miércoles, 31 de octubre de 2012

Talking point: Are you more introvert or extrovert?

Do you prefer one-to-one conversations to group activities?
Do you prefer to express yourself in writing?
Do yo enjoy solitude?
Do you care less than your friends and colleagues about wealth, fame and status?

If you answered "yes" to most of the questions above, you may be an introvert.

In June last year The Learning Network of The New York Times posed a question for their young readers to debate online -Are you more introvert or extrovert?- in their Student Opinion section.

Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss these questions about your personality:

Do you think that as a society we increasingly treat shyness as a disorder?
Do you think you’re more of an introvert or extrovert yourself? Why?
Have you ever gained some benefit because of your character?
Has your character ever been an obstacle to achieve anything?
What benefits do you think each temperament might have? Why?
Do you think your school, work or social life rewards extroversion?

Do you think society penalizes the shy in some way? If so, how?
What do you think of the argument that “many of the most creative people in a range of fields are introverts who are comfortable working in solitary conditions in which they can focus attention inward”?

In preparation for your discussion you can read Susan Cain's article for The New York Times Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

And you can watch the TED talk we posted on 4 August on this blog The Power of Introverts.

You can also complete The Guardian quiz "Are you an introvert?" to find out where you stand on the introvert-extrovert scale, and read The Guardian article "Why the world needs introverts".

I found The Guardian resources through It's for tweeters.

martes, 30 de octubre de 2012


Self-study activity:
Watch this History Channel video about the history of Halloween that we published last year and say whether the statements 1-7 below are true or false.

1. Tribes of Celtic farmers believed there was one day a year when evil spirits could rise from their graves and walk amongst the living.
2. Druid priests tried to predict whether their villages would survive the summer.
3. Ordinary Celts lit great candles and disguised themselves to repel and confuse the spirits.
4. Pope Gregory IV established “All Hallows’ day”, a day honouring all saints known and unknown on November 1st.
5. In the mid 19th century a pumpkin famine drove two million starving Irish to America.
6. The origins of trick or treating are quite clear.
7. Halloween is one of the most profitable holidays on the calendar, earning retailers billions of dollars.

You can read the transcript here.

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

H/T to Elena Perez for the activity.

From EFL Classroom 2.0 comes this video on Halloween, where all the traditions around this celebration are explained in a funny slideshow.

You can also look up the following Halloween resources on this blog:

Real English video series

We have been devoting Tuesday's posts on this blog to educational videos with a view to catering for lower-level students -Básico 1, Básico 2, Intermedio 1- in a more structured and pedagogical way, so to speak, while keeping to authentic materials.

You can check the following tags to gain an overall view of all the stuff we have built up throughout time:

Hong Kong series (The British Council in Hong Kong)
Oxford videos (Oxford University Press)
Vodcast series (Richmond publishers)
Speakout (Longman publishers)

Funnily enough, English learners at elementary (Básico 1 and Básico 2) and intermediate levels have always had at their disposal an invaluable collection of authentic videos created by Real English.

I won't go as far as saying that this latest trend in the EFL publishing world stems from Real English, as I don't really know the ins and outs of the EFL publishing world, but by watching the Real English videos one gets the impression that  Real English seems to have pioneered this trend of interviewing people on the street in unscripted dialogues (vox pops) and use this material in the English class.

This is the way the people behind Real English defines their site:

"It all started over a decade ago when a group of American and British ESL teachers at the Marzio School in the south of France noticed that the traditional materials they were using from The Big Publishers to teach their students simply weren't doing the job they were supposedly designed for.  (...) Michael Marzio and his friends & teachers started interviewing people on the streets of the USA and other countries during his vacations, came back to his school in France, and edited the video according to classic grammar structures and functions, in order to make the spontaneous, authentic, seemingly "fast" speech usable by different levels of students, including beginners."

In the following weeks, we'll be embedding the Real English videos on this blog, We'll be starting out with the first two videos in their collection. But make a point of dropping by Real English and read all the information, instructions, tips, ways of subscribing to  Real English on social media they offer on their webpage which is way bigger than what you can see here.

Lesson 1 deals with names and greetings, and it's suitable for Básico 1 and Básico 2 students.

You can watch the same video clip with subtitles on the Real English webpage here together with some exercises on what you have just watched on the video here.

Lesson 2 deals with introductions and answering the question "where are you from?", and it's suitable for Básico 1 and Básico 2 students.

You can watch the same video clip with subtitles on the Real English webpage here together with some exercises on what you have just watched on the video here.

lunes, 29 de octubre de 2012

Ophra interviews Rihanna in Barbados

This is a trailer of Oprah's programme The Next Chapter interviewing Rihanna. The episode was broadcast in mid-August.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip and answer the questions below about it.

1 Where was the interview held?
2 What were Ophra's expectations for the interview?
3 What are some of the adjectives Ophra uses to define Rihanna in the interview?
4 Where did Rihanna take Ophra?
5 What surprised Ophra on their way there?
6 When will the interview be aired?

You can self-correct the activity by reading the transcript below.

You can also watch a segment of the interview where Rihanna talks about her relationship with former boyfriend Chris Brown.

You can read a transcript of this video clip here.

You can watch an interview of Ophra with Lady Gaga on this blog post.

So I just recently came back from Barbados with Rihanna. I went there with my own ideas about who she was; watching the videos and listening to her music. I thought she was gonna be kind of a bad ass, kind of a hard edged Rocker-Pop-Woman huh, nothing could of been farther from the truth. This is who she was for me and our cameras and 100% herself. She was thoughtful.
I’m super-duper afraid of the pedestal that comes with fame.
She was very emotional
I hate this part.
She was vulnerable.
It’s amazing how lonely you can feel.
She pushes the edge. You seem to have a liking to the ‘F’ word.
She pushes the edge a lot and there’s a reason for that. And I came away really getting a great sense of who she was. After we got in the car and drove back to her old neighborhood. First of all, I was surprised that she’s such a good driver.
Driving with Oprah – Hello!
In Barbados.
And this is how you know who somebody is. How people react to them. And when we went back to the neighborhood and this reaction surprised me. Because it wasn’t like a big superstar, mega-star, pop-star had arrived in the neighborhood, it was jus Robin. As though she’d gone to the grocery store and came back. It was great. It was great to see. I hope you’ll join me for a really really get down conversation with Rihanna. August 19th 2012. It’s good.

domingo, 28 de octubre de 2012

Trapped in unemployment

The economic crisis is having hard-hitting effects everywhere. In the USA, the chances of finding a job are scarce for the four million long-term unemployed, but Joe Carbone is looking to change this trend in his Connecticut town thanks to the new jobs programme he has devised.

Watch the first segment of CBS 60 Minutes Trapped in Unemployment and find out all the details about it.

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 27 de octubre de 2012

Daylight saving time

The Explain it to me section of CNN features an interesting video about the story of Daylight saving in US. Tonight the clocks will be turned back an hour in Spain with a view to saving energy, so this video may come in handy to throw some light on this annoying issue for some.

Self-study activity:
Watch the CNN video and complete the statements below.


1 Originally daylight saving was started out to help...
2 During World War I Daylight Saving Time was made official to...
3 2005 is important because...
4 Around the globe Daylight Saving Time is not practised in...
5 Savings as a noun is...

You can check the answers by reading the transcript below. 

You can also watch the CBS video that we published last year Changing the time

This is not a complex issue.  Daylight saving is basically self-explanatory.  It's saving daylight. Originally, daylight saving was one of those things where it was originally for agrarian societies.  It was to use the… get the most use out of as much daylight as you possibly could.  It was certainly helpful with farmers, certainly helpful with fisherman. But then later, in later years, it actually began, daylight savings was actually practiced for the sole purpose of really saving energy. 

We've been following Daylight Saving Time in the United States for quite a while.  It really first became official back during World War I for the sake of growing extra food for troops overseas.  It was brought back for World War II, but recently it was the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that was the real difference maker, that made it more of a formal type of exercise that has been basically followed by every state in the United States, with a few exceptions, that being, of course Arizona, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the American Samoas. 

Internationally, it's kind of a hodgepodge around the globe.  If you took a look at the planet, and you were to light up places that were experiencing daylight saving, you'd see really just a hop, skip and a jump from one continent to the other.  It's kind of varied, wherever you happen to do.  There's some places, I can tell you, in Africa, where there are many spots where they don't practice it.  There are many places, obviously, in parts of Asia.  Europe, though, practices it for the most part. OK.  

Now we're getting to the nitty-gritty stuff.  This is the stuff that drives people crazy.  To me, it's daylight saving.  It's a verb.  It's something we're doing.  We're saving daylight.  Savings is a noun.  That's something that you have at the bank.  Obviously, we're using the verb. It's very possible that, at some point, we may indeed get rid of Daylight Saving Time.  But for the time being, it is certainly here, and it's something we've got to deal with, for better or for worse.

viernes, 26 de octubre de 2012

Simple English videos

In mid August ESL/EFL teacher Vicki Hollett launched Simple English Videos.

Here you will find trailers of different genres (action, animation, comedy, documentary, drama, family and so on) with new additions every week. A transcript of the trailers is always provided.

You can watch Vicki Hollett explaining the ins and outs of her site on this video.

Simple English Videos seems like a great place for English students, especially those at an intermediate and advanced level, to develop their autonomous learning through authentic film-related material while having a good time.

jueves, 25 de octubre de 2012

Dictation time with Beyoncé

Beyoncé helped promoting The World Humanitarian Day 2012 celebrated on 19th August this year. I thought this might be a good opportunity for us to find out about this charity while intermediate students putting their listening skills to the test.

Self-study activity:
Watch the 50-second clip and try to transcribe everything Beyonce says (and sings).

You can read the transcript of the ad below.

If you feel dictations are a good practice for developing your language skills, you can try dictationsonline.com, where you will find short dictations for English students of all levels.

And you can also try, especially at Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 levels, Listen A Minute, one of the eight web sites by Sean Banville.

On August 19th 2012, it’s high time we rise together.
Do one thing for another human being.
Nothing is too small,
It begins with each of us.
Make your mark, and say I was here.
Go to whd-iwashere.org and together we’ll make our stories known.
I was here.
I live.
I love.
One day, one message.
One billion people taking action for each other.
I’ll see you then.

miércoles, 24 de octubre de 2012

Talking point: How well do you know your city or town?

As The New York Times reported in the Student Opinion section of The Learning Network, New York City has announced that it will install new pedestrian-friendly street signs. One option under consideration is the “You Are Here” map, commonly seen at shopping centers, airports and amusement parks.

How well do you know the streets of the place where you live?
Do you know how to get everywhere?
Whenever you have visitors and decide to show them around, where do you usually take them?
Have you recently discovered a new area, place or interesting part of your city/town?
Are some parts of town a mystery to you?
Do you find your way easily when driving?
If you need to go anywhere by public transport, do you have to plan your route in advance?
Do you think you would ever have to use street signs in your town/city if your city/town had them?
What do you know about the history of your city/town?
Are you interested in the street names of your city/town and in finding out about why those people/events are important to your city/town?

To gain further insight into New York City's idea, you can read The New York Times article by MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM City Signs to Help Pedestrians (They Aren’t Just for Tourists).

Department of Transportation

martes, 23 de octubre de 2012

Hong Kong series: My daily routine

This is the last installment in the Hong Kong series of videos. Kim, Sam and Clare, three teachers at The British Council in Hong Kong, answer the questions below about their daily routine.

Listen to what they say and note down the answers they give. Then answer the same questions about your daily routine.

What’s your daily routine?
What’s your favourite part of the day?
What would be your dream day?

lunes, 22 de octubre de 2012

Interview project

Interview Project is a road trip where people have been found and interviewed. You will meet hundreds of people on Interview Project. Each of the interviewees is different. Interview Project is a 25,000-mile road trip over 70 days across and back the United States. The team found the people driving around the roads, going into bars, going into different locations. The people told their story. This is a  chance to meet these people, it is human and we can’t stay away from it.

I discovered Interview Project through David Deubel.

Self-study activity:
Watch Tommie Holliday summarise his life story in four minutes. Just put your feet up and try to understand as much as possible.

Watch the video clip again. What does the following refer to?

a butcher
6 years
a machine gun
16 months

You can check the answers by reading the transcript below.

My name’s Tommie Holliday, I live in Kingman, Arizona, and I’m 54, and what was the other thing?
I was born in 1953 in Houston, Texas. I guess I came from a poor family with an alcoholic father in a poor neighborhood. I was put on my own at 14, kicked out the house to take care of myself so I packed bag and left when I was 14 years old, and I got a job and did pretty good and just got it going on.
I started out, my first job was working at a skating rink, cleaning up after sessions. Then I got a job Blowing Rock Wood Insulations in hen houses, made a pretty good living doing that, and then eventually I got a job at Saint Regis paper company, where I became an operator, and I worked that job till I was 17, and then I went to work for the Kroger meat company, and learnt how to be a butcher, so started making some pretty good of money.
Shit man, later, I just got myself a later big fat zero. I ain’t got a life, I ain’t doing nothing. I’m just hanging out.
My girlfriend, the love of my life, her boyfriend before me, we’d been dating for like 6 years, but this boyfriend kept following her around, she was camping out in the desert, she moved like twenty times to get away from him, and he told me three days before she killed him that if he didn’t go back (if she didn’t go back) and be with him that he was going to kill her and her kids. Well, I didn’t have a chance to see her before he went to see her but apparently he ran at her with an axe, she had a machine gun, she killed him.
I’ve got 16 months left before I can see her and we’re gonna get married and get the hell out of Arizona and have a life together. 
I like to take her and go to Montana, I really like to be in the wilderness away from people and society, and all these idiots, you know. All these people are out to cause me trouble and get me in trouble and stuff. That’s my hopes and dreams, heck yeah man, I get my baby and be in Montana, that would be it, I would be the happiest man on this earth, yeah.

domingo, 21 de octubre de 2012

How does your memory work?

The BBC programme Horizon takes us on a journey into the human memory. The documentary reveals how   different human stories are transforming the way we understand this ability.

The findings reveal the shocking truth that everyone is little more than their own memory.

Watch the first part of How does memory work? in this 10-minute video clip.

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 20 de octubre de 2012

Victoria Beckham on British fashion -video

Victoria Beckham gives us her personal view on British fashion and her contribution to it. This video activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Self-study activity:
Watch the two-minute video and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words.

I’ve always wanted to work in fashion, and when I was given the opportunity I took that opportunity with both (1) ... . I wanna empower women, I wanna make women feel good about themselves and for me to be able to achieve the quality that I want to give my (2) ... I have to do that in London. My brand is British, my team are all British. You can feel the energy if you’re driving through London. I mean, I mean when I was younger I used to love going to Camden Market, you know, on a Sunday I mean the energy, the (3) ... , it’s really multi-cultural. That is more inspiring than anything.

You know, in Britain, we don’t feel the need to conform, we dance to the beat of our own drum, we’re individual, we’re passionate, we’re very, very (4) ... .

Anna Wintour is British, she’s the editor-in-chief of American Vogue. She’s probably the most (5) ... person in the fashion industry ever.

The Queen is, I mean she’s an icon. She’s so appropriate, very, very (6) ... , I mean, she’s the Queen.

In Britain we have some incredible brands. If you look at Burberry, Stella McCarthy, Alexander McQueen, Mackintosh, Hunter. We have really (7) ... quality, British brands, and I’m very proud to consider myself one of them.

Music has always (8) ... everything that I do. I love music. David loves music, but he (9) ... dance. I mean, when you look at the talent in Britain over the years, Stone Roses, Oasis, The Beatles, the Spice Girls, you know, Adele, we really have a lot of talent and British music, again, like fashion, is very very cool and very very relevant.

I’m very very proud to be British and I love living in America, I embrace living in America, but I am British, David is British, the (10) ... are British and we are very very proud of that.

1 hands 2 customer 3 atmosphere 4 creative 5 respected 6 chic 7 cool 8 influenced 9 can’t 10 kids 

viernes, 19 de octubre de 2012

Safety advice with children at home

Child Accident Prevention Trust is a really interesting site for both students and teachers alike. In the section “Safety advice” we’ll find the different kinds of accidents children may suffer. The accidents are classified in several categories: By age, by injury type, by location.

If you click on any of the options in each category, a menu will be displayed in the main area of the webpage with a number of entries concerning that option. Click on an entry of your interest and a full text with practical advice will unfold.

On top of that, the “Safety advice” section offers users some “Safety quizzes” on the right hand side to test their knowledge of safety in several situations.

All in all the Child Accident Prevention Trust  provides us with an easy and practical read that will help us improve our reading skills and accident-related vocabulary while we learn some basic safety information that may come in handy at some stage in our lives.

You can complete the Child Accident Prevention Trust  information with last year's blog entry First aid videos, which will direct you to the webpage of the British Red Cross and show you videos on how to proceed when dealing with six types of accidents (choking, burns, bleeding, dealing with an unconscious person, asthma attacks and broken bones). The videos are one-minute long and have optional subtitles.

jueves, 18 de octubre de 2012

Western Men Look East for Internet Brides

Watch this shocking Skynews report about tens of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian women signing up every year in the hope of getting hold of a foreign husband.

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

1 How much has di Gregorio paid for the Ukraine Romance Tour?
2 What's the ratio of men to women on the tour?
3 Why is Galina fed up with local men?
4 Why are Russian and Ukrainian women so popular on the internet?
5 What are the arguments of the activists who oppose the tour?
6 Why do western men appeal to Russian and Ukrainian women?
7 What does the figure 25,000 refer to?

To check your answers you can read the transcript below.

Jim di Gregorio knows what he wants.
“An old-fashioned girl brought up in a strict family where maybe papa was in charge, so she’s used to a man being in charge. I prefer to be captain of my ship.”
He’s paid two and a half thousand pounds to attend the so-called Romance Tour in Ukraine. His aim, to find a wife. He’s preparing for a social where each western man will be outnumbered by at least seven women.
Galina is equally clear about her intentions. She says she’s waiting for her destiny, cheers her man. Tired of local men who only want to fling she says she’s ready for a family. It’s these traditional values and looks that make Russian and Ukrainian women the most popular and sought-after in the mail order bride market. The social is billed as buzzing, the age gap between male and female participants striking. Flirting aided by translators.

“And you look like a celebrity.”
“She looks like a celebrity.”
Roger doesn’t take long to catch the chase.
“Is she gonna marry me and come to the States?”

And if the conversation fails there are more obvious ways to attract attention. People who run the company say this is just dating. Others say is one step away from trafficking.
“This phenomenon is a variation of prostitution and human trade. It has the same logic in it. Even if they claim the women have chosen this, it’s still the trade of a human being.”

Broadly speaking the idea of women’s independence hasn’t penetrated Ukrainian and Russian society yet. In Moscow the rise of the super-rich has been huge, but there’s still a lingering attitude that western men are the key to wealth and happiness. In Russia 25,000 women every year sign up to marriage agencies. This Moscow agency is unabashed about putting young women with older wealthy western men.
“If the girl is young and pretty why should she sell herself and make a profit? If she’s beautiful, why should she be poor?”
Back in Odessa as if in need of further titillation, the men are treated to a bikini contest. Many of them say they're tired of aggressive and feminist Western women. But for a lot of these young women the West equals freedom - two ideals that down the line could become very much at odds.

miércoles, 17 de octubre de 2012

Talking point: Severe weather events

Over the recent years we have heard of numerous severe weather events on the news such as tropical cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, snowstorms, droughts, tsunamis, (flash) floods, heat waves, landslides, avalanches, many of which led to natural disasters.

Which is your favourite type of weather? And your least favourite?
What's the coldest, hottest, or wettest you've ever been? Where were you? What were you doing?
Are there any activities you do that depend on the weather?
Have you ever stopped doing something important because of the weather?
Do you have a story of something that happened to you that involves the weather?
Do you remember any news items concerning any of the severe weather conditions mentioned in the introduction?
Have you or any person you know experienced any of these events or similar weather conditions?
What was it like? How did you/they stay safe? How did you/they feel during/after the event?
Have you ever volunteered to help clean up after one of these events?
Do you remember any stories from people who have survived a natural disaster?
Have you seen any films concerning severe weather conditions or natural disasters?

To gain some insight into this topic, you can watch this short video clip from the BBC programme The Great British Weather.

martes, 16 de octubre de 2012

Hong Kong series: My travels

Bryan, Monica and Alex, teachers at The British Council in Hong Kong, answer the questions below about their travelling experiences.

Watch the video and note down the answer they give to each of the questions. As usual, you'll get plenty of help from the on-screen subtitles.

When you have watched the video several times, try and answer the same questions about yourself.

What countries have you travelled to?
Which was your favourite and why?
Do you have an interesting travel story

I would like to draw your attention to the use Monica makes of the structure been to in the first question.
I've been to the UK = I've visited the UK

To know the difference between been to and gone to when talking about experiences, you can read this blog post.

lunes, 15 de octubre de 2012

Driving and texting

This is an ad from NRMA Insurance about the dangers of driving and texting. The listening activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Self-study activity:
First watch the video through and enjoy it, trying to understand as much as possible.

When you watch the video for a second time, freeze the picture whenever a text message comes up. Can you transcribe in writing the text message?

Watch the video once again. Complete the blanks in the transcript below with the missing words.

You can read the answers and the transcript below.

This blog features a video from The New York Times about texting and walking, and another New York Times video on distracted drivers.

Now you see it.



Never, ever, text and drive.


Here at NRMA Insurance we have (1) ... in our own Research Centre to uncover the facts that just might make a difference to how you (2) ... your driving.
For example the facts you just saw came from our “text and driving” study.
Texting is a distraction we all know and the facts are (3) ... time and again. Each time you touch your phone to text your eyes are off the road for an average of 1.4 seconds. At 60KM/H 1.4 seconds is the same as closing your eyes for 22 meters. That’s 5 car (4) ... .
Just writing 1 message, could take your eyes off the road for nearly 100m.
And you are 63% more likely to veer out of your (5) ... whilst driving at 60KM/H. (6) ... facts but the reality of texting and driving is even (7) ... . So how can you break this dangerous habit? What (8) ... can you take today? Actually it’s very simple.
Put your phone out of (9) ... . Not in your (10) ... .
Put your phone on (11) ... , so it can’t distract.
Assign a (12) ... (if travelling with friends).
In sharing our experience we hope to make a difference.
And remember, please keep your eyes on the road.
Not your phone.

1 invested 2 approach 3 proven 4 lengths 5 lane 6 Scary 7 scarier 8 steps 9 sight 10 lap 11 silent 12 texter

domingo, 14 de octubre de 2012

Dollars and dentists

We devote weekends to extensive listening, so that we can get familiar with authentic material designed for native speakers of English. The focus here is on the content rather than how much or how little we understood.

Today's video is the first part of a PBS documentary of Frontline, a programme that explores critical issues of our times - from business and health to social issues, politics and war. Today's episode deals with the problems a good share of American society has to face to foot the bill of their dental care.

You can read the transcript here.

Watch Dollars and Dentists on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

sábado, 13 de octubre de 2012

Back to solitude

Back to solitude is a short film by Joschka Laukeninks. It is the story of a relationship backwards.

The idea seems really original to me, the voice-over is appealing and I think the acting and the photography are also excellent, though I'm no expert.

I have tried to find the film without subtitles but I have been unable to, so if you wish to practise your listening skills you will have to scroll down the screen a little bit until the subtitles are covered.

I think Básico 2 students can give the film a try.

Self-study activity:
We can make the most of having the subtitles on the screen to practise our English pronunciation by shadow reading.

After listening to the story and being familiar with it, play the film again and read the subtitles at the same pace as the narrator. Try to imitate the rhythm, the intonation and, of course, the pronunciation of the individual worlds.

'Back to Solitude' (2011) from Joschka Laukeninks on Vimeo.

viernes, 12 de octubre de 2012

Christopher Columbus -video activity

Self-study activity:
Watch this video from the National Geographic Kids that I discovered through the blog Ines Workshop, and say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 When Columbus was born educated people thought the Earth was flat.
2 Columbus decided to find a sea route Asia-Europe because it was impossible to import spices.
3 The Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella financed Columbus's voyage.
4 On 9th October the sailors rebelled against Columbus.
5 Columbus believed he had arrived at a place near Asia.
6 Columbus made three trips in total to the New World.
7 Columbus succeeded in finding the new sea route to Asia.
8 Columbus was the first European to reach America.

You can read the transcript here.

1F 2F 3T 4F 5T 6F 7F 8F

Letter Exemple Help -Sample letters for business and formal situations

There is some controversy in the teaching world over the suitability to provide learners with sample texts when it comes to composition writing, as the student might somehow feel straightjacketed and their imagination constrained. On top of that, sample compositions have a limited effect in exam classes, as the questions in the writing paper are anything but predictable.

Some teachers claim the idea is not to think of a composition as a product, but as the result of a process with the emphasis on answering the question in full and making sure the parts of the composition are coherent and the ideas well developed.

Having said this, let me tell you about Letter Example Help Letter Example Help has been created by Melanie Walters "to help you address formal situations with a written letter. With the advent of the internet and people texting each other with incomplete sentences, I created this website for those that require inspiration for a formal letter example format." In addition, for non-native speakers of English finding the right formulaic expressions is sometimes an insurmountable task.

The examples on  Letter Example Help can be downloaded in Word format but Melanie makes a point of  reminding users to personalize each letter for their particular situation.

Melanie Walters is "a writer and editor for several businesses both online and offline. Her experience with writing business letters and marketing materials has helped her understand exactly what works in written communication for businesses. In the 10 years she's been writing, Melanie has amassed a large collection of letter examples that she gladly shares with you here on Letter Example Help ."

jueves, 11 de octubre de 2012

Paraplegic flies to Sydney in microlight plane

This piece of news is one year old, but I think it's interesting enough to grab our attention and give us a reason for listening.
Self-study activity:
Watch the two-minute clip and answer the questions below.

1 How long did Dave take to fly from England to Australia?
2 How long did he take to prepare for the flight?
3 Why is Dave paralysed?
4 What happened when he was flying over Burma?
5 What does 18 refer to in the clip?
6 What made Dave fly to Australia?
7 What problem did he have when he was flying over Iran?
8 How will the microlight be travelling back to Britain?

To check your answers, you can read the transcript below.

The long flight to the other side of the world in a normal plane is tough enough, so imagine making the journey in a flimsy microlight. It’s taken Dave Sykes four months to travel almost 12,000 miles to Sydney from his home in Yorkshire. Unsurprisingly when the Opera House and Harbour came into view it was an emotional moment.
I could see the bridge in front of me - I thought, this is what I've planned for two years for. This is the actual final flight of it all. I just couldn't stop smiling really, and then flying over the actual bridge, looking at all the people doing the bridge walk waving at me. That was something else was that.
It is an incredible achievement, but even more so for Dave. He’s paralysed from the waist down, after breaking his back in a motorbike accident. With his wheelchair strapped to his aircraft, nothing was going to stop this Yorkshire man making the trip of a lifetime, not even a horrendous lightning storm over Burma.
There was a big flash and the aircraft shuddered with a lightening strike at the side of me and blew all the fuses out on the instruments. It got to the point where I wasn't scared any more, and I was just trying to survive, you know, and not crash.
Crossing oceans, deserts and jungle Dave flew over 18 countries and who needs in-flight movies when you have a front-row seat of the best views Mother Nature can provide. Raising money for Yorkshire’s air ambulance, Dave coped with sand storms and even the threat of being shot down over Iran. Now, though, he’s just ready to head home. And in case you’re wondering, Dave won’t be going home by propeller power but rather in a normal airplane. As for the microlight, well that’s going to be packed up, put in a container and will head back to Britain by sea.
Dave flew all the way to Australia on just a wing and a chair, something worth considering next time you complain about being on a long-haul flight.
Jonathan Samuels, Skynews, Sidney

miércoles, 10 de octubre de 2012

Talking point: How much time do you spend in nature?

This week's talking point deals with nature, our attitude to nature and its importance in our lives. How much time do you spend in nature? was the topic in the Student Opinion section of The New York Times Learning Network back in September last year.

What are your experiences in nature?
As a child, did you use to go to summer camps or were you a member of youth organisations which promoted outdoor outings and activities like hiking or trekking?
If so, did you enjoy them?
How much time do you spend in nature these days?
How do you feel about going on a camping holiday?
Have you ever had an experience in which nature challenged or restored you?
Have you ever been to a national park?
Do you make a point of going to parks whenever you visit a city or town?
Do you agree that children today are nature-deprived? Why or why not?
Do you think young people need to play fewer video games and spend more time outside?

In preparation for your discussion, you can read Nicholas D. Kristof's article for The New York Times "We’re Rich! (In Nature.)”.

Ansel Adams/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

martes, 9 de octubre de 2012

Hong Kong series: My favourite food

Martin, Vikki and James, three teachers at The British Council in Hong Kong tell us about their culinary preferences by answering the questions below.

Watch the video several times until you are able to understand the information comfortably. Then answer the same questions about yourself.

What food do you like?
What food don’t you like?
Do you cook at home?
What’s the worst meal you have ever had?
What is your favourite restaurant in Hong Kong?

lunes, 8 de octubre de 2012

Make it happen

This is a short motivational video by Danielle LaPorte, a popular motivational speaker and former news show commentator.

Just watch Danielle's video clip and let her ideas permeate you. I don't think you will have very many problems with comprehension, because the key ideas Danielle is trying to convey are shown on the video, but you have the transcript below if you wish to understand everything.

Danielle is a fast talker. Try to repeat some of the phrases she says at her speeed.

You wanna make it happen? Life is short, let's do this.
Your mantra of choice is this: I'll figure it out. You'll figure it out. You will figure it out.
You need to strike this from your vocabulary: I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. But I don't know what to do. You'll figure it out.
Remember this: everything you have ever done in your entire life, in the history of humanity, has brought you to this point. It's a whole lot of life force on your side. The first kiss, a blank page, white space.
A beginner's mind is an open mind, and an open mind innovates.
Respect your fear. It's part of the creative process and it keeps you alert.
What are you gonna give up to get where you wanna go?
Because you can't have it all. But you can always have and always do great things.
Balance? It's a myth. Tell us your dream.
When you declare it and share it, you're accountable and you're helpable.
Don't let perfection become procrastination.
Every masterpiece that's ever been done? It could've been better. Just launch and learn.
Everything is progress. The universe is always expanding and that includes you.
You wanna make it happen?
Do what you say you're gonna do. Do what you say you're going to do. Do what you say you're going to do.
Keep it pointed to where you want it to go.
Every day, today, now, do a little more of what you really wanna be doing and do a little less of what you don't want to do, until your ideal becomes what's real.
You can do this. You got this. You can make it happen. You wanna make it happen?

sábado, 6 de octubre de 2012

Five rules of thumb for polite language

Some months ago The MacMillan Dictionary Blog published a really interesting entry by guest blogger Luke Thompson about the importance of indirectness in English to establish "a respectful and polite relationship between speakers", especially within a business context or if we don't know the other speaker(s) very well.

Luke Thompson explains, for example, why it is wrong to say "I disagree" in some contexts, as we can come across as impolite or aggressive, and we should say "I see what you mean, but..." or "I agree up to a point, but...".

Luke Thompson establishes five basic rules of thumb for polite and diplomatic language:
1 Listen and be understanding
2 Avoid negative words
3 Say "sorry"
4 Use little words to soften your statements
5 Avoid using the word "you"

Being polite and diplomatic in this way is something native speakers of English take for granted, and something they do automatically. It is, therefore, a cultural aspect of the language that some speakers from other nationalities find it difficult to come to terms with, as they come from cultures where directness is an asset.

Drop by The MacMillan Dictionary Blog and read the explanations and examples Luke Thompson provides on this cultural issue.

viernes, 5 de octubre de 2012

The gang who sold houses they didn't own

Crime and accident stories are perfect to gauge our understanding of English, especially if they deal with events we know little or nothing about. Take "The gang who sold houses they didn't own", a news item
that Skynews informed about some months ago.

Self-study activity:
Watch the news clip and answer the questions below about it.

1 What are the jobs of the gang members?
2 What's the problem with the female member of the gang these days?
3 What does four million pounds refer to?
4 What kinds of homes did the gang look for?
5 What was the gang's usual procedure when they spotted a suitable home?
6 How serious is this crime?
7 Why is a barber shop mentioned?
8 What does 8% refer to at the end of the clip?

To check your answers you can read the transcript below.

It was a property scam in which a criminal gang made millions of pounds by effectively stealing people’s homes. At the heart of it was a trio of corrupt officials: A land registry clerk, a solicitor, and a bank manager who for legal reasons can’t be identified.
Surjeet Chana worked at the land registry and provided title deeds and owner signatures so they could be forged.
"She’s is now with a very serious depression…"
Her daughter said she was now very ill.
"The thing is she’s not well because even she is not talking to the family either."
Solicitor Charles Spiropolous did the conveyancing using his office to complete the illegal house sales and collect money. The bank manager helped the gang hide their profits.
"Can I talk to you about the case on Friday?"
"Which case?"
He left them use his bank to launder the money they made, nearly four million pounds. The gang searched for homes like this, neglected or abandoned, their owners dead or in care.
The old lady who owns this house died and left it in her will to five different charities. While that complicated legal situation was being sorted out, the house was neglected and became an obvious target for the gang. They boarded it up, changed the locks, then erected an official-looking sign urging the owner to get in touch. If none did, they went ahead and sold the houses, a quick cap price sale usually to an unsuspecting developer. Police don’t know how many they sold.
"The arrogance with which is some way this is carried out… they wouldn’t get detected. But this is not seen as a serious crime but yet when you look at it we have elderly victims, in care homes, whose homes are left there and suddenly being sold underneath them."
The gang leaders at first used a barber shop in Surrey to launder the drugs profits. Then they developed for more sophisticated property fraud. The gang sold this home in Croydon for £140,000. Owner Ann McKendrick said “I have lost my past, much of my identity and reason for existing.”  This house in Wimbledon went for £190,000. Owner Frida Gallagher said she’d been left very confused and in total shock. But at times the gang were moving hold-alls of cash through the corrupt bank manager’s branch. He got 5% on each illegal house sale, when he should have been reporting the gang for money laundering.

Martin Brunt, Sky News, South London.

jueves, 4 de octubre de 2012

BT Everyday Lives - Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Meet Anthony, a volunteer coastguard rescue officer with HM Coastguard. He explains the ins and outs of his job. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video clip and fill in the blanks in the transcript with the missing words.

My name is Anthony, I’m an (1) ... but I’m also a Coastguard. I could be sat in the office just doing my normal (2) ... and the phone will ring. We can get calls at any time, often as you’re about to sit down for dinner or if your just getting into that (3) ... . The Olympic event taking place down in the wayward area we expect to have a (4) ... season. A lot of specatators expected around the cliffs. It can be a very (5) ... job, when your going out, your helping someone and you can maybe pass a (6) ... back to the parents, you see the joy in the parents faces, it’s fantastic.

The worst thing that I think I have to do sometimes is actually speak to friends and family and sometimes give them the (7) ... and obviously that is is a very hard thing to do. The Coastguard Rescue Teams are the ones who are at the forefront of peoples' (8) ... because they they are what the public will see when an (9) ... happens on the Coast. They don’t see behind the (10) ... , the operations RRCC where the calls come in, they are also very much responsible for making sure that they are tasking the right people, they are making sure the right (11) ... are going to the (9) ... , they are certain times where we can’t get to the (12) ...  then the helicopters are invaluable just for that very speedy response.

The only way those elements can work as a team is with a (13) ... resilient and secure communication and the Maritime and Coastguard agency use BT as a backbone to their communications infrastructure.

1 Estate Agent 2 day job 3 deep sleep 4 busy 5 rewarding 6 message 7 bad news 8 mind 9 instant 10 scenes 11 resources 12 causalty 13 reliable

miércoles, 3 de octubre de 2012

Talking point: You and politics

Discussing the topic of politics is always a hot issue, as some people always make it personal and express their ideas in a vehement way.

Anyway, let's give politics a try in this week's talking point. Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss the questions below, which you can (or should) prepare before holding your discussion.

Who’s the President of the Government?
How long does he hold a term of office?
When is the next election in Spain (or in your country)? And the next general election?
Do you think it is important to vote in elections?
How many people usually vote in Spanish elections?
Should voting be compulsory?
There are around 400,000 politicians in Spain. Why are there so many people interested in becoming a politician?
Do you know any scandals involving politicians?
Things in Spain will get better if …

Which celebrities in Spain are or have been involved in politics or in protests?
And in other countries?
Do you think that celebrities should be involved in politics?
Do celebreties have social responsibilities because of their fame?

Do you agree with the statements below?
I wouldn't vote for a celebrity politician unless I really liked their films.
I'll probably always vote for the same party unless they change in a big way.
If I had the chance, I'd love to be a politician.
I'd prefer it if there were more women in politics.
At least 50% of those holding public office should be women.

Do US politics have a direct influence in Spain (or in your country)?

To illustrate the topic, we are posting two videos today. Towards the end of the summer both the Republican and Democrat parties held conventions to choose their candidates for the November elections and to get their messages across the country. Some celebrities took part actively in the conventions in support of the candidates. Watch Clint Eastwood's and Scarlett Johanson's at the Republic and Democrat conventions.

First, here's Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention. You can watch the full eleven-minute version here.

And here's Scarlett Johanson's speeach at the Democratic National Convention.

You can read the transcripts for the two full speeches here.

You can do a video listening activity about Scarlett Johanson and her campaign for Dolce and Gabbana here.

You can watch Clint Eastwood and his famous It's half time America ad here.

martes, 2 de octubre de 2012

Hong Kong series: My career

Kim, Niki and Mike, teachers at The British Council in Hong Kong, answer the questions below about their career choice.

How long and where have you taught?
Why did you become a teacher?
What do you like about the job?
If you were not a teacher, what would you be?

As usual, you will get plenty of help to understand the answers, as most of what the three teachers say is shown in subtitles on the screen. However, today's questions are a bit more complicated grammar-wise, and will be within the grasp of Intermediate 1 and strong Básico 2 students.

lunes, 1 de octubre de 2012

How to spread the perfect slice of toast

I learnt about How to spread the perfect slice of toast through Jeffrey Hill, who in late June published a post on his blog, The English Blog, letting us know about Warburtons' invention to solve this English breakfast dilemma.

I have used Warburtons' video clip to create a listening activity suitable for Básico 2 students.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and complete the blanks on the transcript below with the missing words.

Once the full transcript is completed, try to improve your English pronunciation through the shadow reading technique, that is, reading at the same time as the narrator.

And make a point of dropping by The English Blog to read Jeffrey's comments and ideas on the toastie knife.

How to butter the perfect slice of toast?

No one enjoys the (1) ... of trying cold butter straight from the fridge on to toast in the morning. It’s too hard to spread and it’s a (2) ... experience first thing.

To help with this breakfast time trauma, Warburton has (3) ... the perfect solution –introducing the toastie knife. Using state-of-the-art technology to (4) ... an optimum butter spreading experience, the toastie knife comes complete with a handy (5) ... blade that can be (6) ... at the press of a button.

The toastie knife gently heats to (7) ...   degrees in (8) ...  seconds, the perfect temperature for efficient butter spreading, as identified by the country’s top toast experts.

Using the toastie knife start in the middle of your toast and use (9) ... , short strokes to the edges to secure even butter coverage. For best results, use a good quality loaf, one that is soft enough to (10) ...  taste but strong enough that it won’t tear when (11) ... . That will ensure you have the perfect breakfast bite.

Now, that we call the perfect toast experience.

Warburtons toastie knife, what do you think? Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

(1) annoyance (2) frustrating (3) invented (4) ensure (5) heated (6) activated (7) 41.8 (8) 30 (9) quick (10) guarantee (11) buttered