaking,
In general,
The general view is that…
It is generally considered / thought that
Overall, the majority of employees…

We can start the conclusion by using one of these expressions:
To sum up… / To summarise…
In short… / In conclusion…
In the light of (this year’s experience)…
In my view, in the future, we should…

We should also pay attention to the following:

  • Read the instructions in the task carefully. 
  • Use an appropriate professional style, avoiding informal expressions. 
  • Try not to  exactly use the same words given in the information the report is based on.
  • Try and use the passive to give your report a professional aura and to detach yourself from it.

 Sample report:
A report on King James's Language School

The aim of this report is to assess student satisfaction with the classes and facilities at King James's Language school, and to make suggestions for improvements.

Testing and registration of new students
Most students were satisfied with the testing process for new students. However, they complained about the long queues at registration. We believe it would be preferable either to have more staff available to deal with registrations, or to give students a specific day and time to register.

The classes
In general students rated the teachers very highly. Their main criticisms were of class sizes and the length of classes. As regards class sizes, most students think there should be no more than 12 students in a class. As for the duration of classes, they officially last an hour, but in practice they are usually only 45 minutes because of the students who arrive late. We propose that all students who arrive more than five minutes late should have to wait until the break to be admitted in the class.

The self-study centre
It is generally thought that the self-study centre, while useful, has two main disadvantages. There are not enough computers, and at peak times they are always occupied. Also the centre closes at 7 p.m., so students who come to the later classes cannot use the centre at all. We suggest buying more computers and extending the opening times until 9 p.m.

The cafeteria
The cafeteria was replaced last year by machines for drinks and snacks. Although it is true that people often had to wait to be served, most students preferred the cafeteria and would like it to be re-opened.

To sum up, the majority of students are extremely positive about the school, and feel that if the suggested changes are put into practice, it will be an even better place to study.

With information from First Certificate Expert, Longman, and New English File, Oxford University Press

Friends moments: Ross and Chandler dating problems

Watch this three-minute clip from the TV series Friends.

Self-study activity:
Say whether this statements are true or false:

1. Chandler is dating a new girl.
2. The girl lives across the street.
3. Ross and Chandler are dating the same girl. 
4. Ross and Joey finally decide to go out together with the girl.

Who said what throughout the scene, Ross, Chandler, or Joey?

a) “Really?! Joe? What would you do if you were in Ross’s situation?”
b) “Laugh all you want but uh, she actually left me a message saying she’d like to go out again.”
c) “So this is nice! I wish I didn’t have to go, believe me! But unfortunately I have to. Oh uh, by the way, what’s the name the girl you’re dating?
d) “All right, well I guess I’ll just have to do what I do on dates.” 
You can read the transcript here.

Statements 1-3 are true; statement 4 is false.
a) Chandler b) Ross c) Chandler d) Joey

domingo, 25 de marzo de 2012

Miss Universe to learn English

It may sound a bit banal at first but the contest of Miss Universe offers English learners a good opportunity to practise English in several ways.

In Miss Universe 2011 the participants had to do a video in which they answered three questions:
Do you believe in life on other planets?
What advantages do women have over men?
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?

The videos give us the opportunity to listen to a variety of English accents, both native and non-native, and they are not too hard to understand.  Besides, they can be used as an introduction if we are studying or revising the second conditional, or if the topic of stereotypes, women vs men, has come up in class. Finally, students can answer the questions for themselves after they have seen the videos.

Self study activity:
Watch the  videos and complete the blanks in the transcripts with the missing words.

Great Britain

Do you believe in life on other planets?
I actually do believe in life on other planets or I’d like to think that there is life on other planets, to think that we are only one in the whole solar system, it feels pretty (1) ..., so I would definitely like to think that there is life on other planets, even if it is as tiny as an ameba or something, just something is there.

What advantages do women have over men?
I think that women and men are pretty much equal even if they are not treated as such. But I think one advantage is maybe that they can (2) ... better than men. A man would probably disagree, but I think that women have to do so many things, and also they have the advantage of being able to carry life, which is something a man is unable to do, and I think that’s a (3) ..., so that’s a definite advantage.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
If I was an animal I would probably be a (4) ..., because (4) ... get to reinvent themselves into a (5) ..., which I have just here. So, yeah, I’d probably be a (4) ... that turns into a big beautiful (5) ... and then they get to fly whenever they want to go, so it’s free-travel, so I’d be a (4) ... into a (5) ... .


Do you believe in life on other planets?
I do believe it’s very possible and I’m not sure whether I’d like to meet them.

What advantages do women have over men?
Maybe (6) ... , I think women are a lot more (6) ... than men. Obviously this is a big assumption about men, but I think, yeah, men could be a little bit more (6) ... especially at (7) ... .

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
Probably a (8) ... . I definitely think if I were an animal I would be a (8) ... , because it just would be amazing to fly wherever you had to go.


Do you believe in life on other planets?
I do believe in life on other planets. I don’t think that we are the only ones. Well so are science geeks, of course. I'm reading about (9) ... from outer space and if there’s really life on other planets.

What advantages do women have over men?
I think the advantage that women have over men is, the (10) ... about being a woman is that we can create life and they are here because we are here.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
If I could be an animal I’m pretty sure I would be a (11) ... and that’s because I feel I’d walk in (12) ... miles per hour, and that’s how fast they go, so I think I would definitely be a (11) ... .

1 lonely 2 multitask 3 gift 4 caterpillar 5 butterfly 6 patience 7 airports 8 bird 9 aliens 10 beauty 11 cheetah 12 eighty-six

sábado, 24 de marzo de 2012

The best love poems: writers choose their favourites – Lustful gazing, unrequited yearning and passionate wooing – AS Byatt, Seamus Heaney, Hilary Mantel, Jeanette Winterson and many others pick the poems that stole their hearts. Plus Carol Ann Duffy writes a new poem for the occasion.

This was Jeanette Winterson's pick, Echo, by Carol Ann Duffy.

I think I was searching for treasures or stones
in the clearest of pools
when your face…
when your face like the moon in a well
where I might wish…
might well wish
for the iced fire of your kiss
only on water my lips, where your face…
where your face was reflected lovely,
not really there when I turned
to look behind at the emptying air
the emptying air.

viernes, 23 de marzo de 2012

Kevin Costner's speech at Whitney Houston's funeral

Kevin Costner, who starred with Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, pays tribute to the singer at her funeral in New Jersey.

It is a very lengthy video, upwards of seventeen minutes, but it is full of stories and anecdotes, and we might well say that there many videos is just one.

Watch it and try to understand as much as possible. You can read the transcript here.

You can also watch this video clip from PBS a few days after Whitney's death. You can find the transcript by clicking here.

jueves, 22 de marzo de 2012

London youth

This is a New York Times video about the growing problem of unemployment among the London youth. The video clip is more suitable for advanced English learners, but strong intermediate students can also give it a try, as there are some parts in the film in which people talk quite slowly.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video clip and answer these questions.

1 What does NEET stand for?
2 What's Britain’s youth unemployment rate?
3 What is Tomorrow's People?
4 What's the key factor to get a job in the UK?
5 How much did the British government spend on benefits for the young in 2011?
6 How much does James receive from the government every month?

You can read this Times article, where more background information about the topic is given.

You can read the transcript here.

1 not in employment, education or training 2 22.3% 3 a London charity that provides training and preparation to young adults looking to enter the job market 4 experience 5 4.2 billion (pounds) 6 120 pounds

miércoles, 21 de marzo de 2012

Talking point: Would you rather study in a private school or in a state school?

Foreign-born affluent parents in New York City are sending their children to public schools, according to a recent Times article. Those interviewed said they were “swayed by the greater ethnic and economic diversity of the public [state] schools. Some said that as immigrants, they had learned to navigate different cultures — a skill they wanted to imbue in their children.”

What do you think?
Do/did you attend a public or a private school?
And your children?
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
How are your similar to / different from people who studied in a different kind of school?
In your area, where do most people tend to send their children to school?
Which would you choose if the cost of private school were no object? Why?

This Times topic is a good opportunity to talk about your schooling history and share it with the members of your conversation group.

In preparation for your talking session you can also read the above-mentioned article and discuss the ideas set out there with your group.

martes, 20 de marzo de 2012

Shopping again

How do you feel about shopping?
Where do you usually shop?
Have you bought anything recently?

These are the questions people on the street are asked in this new installment of Speakout pre-intermediate, Longman.

Watch the video and note down the answers the speakers give.

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with an English-speaking friend of your same level and answer the questions above about yourself.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 19 de marzo de 2012

Writing Workshop 24: A letter to the editor

We can express our opinion on some topics of general interest to the public through different kinds of writing to show agreement or disagreement or discuss a problem and its solutions.
-  A letter/email to a newspaper or magazine
-  A letter/email to a radio or TV station saying what you think about a programme
-  A message to an internet forum / message board expressing an opinion
-  A factual article for a newspaper
-  A report related to your work or area of expertise

All these kinds of writing are intended for an unkown general public and, consequently, the language we use may be more formal. This includes:

  • Uncontracted auxiliary verbs
  • Polite phrases
  • Impersonal style
  • Longer, more complex sentences
  • Formal vocabulary and grammar

Whichever the kind of writing, the layout will be pretty similar, and should consist of:
a)  A short introduction in which you clearly give the reason why you are writing and express your general opinion about the topic. Beware, however, of the fact that if your letter is written in reply to another letter, article or post in an internet forum you should also mention where and when you read it, as well as referring to any key information in the original writing.

b) A main body in which you present the problems and their consequences or suggestions and results in separate paragraphs. Bear in mind that space is limited and you may not be able to write your ideas in detail or about all the points you would like to. The main body should have three medium-sized paragraphs maximum.

c) A conclusion in which you summarise your opinion or restate it, using different words.

In addition, you should also respect the typical conventions we keep to when writing a letter or email:

Dear Sir or Madam; Dear Editor

To begin the letter
I am writing in response to your article on
I am writing about Trent Council’s decision to build
I am writing with regard to
I am writing to express my approval/disapproval of

To end the letter
I hope my comments/suggestions will be taken into consideration
I hope the government/local council/we will
I hope something will be done about this urgently

Yours faithfully

Apart from that we will have to use a variety of structures to express our opinion and show our attitude:
In my opinion
I (do not) feel/believe/think
I am (totally) opposed to/in favour of
I (strongly) agree/disagree with
It is my considered/honest/personal opinion that
The accepted/general/traditional view on this is
Personally, / As far as I know, / As far as I am concerned

Also bear in mind that after the short introductory paragraph, the body of the letter –the real reason for writing- will work like a discursive composition, and we must use the connectors one might expect to find in this piece of writing.

Whatever you are writing, avoid repeating words or phrases, either by using synonyms or alternative constructions. Also remember to write about all the points in the task and avoid copying whole phrases and sentences from it.

Typical tasks which entail writing a letter to a magazine would be:

You have read the headline below and feel strongly about it. Write a letter to the newspaper expressing your views.

The government is planning to put an end to IDs as a way of identification because the system is expensive to run, difficult to organise and easy to forge. From next year onwards, it will be enough for Spanish citizens to show bills and banks statements as a proof of identity. Write a post for the andnowtheywanttogetridofIDs forum expressing your views on this matter.

You are going to write a letter expressing your own opinions in reply to this letter written to a newspaper one week ago:
In these days of equality between the sexes, it seems to me perfectly reasonable that, in wartime, women soldiers should be expected to fight alongside their male counterparts on the front line. Unlike your reporter (Ref Why we should continue to protect our women, The Evening Times, Friday 13 April) I firmly believe that, given the right training and experience, women are as physically and mentally tough as men.
In my view, those who claim that women are not capable of fighting effectively because of their emotional make-up are guilty of simple, old-fashioned sexism.
Jenny Lavender (Manchester)

With information from Real Writing 4, Cambridge University Press; Intermediate Successful Writing, Express Publishing; First Certificate Expert, Longman.

Bizarre hotels

Launching a new hotel in tough economic times might seem a tall order, something difficult to do - with some travellers inclined to seek out the safe and familiar. But in fact there is a trend for distinctly unusual new hotels which try not to compromise on levels of service. The recession had led to a whole wave of creativity in hotels design and experiences.

Watch this short extract from the BBC programme Fast Track and say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 Null Stern was used as a bunker in the Second World War.
2 In the current economic recession customers are not too demanding.
3 Today's top priority for most customers is service.
4 'Experience hotels' are being opened in both Europe and America.
5 The five abandoned boats are fully booked for the summer.
6 The Marriot hotel in New York is replacing staff with technology.

You can read the transcript here.

1T 2T 3T 4T 5T 6F

domingo, 18 de marzo de 2012

Arianna Huffington: Get more sleep

In this short TED talk, Arianna Huffington shares a small idea that can awaken much bigger ones: the power of a good night's sleep. Instead of bragging about our sleep deficits, she urges us to shut our eyes and see the big picture: We can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness -- and smarter decision-making.

Arianna Huffington is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of thirteen books. She is the co-host of “Left, Right & Center,” a political roundtable radio program.

Remember you can activate the English subtitles if you wish to do so.

sábado, 17 de marzo de 2012

The History of St Patrick's Day

Self-study activity:
Watch this short History Channel video where the real story of St Patrick is explained and say whether the statements 1-7 below are true or false.

1 St Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland.
2 St Patrick’ original name wasn’t Patrick.
3 In St Patrick’s time there were lots of snakes in Ireland.
4 St Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17th because the Saint died on that day.
5 Catholics were not allowed to drink alcohol on St Patrick’s Day.
6 New York celebrated its first St Patrick’s Day parade in 1772.
7 Irish Americans usually have boiled bacon and potatoes on St Patrick’s Day.

You can read the transcript here.

If you really want to find out more about St Patrick's Day, you can check the interactive book on Collège Marc Chagall, where you will learn about symbols, traditions, songs, and you will have the opportunity to read texts and watch videos on this celebration.

1T 2T 3F 4T 5F 6F 7F

H/T to Larry Ferlazzo.

viernes, 16 de marzo de 2012

Diary of a disappointed book

Diary of a disappointed book is a beautiful video I found through David Deubel.

Just watch the video, enjoy its sheer beauty and compare your experience with books with what is shown on screen.

The Diary of a Disappointed Book from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

David suggests a different activity: Write down the months of the year and then note what happened to the book each month. Do this as a writing exercise or just pause the video and speak about what happened each month. Any way you look at it – this video is a gem.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

jueves, 15 de marzo de 2012

How we have changed

8th March was the International Women’s Day. I had meant to post some activity to commemorate the day, but everything I came across fell short of my expectations. Eventually I found this video by Kronos and Xplane which I think lends itself to a nice conversation lesson on the topic of change, women’s role in society today and in the past and the use of would to express habits in the past.

Lesson idea:
Before watching the video, discuss the way women’s lives in your country have changed in the last 100 years. Give some examples of the ways life for a woman today is different/similar to the life of a woman 50 or 100 years ago.

Now you can watch the video and check if any of your ideas are mentioned. You can also note down and discuss any details that may have drawn your attention.

Note the way modal auxiliary would is used to express past habits. We can only use would  to express past habits if we are talking about actions: She would drive her children to school

whereas we can use used to to express past habits both to talk about states and actions: She used to drive her children to school; her family used to have a house in Hertfordshire].

You can read more about this grammar point on Grammaring.com or English page.

At this stage you may like to go back to what you mentioned about a woman’s life 50 or 100 years ago and rephrase some of your ideas using would to express typical actions and habits.

Now some more questions to talk about changes in today’s world. Remember to use would for past habits to refer to actions and activities if you want to practise this grammar point.

Your city
How has your town changed in your lifetime? Is it a lot bigger?
Have a lot of immigrants moved into your town?
Have a lot of new houses been built? If yes, where and what kind of houses?
Have the shops and shopping areas changed?
Can you think of any other changes?

Work, family and free time
How have people’s lifestyles changed in your country during your lifetime?
Do people still do the same kinds of jobs?
Have any new industries developed? Have any old industries disappeared?
Has family life changed?
Do people still do the same kinds of things in their free time? Do they spend their money on the same things? Are their hopes and dreams the same?
Can you think of any other changes?

If you want to do a listening activity around International Women's Day, last year we posted the video below,  and you can do a related comprehension task by clicking here.

miércoles, 14 de marzo de 2012

Talking point: Have you ever interacted with the police?

What kinds of experiences have you and others you know had with the police?
What is the relationship between the police department and today’s youth?
What’s your attitude toward law enforcement?
Have you ever been stopped and frisked, or even arrested?
If so, why? If not, how might it feel to be questioned by police for no apparent reason?
Why do you think the police stop and question innocent people going about their business?
What do you think the police could do to win back trust that has been eroded by these practices?

These are the questions that were posed in The Learning Network of The New York Times for readers to express their views.

Get together with your conversation group and talk about your experiences with the police and how the relations between police and society could be improved.

In preparation for the topic, you can also read Erica Goode's article in The New York Times Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds.

martes, 13 de marzo de 2012

Speakout elementary: Cinema

How often do you go to the cinema?
What was the last film you saw?
What kinds of films do you like?
Who’s your favourite actor?

These are the questions people in the street are asked in a new installment of Speakout Elementary, Longman.

This activity is suitable for Básico 1 and Básico 2 (elementary) students. Watch the video and make a note of the answers the speakers give.

Now it's over to you. Answer the questions above about yourself.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 12 de marzo de 2012

Writing Workshop 23: Asking for advice

In Writing Worshop 22 we focused on giving advice. A variation of this kind of task is the letter in which we have to ask for advice about a (real or imaginary) problem we may have.

We may address the letter to a friend or relative (informal letter) or to an expert like an agony aunt in the advice column of a magazine (formal letter).

Typical tasks of letters asking for advice would be:
Your parents will not let you go on holiday as they want you to study for exams. Write a letter to a friend asking for his/her advice on this matter.

You feel that you and your mother cannot agree on anything. Write a letter to a problem page asking for advice.

The typical layout for this letter would be:
Paragraph 1: Reason(s) for writing
Paragraphs 2/3: Description of problem(s)
Paragraph 4: Closing remarks

Opening remarks
I am writing to ask if you could help me with… (formal).
I would appreciate it if you could give me some advice about (formal).
I wonder if you could help me with a problem (formal).

I am writing to ask for your advice (informal).
I’ve got a problem and I need your advice (informal)

Closing remarks
I look forward to receiving your advice (formal).
I would appreciate it if you could give your advise as soon as possible (formal).
Please let me know what you think I should do (informal).
Please tell me what to do (informal).

Lana del Rey -Video Games

It's a long time since we last did a song here, and it's high time. I've just recently discovered this New York singer, Lana del ReyVideo Games is one of her hits. Watch Lana's performance on the David Letterman show and complete the gaps in the lyrics with the missing words.

Before you watch Lana's performance and do the fill in the blanks exercise, you may want to try to guess some of the missing words.

Swinging in the 1______
Pull up in your fast car
Whistling my 2______
3_____ up a beer
And you say get over here
And play a 4____
I'm in his 5_____ sun dress
Watching me get undressed
Take that 6_____ downtown
I say you the bestest
Lean in for a big 7_____
Put his favorite 8_____ on
Go play a video game
It's you, it's you, it's all for you
9_____ I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all 10_____ you want to do
I heard that you like the 11_____
Honey, is that 12______?
It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the 13_____ was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is 14_____ you
Baby now you 15______
16______ in the old bars
Swinging with the old 17______
Living for the fame
Kissing in the 18_____ dark
Playing pool and wild darts
Video games
He 19______ in his big arms
Drunk and I am 20______ stars
This is all I think of
Watching all our friends fall
In and 21_____ of Old Paul's
This is my idea of 22______
Playing video games
It's you, it's you, it's 23______ for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a 24____ on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
25_____, is that true?
It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth 26____ if somebody is loving you
Baby now you do
(Now you do)
It's you, it's you, it's all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the 27_____
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true?
It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if 28____ is loving you
29______ now you do

1 backyard - 2 name - 3 Open - 4 video game - 5 favourite - 6 body - 7 kiss - 8 perfume - 9 Everything - 10 the things - 11 bad girls - 12 true - 13 world - 14 loving - 15 do - 16 Swinging - 17 stars - 18 blue - 19 holds me - 20  seeing - 21 out - 22 fun - 23 all - 24 place - 25 Honey - 26 living - 27 time - 28 somebody - 29 Baby

domingo, 11 de marzo de 2012

The magic -e

This is a video Joanne Rudling published on her How to Spell blog in early February. In the video, Joanne explains the way the pronunciation of some words changes just by adding an extra -e at the end.

You can also check your understanding of this pronunciation/spelling rule by doing the test Joanne has prepared here.

sábado, 10 de marzo de 2012

Age and language learning

Does age affect language learning? I am sure it does for young children, but beyond that I think we can learn languages at any age.

Here is a video by Steve Kaufmann, the person behind The Linguist blog and Lingq, explaining why we should never give up trying to learn a new language however old we are.

There is not a transcript available, but if you activate the CC option on the YouTube screen you will get a fairly accurate transcription of everything Steve says.

viernes, 9 de marzo de 2012

How I got my song

How I Got My Song is Leonard Cohen's speech at the Oct 21, 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards.

There is no task to go with the video. Simply watch it and enjoy Leonard Cohen's stories and anecdotes and his beautiful, seductive voice which makes his English really accessible for intermediate students.

You can read a transcript of the speech on the here.

jueves, 8 de marzo de 2012

Keep your goals to yourself

After coming up with a brilliant new life plan, our first instinct is to tell someone, but Derek Sivers says it's better to keep our goals secret.

Derek also presents research going as far back as the 1920s to show why people who talk about their ambitions may be less likely to achieve them.

Watch this three-minute mini-talk by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. In 2008, Sivers sold CD Baby to focus on his new ventures to benefit musicians, including his new company, MuckWork, where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their "uncreative dirty work."

Remember that all of the TED talks offer optional subtitles in a number of languages, and very often the transcript of a talk is also available, as in the case with Keep your goals to yourself.

miércoles, 7 de marzo de 2012

Talking point: Do you like being alone?

It's a few weeks now since I last posted about one of the opinon topics in The Learning Network from The New York Times. I've chosen the topic of being alone to resume the conversation posts, which NYT published in early February. These are the questions they pose about our attitude to being alone:

A long solitary walk in which you think through a complicated situation, a hour spent sitting quietly at home when everyone else is out — do you seek out these opportunities or avoid them at all costs?
Do you like to spend time alone? Why or why not?

How you feel about spending time by yourself.
Do you think you might choose to live alone when you grow up? Why or why not?
How do you explain why living alone, or just spending ample time by yourself, might encourage a person to be more social?
Do you get enough time alone — or do you have too much?
Do your friends and family support you when you need to take a break from having them around?
Do you support them?

Before getting together with your conversation group to discuss this topic, you may like to read this NYT's article by Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University and author of “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.”

martes, 6 de marzo de 2012

Speakout Upper-intermediate: How do you get your news?

How do you usually get your news?
What kinds of news stories interest you the most?
How has modern technology and new media changed our relationship with the news?
In your opinion, does the media use its power responsibly?

These are the questions people in the street answer in a new installment of Speakout, upper-intermediate, Longman.

Listen to this videopodcast and make a note of the answers the interviewees give.

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with an English-speaking friend or relative with a similar level to you, and answer the questions above about yourself.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 5 de marzo de 2012

Writing workshop 22: A letter of advice

When we have personal problems, we may want to discuss them with several people: members of our family, friends, teachers, work colleagues, professional counsellors, experts on radio or TV programmes, an agony aunt in a magazine or newspaper.

Depending on the person we are giving advice to, the register will be more formal or informal.

This is one of the key aspects we must bear in mind when we write a letter of advice:
Check Writing Workshop 17 to be reminded of key aspects of informal letters/emails.
Check Writing Workshop 18 to be reminded of key aspects of formal letters/emails.

This is a typical task we may have to do when writing a letter of advice:
You work as an agony aunt in a local newspaper and have received the letter below from a reader. Write a reply letter in 160-180 words giving Jack advice. Do not write any postal addresses.
"I feel really lonely and unhappy because I’m finding it impossible to make friends. When I go to parties, I always end up by myself.
I have had friends –some quite good ones- but recently I seem to have been rather unlucky. People seem to like me at first, but after a while they lose interest. They stop phoning and always seem to have excuses for not seeing me.
I thought things would improve as I got older, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m 34 years old and I live on my own.
Thank you in advance for your attention.

A typical layout in this kind of letter would be:
Paragraph 1: Thanks for letter / express understanding of the problem
Paragraph 2/3: Suggestions + reasons
Paragraph 4: Closing remarks

In addition to polite formulas, you will have to include a number of structures to give advice:

Formal structures to give advice:
My suggestion is / would be to ...
You should/ought to ...
If I were in your position, I would ...
I strongly recommend that…
I would advise you to…

Informal structures to give advice:
What I'd suggest is that you ...
If I were you, I'd ...
If I were in your shoes, I’d ...
Why don't you ...?
How about ...?
You could / might even ...
The best advice I can give you is…

Opening remarks
I am writing in reply to you letter asking for advice about… (formal)
I just got your letter and was really sorry to hear about your problem. (informal)

Closing remarks
I hope this will be of help. (formal)
I would very much like to know if this was helpful. (formal)
Hope this has helped. (informal)
Let me know what happens. (informal)

As with any type of writing task, always remember
  • Brainstorm for ideas before you start writing and choose those which can best help you to do the task well and show your grasp of English.
  • Plan the paragraph layout.
  • Write the first draft of your letter.
  • Write the final version of your letter.

Help Selena choose a fragance

Selena and her fragrance team have been hard at work developing her new perfume, now they need your help to decide the final scents.

Self-study activity:
Watch Selena's message and fill in the blanks in the transcript with the missing words.

Hey, guys, it’s Selena. I’m here to tell you how excited I am about my new fragrance. And of course to thank you for all of your love and (1) .... So I wanna give you guys a chance to help me customize my new (2) ... . I’ve been working really hard and I’ve (3) ... it down to a few possible notes, and I need your help in choosing the right ones. You’ll get to compare several notes that I’ve selected for the top (4) ... and base of the perfume. Not sure what they are? No problem, I’ll explain.

So the top notes are the first notes when you smell when you (5) ... on a perfume. Usually they are light and smell like citrus or maybe fruit. Now, come the (4) ... notes. The (4) ... notes are (2) ...s that create the middle of the fragrance, the body. They really round out the fragrance before (6) ... into the base notes. The base notes are the final ingredients that you smell when wearing a perfume, they (7) ... the longest and usually are the richest, so now that you know how to pick out the ingredients you like to smell, make sure you vote.

So please go to Selena Gomez perfumes dot com to register. The first hundred thousand to help will be sent a free sample before the perfume is even in stores. So finally, a lucky ten of you will be (8) ... out to join me in a fragrance lab to help me choose my final (2) ...  . We’re all gonna be wearing my fragrance so why shouldn't you have a (9) ... too.

1 support 2 scent 3 narrowed 4 heart 5 spray 6 drying 7 last 8 flown 9 say

domingo, 4 de marzo de 2012

British fashion knows no bounds

This is another installment of the series See Britain through my Eyes, where a number of foreigners who have settled into the UK express their views on their adopted country with a view to the 2012 Olympics in London. Today, Reem Alasadi talks about British fashion.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 Reem gets a lot of ideas and inspiration from street markets.
2 Reem loves the multiculturalism of British society.
3 Playing with national symbols like the Queen or the Union Jack can get you into serious danger.
4 Reem recycles a lot of stuff for his designs.
5 Reem's next fashion show will be held in Japan's embassy in London.
6 Reem still feels he doesn't belong in Britain.

You can read the transcript here.
I'm Reem Alasadi. I'm a fashion designer born in Iraq. I've made Britain my home and this is 'See Britain Through My Eyes.'
Portobello market, the best place in the world.  I've been coming here for years looking for things that we could probably remake, recycle.
When I hit a flea market, it's like a child in a sweetie shop. My eyes pop open even bigger. Can I pick up some things? The clothes here tell a huge story about Britain. Everything is a fabric of the nation, you know, liberty print, the little flowers.
These are obviously not Indian clothes, but it's, she's adapted them and made them there and brought them back here. And then right next door you've got Aquascutum and you can't get more English than Aquascutum. It's this kind of multicultural society that we live in which is absolutely beautiful.
In Britain here, there are many symbols like, you know, the face of the Queen on the coins, the Union Jacks, all these things that you feel like you can own, you can play with but you don't feel like anybody is going to put you in prison for them.
So after we leave Portobello, we come back here in Maidstone in Kent. It's my little studio.
Hi, Mimi.
Hello Reem, how are you?
Ruth, I've got lots of stuff from Portobello.
These sort of scarves here, you know, we'll make knitwear or we'll use it for a sleeve like this which is really cool. Actually look at this acetate. If you look at these stains they look like stains but to me, you know, it could look like a really beautiful print.
Most people would look at that and think what a load of crap but we can reuse it, we'll recycle it and make something really beautiful out of it.
British fashion has to be number one. You know, everybody in the whole world looks at British designers and what they're doing. The boundaries are there to be broken and they accept it when you break the boundaries.
Look at me, an Iraqi living in Britain, we've broken all the rules and we show once a year, instead of twice a year. We don't do sketches, we don't do drawings, we drape everything and we've been supported all the way.
Our next show is called 'God Save the Queen' which will be held in the British Embassy in Tokyo inspired by punks. I'm not dissing the Queen, I'm absolute royalist, I love the royal family but I'm a creative person.
So, you know, I have to be free enough to express myself in however and with whatever I want to do. I probably wouldn't have done this anywhere else but this country. Obviously I'm still an Arab but I'm a British Arab. I travel around the world and I can't wait to come back home. I love everything Britain stands for, you know, I love the traditional farmhouse, I love the traditional English garden, and I like the horses in the field.  Yet I like to mix it with, you know, my heritage.
You know, no matter where you go in the world you always think there is always a restriction behind what you might have to say or how you look or, you know, what you do.  And in this country you just know you are free.

1T 2T 3F 4T 5F 6F

sábado, 3 de marzo de 2012

The Artist

This is the trailer for The Artist.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermedio 1 students.


It represents (1) ... and (2) ... .
Completely (3) ... ! It just blew me away.
It’s a great way to tell a story. You really can’t take your (4) ... off it, it’s simple, great film making.
Winner of Golden Globe for best picture.
This truly is a great film – whatever (5) ... .
It’s (6) ... .
It’s about the (7) ... of movies and it’s about how movies are (8) ... .
On the top ten list of over 200 critics, (9) ... .
Beautiful, (10) ... , Hollywood love story.
And now it’s been nominated for 10 Academy (11) ... , including:
BEST (12) ...
I think it’s a movie for everybody.
It’s movie magic, that’s where it all happens.
The ARTIST – Rated (13) ... 13

1 hopefulness 2 possibility 3 amazing 4 eyes 5 era 6 powerful 7 magic 8 timeless 9 nationwide 10 intense 11 Awards 12 SUPPORTING 13 PG

viernes, 2 de marzo de 2012

The Mosaic project

Merche de Lucas introduces her Mosaic project to us.

The Mosaic project is a compilation of interactive activities (listening, reading, use of English and speaking) designed for the EOI second level students (A2 or Pre-Intermediate) to practice, expand and consolidate the contents seen in the classroom. With the new curriculum for EOIs sometimes there is no time to do in class all the listening, speaking and reading activities we would like to since they can be too time-consuming but essential to the student. Therefore the aim of this project is to fill this gap.

With the integration and use of ICT and the Internet we hope to improve students’ motivation and help them to develop their skills by working at their own pace, in a significantly less stressful environment, where they can work whenever and wherever they want and become more self-confident.

jueves, 1 de marzo de 2012

English vocabulary exercises

This is what English vocabulary exercises says about English vocabulary exercises:

The AWL is a list of words which appear with high frequency in English-language academic texts. The list was compiled by Averil Coxhead at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

The list contains 570 word families and is divided into 10 sublists. Sublist 1 consists of the 60 most common words in the AWL. Sublist 2 contains the next most frequently used words and so on. Each sublist contains 60 word families, except for sublist 10, which contains 30.

To find these words, an analysis was done of academic journals, textbooks, course workbooks, lab manuals, and course notes.

The list was compiled following an analysis of over 3,500,000 words of text.

The words selected for the AWL are words which occur frequently in a range of academic subjects, including the Arts (including history, psychology, sociology, etc.), Commerce (including economics, marketing, management, etc.), Law and the Sciences (including biology, computer science, mathematics, etc.). This means that the AWL is useful to all second-language learners who wish to study in an English-speaking institution no matter what their field of study. The AWL does not, however, include technical words which are specific to a given field. Nor does it contain words which are of general use and very high frequency.