jueves, 28 de febrero de 2013

The secrets of Grand Central Terminal in New York City

This is a really interesting New York Times video on the Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The station turns 100 in 2013 and a number of events are scheduled to commemorate the opening of the busiest railroad terminal in the world.

Sam Roberts, from the New York Times discloses some of the secrets the place hides.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and list all the secrets Sam mentions. Then get together with a friend and explain to them everything you have found out about Grand Central. You can check your answers with the transcript below.

This activity is suitable for intermediate students.

Hello, not much, I’m talking to a wall, what about you?
Shh! Can you keep a secret? This is the whispering gallery in Grand Central Terminal in New York. It’s an acoustical marble that allows a person to whisper into a wall, then bounces across the vaulted tiled ceiling and you can hear the person at the other end about 30 or 40 feet away. It’s one of those great secrets of Grand Central Terminal.
I’m Sam Roberts of the New York Times. Grand Central is celebrating its centennial in February. It opened in 1913. This was the gateway to the continent for so many people, so many ideas, so much culture. It just captures people’s imagination in ways that almost no other building in New York have. It is emblematic of New York because it created Park Avenue, it also created Midtown in New York. This is now the busiest railroad terminal in the world, the biggest in the world. What’s so fascinating about Grand Central is that it’s also a building that contains many secrets. Everybody knows about the famous clock facing Grand Park Avenue from the front façade of Grand Central. You can actually climb up to a tiny little room upon ladders to access it. This clock, like all the clocks in Grand Central is set by atomic weight set by the National Observatory and it is extremely accurate.
The train board which lists when the trains are leaving are always wrong or they actually leave about a minute later than the time scheduled departure on the train boards.
It has the deepest basement in all of New York City, deeper than the World Trade Center, deeper than the Federal Reserve Bank.
I am just coming out of the secret staircase right in the middle of the main concourse of Grand Central. In fact, it’s in the information booth. This leads not to the sewers but the lower level information booth.
And of course the biggest mistake in Grand Central is the ceiling. It was discovered by one commuter not long after Grand Central opened that the sky is backwards. An astronomer from Columbia University gave a chart to the painters, but he probably thought they were going to hold it over their heads to paint. In fact, they put it down, and therefore what we have is a sort of heavenly view of the stars that looks at the stars from above rather than look at the stars from the main concourse itself.
Last year 82 million passengers came through Grand Central. When this Terminal was opened in 1913 the projections were that it would be able to hand 100 million. It’s now on the verge of doing that, which just goes to show what a miracle Gran Central was, an engineering miracle, a landmark miracle when it was built a century ago.

miércoles, 27 de febrero de 2013

Talking point: What's your attitude towards money?

This week's talking point revolves around the topic of money. Go over the questions below before your discussion, so that you get familiar with the topic, ideas flow more easily and you can sort out some vocabulary problems.
  • How much do you think about money in general?
  • Are you a spender or a saver? 
  • Do you budget?
  • Have you ever borrowed or lent money?
  • What's the last 'big' thing you have bought?
  • How do you feel about credit cards?
  • Do you know anyone who's really mean?
  • Do you know anyone who's extremely generous with money?
  • Do you usually tip?
  • Do you ever play gambling games or do the lottery or the football pools?
  • Do you often wonder how much money others have? 
  • Are you more likely to choose a career because it pays well or because you love doing the work? 
  • What do you think someone’s economic position says about him or her? 
  • Do you feel uncomfortable when discussing money? 
  • Do you think that one’s economic position is a private thing?
To gain some background information about the topic you can read Rob Lieber's article for The New York Times Net-Worth Obsession.

lust money
 Todos los derechos reservados por catsfather en Flickr

Some other Talking points entries on this blog related to money are

martes, 26 de febrero de 2013

Real English series: Present continuous

The videos in the Real English series this week all have to do with the present continuous. There are four videos in total and they are all intended for Básico 1 and Básico 2 students.

The grammar behind the present continuous is quite simple We use the present continuous to describe activities we are doing at the moment of speaking. The four videos today deal with this meaning of the present continuous.

This is the structure: Subject + am/are/is + V-ing.

The main difficulty of the videos lies in the vocabulary the speakers sometimes use and their accents, but remember that you can watch the same video with subtitles on the Real English site.

The first video is an introduction to the present continuous with the question What are you doing?

You can do an interactive exercise here and watch the same clip with subtitles here.

In the second video Laurie tells us what she is doing now, what she is carrying in her briefcase, and the clothes she is wearing.

You can read the transcript of what she says here.

In the third video a number of people tell us what they are doing. It is good practice, as we see a number of people describing what they are doing while they are doing it. There is more variety of activities, too.

You can do an interactive exercise on the Real English site here and watch the same video with subtitles here.

It is also important that you drop by this lesson on the Real English site because you will find a very good explanation of the different meaning of the present continuous. On this post we are just dealing with the most basic meaning -activities we are doing at the moment of speaking-, but there is more to it than that.

There is one more video on the present continuous. This time all the speakers answer the question What are you wearing? The present continuous is the tense we use to describe the clothes we are wearing at the moment of speaking.

You can watch the same video with subtitles here and do an interactive exercise here.

lunes, 25 de febrero de 2013

The first portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge

Early in January 2013 The National Portrait Gallery unveiled the first portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. Artist Paul Emsley explains some details of the steps he followed in the process of painting the portrait.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and answer the questions below. Despite the fact that some of the questions are a bit lengthy, the anwers aren't. Keep them short and do not write complex notes that may distract you from what is actually being said.

This activity is suitable for Intermediate 2 students.

1 Did the Duchess express her opinion of the portrait?
2 How many days did the Duchess and the photographer meet before the actual sessions began?
3 Why does he prefer working from a photograph to the real model?
4 When the artist talks about the ‘actual picture that we felt was the greatest potential’, what different parts of the head does he mention?
5 What part of her physique does everyone recognize the Duchess by?
6 Why did the artist slightly change the colour of her eyes?
7 Why doesn’t the artist like having too many things in the background?
8 What is the Duchess like in the artist’s opinion?

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

The Duchess explained that she would like to be portrayed naturally, her natural self as opposed to her official self.
I met the Duchess at the Portrait Gallery to discuss the portrait, the first time. We then had a meeting at Kensington Palace to discuss it again. And after that, she came down for the day, and we did many, many photographs, which I worked from; and then we had the second session. And for many years, I’ve worked from life, and I find I’m always worried about the sitter/session. I’m always worried; are they cold – are they cold, are they hot, are they comfortable? And photography today is so accurate and so good that it’s really so much easier just to take photographs and work from that. It just seems to work very well for me.
That was the actual picture that we felt was the greatest potential for the painting, because it had, it just seem to have a nice shape of the hair, the light on the face, and the general expression generally. And then I make close-ups, which give me all the details of things like the eyes. This was more for the earring and for the mouth, the curls of the hair and for the bow of the blouse.
We did say in the beginning that we were going to make a feature of her hair, because it is a strong feature about her, and everyone I think recognizes her partly through her lovely hair. And I tried to form a sort of a – just sort of a – I mean I didn’t – it wasn’t conscious, it just happened that this rather nice circular movement occurred.
I’ve altered the color of the eyes slightly to match the color of the blouse, and the blue background. And that has obviously occurred as well in the earring. And quite often in the shade, there is a shadow on the face in the modeling. And all that just helps to create a kind of a harmony, you know.
Most of my work actually is quite simple really, I mean, I don’t have lots of things in the background, and so on. And I do like large faces, I find them strong, contemporary. And I’m interested in the landscape of a face. And the way in which light and shadow fall across the forms, that’s really my subject matter. So to have anything else in there really is just an interference.
She struck me as enormously open, and generous actually, and a very warm person to meet. So I after initially feeling it was going to be an unsmiling portrait as you know – I think actually that it’s – it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling, because it does, that’s really who she is, I think.

domingo, 24 de febrero de 2013

Black holes: Extensive listening series

Black holes are one of the most destructive forces in the universe, capable of tearing a planet apart and swallowing an entire star. Yet scientists now believe they could hold the key to answering the ultimate question - what was there before the Big Bang?

The trouble is that researching them is next to impossible. Black holes are by definition invisible and there's no scientific theory able to explain them. Despite these obvious obstacles, this 2009 BBC programme Horizon meets the astronomers attempting to image a black hole for the very first time and the theoretical physicists getting ever closer to unlocking their mysteries.

It's a story that takes us into the heart of a black hole and to the very edge of what we think we know about the universe.

Watch the full documentary, but you can read the transcript for the first ten minutes here.

sábado, 23 de febrero de 2013

The Ultimate Guide to Worldwide Etiquette

Etiquette varies widely from culture to culture. What may be perfectly normal in one country can sometimes be a grave insult in another. This ultimate guide to worldwide etiquette will help you avoid embarrassing (and sometimes dangerous) mistakes during your travels abroad.

Click on the map, pick a country and you will learn the basics about tipping, dining, gestures, and the most usual 'dos' and 'don'ts'.

Good reading practice for all levels.

viernes, 22 de febrero de 2013

The Last -short film

A simple question, "How many have you loved?" 
Is your answer, "one and only"? 
Or is it "several", all of whom have shaped your life?

This is the rather simple background to this Philip Wang short film, released in 2012, and whose comments on his own film you can read on the Wong Fu Productions blog.

Watch this slow-paced, rather philosophical short film and find out what WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY refer to.

You can read the transcript here.

jueves, 21 de febrero de 2013

Music is great

This is another video in our This is Britain series, which was orginally launched to promote Britain around the world before the 2012 Olympics.

Renowned artists such as Florence from Florence & The Machine, Jessie J, Emeli Sandé, Will i am, Nicole Sherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls, Huey Morgan from the Fun Lovin' Criminals, & Rizzle Kicks, all share their insights as to why music in Britain is great.

Self-study activity:
This is not an easy video by any means, so intermediate students can try a general activity in which they can simple identify the gist, the main ideas, of what is being said.

Watch the video and number the topics in the order they are mentioned. You can read the transcript below.

Size of the UK
I first visited the UK in 1998
There are several British artists in everybody’s favourites
British artists are honest
British audiences love real, authentic music
It’s more important to be successful in the UK than in America in the music business
New artists have a lot of opportunities in the UK


1 Size of the UK
2 There are several British artists in everybody’s favourites
3 I first visited the UK in 1998
4 British people love real, authentic music
5 British artists are honest
6 New artists have a lot of opportunities in the UK
7 It’s more important to be successful in the UK than in America in the music business

We are a sort of nation of self poets and playwrights and in song it kind of that tradition continues.
The UK is smaller than Texas so we have to be original. Any artist that exists has to be themselves, they can’t be a version of three other, four other people that exist because the UK would sniff you out straightaway.
If you ask anyone of their favourite ten artists you are guaranteed there’s going to be a lot of Brits there.
The Clash, Led Zeppelin, The Stones…
Sir Mike Jagger
Plan B to Adele
When I was a kid I would listen to nothing but British music.
I remember the first time I came to the UK like it was 1998, to me that was like ahhh! you made it!
For me the greatest thing about Great Britain is the British crowds. I just love how open-minded the audience is here and how hungry they are for new music, for original music, for authentic music.
We want to be honest and tell the truth and talk about love, and hate. I think we are afraid to let down our boundaries and let people in. I mean I’m someone that definitely wears my heart on my sleeve but I think that’s because the British public want it.
When we got here it was one of those places that really appreciates music and doesn’t try to put it in boxes.
And there was a lot of opportunities for new artists to play music. I grew up in London. There’s always a gig going on, there is always some kind squat virtue, a gig in a club or a pub.
This is such a diverse place. It’s so easy to be creative.
A place really connected to expressing yourself.
For me especially that’s kind of how it works. I’m always incapable of saying how I feel unless it is put in song.
Artists that succeed in the UK and go global are people that have to be so in tune in what they are and who they are.
It’s dope to be big in America, but damned if you’re big in the UK it actually means that you have a career that can travel.
It is one of those places that I kind of consider home. You know, they say home is where the heart is.

miércoles, 20 de febrero de 2013

Talking point: Advertising

This week's talking point revolves around the topic of advertising. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below and think about the answers so that ideas can flow more easily and you can sort out some vocabulary problems before the discussion.
  • Do you have a positive / negative attitude to advertising? 
  • Describe an ad that you remember or that had an impact on you. 
  • Why are some people more aware of brands than others? 
  • Are you brand-aware? 
  • Have you ever bought anything because you had seen an ad? 
  • We live in “the age of more”. Is it good or bad? What are its advantages and disadvantages? 
  • Is publicity a necessary evil?
  • “Advertising is the greatest art form of the XXIst century.” Do you agree? 
  • Which of advertising methods is the least / most effective? Which one do you prefer? A sandwhich man / spam / a billboards / leaftlets / TV commercials / magazine ads / product placement
  • Do you think that the advertising practices below are acceptable?
         Using children in ads
         Using nudity in ads
         Promoting alcohol on TV/cinemas
         Comparing your products to your competitors’ products

To gain further insight into the topic you can read Stuart Elliott's article for The New York Times In a World of Ads, Teaching the Young How to Read Them.

You can also drop by Admongo.gov, an official US site where you can explore, discover, and learn all about advertising.

martes, 19 de febrero de 2013

Real English series: How long does it take? and Where do you live?

Two new video lessons in our Real English series this week.

In the first video, passers-by answer a difficult question for students in lower levels: How long does it take you to get to work?

It is an impersonal question with the subject "it", so we'll be using auxiliary "does" for the 3rd person singular in the question.

The answers is also a bit funny: TAKE + PERSONAL OBJECT + TIME + TO-Infinitive.
It takes me 20 minutes to get to work.

You can watch the same video with subtitles on the Real English site here, where you can also do an interactive exercise here.

You can also practise this complicated structure with the following questions, most of which are related to household chores:
How long does it take you/your wife to make your bed?
How long does it take you to have breakfast?
How long does it take you to have a shower?
How long does it take you to read the newspaper?
How long does it take you to do the washing-up?
How long does it take you to cook dinner?
How long does it take you to get ready for work/school?
How long does it take you to do your English homework?

The second video is far less complicated, as passers-by answer the question Where do you live?, which also came up indirectly in the previous video. The difficulty here lies in identifying the place names speakers give, which might make it advisable to watch the video with subtitles on the Real English site here.

You can do an interactive exercise on the Real English site here.

Intermediate students have at their disposal a longer more challenging version of the video on the Real English site.

lunes, 18 de febrero de 2013

Controversial release of Reeva Steenkamp video

This video has been released as a tribute to Reeva Steenkamp, the model who was found shot dead in the house of her boyfriend, South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius.

The video is the posthumous reality TV debut of Reeva in Tropika Island of Treasure by SABC, the public broadcaster in South Afrika.

Only last Wednesday we dealt with the topic of reality TV as a role model in today's world. Reeva's video can be used as a follow-up in this issue.

You can read about the controversy in this Guardian article.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

You literally fall in love with Jamaica. You fall in love with being in love with love. This is one love, (1) ... . I’m going home with sort of a sweet taste in my mouth. I don’t have any (2) ... , I don’t have any (3) ... . I take home with me so many amazing memories of things that are in here, that are in here that I’ll (4) ... forever.

I think the way you go out, not just your (5) ... in life, but the way you go out and make your (6) ... is so important. You either make an (7) ... in a positive way or in a negative way, but just maintain (8) ... and maintain (9) ... , and just always be true to yourself, and I’m going to miss you all so much, and I love you very, very much.

1 everywhere 2 regrets 3 bitterness 4 treasure 5 journey 6 exit 7 impact 8 integrity 9 class

domingo, 17 de febrero de 2013

Lionel Messi and the ascent of Barca soccer

Around Christmas time CBS released the documentary  Lionel Messi and the ascent of Barca soccer on Spanish football team Barcelona as part of the programme 60 Minutes.

Some of the most outstanding Barca players are interviewed in the clip -Piqué, Cesc, Messi- together with the President of the club, Sandro Rossel.

The documentary is a good opportunity to find out the ins and outs of a professional football team and hear well-known Spanish footballers speak English.

You can watch the full segment here today.

To fully understand the clip you can activate the closed-captioned subtitles on the lower side of the embedded video or read them here.

sábado, 16 de febrero de 2013

Grammar Gamble

Grammar Gamble is an English grammar test that helps learners consolidate their grasp of grammar by playing a fun online game.

Simply log in, answer 10 questions and build the highest score you can.

At each question you can bet some of your 'money' on the answer. If you choose the right option, you win your money back! If you choose wrong, you lose it!

Grammar Gamble is aimed at English learners at a Básico level, although all learners will enjoy it.

viernes, 15 de febrero de 2013

Ostrich pillow

Watch this short  ITN news video clip about an original invention that can work wonders for those extremely busy people who are short of sleep.

The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video through and try to understand as much as possible.

Watch the video again and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words.

Are you always tired? Well, look no 1 (...) . The Ostrich pillow could be your solution. In the office or on the road, the Ostrich pillow (2) ... they can offer busy people the chance to (3) ... anywhere, anytime.
Immediately we realized that many people from different sectors want it: (4) ... , students, doctors who sleep in hospitals, people who travel a lot and spend a lot of time in airplanes, people who study a lot in libraries. So, suddenly we (5) ... that many people need it, not just a very small (6) ... but many people need it. And this is interesting because this is when you start saying this is a product that people need at a global level.
The pillow’s been created, so anyone using it can disconnect from their (7) ... . But whether you actually wear the unusual (8) ... in public is a different matter.

1 further 2 says 3 snooze 4 firemen 5 realized  6 niche 7 surroundings 8 design 

jueves, 14 de febrero de 2013

Old woman in her 70s stops robbers

Watch this news report about a 70-year-old woman who confronted robbers in the street.

The activity is suitable for strong Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

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

It’s broad (1) ... in a busy high street and a brazen smash and grab robbery is in progress. The six men are using sledge hammers to try and break their way into a (2) ... shop. Three of the gang are on scooters ready for a quick (3) ... . Panic shop staff  have hit the alarm and the shutters are coming down but the men are still (4) ... to try and grab expensive watches and jewellery. Then suddenly out of nowhere something (5) ... happens. Look closely at the right hand side of your screen. The figure we highlighted is a (6) ... . She's seen what's going on and is storming towards the gang armed only with her (7) ...  . Alone she confronts the robbers. The beating gang decide enough is enough and try their (3) ... , but one falls off the scooter and at this point the (8) ... pensioner is joined by members of the public. Police say they found three sledge hammers including one broken in (9) ... and a pair of bolt cutters at the (10) ...  . They say five men have been (11) ... in total including one who was (12) ... by members of the public. They also say there've been no reported (13) ... during the incidence. And thankfully that includes one old but very brave woman.

1 daylight 2 jewellery 3 getaway 4 managing  5 astonishing 6 pensioner 7 handbag 8 fearless 9 half 10 scene 11 arrested 12 detained 13 injuries 

miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2013

Talking point: TV viewing habits and reality TV

This week's talking point touches on our TV viewing habits and the value of reality TV as a role model. It derives from The New York Times The Learning Network blog post Does Reality TV promote dangeous stereotypes?

Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, give a thought to the questions below, so that you won't run out of ideas and sort out some vocabulary problems before the discussion is held.
  •  How many TVs are there in your house? Where are they?
  •  Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a TV?
  •  How many channels do you have?
  •  Are you subscribed to any payment network?
  •  Which channels do you watch the most?
  •  Do you ever watch any foreign channels? Which one(s)?
  •  How much TV do you watch during the week / at weekends?
  •  Who watches most / least TV in your family?
  •  Who ‘owns’ the remote control?
  •  What kind of TV programmes do you like / dislike?
  •  Do you think there are too many adverts on TV?
  •  Do you think TV programmes in Spain are getting better or worse?
  • What reality TV shows can you name? What are they about?
  • Do you ever watch reality TV? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it?
  • Have you ever got 'addicted' to a TV reality show? Do you know anyone who has?
  • Do you think reality TV shows like promoting stereotypes? 
  • If so, do you think they’re just harmless entertainment, or do you think those stereotypes are dangerous?
  • Do you think reality TV has a responsibility to show “reality”? 
  • Or do you think viewers know that a show’s cast is performing for an audience?
  • If you could produce your own reality TV show, what would it be about? 
To gain further insight into the topic, you can read Trip Gabriel's article for The New York Times Feeling Dragged Through the Mud, as MTV Comes to West Virginia.

martes, 12 de febrero de 2013

Real English series: What do you do for fun?

Two more video clips today in our Real English series, which is intended for Básico students.

In the first clip people answer the question What do you do for fun?

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

The second video is a follow-up to the one before. Passers-by answer two questions this time:
What kind of music do you like?
What kind of films do you like?

You can also watch the same video with English subtitles on the Real English site.

Students at an intermediate level will find two more challenging videos on the topic of free time and hobbies on the Real English site here and here. You will also be able to do some online activities by dropping past the Real English site.

lunes, 11 de febrero de 2013

How do you get rid of an unwanted piano -video activity

A few months ago I came across this short New York Times video clip through Larry Ferlazzo. It is part of a lesson in the New York Times Learning Network.

The questions below are the original comprehension questions posed by Katherine Schulten on the New York Times Learning Network.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video by double-clicking on the picture below or here and answer Katherine's questions.

WHO is the speaker in this video?
WHEN did O’Mara Meehan Piano Movers first open for business?
WHY are piano deliveries down, and WHY are old pianos being discarded?
WHERE are more pianos ending up, according to him?
HOW many pianos does Bryan O’Mara estimate he has thrown away over 24 years?
Mr. O’Mara says that the “main part that hurts about disposing” of pianos is that people “take them for granted.” WHAT do you think you take for granted that others might value?

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

To gain further insight into this topic you can also read Daniel J. Wakin's article for The New York Times For More Pianos, Last Note Is Thud in the Dump, where he writes about the value of pianos and the growing number of disposals these days.

Just watch him, he´s good, he´s good. Watch your toes!
My name’s Brian O’Mara. I’m a piano mover. We’ve been in business since 1874, I’m fourth generation. Myself, I’ve been doing it since 1987. Retails down so much so we don’t get many deliveries any more. In today’s economy where there’s old pianos and nobody wants to spend time to refurbish them or fix them, they ask me what are you going to do with it? I try to tell them I’ll try to get rid of it if I can. It does go to a dump site. I just couldn’t believe how many pianos we throw away in the course of a month, let alone in a year.
Go forth, let it go!
Over a period of 24 years I threw out over four, five hundred pianos.
Go for it, they’re on top. It’s gonna slide, Jimmy, let it go, let it go.
And then watching ‘em break up, was… I can’t believe people are actually throwing away pianos. Like a lot of other things yeah out here, we all take a lot of things for granted. That’s one of them that really bothers me. Somebody else will take pride in it, other people just take it for granted. That’s the main part that hurts about disposing all of them.

domingo, 10 de febrero de 2013

Your body language shapes who you are

Amy Cuddy's talk at TED  in June last year, Your body language shapes who you are, focuses on how non-verbal language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves.

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, shows how if we stand in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident, can affect the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

Her research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own  — simply by changing body positions.

Remember you can activate the subtitles to watch Amy Cuddy's talk and you can also download the video clip and full transcript from the TED site.

sábado, 9 de febrero de 2013

CBC lessons for English learners

CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has collected a number of lessons intended for English learners to develop their reading, listening and speaking skills. The lessons also have a clear educational purpose. The primary aim of the lessons is "to help new Canadians enhance what they know about our country, from the making of maple syrup to the history of the nation at war."

There are three different levels to the lessons: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced, although the terms may be a bit misleading, as the beginner lessons are suitable for our intermediate students to fully enjoy them, although the activities might be on the easy side.

In shorte CBC ESL gives intermediate students an opportunity to practise their English with well-structured lessons while finding out about the history and culture of this country.

H/T to EFLClassroom.

viernes, 8 de febrero de 2013

Fisher island: video activity

This is a New York Times video on Fisher Island, which is three miles off the coast of Miami and is home to the rich and powerful.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and answer the questions about it. The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 How big is the island?
2 What is special about it?
3 What brought about the current legal battle on the island?
4 What's the initiation fee for the club?
5 How many residents live on a permanent basis on the island?
6 What's unusual about the story of the cat?
7 Why is 1919 important?
8 What attracts international residents to the island?
9 What do residents on the island not want to share with you?

You can read a New York Times article on Fisher Island and the problems it is currently facing here.


We have our own bank, we have an aviary, we have our own zip code, and it’s like we have our own country here.
Three miles off the coast of Miami lies a 216-acre man-made island that has been long to the rich and powerful. Fisher Island is only accessible by boat and Oprah Winfrey,  Mel Brookes, and tennis star Boris Becker have all owned homes here. But paradise isn’t always perfect. Following the sudden death of an Eastern European billionaire Fisher  Island has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle that stalled all new developments on the island and is intruding on the seclusion and secrecy that its residents  covet.
We don’t have any average people that come here. We are a private community, a private club, and when a resident purchases their apartment on Fisher Island the then go  through the membership process approval.
There’s a $250,000 initiation fee for the club plus about $20,000 in annual dues on top of the condo and community association fees that can add up to more than  $80,000 a year. For that, the island’s 132 permanent residents enjoy a permanent set of amenities, including a 24-hour marine patrol and a 50-man security team.
We’ve been a residential family for approximately 10 years. I was travelling one night and I received a phone call that our cat snuck out of the house, and within  minutes we had 10 security guards on golf carts searching the whole island for the cat and security found our cat. I told my daughter that to remember the story when you’re older because it’s very unusual that you have security guards on golf carts looking for your cat nonetheless finding them. Safety is a perk of living on the island. Since there are no bridges you have to go through a security process, you take your car on a boat, on the ferry, you have to be cleared by a resident  to get to the island. There are many factors to this that are very unusual.
The island became known as a playground for the wealthy after Karl Fisher, a notable Miami Beach developer, bought it in 1919. A few years later Fisher traded 7 acres of his land and with William K Vanderbilt II in exchange for a 250-foot yatch. Vanderbilt built a Mediterranean-style state then he acquired the rest of the island. Despite the current development battles, Fisher Island insularity is still a draw for some of the world’s ultra-wealthy. The demographics of the island is really interesting because so many international residents here right now they are from South America, Brazil, Mexico, Russia. They are so focused on having the kind of security that we have on the island here.
There’s a certain degree of secrecy and eccentricity I think on the island, people on the island-I’ve been there many times- don’t want to share with you who’s there,  or who has been there or who might be there… It’s a very private place. That’s something the island’s residents won’t change, not as long as the ferry separates them from the main land.
On litigation I prefer not to comment that one of the keys is to keep Fisher Island as exclusive as private and as secure as we can.

jueves, 7 de febrero de 2013

Air New Zealand safety Hobbit video

Air New Zealand aired an original safety video in November 2012, The Hobbit: An Uunexpected Journey,  a Peter Jackson film released at Christmas which is the first in the trilogy of films based on JRR Tolkien's novel The Hobbit, set 60 years before The Lord of the Rings.

Self-study activity:
I guess the four-minute clip lends itself to numberless activities for the imaginative English teacher, but let's keep it simple for once and let's focus on understanding the general idea in the clip and enjoying the tongue-in-cheek mood.

Before watching the ad, make a list of all the safety instructions you expect to hear when you board a plane. Watch the film and tick and the instructions mentioned that you actually predicted.

Watch the film again and note down any extra instructions mentioned but that you didn't think about.

The activity is suitable for students at an intermediate level.

You can read the transcript of the video here.

You can also do a listening activity on safety flight information with Manchester United players and Turkish airlines here.

miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2013

Talking point: Do famous people have a right to a private life?

In this week's talking point we are dealing with the topic of famous people's privacy as a follow-up to the huge controversy last september after several magazines published the photos of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless.

Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss the questions below. It is advisable that you prepare the questions well in advance so that you won't be at a loss for ideas during the talking session.

Which celebrities are in the news at the moment?
What is the gossip about them?
Do you ever read gossip magazines or watch gossip programmes on TV?
What do people gossip about?
Which are typical places where people gossip?
Are famous people treated fairly in the media?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being famous? Make two lists.
Would you like to be famous? Why (not)?

Do you think public figures should expect to be ambushed by photographers, or should they be off-limits when they aren’t in public?
What's your opinion about the paparazzi controversy?

Who is at fault here: the tabloid owners for publishing the photos, the photographers for taking them or the public for being so interested in the private lives of celebrities
Is losing privacy a fair trade-off for fame?
Do you think Kate Middleton is–or should be–in the same category as public figures who work in the entertainment industry?
If you believe that famous people should be “off limits” in their private lives, what do you think needs to change in order for that to happen?

To gain further background into the topic you can read IHT Rendezvous article Topless Royal Photos Expose Public's Bottomless Fascination by Harvey Morris.

photo credit: Gilderic Photography via photo pin cc

H/T to The New York Times Learning Network.

martes, 5 de febrero de 2013

Real English series: How often do you...

Lesson 26 in the Real English site is a wonderful opportunity for students in the Basic level to recycle a number of structures that have come up during the course.

The title of the lesson is a bit misleading, How often do you,,,, which makes us think about a lesson on adverbs of frequency. However, before we get to the How often...? questions there's a number of questions that passers-by both in Britain and US are asked about their daily routines concerning their jobs.

Here are most of the questions asked in the clip ordered in a logical way, which lend themselves to a nice oral activity to do after we have watched the video. Most of the wh- question words are used in the video clip, and so is auxiliary does for the third person singular.

Street directions are also revised. Also pay attention to the accent, which is British or American, and to the use of auxiliaries in some of the answers.

What do you do?
Where do you work?
What time do you start/finish work?
How many hours a day/week do you work?
From what to what?
How many hours a week does he work?
How much annual leave/holiday do you get/take?

Where are we now?
Which way are you going to take (to get to your workplace)?

Do Irish people like wine?
How often do you drink wine?
Do you ever drink champagne?

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

lunes, 4 de febrero de 2013

Volunteering at university

One of my favourite all-time sites for English learners is English for University, written by Patrick McMahon, a lecturer in the UK teaching on a variety of Academic English courses and teacher training courses at Plymouth University. English for University is meant for international students who want to improve their English while studying in the UK.

The site is packed with learning resources, although the bulkiest part of it is oriented towards the development of the writing skills.

It seems that a very common question students ask their teachers all over the world is "How can I improve my oral English?". In a great post in mid-September, Volunteering at University, Patrick dealt with this question. The video below is part of his post. Please drop by English for University and read Volunteering at University, it will only take you a few minutes.

If pressed for time, just watch this short video and answer the questions below about it. It is suitable for (strong) intermediate students.

1 What does Charlie study at Plymouth University?

2 What year is he in?
3 Charlie is in charge of logistics in the VIP Moor Trees project. What does he organise?
4 How many people are involved in his project?
5 What is Moor Trees dedicated to?
6 Why did Charlie first start in the project?
7 What sorts of students volunteer for the Moor Trees Project?
8 What benefits does volunteering bring to people?
9 Why is Charlie pleased that he came to Plymouth and he became a volunteer?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript here.

domingo, 3 de febrero de 2013

The happiest place on earth

Denmark, with its five-and-a-half million people, is the happiest country in the world, says a study done by an English University. Dr. Christensen and a team of researchers tried to discover just why Denmark finds itself on top of the happiness list.

Watch this CBS 60-minute documentary and find out the key to a happy balanced society.

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 2 de febrero de 2013

The story museum: 1001 stories

The Story Museum, founded in 2003, is a non-profit company and registered charity based in Oxford, UK.

Since 2005 they have been working with children, young people, parents, educators and artists to develop children’s language skills through oral storytelling.

The section 1001 stories offers dozens of short stories on different topics that you can listen to or watch. A transcript for each story is available and sometimes a map of the story is provided, which happens to be an invaluable tool if you want to use a specific story to develop your speaking skills. On the minus side, the stories cannot be downloaded.

Self-study idea:
Listen or watch a story as often as necessary until you fully understand it. Use the transcript to deal with difficult vocabulary or unknown words.

Once you are familiar with the story, try to repeat the story in your own words using the map if it is available.

viernes, 1 de febrero de 2013

Bionic Suit Helps Paralyzed Patients Walk

Watch this surprising ABC News report about a suit that might bring hope to people with spinal cord injuries.

Self-study activity:
Complete the gaps in the transcript below with the missing words. The activity is suitable for Intermediate 2 students.

Now, to what may be a huge medical (1) ... . A bionic suit, a sort of wearable robot that can actually help paralyzed patients, people that never thought they would walk again. Here's ABC's Muhammad Lila.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him (…) Better than he was before )…) Better, stronger, faster.

For years, we dreamed of the impossible, dreamed of building a bionic man. Today, those big dreams start with these (2) ... steps.

"Mentally, it's a wonderful feeling to be upright and moving."

27-year-old Aaron Bloom was paralyzed after an accident two years ago, yold he’d never walk again. Now, with each step, each grimace, he's (3) ... the odds.

"Right now, I don't really need anybody holding on to me. I can lift my hands up and put weight on the (4) ... and feel pretty comfortable."

It's all thanks to this. The Ekso bionic suit. First designed for soldiers to carry heavy (5) ... , it's now being used in Southern California and elsewhere to help paralyzed patients walk. The company behind it said since they developed the biology, they helped patients take more than 1 million steps, including some down the wedding (6) ... .  47-year-old Lupe Meza was paralyzed (7) ...   ...  . When she looks at the Ekso all she sees is hope.

"It’ll change my life. It’ll help me feel a lot better."

As for Bloom, learning how to use the suit took him weeks of practice. He knows it's not a perfect (8) ...  . But it is one step closer to one.

"I have no doubt that in my lifetime there will be some sort of solution for spinal cord (9) ... . I firmly believe I'll be able to walk in the future, you know. It's just a matter of time."

The suit costs $(10) ...  . And there are different versions of it out there. In many cases, health (11) ... doesn't cover that cost, so it is expensive, but the life-changing potential of this is definitely there.

1 breakthrough 2 tiny 3 defying 4 crutches 5 loads 6 aisle 7 cliff jumping 8 cure 9 injuries 10 150,000 11 insurance