viernes, 30 de noviembre de 2012

The BBC How to series: Oral strategies for communication

Holding a conversation in English is much more than putting words together and not making grammar mistakes: We have to act both as a speaker and a listener, we have to adapt our behaviour to the changes in the conversation, we have to respect turn-taking and be able to cooperate with our interlocutor to keep the conversation going, we have to respect specific social conventions, we have to use suitable structures for the context. Sounds daunting,doesn't it?

The How to... series on the Learning English section of the BBC site is a wonderful resource that can keep you busy for a lifetime and that will help you to learn how to proceed when you talk to people in English, either face to face or on the phone and which may be an invaluable tool to prepare the EOI oral exam, specially the second part, where you have to discuss a topic or a situation with another student.

In the How to... series you will find dozens of six-minute lessons that can show you the way native speakers interact with each other while holding a conversation. Each lesson consists of an audio clip that you can listen to or download, its accompanying transcript, a selection of key vocabulary and structures with examples for learners to study/revise at a glance and, sometimes, activities to consolidate everything that has been explained throughout the lesson.

The lessons are grouped under umbrella topics:
As I said before, a number of six-minute lessons unfolds under each topic, focusing on a specific language function that shows what native speakers do to express that function, and how we can do it. For example, under How to hold a conversation,  some of the lessons we can study are:
  • extending a conversation
  • closing topics
  • expressing likes and dislikes
  • responding to compliments
  • talking about funny incidents
  • getting back on a topic
  • being sarcastic
I know it may not always be easy to find your way around the Learning English section of the BBC site. To get to the How to... series, once you reach the Learning English section, click on Grammar, vocabulary and pronuncation, and you'll find  the How to... series half way down the menu that unfolds.

jueves, 29 de noviembre de 2012

Business is great

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and ambassador for the GREAT Britain campaign, tells us what he thinks is great about doing business in the UK.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video clip and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words. The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

I think it’s important to love what you’re doing, and therefore if you’re (1) ... a music company, it’s important to love music. If you’re (1) ... , you know, an arts company, it’s important to love the arts. There’s no point in just (1) ...  businesses in order to make money or the business saying.
If you go back in history, you know, from Sir Francis Drake (2) ... , you know, we’ve had great explorers, great adventurers, in what British people have been good at is going and (3) ... globally, you know, it’s rare for European countries to have more than one airline. We’ve got, you know, quite a few airlines, whether it’s British Airways or Virgin Atlantic or Easy Jet. Mobile phones, we’ve done brilliantly in them, you know, (4) ... it’s Vodafone or little Virgin Mobile. Most motor sports companies are (5) ... in Britain, you know, they choose to be (5) ... here because we have the best engineers. You know, with the right team of people you can (6) ... pretty well anything and I think Britain has got that to offer.
I think a sense of humour is extremely important not to take yourself too seriously, not try to spend the lifetime trying to get these snipping ties of people and try to get them to relax a bit and let the (7) ... a bit because I think, you know, that’s appreciated.
One of the most important things about doing business in Britain is its (8) ... . It’s a society that people don’t feel very fortunate to have been born in and to live in and it’s got the right (9) ... to build the business in a secure way.
I’m very proud of being British, you know, I think there’s a lot to be proud about.

Richard Branson is also featured in this funny biographical ad on this blog.

1 setting up 2 onwards 3 trading 4 whether 5 based 6 achieve 7 hair down 8 integrity 9 environment 

miércoles, 28 de noviembre de 2012

Talking point: Growing up

This week's conversation topic touches on the topic of age and growing up. To support the discussion I came across a Telegraph online article informing about the upcoming broadcast of the documentary 7-Up, a Granada TV programme that started back in 1964 and which regularly features  the lives of 14 seven-year-old British children from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds. Every seven years the TV channel shows an episode with an update on the participants' lives.

What age would you like to be? Why?
What are typical interests/worries of people in their 20's, 40's, 60's?
What's the best age to do the following?
- get married
- have children
- go to university
- travel round the world
- retire

Do you feel happier as you get older?
Do you develop a stronger sense of purpose in life as you get older?
Do you feel your background has helped you or hindered you?
How have your life changed in the last seven years?
Would you be interested in appearing in a documentary series or reality show that featured your life changes every seven years? Why or Why not?
Do you think the idea of the Up Series is an interesting one?

martes, 27 de noviembre de 2012

Real English series: Numbers, age, days and dates

This week's the Real English video series focuses on the topic of numbers from very different perspectives.

First of all, we revise cardinal numbers. You can find some exercises on the Real English site here.

Then we move on to ordinal numbers. You can find some exercises on ordinal numbers on the Real English site here.

Next, it is the age. People on the street answer the question How old are you? You can find some exercises on the age on the Real English site here.

The fourth video to do with numbers is about dates and days. People on the street answer questions like When's your birthday? What day is Christmas? How old are you? How do you spell your name? You can find some exercises on dates and days on the Real English site here.

Finally, it is turn of telephone numbers and the question What's your telephone humber? You can find some exercises on telephone numbers on the Real English site here.

lunes, 26 de noviembre de 2012

Big bear diary

Self-study activity:
Watch this short excerpt from a BBC Earth documentary on bears and complete the gaps in the transcript with the missing words.

It is not hard to understand the voice-over, but the missing vocabulary is a bit tricky.

May, the little bears are growing fast. Their mother can take them out a bit (1) ... every day. These (2) ... are a vital part of their education. Luke’s losing his baby hair and his new (3) ... is blackening up. Adults aren’t always black: Black bears can be chocolate, (4) ... or even white. Their expanded diet gives the (5) ... just what they need, more energy. And the old saying is true, bears do (6) ... themselves in the woods.
Nothing goes to waste here, these azure butterflies are gathering for a most unusual meal. Their long (7)...-like tongues probe the (8) ... for amino acids from the bears' urine. Acting like vitamins they help the females make more eggs and even live longer.
A great grey (9) ... is hunting the glen. Her (10) ... is another hungry mouth to feed.
Like all (9)...s the great grey has wings fashioned for silent flight. (11) ... makes for successful hunting.
The more they play, the more they learn. Black bears are extremely intelligent. Scientific tests reveal that if food’s the (12) ... , they learn even quicker than (13) ... .
Climbing trees is in their blood and their sharp (14) ... are perfect for the job. And these aren’t any old trees, they’ve been specially selected by their mother for their easy-to-grip (15) ... . Archie, of course, is always pushing the limit. Now only the biggest trees will do, which fits in nicely with mother's plans. Once her (5) ... can scoot up the tallest trees, they’ll be far safer.

further 2 outings 3 fur 4 cinnamon 5 cubs 6 relieve 7 thread 8 soil 9 owl 10 chick 11 Stealth 12 reward 13 chimps 14 claws 15 bark

domingo, 25 de noviembre de 2012

How to live to be 101

Today's Sunday and it's time for our extensive listening activity. This week we are showing a BBC World documentary from the programme Horizon, How to live to be 101.

This is the way the episode was introduced by the BBC:

The quest to live longer has been one of humanities oldest dreams, but while scientists have been searching, a few isolated communities have stumbled across the answer. On the remote Japanese island of Okinawa, In the Californian town of Loma Linda and in the mountains of Sardinia people live longer than anywhere else on earth.

In these unique communities a group of scientists have dedicated their lives to trying to uncover their secrets. Horizon takes a trip around the globe to meet the people who can show us all how to live longer, healthier lives.

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 24 de noviembre de 2012


Voscreen looks like a fun site for students of all levels, but specially those at an intermediate level or above, to enjoy themselves while testing their listening skills.

You can sign up, access through your Facebook account or start as a guest. Whichever method you choose, Voscreen is free.

Then you have to select your mother tongue, as the site will use it to test how much you have actually understood.

Next you will be shown a 4-5 second video segment ranging from a wide variety of genres (films, documentaries, songs, speeches, ads, and so on). You click on play, and when the video clip is over you have two choices: I understand (you are given a choice of two translations in your mother tongue for you to click on the right one) or Show me the script (the transcript of the video segment is shown with the correct translation in your mother tongue highlighted in green).

H/T to Larry Ferlazzo.

viernes, 23 de noviembre de 2012

Levi's ad

This is the official Levi's ad for the 2012 campaign under the logo Go forth (go away, leave, move). The aim of the campaign is the association of Levi's with the destiny of America in this tough crisis time, where a new country has to be built and everyone has to pull their weight.

Self-study activity:
The ad here sounds like a poem recited at a develish speed. That means it is quite hard to understand. Watch the commercial and fill in the blanks with the missing words.

This is a pair of Levi’s®, buttons and rivets and (1) ... and cuffs, and the thread that holds it together.
When the road gets (2) ... and the sky gets jumpy and the stars start falling on top of your head and the waves start breaking against your legs.
It’s the thread in your seams that’s tied to your (3) ... .
It’s the sole in your feet that keep the beat.
You’re gonna be (4) ... , you’re gonna be  (4) ... , you’re gonna be  (4) ... .
You’re gonna find the cure, you’re gonna be famous, you’re gonna be (5) ... .
Spittin’ seeds in the wind, tap dancing with your shoe (6) ... pinned, to the back of a bus at the end of the road, at the bottom of the ninth, with a (7) ... on your head.
You’re a queen, you’re a king, you’re the solo act in a (8) ... show at a six-storey stadium, and you’re proud, you’re a hero!
You got a hero’s grip.
Swingin’ by a single stitch.
You follow your (9) ... , follow the leader, you’re the leader.
Are you joking, are you breaking, are you (10) ... ?
You’re the next living leader of the world.
You’re a kid holding onto the thread that holds it together.
This is a pair of Levi’s®

The idea of building the new America is better depicted in this other Levi's ad.

We were taught how the pioneers went into the West. They opened their eyes and made up what things could be. A long time ago, things got broken here. People got sad and left. Maybe the world breaks on purpose, so we can have work to do. People think there aren’t frontiers anymore. They can’t see how frontiers are all around us.

1 pockets 2 rough 3 dreams 4 great 5 shameless 6 laces 7 crown 8 sold out 9 heart 10 shaking

jueves, 22 de noviembre de 2012

Working from home

Do you work from home?
If not, does the idea appeal to you?
What are the advantages of working from home?
And the disadvantages?

Self-study activity:
Watch this short BBC news clip about teleworking that I came across through St George International towards the end of the summer and answer the questions below about it.

1 What company does Carol work for?
2 What disadvantage of going out to work does she mention?
3 What benefit does she mention?
4 Are Carol’s views on teleworking widely shared?
5 Claire mentions several advantages of working in an office with other people. Note down one.
6 What traditional method of controlling employees does the man after Claire mention?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript below.

The video above is part of an article on St George International blog Working from home: Business English. Please make a point of droping by St George International to read the article in full, where you will have the opportunty of getting acquainted with essential vocabulary about this topic.

St George International blog is a must for intermediate-to-advanced language students. The entries they publish on a regular basis comprise all  the skills and also touch on the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation systems of the language.

Their latest feature is the publication of podcasts, where some teachers from  St George International talk about current affairs and cultural topics in an unscripted way, which gives learners the opportunity of getting exposed to authentic English.

You can find another video activity on this blog about teleconferences here.

Teleworking was supposed to revolutionise the way we work but it seems that some employers don’t trust their staff to work from home and some teleworkers miss the gossip and their colleagues so much that they’d rather be in the office. Here’s our business correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.
Every morning Carol Mac makes the coffee and then sets off for work. It’s a short journey up the stairs. She’s among the Surrey county council staff who are now allowed to work from home.
I can get up in the morning and come straight into my office. I don’t have to sit in the traffic for hours and I can fit my work life around my home life. I’m trusted by my employers to do this. There are lots of benefits for me.
But a new report from the TUC says Carol is in a small minority. Teleworking is the revolution that hasn’t happened.
At the council’s headquarters Claire Holloway has decided teleworking isn’t for her. There are too many things she’d miss about the office.
I think you miss the office banter, the sort of chat with people, getting to know a huge number of different people who you wouldn’t probably come across anyway, and just it’s good fun to work here.
And while this employer sees benefits in allowing staff to work from home others appear unwilling to let them out of their sight.
Employers want to make sure that they’re getting value for money out of their employees. The old traditional measure was having a jacket on the back of the chair. That has got to change and people’s way of managing their staff has got to be far more sophisticated, and a lot more trust involved.
Technology now makes it possible for millions of us to work from home rather than in an office if we want to but it seems many employers and their staff are yet to be convinced that this is a revolution worth joining.
Rory Cellan-Jones BBC news.

miércoles, 21 de noviembre de 2012


In the United States Thanksgiving is observed on the every fourth Thursday of November. The holiday is celebrated in remembrance of the pilgrims and in order to give thanks. This year, the holiday is held on 22nd.

In a three-minute video the Channel History gives us a very comprehensive history of Thanksgiving.

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

1 The relationship between the colonists and the indians was good.
2 Turkey was part of the menu in the 1621 meal of colonists and Indians.
3 New England days of Thanksgiving were mainly a religious celebration.
4 All the States celebrated Thanksgiving on the same day in mid 19th century.
5 The movement to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday was started by a politician.
6 Football has played an important role in Thanksgiving since 19th century.
7 Thanksgiving has been part of Christmas since1924.
8 American families get together to celebrate Thanksgiving.

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

Talking point: Are you an optimist?

Apparently people have a significantly lower death rate over 30 years if they maintained an optimistic attitude. This is the shocking information The New York Times Learning Network published late in May under the title How full is your glass? to introduce the topic of the importance of a positive outlook in life for our health. I think the topic is interesting enough for discussion in our conversation group.

In your talking session, you can use the questions below, already taken from The New York Times Learning Network, and you can gain more insight into the topic by reading The New York Times article A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full, by Jane E Brody.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
What do you think is healthy about being an optimist or a pessimist?
What might be some benefits to viewing life from the opposite perspective?
Do you ever try to be more optimistic? 
What do you do to get a more positive feeling?
What advice would you give to someone trying to be more positive?
Do you think a person’s proclivity for optimism or pessimism is because of genetics, life experience or a combination of both?
Can optimism be a bad thing? If so, in what situations?
Do you agree that at times it’s better to “fake it until you make it” regarding optimism?
Have you ever used such a strategy? Did it work?

Yvetta Fedorova

martes, 20 de noviembre de 2012

Real English series: Introducing yourself and astrological signs

We are posting two new Real English videos this week in this series specially intended for lower level students.

In the first video people in the street are asked about their name, how they spell it, and sometimes they are asked to introduce other people to the interviewer.

Excuse me, what’s your name? Hi, I’m XXX.
Can you spell your name? or
How do you spell your name?
Can you introduce your friends to us? This is XXX.

You can watch the same video with subtitles on the Real English site here.
You can do some excercises on this video on the Real English site here.

The second video will be a lot more complicated for Básico 1 students. People in the street are asked about their astrological sign and their personality, together with some other questions revising names and spelling.

However, they are asked the question What are Geminis like?, ie, What kind of person are Geminis?, Tell me about their personality, which is really confusing for language learners at (almost) all levels.

Most of the times we answer this question by using adjectives that describe personality, although some other answers are also possible.
What are Geminis like? They are cleverkind and understanding.
What are Geminis like? They enjoy being with one or two people and dislike big groups.

Never include the preposition like in the answer, as the meaning would change completely.
What's she like? She's like her sister. (=She and her sister have a similar personality.)

The answers to this question in the video are suitable for intermediate or strong Básico 2 students, as the meaning of some of the adjectives used by the people interviewed demand a good grasp of English.

What’s your astrological sign?
What’s your name?
Can you spell it?
What’s your astrological sign?
What are Aquariuses like? They are honest and hard-working.

You can watch the same video with subtitles on the Real English site here.
You can do some excercises on this video on the Real English site here.

If you wish to learn the astrological signs in English, here is the list in the same order as it appears on the video together with the phonetic transcription for pronunciation purposes.

Capricorn / ˈkæprɪˌkɔː / --- Aquarius / əˈkweəriəs / --- Pisces / ˈpaɪsiːz /
Aries / ˈeəriːz / --- Taurus / ˈtɔːrəs / --- Gemini / ˈdʒemɪnaɪ /
Cancer / ˈkænsə(r) / --- Leo / ˈliːəʊ / --- Virgo / ˈvɜː(r)ɡəʊ /
Libra / ˈliːbrə / --- Scorpio / ˈskɔː(r)piəʊ / --- Sagittarius / ˌsædʒɪˈteəriəs /

lunes, 19 de noviembre de 2012

Katy Perry opens up to Ellen

This is a short extract of the interview to Katy Perry on the Ellen Show earlier this year. I think they are talking about Katy's film, Part of me, released this year.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip and number the topics in the order they are mentioned.

Being myself
Turned down by record companies
Artists are not perfect
Failed marriage
Family rules

You can read the transcript here:
But like you said, you shot the good the bad, who knows what’s gonna happen in your life when you start shooting. You got married during that time.
I did.
And that then didn’t turn out to last. And now how and – that’s part of it still in there?
I thought it was important for me, well first of all, I thought it was important for me to show everything in between I think, sometimes, umm, people think that we’re perfect. And we know we’re not perfect, at all and I think it’s important to start breaking down the idea that, to achieve your dream you have to always be perfect, or flawless, or live in kind of some fantasy world. Ah so that’s why I decided to put everything into the film. In the most tasteful way.
But mostly it’s about how I got there and the ride along the way which can be bumpy but mostly it was extremely fun.
I think when people all of a sudden like you know you explode on the scene, you have a huge hit song and everybody like, you know, knows who Katy Perry is. What people don’t know is what you’ve gone through even to get to that point and you were dropped by 3 record labels.
Ya, I made a gospel record when I was 15 that didn’t pan out ah and then I was dropped by two other record labels and there was just a lot of the word “No” being sent my way, and I just never accepted that. So it was kind of like – for me growing up – it was like overcoming my family situation of me being sheltered and not being able to listen to like Secular music and then in the industry overcoming that. You know. Overcoming everyone saying ah it’s not gonna work cause a lot of people wanted me to be like someone whether it was a Kelly Clarkson, or a Avril Lavigne and I was like, well, I wanna be Katy Perry first. And they didn’t really understand that maybe cause my vision was so strong but finally I got to ah go with it and it’s kind of worked out.
Kind of?

1 Failed marriage
2 Artists are not perfect
3 Turned down by recording companies
4 Family rules
5 Being myself 

domingo, 18 de noviembre de 2012

Face blindness

Today's Sunday and it's time for extensive listening, so put your feet up and get ready to enjoy this video.

Imagine you couldn't recognize people's faces, and even your own family looked unfamiliar. This 60 Minutes CBS report on face blindness or prosopagnosia  is a disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while the ability to recognize other objects may be relatively intact. This condition may affect up to 2.5% of the population.

You can read the transcript here or activate the CC (subtitles) on the lower side of the screen.

sábado, 17 de noviembre de 2012

Listen and Write

Listen and Write is a site where English students, specially those at an intermediate level, can listen to audio clips and type what they hear. Consequently, Listen and Write allows students to create their own transcriptions or do their own dictations.

The audio files are always about current events.

Although it is not absolutely necessary to create an account to gain access to the site, it is more than advisable, as lots of activities are just restricted to members, who can save audios, share audios with friends, and collaborate with other members for writing the transcript. Joining is free.

Listen and Write won’t let you proceed unless you get the transcription right. In order to help you, the audio files are fragmented in short chunks of about 10 seconds. If the auto-play box is ticked, the segment keeps repeating automatically. Besides, if you click on hint, you are give some help to complete a word. Once you have completed a segment, the file automatically moves to the next one.

There are three different types of activities you can do with Listen and Write:
Full mode: You write a full transcription.
Quick mode: You just type the first letter of a word.
Blank mode: A transcript with blanks for you to complete is provided.

Listen and Write offers a number of levels of difficulty ranging from 0 to 22, but I have been unable to figure out what a specific level means. Strong Básico 2 students can give the site a try starting at level 0.

If you want to see how the site works, Russel Stannard has created this video.

viernes, 16 de noviembre de 2012

Why is English weather so predictable

In March this year, Dr Helen Czerski explained what makes the UK's weather so changeable and unpredictable, especially in winters, in the BBC programme Orbit: Earth's Extraordinary Journey.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip by clicking on the picture below or on the link above and say whether these statements are true or false.

1 This unpredictability of the British weather is due to the Earth's rotation.
2 Britain’s location doesn’t play an important role in its weather.
3 The changeable British weather results from the clash of cold and warm air.
4 The class of cold and warm air is the only factor which influences the weather.
5 The jet stream can reach speeds of up to 550 km per hour.
6 The winter of 2010 was the coldest on record.
7 British weather is difficult to predict.

The British winter is notoriously unpredictable. Sometimes cold and dry, sometimes mild and wet. This unpredictability is a consequence of the Earth's rotation. The key factor is Britain's location. We sit underneath the boundary between two of the Earth's climate cells. This means that above our heads, there's a battle going on between two different types of air.

I’m going to draw a map to show you. This is the south coast, and Scotland is up here, and we are down here in Cornwall, and Ireland is out here. Up here to the north of us there’s cold polar air and down on this side to the south is warm air that’s come from the tropics and the boundary between the two can aerate over the British Isles and what’s going on above our heads is a clash of the cold air and the warm air. And it’s whether they are pushing against each other and mixing it up that we get this changeable, messy weather that we love to complain about.

In December 2011, we saw this battle in action. A succession of storms battered the country as warm and cold air struggled for supremacy above our heads. But there's a further factor that influences the outcome of this battle between warm and cold air. The boundary between the cells can move.
This movement can be affected by a phenomenon that's generated right at the boundary between the cells. And it's a product of the Earth's spin. Right at the boundary, high up in the sky, a wind blows about 10 kilometres up. It's really, really fast. It can travel at speeds of up to 450 kilometres per hour. It coils all the way around the planet, at about our latitude, and we call it the jet stream. The jet stream is crucial because it influences the boundaries between the cells, and therefore between cold air to the north and warm air to the south

You can see the significance of this by looking at the weather 12 months earlier, in December 2010. The whole country shivered under a blanket of snow and ice. It was one of the coldest winters since records began. The reason was that the jet stream had developed a kink. Over the Atlantic, it sat much further north, near the Arctic. Then it swung down over Britain. This temporarily shifted the boundary between the cells and brought cold, polar air across the whole country

Unfortunately for our weather forecasters, it's particularly difficult to predict the meanderings of the jet stream.

The spin of the Earth makes the weather here in the UK unusually changeable, and particularly hard to predict. The fact that you wake up every morning and the atmosphere surprises you, just adds to the spice of life.

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

jueves, 15 de noviembre de 2012

Bride who survived rape

ABC News has a weekly feature called Our Person of the Week, where they report about a famous or anonymous person who has hit the headlines during the week.

A few months ago Bridget Kelly was ABC's Our person of the Week.

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

1 How long ago did the events in the story happen?
2 Where did the events happen?
3 Which two crimes was Bridget the victim of?
4 What do the figures "three", "two hundred" and "six" refer to?
5 How did Bridget meet Eric Strauss, her will-be husband?
6 Which three nouns does Bridget use to describe the way she felt right after the attack?

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

Our person of the week. Ten years ago she met someone under unusual and hard-breaking circumstance, beginning a remarkable and healing journey, one that’s inspired so many people along the way and does still today. It’s the walk down the aisle of which every bride and her father dreams. But this walk for this bride stepped in a journey from the depths of darkness. That’s because ten years ago the bride Bridget Kelly was nearly broken by violent tragedy. An attacker took her to an empty field. I got down on the ground and he raped me. Next he told me to get up and I did, and he sort of gestured, indicated where he wanted me to stand and, so I was standing with my back to him. He would shoot her three times, leaving her for dead. But Bridget rose. Somehow making the 200 long yards to a neighbour’s home. After six hours of surgery, her life was safe with her father constantly be her side. I heard her say she thought she had been lifted up by God. And I said “Where was God 10 minutes earlier?” so much bitterly. She said very calmly “He was there holding my hand.” My name’s Bridget… Her wounds would heal and again she rose, speaking out of what had happened to her, showing us that she was not ashamed, that a victim of rape need not be a victim at all, and need never live in fear. ABC News covered the courageous story, that’s when she met a young producer named Eric Strauss. One of the things I was first impressed with Bridget when I met her after working on her story was how she had been through so much, I think a lot of people would’ve just given up. A friendship began and then a relationship brewed. Love, life slowly eclipsing the horrors of the past. Early on I had a lot of fear and anxiety and sadness about what happened but I always looked forward knowing that happy times are ahead. And they were. A lot of people are like “It’s such a happy ending.” And I think Bridget want people to know it’s sort of like a happy beginning for us. A dance for a married couple. And then one for her father to a song chosen by his daughter. I knew that would be special for me and my Dad especially, because we’ve been through, you know, dark times together and this was just clearly such a happy, happy day.

miércoles, 14 de noviembre de 2012

Talking point: How do you feel about your surname?

This week's talking point originally appeared in the Student Opinion section of The Learning Network of The New York Times under the title How do you feel about your last name?

Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss the questions below. It is a good idea to think about the questions before your talking session is held so that you won't have to improvise answers or waste any time thinking what to say.

What's your surname?
Do you like your surname?
Do you share it with many people?
And with anyone famous – or infamous?
What do you know about its meaning and history?
Have you or anyone in your family researched the origins of your surname?
How does your surname translate into another language?
What does your surname mean to you?
Do you feel attached to it?
Is it an integral part of your identity?
Has your surname ever been the subject of embarrassment or ridicule for you?
Do you know anyone who has changed their surname? Why do some people do it?
How can you legally change your name or surname in your country?

To gain some background information about the topic and to add an extra discussion element, you can read the article from The New York Times Weiner like me, in which someone tells us about the problems he's had because of his surname.

martes, 13 de noviembre de 2012

Real English series: Colours and nationalities

Today's Tuesday and we are publishing more "educational" videos as opposed to authentic videos.

Last week we started out a new series of videos, the Real English Videos Series aimed at lower level students. The embedded  videos are taken from Real English, a free site for learning English in which English students can find original videos and interactive lessons.

Today we are showing two videos. In the first one some pedestrians answer the question What is your favourite colour?

You can find the same video with subtitles on the Real English site here.

In the second video the main question people answer is What nationality are you?, but they also answer other questions like

Where are you from?
What’s your name?
Are you from XXX?

You can find the same video with subtitles on the Real English site here.

You can do an online video activity on nationalities on the Real English site here.

lunes, 12 de noviembre de 2012

Penelope and Monica Cruz on TV ad for Nintendo

Students, especially those at an elementary level (Básico 1 and Básico 2) are going to love this ad.

To begin with, it features two well-known Spanish actresses speaking English. Next, the language they use is within their grasp. Finally the clip help us to revise/learn some very interesting language:

  • Use of the imperative in English: Just the verb form, with no auxiliary or pronoun.
  • Use of the structure Let's + verb to make suggestions.
  • Expressions to give someone encouragement: Come on, my friend! You can do it! Good boy!
  • Use of the expression Really! to show surprise and to show someone we're reacting to what they're telling us.
  • Thanking people and how to react when someone says Thank you! You're welcome!
You can read the transcript below. 

Oh Mario! Let’s go. Good boy. Come on my friend, you can do it, get the coin, get the coin, run, run.  Oh no! No! No! No!
Sister, you need the champion to help you reach the million.
Let’s play together.
You want me to remind who’s the big sister. The last one who loses the bet. Remember.
Really! Really!
Ah ha ha
Come on come on come on, save me today please.
Ok, ok.
Ok, thank you
You’re welcome.
Move, move away, away
Who’s the champion now?
You know what you have to do?
Ok, bring it on. Let’s go.
Buongiorno, can I have a mushroom please?

domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2012

Why are thin people not fat?

In the last few weeks we have been devoting Sunday's entries to post documentaries or documentary excerpts with a view to helping intermediate students get acquainted with authentic material of the kind a native speaker may watch on TV.

These video clips come complete with a transcription or subtitles so that students can fully understand specific parts of the clip or the full clip for that matter. In doing so, we want to avoid the feeling of frustration the student sometimes feel when he/she manages to understand the gist of what is being said but fails to pick out some esential piece of information.

Today's video clip, Why are thin people not fat?, shows the first eight minutes of a BBC documentary, which was aired by the programme Horizon in January 2009.

At the centre of Why are thin people not fat? is a controversial overeating experiment that aims to identify exactly what it is about some people that makes it hard for them to gain weight.

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 10 de noviembre de 2012

Tales and stories on the BBC

In mid-August Larry Ferlazzo informed about an interesting resource of the BBC for English language learners, Audio Resources for Primary Schools.

Under the heading "English" on the list of subjects, students have access to a number of stories and fables that can be useful to practise English while bringing back to mind tales of our childhood.

As a matter of fact, some of the stories available are videos with audio and closed captioning (subtitles). They include:
Jack and the giant beanstalk
Viking sagas
Treasure island
Aesops fables
A Christmas carol
Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
The wind in the willows

Remember that a good way of consolidating the language we have been exposed to is by repeating the story in our own words. So after listening to a tale or fable several times until we have got familiar with the vocabulary and the elements and characters of the story, repeat the story from memory.

If you find the task too daunting, note down a few expressions and key vocabulary and characters, so that you can better concentrate on putting the story together and develop your speaking skills.

Other useful resources on this blog featuring fables are

viernes, 9 de noviembre de 2012

How the unemployment rate is calculated -video activity

The CNN feature CNN explains published some time ago a short video explaining the way the US system uses to work out the unemployment rate in The United States.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and say what the following figures, words and phrases refer to.

300 million
half of us
13 million
50,000 to 60,000
three ways
an example of a flaw in the system

After correcting the listening activity, explain how the unemployment rate is worked out in US in you own words.

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

Like an economic heartbeat, the unemployment rate is one of the most closely watched indicators of the country`s financial health. So how exactly is it calculated?
Out of the more than 300 million people in America, when you take out the children, retired folks and others, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says about half of us have jobs, and another 13 million or so are unemployed.
That number does not come from the number of unemployment checks being issued, as many people imagine. Instead, every month since 1940, the federal government has conducted a survey of 50,000 to 60,000 households, asking people about their income, their race, their education and what kind of jobs they do or do not hold. Everyone over 16 is classified in one of three ways: employed, meaning that person has a job; unemployed, meaning he or she is available for work and looking for a job but cannot find one; or, three, out of the workforce, meaning this person is not seeking work. The Feds then take the math from that sample, apply it to the entire population and, voila, there is the unemployment rate.
No, of course, not. For starters there are seasonal adjustments, meaning in winter people in farming and construction may not have work for a few weeks or months. Are they really unemployed or are they employed? The same applies to people who pick up short-time jobs at the mall for the holidays, for example. Those anomalies are factored out of the unemployment rate.
But beyond that, critics complain there are basic flaws in this system. For example, if you stop actively seeking work, you’re no longer considered unemployed. That`s a problem, because in a really bad economy, a lot of folks might just give up looking for some period of time, even though they still want jobs. That could artificially lower the unemployment rate even as actual unemployment is as bad or worse than ever.
Another problem for the government, a job is a job is a job is a job. So if somebody loses a $100,000-a-year position and is now flipping burgers for minimum wage, he’s considered just as employed as he was before.

jueves, 8 de noviembre de 2012

An ode to can

We dealt with the problems in distinguishing between the pronunciation of can and can't in a post two years ago, can versus can't. I would recommend you to read all the information we published there before going on with this entry.

Some time ago I came across this motivational video by Tony Colette through David Mearns blog. The emphasis of the video is obviously the great effect a letter may have on our outlook on life. It's not accidental that the type of poem chosen to express this idea is an ode, as odes are lyric poems of some length, usually of a serious or meditative nature and having an elevated style.

For us, English learners, the added value of the poem is getting to grips with discriminating between can and can't, which is no mean feat.

Remember to read the entry can versus can't I told you about before, and pay attention to the stress Colette places on can't, as opposed to can, which is unstressed.

There's a four lettered word
As offensive as any
It holds back the few
Puts a stop to the many.
You can't climb that mountain
You can't cross the sea
You can't become anything you want to be.
He can't hit a century
They can't find a cure.
She can't think about leaving
or searching for more.
Because can't is a word with a habit of stopping
The ebb and flow of ideas
It keeps dropping itself where we know
in our hearts it's not needed
And saying "don't go"
when we could have succeeded.

But those four little letters
That end with a T
They can change in an instant
When shortened to three.
We can take off the T
We can do it today
We can move forward not back
We can find our own way.
We can build we can run
We can follow the sun
We can push we can pull
We can say I'm someone
Who refuses to believe
That life can't be better
With the removal of one
Insignificant letter.

miércoles, 7 de noviembre de 2012

Talking point: Advice

What’s the best advice someone has given you?
Why was it good advice?
Who gave it to you, and when?
Did you follow it?
Have you ever regretted not following someone's advice?
Have you ever been given bad advice?
Do friends, colleagues/classmates or family ever turn to you for advice?
What makes them trust you?

Today's talking point is giving advice. Discuss the questions above with the members of your conversation group.

In preparation for your session, you can read Javier C. Hernandez article for The New York Times A Mayor’s Recollections of Motherly Advice.

martes, 6 de noviembre de 2012

Electing the US President

On Tuesday 6 November the United States elections are held. It is not easy to understand the way the electoral system works in the States, that's the reason why this video, Electing a US President in Plain English, from Common Craft comes in so handy.

I had intended to devise a listening activity to make student focus their attention on specific aspects of the video clip, but on second thoughts, I have decided that understanding all the information on the video is quite a daunting task in itself.

Self-study idea:
Watch the video, read the transcript below if necessary and finally explain in your own words how the US electoral system works.

Every four years, Americans who are eighteen or older have a big responsibility. Our votes decide who becomes the President of the United States.
Unfortunately, the U.S election system isn’t that simple! This is Electing a U.S President in Plain English. It’s easy to imagine every US citizen’s vote being counted together on Election Day. But this is not the case. U.S elections are not decided by the total or ‘popular’ vote, but individual states.
Let me explain:
It starts with your vote. On Election Day, you’ll vote for president and their vice president. You get one choice. Then, all the votes in your states are counted. The candidate with the most state-wide votes becomes the candidate your state supports for president.
This happens across the country until each state has selected their candidate. We end up with most of the fifty states and the district of Columbia voting to support one candidate each. But there’s a problem. We can’t elect a president by just counting up the choices of these states: U.S states are different.
Consider this: California has about thirty-six million people; Kansas has less than three million. We need a way for California’s choice to have more influence on the election because the state has more people. The question becomes: how do we make sure (that) each state has the right amount of influence on the election?
Well, we need a way to account for the population of each state. As an example, let’s consider my home state of North Carolina. Like every state, it is divided up into congressional districts that are based on population. North Carolina has thirteen districts, California has fifty-three and Kansas has four. When it comes to a state’s influence on the election, the number of districts matters most. More population equals more districts equals more influence.
The influence a state has in the election is measured by the number of Electors. This number comes from the number of districts in a state plus the number of U.S senators, which is always two. North Carolina has fifteen Electors, while California has fifty-five.
When a candidate wins the voting in a state, they win that state’s number of Electors. That’s why big, popular states can be so important to candidates. Their electors add up quickly and the number of electors is what really matters.
Here’s why: if you add up the Electors of all fifty states and the district of Columbia, there are five hundred and thirty-eight in total. The candidates’ goal on Election Day is to win the majority of five hundred and thirty-eight, or two hundred and seventy electors. Once a candidate wins enough states to reach the two hundred and seventy majority, they have won the
election and become the President-elect (Yaaay!)
So, let’s recap. Your vote helps your state choose a single candidate. That candidate receives all the electors from your state. The candidate who can win enough states, to reach two hundred and seventy total electors wins the national election and becomes the President-elect. Then, on the following January 20th the President-elect is sworn in as the next President of the United States.
And it all starts with your vote, make it count.
I’m Lee Lefever and this has been Electing a U.S President in Plain English on the Common Craft Show.
(One more thing, the Common Craft Store now offers down-loadable versions of our videos for use in the workplace. Find them at

Real English: The alphabet and spelling

In this installment of Real English videos the alphabet is dealt with.

Watch the video to revise how to pronounce the alphabet.

Pay attention to the following:

As the speakers are American, they spell the letter Z as / zi: / and not / zed / as the British do.

The second speaker, Gillian (28"), gives us a very practical way to memorise the alphabet. She recites the alphabet according to the vowel sound the letter has:

/ei/ A H J K
/i:/ B C D E G P T V (Z)
/e/ F L M N S X Z
/ai/ I Y
/əʊ/ O
/u:/ Q U W
/a:/ R

Some of the spekers show a tendency to spell their names in groups of three letters, pausing for a split second to let the listener figure out the word being spelt.

You can watch the same video with subtitles on the Real English web page here.

Real English also provides this video to test our ability to understand words/names being spelt.

Again, you can watch the same video with subtitles on the Real English we page here.

lunes, 5 de noviembre de 2012

Webquest on Bonfire Night by Mª Jesús García

Mª Jesús García San Martín, an EOI teacher at Luarca (Asturias, Spain) has devised a webquest for upper-intermediate and advanced students on the Bonfire Night.

The idea underlying the webquest is that students find out about the Gunpowder Plot by watching some videos and reading some online information that help them do some tasks.

The level of the activity may be a little bit demanding for That's English! students at Intermedio 2, but the wealth and quality of materials together with the amount of authentic language students are exposed to are worth giving a try, as our English will improve while learning about an outstanding episode of the history of England and finding out bits of information by ourselves.

English teachers can read Mª Jesús's presentation of her webquest here (it is written in Spanish).

Thank you so much, Mª Jesús, for this invaluable resource.

Gunpowder plot interactive game

On 5th November Guy Fawkes is celebrated in Britain. Learn about the history of the Gunpowder plot through this BBC interactive game.

At Niagara Falls

Nik Wallenda has become the first man to walk over the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video clip and say what the following refers to. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Grand Canyon

To correct the activity, you can read the transcript below.

25 minutes and 550 metres which made stunt history. Daredevil Nik Wallenda has become the first man to cross the high winds and mist of Niagara Falls, on a 5-centimetre-wide tightrope, even running and praying along the way.

Arriving on the Canadian side, he hugged his family and greeted border officials, who jokingly asked for the 33-year-old American’s passport and asked the purpose of his visit. Nick’s clearly delighted at his success:

Thank all of you for being here. I feel like I’m on Cloud Nine right now. As everyone knows, this is something that I’ve dreamt of for a long, long time, and it just became a reality. The impossible is not quite impossible, if you set your mind to it.

And his next trick? A little hole in the ground called the Grand Canyon. Watch this very large space.

domingo, 4 de noviembre de 2012

Alaska gold

Alaska Gold is a documentary that PBS Frontline aired in July.

The programme revolves around the life and riches in Bristol Bay, southwest Alaska. This area is home to the last great wild salmon fishery, and to mineral deposits estimated to be worth nearly $500 billion.

The documentary reveals the battle between those who depend on this fishery for a living, the mining companies trying to extract the minerals and the political framework that will ultimately settle the issue.

You can read the transcript for the programme here.

Watch Alaska Gold on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

sábado, 3 de noviembre de 2012

140 texts with comprehension questions and audio

GCFLearn Free is a site devoted to helping people improve the skills they need for both work and life. They offer free tutorials in technology, maths and literacy providing learners with opportunities for their learning regardless of circumstances or income.

One of the latest sections GCFLearn Free has added to the site is Reading Comprehension. Here English learners will find a collection of 140 different shortish texts with questions to check their understanding. All the texts include audio support, which is great to practise both pronunciation and listening.

I came across GCFLearn Free through Larry Ferlazzo this summer.

viernes, 2 de noviembre de 2012

Mind-reader converts thoughts into video

Picture in your mind a scene in your life and then imagine being able to make a video of it. Apparently this seems to be closer than ever.

Self-study activity:
Watch this Skynews video and complete the blanks in the transcript.

Every day we are (1) ... to millions of images, but what do they really look like inside our brains? Now scientists in the States say this is proof of a major (2) ... . The footage on the left is taken from several Hollywood films and next to it a (3) ... of images from an online video library that best matched the blood flow activity inside the brain, monitored in this case by (4) ... scanners and you can clearly see the resemblance. The experts responsible claim they’ve created a system that could even be used to explore the minds of (5) ...  or coma patients.

That’s good news for people like Sarah. She had a (5) ... two years ago, just 18 years old. She still suffers from aphasia, so she struggles with speech and writing and any communication was a real problem for her after it happened.

If I can’t speak then it hurts (to) talk, you know, if you’re sad or upset or just I want a bottle or anything…
And pointing to (6) ... is difficult because Sarah was paralysed so she couldn’t even point at a picture of what she wanted, so that would've been a brilliant idea.

But some scientists say we should still be cautious.

The very notion of mind reading is very, very far away from now, it’s decades or even centuries. What we will be able to do in the (7) ... is provide the (8) ... to facilitate sensory processing for people whose processing has been (9) ... , for example due to brain lesions.

(10) ... what’s really going on in our brains could still be decades away, but image a world where dreams can be translated, memories reproduced or where even reading your mind would be possible.

Karen Kraft Sky News

subjected 2 breakthrough 3 blend 4 MRI 5 stroke 6 charts 7 charts 8 devices 9 impaired 10 Decoding 

jueves, 1 de noviembre de 2012

Song: I would run to you

Love makes people do crazy things, like running across the country to see your sweetheart.
See how strong running reunites a long distance couple in this funny Nike ad.

Woman - Man
You're so far away.
You're so far away.
Ain't got too much pride.
Want you back by my side.
Well baby I want that too.
Baby I would run, run to you.
I would run to you.
And I would run to you.
First time you talked to me.
I knew we were meant to be.
And when we finally embraced.
Baby, I can't keep this pace.
I love you. There I said it.
I think I'm gonna need a medic.
You filled the hall with flower petals.
Why does my mouth taste like metal?
Baby I might die without you.
Baby, I might die.
I would run to you.
I'm not as strong as you.
I would run to you.
I (…) to you.
Love is a speeding comet.
I'm in a pool of my own vomit.
Love is a perfect vision.
This was such a bad decision.
Love makes everything serene.
Give me all of your morphine.
Baby, I know we said we'd run across the country 
to be together, but I thought we were being symbolic. 
Why can't we fly, and meet somewhere in the middle? 
Like Kansas City? It's the Paris of the Plains.
Baby I love you so much
that I would run to you.
You would run to me? You would run to me!
Baby I love you so much
that I would run to you.
I (you) would run to you (me).

H/T to DDeubel.