domingo, 31 de marzo de 2013

Khan Academy: The future of education?

Just one week ago we published a documentary film on the Finnish educational system, allegedly the best in the world.

To follow up on the topic of education, our weekly extensive listening feature turns on a very different type of  educational model, that of Khan Academy.

This is the way this CBS 13-minute segment starts:

"Take a moment and remember your favorite teacher - now imagine that teacher could reach, not 30 kids in a classroom, but millions of students all over the world. As we first reported last spring, that's exactly what Sal Khan is doing on his website Khan Academy. With its digital lessons and simple exercises, he's determined to transform how we learn at every level. One of his most famous pupils, Bill Gates, says Khan, this "teacher to the world," is giving us all a glimpse of the future of education."

Watch the segment, which CBS released in early September last year as part of the programme 60 minutes, and find out the ins and outs of Khan Academy and its founder, 35-year-old Sal Khan.

If you want to fully understand the clip you can activate the closed-captioned subtitles on the lower side of the embedded video or read the full transcript here.

sábado, 30 de marzo de 2013

4 Ways to understand more English

Everybody is going to rub their hands with this video from EnglishVid, a site where a group of native English  teachers regularly post video lessons on grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, study skills and more. They have published upwards of 400 videos so far, and counting. In my opinion, EnglishVid is one of the best sites for English learners on the net.

In late February teacher James published the promising 4 Ways to understand more English, which is aimed at advanced students, I must say. This is the way he presented the lesson:

"Learn how to understand almost everything you hear right now in 4 easy steps! If you are an advanced English student, and you already know grammar and can understand what you read, but have trouble understanding when people speak in movies and in real life, watch this lesson to find out HOW to listen and UNDERSTAND!"

The video lesson is quite lengthy, around 13 minutes, which if anything will give us good listening practice. In addition, we can activate the YouTube automatic subtitles, which must have been cleaned up, because they are an accurate description of what James says. As an extra bonus, EnglishVid offers a quiz on their site so that we can check how much of the lesson we understood and make sure we got the gist of everything James said.

viernes, 29 de marzo de 2013

Child of the 90's

This is a Microsoft ad about the new Internet Explorer, Internet Explorer 8.

Self-study activity:
Watch the ad and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words, some of which are related to computers.

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

You might not remember us but we met in the 90s.
We are members of (1) ...   ... , as in yin yang, yo-yo.
Life moved a little slower.
Disks were (2) ... .
Desktop (3) ... had personality.
Extra (4) ...   ... was just a zipper away.
There is only one (5) ...   ..., but most of your friends died of dysentery.
The only thing (6) ... in your pocket was a pet.
Until that died too.
But at least the troll was still a friend.
Lunch was a (7) ..., not a picture.
You were pumping jams, water, shoes.
You didn't have to worry about a (8) ...   ... full of farm animals.
You were busy feeding wild animals.
A (9) ... didn't cost 60 dollars.
It cost four minutes.
You really had nothing to (10) ... .
Unless, of course, you were playing for keeps.
The future was (11) ... .
You grew up and so did we.

1) Generation Y 2) square 3) folders 4) storage space 5) social network 6) buzzing 7) puzzle 8) news feed 9) haircut 10) lose 11) bright

jueves, 28 de marzo de 2013

Life of a soldier in the UK

It's been a while since we last posted a video from the Foreign Office series See Britain through my Eyes.

Major Nana Twumasi-Ankrah tells us what being a member in the British army means for him, and he also talks about the diversity in the British army and in British society in general.

The video is a good follow-up to yesterday's talking point entry on war.

Self-study activity:
The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students, although even students at this level may find it a bit daunting at times.

Use the questions in the activity as a guideline to follow what Major Nana Twumasi-Ankrah tells us. For that reason, it is best to listen to the clip through once or twice before you attempt to answer the questions.

1 Where was Major Nana Twumasi-Ankrah born?
2 When did he move to the UK?
3 How many men and horses does Major Nana Twumasi-Ankrah command?
4 In what state visit did he first take part in?
5 What symbols of British life style does he mention as having a high regard for?
6 Is British life more casual or more formal than it appears?
7 Why does he compare his regiment to a modern-day United Nations?

For self-correction you can read the transcript below.

I am Major Nana Twumasi-Ankrah of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. I was born in Ghana but I now live in the United Kingdom.  And this is "See Britain Through My Eyes."
I moved to the United Kingdom in 1982 with my family. I was the first black officer commissioned within the Household Division and into the Household Cavalry itself. It's the most senior regiment in the British Army.  I command 120 men and 120 horses here in London.
As a young child watching Her Majesty the Queen's birthday parade on the television, I would have never ever imagined that one day I would command the regiment which I had fallen in love with on that day.
We serve on operations in Afghanistan. We do that in light armored vehicles, for want of a better word, tanks. We are modern soldiers at the forefront of British operations, who have served with the most modern equipment. I think this symbolizes one of the best things about being British, the ability to have one eye on the past but also looking to the future.
My first ever venture into the state ceremonial side of our regiment was for the Ghanaian state visit. Having to escort Her Majesty the Queen and also the President of Ghana was an incredible privilege for me. Also, we had lots of Ghanaians in the crowd so there was lots of drumming, shouting and cheering.
You can't see anything like this anywhere in the world except in the UK.
Household Cavalry!

And here I was, a Ghanaian who joined the British Army who has now become part of that culture, and it's then personified by that parade, which is the highest respect we can pay to any foreign dignitary when Her Majesty receives them and allows them to travel in the carriage with her to Buckingham Palace. And it truly is an amazing day. 

So that respect goes both ways. From the Commonwealth to Britain, and then in return from Britain to the Commonwealth. Those of us from Commonwealth countries generally tend to idolize a British way of life and British culture. So it's placed on a pedestal. So everything, from bowler hats and umbrellas, having afternoon tea, going to church on Sundays, is held in high regard.
Even though it's still the last bastion of standards, when you start working and living in Britain from day to day, you realize that things aren't as rigid as they appear. Life is slightly more casual than you'd expect to see it. We can't always be on show. At the end of the day, we're still normal people. A good example would be in the way that the public can mock members of Parliament or even the Royal Family. It's open season for making whatever comments you wish to make about people. And it says to people that we're comfortable in the way we live, and that is the basis of a democracy.
Simply looking around, this regiment appears to be very traditional and very British, projecting that one image. But really, you simply have to look around and you realize that it is a synthesis of different cultures. The regiment really can be compared to a modern-day United Nations. And here we have a Swedish officer, we have an Indian officer, we have myself from Ghana, we have an officer of French and Arab descent and a Zimbabwean, and officers from so many different backgrounds all mixed together as one.
From where I sit and the things I've seen in the United Kingdom, cultures really do mix and intermingle. And if I'm not a good example of that, I really don't know what is.

miércoles, 27 de marzo de 2013

Talking point: The ravages of war

This week's talking point revolves around the topic of war.

Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below to get acquainted with the topic, look up some information and deal with some vocabulary problems you may come across.

  • What major wars or conflicts can you name?
  • When were they?
  • What were the reasons for them?
  • Which wars has your country been involved in?
  • How has war changed through the ages?
  • In what ways hasn't war changed through the ages?
  • What are the worst consequences of war?
  • What might the benefits of war be?
  • How are the following events related to war? Nuclear arms , genocide, war on terror, arms trade, landmines
To illustrate the topic of war you can watch this New York Times video, Six Years Gone For a Soldier's Family, Mourning but Moving, and read the accompanying New York Times article A Soldier’s Requiem, Never Fading Away.

There’s more good days than bad days. For me a good day is when I wake up and it doesn’t feel like I’ve been sucked in the stomach.
My husband Paul was killed in Iraq in 2006. Emily was 8 years old, Caroline was 6 years old, and Julia was 4 years old.
Things don’t really make me like sad any more very much, something to do but the kid bullies me or something, I don’t really care, because I’ve gone through harder things than that.
Under my pillow every night I have a laminated picture of him. I still think about him and sometimes I miss him.
When people start talking about when their dads are coming home or oh my that’s been away for so long, I miss him so much, in the back of my mind I’m kind of thinking ‘suck it up, three months isn’t as long as forever.’
I have more challenges with Julia now than I did when she was four, five and six because the whole idea of dad was hard for her to understand. Now as she’s older she gets ‘oh, he’s not really gonna be here. Caroline she was always attached to her dad. It took a good two years just to see a smile on the child’s face. Emily just wanted things to be normal. She wanted to get back to school, she wanted to get back to her activities, so she did.
One thing that Paul’s death has muddied it up for parenting is how much sometimes the stuff is just average kid stuff, teen stuff or girl stuff, and how much of it is, ok this was, this was about Paul today.
I struggle and I try really hard that his death doesn’t define them. I don’t want them ever to feel held back by memories, because memories can do that sometimes, even the best of memories. I don’t want them ever to hesitate oh God but I need to be here for mum.
Maybe part of me likes to hide behind being so busy, so I don’t have to be so sad. I tell them, I talk to your dad all the time, I’ll say, ‘ok, Paul, what do I need to do with this. This is what your daughter is facing. What do we do? I miss my friend, and I miss my friend being here to help raise our children together. But I think, they seem to be doing ok, I think we’re ok.

martes, 26 de marzo de 2013

Real English series: Contrast between present perfect and past simple

In our Real English series we feature three video clips to constrast the difference between the present perfect and the past simple.

In the first video, a very pleasant couple answers several personal information questions. The questions mainly deal with the past simple and present perfect tenses. However, it's funny to notice the way the interviewer combines the two uses of the present perfect in his questions:
(1) Present perfect to talk about experiences, news or changes (similar to the use of present perfect in Spanish).
(2) Present perfect to talk about a situation which started in the past and continues up to the present (here we usually use a present form in Spanish)

Where were you born?
Was that a long time ago?
Were you good at school?
What did you do yesterday?
What other towns have you lived in apart from New York? (1)
When did you live in Paris?
Has anything ever happened to you? (1)
How did you meet?
How long have you known each other? (2) ('¿Cuánto hace que os conocéis?')
What do you hope to achieve before you die?

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

In the second video the interviewer asks the question: What have you done this morning? to ask passers-by about activities they have been involved in during the morning (use 1 of the present perfect above to talk about experiences and give news). As the interviewer is asking the question in the present perfect, we must infer that the interviews are taking place at some time during the morning, ie, before 12am.
The second question is what did you do yesterday?, where we can see the use of the past simple to talk about activities done in a finished period of time.

It's funny to notice the way a lot of the interviewees answer the question What have you done this morning? in the past simple. That is due to the fact that Americans (I think the video was recorded in New York) generally prefer the past simple to give news, whereas in Britain the present perfect is generally used to give news, the same as in Spanish.

You can read the transcript of the video clip on the Real English site here.

In the third video, we keep emphasizing the difference between past simple and present perfect. Again, it's funny to check the way the girl answers in the past simple a question she was asked in the present perfect. Remember the differences between American and British English in this respect.

What did you do yesterday?
Where did you get married?
What have you done this morning?

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

lunes, 25 de marzo de 2013

Earth Hour video activity

This is an old MSNBC footage about the celebration of Earth hour in 2008 round the world, but the content is even more valid because as time has gone by, more and more cities have taken part in this initiative, which was held on 23 March this year.

Self-study activity:
Watch the news clip and say whether the statements below are true or false. The activity is suitable for Intermediate students.

1 The first Earth hour is being held this year.
2 From eight to nine million switches will be turned off this year.
3 The Earth hour doesn’t really save energy.
4 400 buildings will go dark in Atlanta’s city centre.
5 Atlanta is suffering a drought.    

This is the Earth Hour official video for 2013.


On the Earth Hour site you will also be able to find lots of environment-related initiatives, videos and ideas.

And this is the number playing in the background, David Guetta 'Without you', in case you're wondering.


Tonight our series Our Planet, and some well-known skylines and landmarks around the world that are going dark. We get the story from NBC’s Ron Moore.  
Bright lights, big city. The two go hand in hand except for a brief spell tonight when darkness falls in more ways than one as it did in Sydney Australia. From Down under to Thailand, to Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco non-essential lights are being turned off for Earth hour.  
Turning off a switch is just one step that we hope will lead individuals, and governments, and businesses to make much bigger commitments to reduce energy the rest of the year.  
The first Earth hour last spring involved one city, Sidney, and drew an estimated 2 million participants. Today, hundreds of cities and ten million people around the globe are expected to flip the switch between 8 and 9, saving between 5 and 10 per cent of a typical Saturday night energy usage.  
Doing one little thing we can do something really big.  
In Atlanta, a fast moving fast growing metroplex with big energy needs they´re fired up about 400 downtown buildings going dark, a feat easier said than done, even for the man who lit the town for the world during the 96 Olympics.  
In some cases it’s very simple on the computer in order cases you actually got to go and manually turn switches off in order to turn the lights off.  
We are worse off this year than we were last year.  
Conservation is conversation for the mayor here whose city is battling a record drought.  
Atlanta is really excited about being a part of the greening of America. And this way we think it is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that every person can make a contribution.
So what do you do for an hour in the dark? Well organizers say ¨use your imagination¨. Light some candles and enjoy a romantic dinner, open a magazine or a book, maybe even play a board game or go all out and tell one another stories. Whatever you do, officials hope you do it with gusto and fewer watts.  

Key: 1F 2F 3F 4T 5T

domingo, 24 de marzo de 2013

The Finland phenomenon

Finland's education system has consistently ranked among the best in the world for more than a decade. The puzzle is, why Finland?

Documentary filmmaker, Bob Compton, along with Harvard researcher, Dr. Tony Wagner, decided to find out. The result of their research is captured in a new film, The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System.

In the 60-minute film, Dr. Wagner guides the viewer through an inside look at the world’s finest secondary education system. From within classrooms and through interviews with students, teachers, parents, administrators and government officials, Dr. Wagner reveals the surprising factors accounting for Finland's rank as the nº 1 educational system in the world.

The documentary can be watched with Spanish subtitles here.

Finnish schools were also featured in an entry on this blog in late January, Is a longer school calendar a good idea?

sábado, 23 de marzo de 2013

American and British spelling differences

It's been quite a while since we posted an entry from Joanne Rudling and her excellent Spelling Blog.

At the turn of the year Joanne published a lesson on the differences between American and British spelling.

These are the questions she posed to her blog readers:

A lot of American spellings have fewer letters, why?
Do you know why Americans changed British spellings?
What year was the first American dictionary published?

She answers these 'history' questions in this video:

In another entry on her blog she goes over the differences in spelling between American and British English.

If you drop by this second entry you will also be able to do a short  spelling test that Joanne has prepared.

There she will explain to you the difference between the -ise and -ize ending in some verbs (realise vs realize).

viernes, 22 de marzo de 2013

Alternative energy in American town

The first commercial tidal energy project in North America is in its last test phase.

Self-study activity:
Watch this AlJazeera English news clip and say whether the statements below are true or false.

The activity is suitable for Intermedio 2 students.

1 Money was the reason why the project failed in the past.
2 The new energy project is being built on the beach.
3 The project uses the power of water above the surface of the water to create energy.
4 The turbines look like airplanes.
5 At the moment 1,200 homes get power from the turbines.
6 The project doesn't receive any subsidies from the administration.
7 By 2020 the project will be economically viable.
8 It has been proved that the environment does not suffer with this type of energy.
9 Alice Cates’ family arrived in the area in the 1970's.
10 A hundred people have got a job thanks to this project.

You can read the transcript and check the answers below.

Trying to capture the power of the sea to light the shore. It was tried here 75 years ago by President Franklin D Roosevelt but the massive construction project in Eastport Maine failed early, after running way over budget.
Decades later there’s a new high tech approach. A 20 minute boat ride from Eastport, the first cimmercial tidal energy project in North America is in its final test phase. The tides here are huge, more than six meters in height.
We’re on an anchored barge at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Now, it has the largest tidal movement of anywhere in the world. This is what it looks like when the tide is going out. Now, this project uses turbines below the surface of the water, harnessing this power and converting it into electricity.
The turbines are engineered so that they will always turn in the same way, whether the tide is rolling in or out. They are made from racing boat material and are shaped like airplane wings. The turbines power a generator creating electricity. Cables carry it on shore and directly into the power grid. In three years they hope to power 1200 homes.
Believe it or not there’s one moving part in this.
Chris Sauer says he can see light at the end of the tunnel for his startup company but there’s work ahead before profits will be made. Offsetting the 21 million dollar startup cost, 10 million came from the department of energy.
We are not economically viable yet, by 2020 we are gonna be we believe competitive with any new sources of power and that includes fossil fuels.
And other questions still have to be answered. The long term repercussions of the project are being studied, including the impact on marine life.
We need to look at the environmental effect and know how much energy we can get out of it. Then we can have the conversation with the community and as a society about whether we’re gonna develop this resource.
As for the economic impact, Eastport has seen better times and is hoping to feel the benefit. Alice Cates’ family arrived in the 1700s.
When I grew up we had 13 canneries along the waterfront here. We couldn’t get down the sidewalk on a Friday night.
But the local seafood industry collapsed, businesses left town and many residents went with them. Now this project is employing a hundred people so far.
One job here’s a lot of jobs. It really is and it’s been... they’ve been extremely good and it isn’t just in this community, it’s Lubec and it’s all over... I think 13 of the 16 Maine counties have some supply econnection into this company.
So once again Eastport looks to the sea for a lifeline, hoping to avoid the disappointment of seven decades ago and become a center for alternative energy.

1T 2F 3F 4F 5F 6F 7T 8F 9F 10T

jueves, 21 de marzo de 2013

Olympic dream of armless Afghan teen

14-year-old Abbas Karimi was born without arms but that hasn’t spoilt his ambition to win a gold medal for swimming in the next Paralympics.

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

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

14-year-old Abbas Karimi was born without arms but that hasn’t dampened his ambition to win a gold medal for swimming in the next Paralympics. If he gets the (1) ... he needs, he’ll be the first Afghan to represent his country as a (2) ... .
I urge the government to support me so I can participate in the world Paralympic Games. I would like to (3) ... a medal for my country. I also want to be a symbol for those who are (4) ... like me. My advice is that they should not be (5) ... about their disability.
Decades of conflict and (6) ... have prevented a large number of disabled Afghans from pursuing sport. They are often (7) ... and face discrimination but Abbas hasn’t hidden away. He’s learnt (8) ... to overcome his problems and wants others to do the same.
At first, I was suffering a lot from being (9) ... . When I started swimming, I found myself capable to do everything well. I’m now (10) ... in my life. By using my feet, I do all my work so I don’t have to really worry about anything.
The next Paralympics takes place in Brazil in (11) ... .

1) support 2) swimmer 3) achieve 4) disabled 5) depressed 6) poverty 7) unemployed 8) skills 9) armless 10) hopeful 11) 2016

miércoles, 20 de marzo de 2013

Talking point: Does your life leave you enough time to relax?

This week's talking point, Does your life leave you enough time to relax?, is taken from The New York Times Learning Network.

In mid February Shannon Doyle compiled a number of questions to jog readers' minds on the topic of today's fast pace of life:
  • Imagine your life with more sleep, longer breaks from school/work and all your other obligations, maybe even regular naps.  Do these changes appeal to you? Or does the thought of devoting more time to relaxing fill you with stress and worry?
  • How do you balance all the things you need to do in an average day with the need to sleep and rest?
  • Do you ever feel like being sleep deprived or less than fully rested causes you to make mistakes, take more time to accomplish tasks or otherwise do less than your best?
  • If so, how could you change your routine to allow you to have more downtime?
  • If you could take more breaks, would you? How would you spend this time?
  • Does the idea of working for 90 minutes then having time to relax before resuming seem familiar to you? Possible? Why or why not?
The topic has brought to mind a lesson we did a long, long time ago on a time management lesson in a Business English course. There was this activity on  The Magic Hour, a concept coined by Roger Black in his book Getting things done. Here's a summary of Mr Black's Magic Hour.

Imagine you have one extra hour every week: your 169th hour. It occurs whenever you want it to, and you can do whatever you want with it. You don’t have to see anyone that you don’t want to see, or write letters to them, or do anything that you’re currently feeling guilty about.
  • Write down five things that would make you happy in that hour (don’t give yourself any restrictions or nagging guilt feelings about other jobs to be done).
  • Write down five things that would give pleasure to someone else in that hour.
  • Finally, write down five important things that you have been putting off, that you could at least start in the hour.
Then consider: If you could have last week all over again, where could you fit in the magic hour? Resolve to fit it into this week at the same point. If you find that simply the process of deciding to do this makes you feel good, you probably are not making enough decisions of this nature. Make the magic hour a weekly habit.

Mull over these ideas before getting together with the members of your conversation group. For background information, you can also read Tony Schwartz's article for The New York Times Relax! You'll be more productive.

photo by Lukey Dargons in Flickr

martes, 19 de marzo de 2013

Real English series: Past simple and 'used to'

Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students are going to find this week's Real English videos more than interesting.

In the first video, passers-by answer the question What did you do yesterday? As you can imagine, the answers are varied and will help us develop our listening skills and vocabulary alike.

Remember that we use the auxiliary verb did with all the persons to make questions and negative in the past simple.

Did you enjoy the film?
Did she enjoy the film?

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

In the second video, passers-by answer a number of questions, which are all in the present:

What does your dad do?
What’s your best dish?
Do you often eat out?
Do you think you’re a quiet or talkative person?
Can you play any musical instruments?

The interviewees use the verb used to in their anwsers, which is used in English to talk about habits in the past.

Be careful, used to is only used in the past. To talk about habits in the present we simply use the present simple or we use the present simple with a frequency adverb like 'always', 'usually'.

As a child I used to go to my school cinema on Sundays.

For negatives and questions, used to functions as any other verb:
I didn't use to go to the cinema as a child.
Did you use to go to the cinema as a child?

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

lunes, 18 de marzo de 2013

What dads can't do

Father's Day is a celebration which dates back from the early XXth century to honour fathers, celebrate fatherhood and bring to our attention the importance of fathers in society.

Tomorrow Father's Day is celebrated in Spain. This video from IgniterMedia is a good reminder of the role  fathers play in the upbringing of a child and can also help us with our English.

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

The activity is intended for Básico 2 and Intermedio 1 students.

There are lots of things that regular people can do but dads can't.
Dads can't pitch a baseball very hard or hit one (1) ...   ... .
When dads play hide-and-seek they always get (2) ... , but they have a hard time finding you.
They aren't very good wrestlers.
Dads lose at checkers and (3) ... and almost every other game.
Dads like to (4) ...   ...  but they don't like to go alone.
And they need extra practice baiting the hook.
Dads don't seem to be able to drive very fast.
Dads seem to have trouble (5) ... on to their money.
Dads can't see you hiding your lima beans at dinnertime or (6) ... them to the cat.
Dads like to give baths but they can't help getting all (7) ... .
Dads can't read a book (8) ...   ... .
And dads really need to be (9) ... good night at bedtime.
There are so many things dads can't do, it's a wonder they make it (10) ... life at all!
But dads can't (11) ...   ... .
No matter how (12) ... a dad gets or how hard life gets, a dad never quits.
Thanks, Dad!
Happy Father's Day!

1 very far 2 found 3 cards 4 go fishing 5 holding 6 feeding 7 wet 8 by themselves 9 kissed 10 through 11 give up 12 tired 

domingo, 17 de marzo de 2013

Labor pains of a new world

Labor Pains of a New Worldview is a documentary exploring the human condition in the 21st century. The film brings together insights and findings from biology, psychology, network science, systems science, business, culture and media, and shows the inner workings of the human experience, challenging our assumptions about who we really are, and why we do what we do.

Scientists and thinkers featured in the film include Amit Goswami, Neale Donald Walsch, Elisabet Sahtouris, Bruce Lipton, Peter Joseph, Caroline A. Miller, Nicholas Christakis, James Fowler, Michael Laitman, Ervin Laszlo, Dean Radin, Dave Sherman, Annie Leonard, Jairon G. Cuesta, and John St. Augustine.

The film was directed by Joseph Ohayon.

To fully understand the film you can activate the subtitles on the lower side of the screen. If you watch it on YouTube you can also read the interactive subtitles.

sábado, 16 de marzo de 2013

Explain the joke

Explain the Joke looks like the perfect site to drop by every day to unwind and have a good laugh for five minutes while improving our English.

Jokes are published five times a week from Monday to Friday, and an explanation of each joke is always included.

Q: Where do generals keep their armies? 
A: In their sleevies!

Explanation: A general is the leader of an army (singular), so, generals are the leaders of armies (plural).  When you put on a shirt your arm goes into the sleeve of the shirt.  Often times in English, to make something small you put the “ee” sound on the end- cute becomes cutie, bird become birdie.  In this joke arm becomes arm-ee so it goes into your sleeve-ee.

Q: Why did the invisible man turn down a job offer? 
A: He just couldn’t see himself doing it!

Explanation: The invisible man is a book by H. G. Wells and also a movie.  If you are invisible no one can see you.  This joke plays on the phrase, “I can’t see myself doing…” which means you can’t imagine doing something, such as taking a job.  What is something you can’t see yourself doing?

If you're intereted in English humour, make a point of dropping by The English Blog regularly, where Jeffrey Hill posts a cartoon published in the English press on that day, explaining the cultural or political background behind it and helping with vocabulary.

viernes, 15 de marzo de 2013

Alicia Keys and the creativity process

An interesting feature in The New York Times Magazine is The Inspiration Issue, where do creative ideas start?

Alicia Keys was the protagonist of The Inspiration Issue back in September last year, and she talked about the creative process behind her latest work, Girl on Fire. Drop by The New York Times to read the full article and watch the accompanying video.

No activity today. Just enjoy the interview and the song.

I love this song ‘Girl on Fire’. They all mean something and all came from something, but ‘Girl on Fire’ is, is definitely ill. It came from this interview that I did. I was reading it and she said something like, ‘She’s like a girl on fire,’ and I was like ‘Huh, I love that!’

We were in the studio one day and I was working with Jeff Bhasker and Salaam Remi, I think, you know I’ve been wanting to write this song ‘Girl on Fire’, and what does girl on fire sound like? Somehow we start kinda tossing around these ideas and thoughts and these different sounds come out and these different things come out. Eventually we came to the chords that are ‘Girl on Fire’ and I guess you’d want me to play the chords, so the chords are like, you know, pretty you know, that ain’t the chord, there goes the chord.

She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire
So, anyway, that those are the chords right? It’s like a different kind of, a little bit twingy or type of sound…
Hotter than a fantasy,
There goes the damn chord again
lonely like a highway

We start going to roll these different crazy drums and then there was like this loud obnoxious just destructive drums, I was like yes the girl on fire is loud and obnoxious and destructive, and like free, you know what I mean it sounds like, and then we just went to the room. I just had a mike set up like over here, and it’s just flown, it’s like one of these crazy moments that everything’s just flown, which like sometimes happens, sometimes doesn’t happen. But this moment everything was just magic.

We sat down on the couch, we start writing some lyrics down like

She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway

And we go in again, I just sing it again from top to bottom. I don’t know what happened but it was like an explosion of like magic fairy dust that came down and that’s basically what happens. Sometimes there’s a  song but it’s just very rare.

I just remember being in the bathroom and I’m singing the song and I’m like ahhh and she’s just going around and around in my head. When I left the bathroom my husband called me and I was like yeahhhh and he asked ‘what’s up?’ I said ‘I think we just came up with something’.

She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway
She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away
Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she’s burning it down
Oh, got her head in the clouds
And she’s not backing down

Now what I gonna ask myself is why did I choose to write this song so high, and I mean, that’s probably what’s gonna come up on some occasions because I didn’t get to the chords yet and I’m asking myself what made me write this song that high, so now you have to wait for the chords because we can have a disaster.

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She’s walking on fire

Here's the Girl on Fire video clip with the lyrics below.

She's just a girl, and she's on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, longer like a highway
She's living in a world, and it's on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away

Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she's burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she's not backing down

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She's walking on fire
This girl is on fire

Looks like a girl, but she's a flame
So bright, she can burn your eyes
Better look the other way
You can try but you'll never forget her name
She's on top of the world
Hottest of the hottest girls say

Oh, we got our feet on the ground
And we're burning it down
Oh, got our head in the clouds
And we're not coming down

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She's walking on fire
This girl is on fire

Everybody stands, as she goes by
Cause they can see the flame that's in her eyes
Watch her when she's lighting up the night
Nobody knows that she's a lonely girl
And it's a lonely world
But she gon' let it burn, baby, burn, baby

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She's walking on fire
This girl is on fire

Oh, oh, oh...
She's just a girl, and she's on fire

jueves, 14 de marzo de 2013

How sleep affects your memory

New findings show getting the right kind of sleep can reduce risks of memory loss. Watch this two-minute ABC video clip and answer the questions about it.

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

Say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 It seems that it is the kind of sleep that it's important, not the amount.
2 The slow-wave sleep occurs in the first few hours of the sleep cycle.
3 In that sleep memories are transferred from a long-term location to a long-term location.
4 Researchers asked people to memorise ordinary words paired with nonsense numbers.
5 In theory the ability to retain previously unkown information deteriores with age.
6 If you improve slow-wave sleep your memory will improve, no matter how old you are.
7 Exercise is always beneficial.

We have all been there. Not enough sleep. Your brain gets foggy,  your memories, your ability to recall not as sharp. It turns out, it’s not necessarily the amount of sleep you're getting but instead the kind of sleep.  But tonight ABC's Amy Robach on what it takes to get those short-term memories into your brain's long-term hard drive. 
Scientists have discovered what's happening at night may be the key to why memories fade as you age. Turns out, it's not how much you sleep but what kind of sleep that may be crucial. It's called slow-wave sleep. The non-dream deep sleep that occurs in the first few hours of a sleep cycle. Your brain waves are actually different with higher peaks and valleys. 
That sleep is actually transferring memories from one location within the brain, a short-term location to a long-term location. 
We have all heard of testing memory by recalling dates and faces. But researchers asked people to memorize ordinary words paired with nonsense words, like ‘false’ and ‘dipotabia’, ‘jump’ and ‘villened’. The theory, that the ability to retain previously unknown information declines with age. Doctors then tested to see if people could remember those word pairings after sleep. The older patients with less slow wave sleep had a harder time remembering the words. 
If you had bad sleep your memory was a lot worse. If we can improve sleep, we could actually improve memory. 
The good news, no matter your age, doctors say there is a way to improve slow-wave sleep and thus your memory. 
Exercise, and exercise may be specially interesting in relationship to this deep slow-wave sleep. Exercise can increase the amount of time you spend in that deep slow-wave sleep.
And Amy is with us now. Great to have you with us. This is really fascinating. So during slow-wave sleep, your memories are actually being moved from the front to the back. 
Right. And the problem is, for people who have aged it's a natural process for there to be atrophy in that front part of the brain. So it doesn't do a very good job of taking those memories and putting them back in the hard drive where they're stored and able to be accessed. 
So they never make it into the hard drive. You mentioned exercise in your report but there does the timing of the exercise or the kind of exercise matter?
Researchers say it’s very important not to exercise close to your bed time because then you’re going to be wired and charged, and you’re not going to be able to get any sleep, let alone…

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

miércoles, 13 de marzo de 2013

Talking point: Renewable energies

This week's talking point focuses on the environment and renewable energy. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, you may decide to think about the questions below, so that you deal with vocabulary difficulties beforehand.

What are the main threats to the environment these days?
What environmental disasters can you think of?
Is Spain protecting the environment enough?
How green are you?
How big is your ecological footprint?
In what ways does the destruction of the environment affect us directly?
Are renewable energies (solar, hydroelectric, wind energy) the solution to environmental problems?
What are the advantages of the traditional energy (petrol, gas, coal) over the renewable one? Comment on the following aspects:
• Pollution (air pollution, acoustic pollution, and so on)
• Impact on the environment and landscape
• Influence on the economy
• Solutions to the energy crisis (individual, institutional, political)

Discuss these environmentally-related issues:
Is recycling the only way to be green?
Is public transport a real alternative to the problems of transport these days?
Congestion charges in big cities.
Buying locally produced goods.
There’s too much unnecessary packaging in supermarkets these days.
Global warming: a reality or a threatening political weapon.
Hybrid and electric cars.

To gain further insight into the topic you may wish to watch this Guardian video on the Chinese desert province of Gansu, which is at the front line of China's efforts to reinvent its economy with a massive investment in renewable energy. You can find the transcript below.

You may also be interested in watching this 2002 video intended for students in Seconday School, in which geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison visited a coal fired power station, a hydro-electric power station and a wind farm to find out which might be best.

Something very remarkable is happening in Gansu, a desert province that once marked the far western border of China. The Great Wall starts here. The silk road passes through these plains, but for most of the past 30 years this region has been most notorious for remoteness, dryness and a dirty fossil fuel industry.
This is where China’s first oil fields were drilled, where many coal mines opened and where steel makers sighted some of their biggest factories. But that image is now undergoing a stunning transformation. The deserts around Jojuen city are now a key asset. The cluster of wind farms here has expanded from almost nothing three years ago to now being the largest in China, and are on course to becoming the biggest in the world.
The capacity of Jojuen’s mills is now 6 gigawatts, roughly equivalent to the entire wind energy capacity of the UK, and the plan in the future is to more than triple that by 2015.
China is also experimenting with solar power, as I found when I drove farther west. 
(1’40”-2’10” someone talking in Chinese)
There are still major challenges. Cleaning the photovoltaic of dust requires considerable amounts of water, no small matter in a desert. More importantly, solar and wind power prices are also significantly higher than those of coal.
But thanks to hefty government support and technology improvement, the gap is closing and it will close more in the future. China is determined to dominate the global renewable sector. It’s motivated by economic, strategic and environmental reasons.
Here in the desert of Gansu China is trying to reinvent itself. The world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide is moving to become a leading force in renewable energy. It’s not yet a green  superpower. The country will remain heavily dependent on coal and other fossil fuels for decades to come, but if giant demonstration plots like this one in Dongguan can succeed and be expanded upon, China could provide a model, a development that is cleaner and greener and that other countries around the world could follow.

martes, 12 de marzo de 2013

Real English series: Past tense- 'was/were' and 'did'

In our Real English video series we start dealing with the past simple.

In the first video a group of passers-by answer the question Were you good at school?

Remember the status of special verb of 'to be' in English. It doesn't need an auxiliry verb for questions or negatives. To make questions, we simple put 'was/were' before the subject.

Were you good at school?
Yes, I was [good at school].
No, I wasn't [good at school].

Was your sister good at school?
Yes, she was.
No, she wasn't.

Some of the speakers use the expressions 'so-so', which means 'not particularly good or bad'.
The adjective 'good' is always followed by the preposition 'at'.

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

In the second video, the interviewer draws our attention to the contrast between present and past, and between the auxiliary verbs for the present and the past. He only asks two questions:

What do you usually do on Saturday night?
Auxiliary 'do' ('does' for the 3rd person singular -he, she, it) to refer to activities we do regularly. In the question, the use of the frequency adverb 'usually' emphasizes the idea that we are talking about a routine.

The second question refers to the past simple:
What did you do last Saturday night?
We use the auxiliary 'did' with all the persons, without exception, to talk about past situations and activities.

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

lunes, 11 de marzo de 2013

An unusual cat

Watch this short CBS video clip about Sable, a cat that helps students cross the street at Enterprise Middle School, West Richland, Washington.

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

1 How old is Sable?
2 How often during the day does Sable go to where the students cross?
3 Does the weather make a difference?
4 How long has Sable been doing this?
5 Does Sable have an owner or is it a stray?
6 How does Sable show its affection for the students?

For correction you can read the transcript below.

Each morning and afternoon, the student crossing guards at Enterprise Middle School make sure their classmates safely get across the street. It’s a pretty typical scene. But there’s something else outside watching over these kids, this black cat.
It will come out like, I can see it when we’re going out. It will, like, walk out, and come, stand, and it’s like position.
The 15 year-old cat named Sable, comes outside every day like clockwork before the bell rings to watch the kids cross the street.
He just knows when to be out there, knows when it’s time to go back in, and then in the afternoon, he knows when to be out and it’s time to go again. He is out there just like the students are, whether it’s raining, or snowing, or real hot and sunny, the cat is out there too.
Sable has been watching over the students from across the street for about a year. Tamara Morrison owns the cat. She says, one day Sable just walked outside to greet the students, and he has been doing it ever since.
He just kept going out there and we’d watch him from the window and I thought, gosh, I hope he doesn’t cross and he just hung out there and just couldn’t wait to be next to the kids.
And the cat isn’t all business, it’s friendly, brushing up on the legs of the crossing guards, and the students walking by always bend down to say, hello.
In the afternoons when I work, it’s always come out and like rubbed up against our feet.
He just loves to be around us, I guess.
Students and teachers now think of Sable as part of the team, another volunteer who is dedicated to keeping the streets safe.
It’s really cool because like you always know that there’s someone there and that you just – you’re never disappointed.

domingo, 10 de marzo de 2013

Before Babel: In search of the first language

In our extensive listening series this week we feature a BBC oldie, Before Babel: In search of the first language, an early 1990's Horizon documentary. In this programme Horizon focuses on the development of languages in the world and an attempt to reconstruct the first spoken words and unravel the mystery of the speaking ability, something that is unique to humans.

In the programme, Horizon meets a groups of scientists who are trying to work out the secrets of speech, which includes a father who filmed every second of his son's first three years in order to discover how we learnt to talk, the autistic savant who could speak more than 20 languages, and the first scientist to identify a gene that makes speech possible.

We can also listen to Noam Chomsky, the first linguist to suggest that our ability to talk is innate. A unique experiment shows how a new language can emerge in just one afternoon, in an attempt to understand where language comes from and why it is the way it is.

On the downside, however, no subtitles available, I'm afraid.

sábado, 9 de marzo de 2013

Phrasal verb online game

In late January Macmillan Dictionaries launched this Phrasal Verbs Game One.

Players have 90 seconds to answer as many questions as possible on English phrasal verbs. The questions are all multiple choice, and players have to find a synonym or antonym for the verbs provided.

The only downside of the game is the difficulty, quite high in my opinion, which makes it more suitable for advanced rather than intermediate students.

viernes, 8 de marzo de 2013

International Women's Day

8th March is the International Women’s Day. Last year we published this video by Kronos and Xplane which I think lends itself to a nice conversation lesson on the topic of change, women’s role in society today and in the past and the use of would to express habits in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want to do a listening activity around International Women's Day, Are we equals?, a video starred by Daniel Graig comes in handy. Here we can see James Bond's femenine side. He teams up with Judi Dench to highlight the need for gender equality.

Self-study activity:
Complete the transcript of the video with the missing facts and figures. I think Básico 2 students can give the activity a try.

We're equals, aren't we 007? Yet it is (1) ... and a man is still likely to earn more money than a woman, even one doing the same job. You have a far better chance of entering political office or becoming a company director. As a man you are less likely to be judged for promiscuous behaviour, which is just as well, frankly. And hardly any chance of falling victim to sexual assault. And unlike the (2) ... women in the UK who lose their jobs annually due to pregnancy, there would be virtually no risk to your career if you chose to become a parent ... or became one accidentally.
For someone with such a fondness for women, I wonder if you have ever considered what it might be like to be one? The world has changed, but the numbers remain stuck against us. Women are responsible for (3) ... of the work done worldwide, yet earn any (4) ... of the total income and own (5) ... of the property. It’s not just about money and power. Every year (6) ... million girls are deprived of even a basic education and a staggering (7) ... million are sexually assaulted on their way to school. We are afraid to walk the streets at night, yet some of us are even more afraid to return to our own homes. At least (8) ... are victims of domestic violence. And every week, (9) ... women in the UK are killed by a current or former partner.
So are we equals? Until the answer is yes we must never stop asking.

If you want to find out more about the topic of International Women's Day, The Guardian published the online series Top 100 Women to commemorate Women's Day on 8th March.

(1) 2011 (2) 30,000 (3) 2/3 (4) 10% (5) 1% (6) 70 (7) 60 (8) 1 in 4 (9) 2

Legs of Manhattan

It's been over a year since we last published a post on Bill Cunningham's On the Street video section for The New York Times, which deals with the fashion world in New York and New Yorkers' dressing styles. (See Wedding Season.)

In today's video, Bill Cunningham draws our attention to the influence the gothic and medieval eras are having on New York's street fashion.

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

This is Bill Cunningham on the (1) ...   ... in New York City. And as the new year blossoms, sure enough the fashion world has gone back to find the future if you will. But this time they didn’t go to the 20s or 30s, they went way back to the (2) ...   ..., late 13th century,  14th century in the early Renaissance. The inspiration, I think, at least to my eyes, looked like the (3) ... courtiers, the men of this period. I saw a woman with a little jacket right out of the period. Think of Romeo when Juliet, and Romeo, and the jacket would have been right for Romeo, except it’s the women have adapted it today, and it’s all in black, doublet jacket, (4) ... , whichever way you want, it’s a silhouette, it’s all there. In the medieval times and the Renaissance of course it was a similar silhouette but it was all in stained glass, (5) ...   ... , so the big difference. Everything about it, big (6) ... , the cottage quilted, the body of the jacket, the flair and (7) ... with very narrow terraces.

It is no question that fashion goes back and then reinvents itself into the future. It is really fascinating and as we enter the kind of (8) ... short days of winter, what could be better than to go to the Cloister Museum, the branch of the Metropolitan and just wallow in the (9) ... and architecture and paintings and tapestries of the (2) ...   ...  and the Renaissance.

1) fashion front 2) Middle Ages 3) court  4) tights 5) jeweled colours 6) sleeves 7) worn 8) gloomy  9) artifacts

jueves, 7 de marzo de 2013

The Iditarod race

On 2 March the Iditarod race got under way. Competitors will have to race for 10-17 days in a 1,000-mile journey across Alaska.

A couple of years ago we posted a Discovery Channel video under the title 'The Iditarod Race', but as a matter of fact the video can only be found under the title Siberian Husky Classics (2'57") in the section the Discovery Channel devotes to the race on its site.

In the video, we can get an insight into the Siberian Huskies, which are compared to the Alaskan Huskies.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip and complete the gaps in the sentences with the missing information. You can check the answers by reading the transcript below.

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

1 Alaskan huskies weigh about ...
2 Alaskan huskies are known for ...
3 Siberians need ... food than Alaskans.
4 Siberians have better ... than Alaskans, so they have less injuries.
5 For Carol Preble, the advantage of a team of Syberian huskies is that they ... safe.
6 Eskimos believe that blue-eyed dogs can see ...

Most of today’s slimmer racing dogs are called Alaskan huskies, a mix of many breeds including the Malamude Siberian and wolf. They weigh about 50 pounds and are bred for speed, temperament and endurance. But they aren’t the only breed on the trail. Karen Ramstead mushes a team of pure bred Siberian huskies. 
This breed is my passion. I came to dog sled racing because of the dogs, the race is just a product of that rather than the dogs being a product of my desire to race. 
These dogs are tanks, known for their tough bodies and strong force. The Siberian husky is the traditional sled dog. 
Most of my mushers in the race are here to win and you know you can’t do it with a team of Siberian huskies. 
Siberians were bred as hunting companions. They have the advantage of needing 25% less food that the Alaskans. The Siberian husky and the Alaskan husky each have their own unique skills. 
My dog team is all pure bred Siberian huskies as opposed to the Alaskan huskies that most of the drivers use but in reality these have been proven to be slower than the modern racing dog, the Alaskan husky. And there’s not a lot of us that still get them out on the thread, on the racing trails, although there’s a lot of people that love them and use them recreationally. 
One of the advantages of a pure race Alaskan husky is that they tend to be better feet that the Alaskan huskies. 
Feet are the foundation to any good sledge dog. The compact foot of the Siberian makes them less prone to injury, but booties and oilment are still valuable tools. 
We’re starting to get to the point of the race where, you know, their feet have had enough dings and veins that I’m booting most of them, I think I came in with six or seven bootied but certainly not in higher teams like you see in the last contested drivers. 
Karen’s special team draws fans from around the world. 
I’m Carol Preble, I’m from Rango Illinois. I’m right here watching the forest Syberian husky teams, one of the being Karen Ramstead. I’m a traditionalist. It’s kind of like a classic car. You just, you’ve got to have the classics. And they’re not as fast as the Alaskans but they’re gonna get you there and you gonna get home safe. 
I don’t know, I think you can get the most of your team and the dogs you have, have a great adventure and… That’s a successful race. As Eskimos used to believe, blue-eyed dogs can see the wind, and they are more valuable sledge dogs. 
And it’s this ancient mystique that makes the pure Syberian a sacred part of the Iditarod trail.

You can read some more details about this year's race in this Gadling article, and this is the race's official website.

miércoles, 6 de marzo de 2013

Talking point: How good is your grammar?

On 4th March National Grammar Day was held, which is a good excuse for us to reflect on the way we learn English and on our grasp of grammar at a time when some official exams seem to have turned a blind eye on directly testing grammar; when there is a heated debate in countries like the UK and US about the limited knowledge of English a good share of the immigrants have; and when some British universities which participate in European projects complain about the poor language awareness of some of the students who come from the continent.

Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss the questions below, most of which are taken from The New York Times learning network, in a lesson by KATHERINE SCHULTEN.
  • How good is your grammar?
  • How well do you speak and write in English?
  • Do you have better grammar when you write than when you speak?
  • How important is grammar for spoken and written communication?
  • What grammar errors do you make most often?
  • What errors do others make that cause you to cringe?
  • Have you ever taught English grammar to anyone? 
  • In general, do you agree with the statement that education today emphasizes “expressing yourself” more than correctness?
  • Do you agree with John Challenger, who says that for younger people the content of the message is far more important than the structure?
  • Can someone with terrible grammar still be a clear thinker? 
  • Would you hire that person for a job? Why or why not?
  • What importance do your English teachers give to grammar?
  • Are grammar lessons boring?
  • How much of the class time is devoted to grammar?
  • And your homework?
To gain further insight into the topic, you may wish to read the contributions for The New York Times on the Room for Debate blog under the title Is our children learning enough grammar to get hired?

And if you wish to know how good your grammar is, you may like to try your hand at this Guardian grammar and punctuation quiz, where you have to answer 14 multiple-choice questions similar to those that year 6 pupils (11 years old) will sit in a National Test in spelling, grammar and punctuation in June.

martes, 5 de marzo de 2013

Real English series: Comparatives and superlatives

In our Real English series this week we feature two videos where some passers-by answer questions to illustrate the use of comparatives and superlatives in English.

The first video is intended for Básico students. Passers-by answer these questions:

Who's older?
Which is bigger?
Who can cook better?

What's the most beautiful city in the USA?
What's the coldest country in the world?
Which is the biggest town in Ireland?
Which is the longest river in Ireland?
Which is the most beautiful language?

You can read the transcript of the video here.

To revise the grammar behind comparatives and superlatives you can drop by our post Comparatives and school subjects, where we show an interactive book by Collège Marc Chagall with all the rules and lots of exercises.

You can also read Joanne's Rudling's entry about the 1:1:1 spelling rule on her Spelling Blog, where she gives us clear rules on when to double the final consonant in adjectives when forming the comparative and superlative.

The second video is a bit harder and it is intended for intermediate students. A passer-by answers the questions What's the best/worst decision you have ever made?

The same interview with subtitles can be watched in the second half of the video clip.

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

Self-study activity:
Record yourself answering the question What's the best/worst decision you have ever made?

lunes, 4 de marzo de 2013

Choosing a new pope

Pope Benedict's resignation means that almost 120 cardinals will gather together in Vatican City to vote for a new pope of the Roman Catholic church. A two-thirds majority is required from the papal conclave, unless the voting continues for more than 30 ballots – in which case it will revert to a simple majority. Normally only cardinals under the age of 80 are allowed to participate in the conclave.

There are lots of resources on the Internet that explain the process of how a pope is elected. I have chosen three of them intended for intermediate students which can help with their listening and reading skills alike.

In mid-February The Guardian published an interactive which explained the process.

Time magazine also devoted a video to the same topic in its excellent feature Time explains.

C.G.P. Grey also created an animated 5-minute video which explains the way an ordinary priest can become Pope. Beware of CGP! He's a really fast talker.

Let’s say you want to become pope, head of the Catholic Church and shepherd to over 1 billion faithful.
What requirements must you have for this lofty position:
1) Be a catholic and
2) Be a man.
Which seems a little thin… and, while it’s technically possible for a regular Sunday Catholic to become pope, the last time this happened was essentially never because becoming pope isn’t like becoming president, you can’t just run for office. Selecting the pope is an inside job and the men who do it are the cardinals, and while in theory they can select any catholic man to become pope, in practice they prefer to elevate one of their own.
The last time a non-cardinal became pope was more than 600 years ago. So, while it isn’t an official requirement, it’s an unofficial, official requirement. Thus in order to be pope you’ll first need to be a cardinal and to do that you’ll need to start climbing the catholic corporate ladder.
Step 1: Become a Priest. 
Unlike some churches where you can fill out a form online and – poof – ordained, the Catholic Church treats becoming a priest as a real, you-need-training profession. So you’re going to require a lot of education: usually a college degree in Catholic Philosophy and then a master’s in divinity. In addition to your educational qualifications, you must also be: a man, unmarried, willing to remain celibate forever. If you meet these requirements, and have been working with the church, then you can be officially ordained as a priest, which basically means you get to run a Catholic Church, or work with another priest who does. But, you want onward and to do that you need to take the job of the man who just made you a priest.
Step 2: Become a Bishop.
Bishops are a much more select group: while there are about 400,000 catholic priests worldwide, there are only about 5,000 bishops. While priests get churches, bishops get cathedrals, from which they oversee a number of local churches.
To advance your career you must wait for a bishop in your area to be forced into retirement at age 75 or die sooner than that – freeing up space for you. But you can’t just apply, because there’s already a secret list of potential bishops that’s updated every three years based on who the current bishops in your area think would make a good replacement for one of their own. To be on that list, in addition to the obvious requirement of being a pious person, you should also be at least 35 years old, have been a priest for at least five years, have a doctorate in theology (or equivalent). Assuming you’re all these things, your name may, or may not be on the secret list. The local bishops then give that list to the pope’s ambassador for your country, known as the Apostolic Nuncio. The Nuncio picks three priests from the list, does in-depth research on them, conducts interviews and selects the one he thinks is best. But it’s not over, because the Nuncio sends his report to Vatican City and the congress of bishops who work there reviewing potential appointments from around the world. If the congress of bishops doesn’t like any of the three candidates, they can tell the Nuncio to start over: returning to the list, picking another three candidates – doing more research, more interviews and sending off the results. When the congress of bishops is happy with one of the Nuncio’s candidates that name is given to the pope, who can reject the candidate and start the whole process over. It shouldn’t be a surprise that from a vacancy to a bishop’s replacement can take months and, on occasion, years. But assuming that a bishop in your area retired (or died) at the right time and you were on the secret list of good priests and the Nuncio picked you and you made it through his interview and the congress of bishops approved you and the pope didn’t veto you – poof- now you’re now a bishop. But you’re still not on top. The penultimate promotion is…
Step 3: Become a Cardinal. 
Despite the fancy name and snazzy red outfits to match, cardinals are not the bosses of bishops, they are bishops, just with an additional title and additional responsibilities – the most notable of which is electing the new pope. The only way to become a cardinal is to get the current pope to appoint you as one – and of the 5,000 bishops, only about 200 are ever cardinals. But let’s say your ambition doesn’t go unnoticed by the pope and he makes you a cardinal – now it’s time to play the waiting game for his death or retirement – and with popes death is vastly more likely. When either happens the cardinals under the age of 80 are brought to Vatican City where they are isolated from the outside world – presumably by taking away their cell phones and tablets and carrier pigeons. Once sequestered, the election of a new pope can begin. These elections are never exactly the same because the ex-pope leaves instructions on how he wants his replacement to be picked, but in general it works like this: four times a day the cardinals go to the Sistine Chapel to vote – to become pope one of them must get a 2/3rds majority.
There’s a big dose of musn’t-be-too-hasty here as the cardinals don’t just raise their hands, or use a modern preferential voting system, but instead write down one name on a piece of paper stand before the alter and say a long latin phrase, before officially casting the ballot. Once all the cardinals have done this, the votes are counted and then burned. This is why TV news stations covering the election of the pope use super-modern-hd-livestreaming cameras to look at a chimney. If the smoke is black, no new pope. The high victory threshold, and tediously slow voting process, is why it takes so long to elect a new pope. It’s usually at least two weeks of voting four times a day six days a week (with one day a week for prayer) but the record length is three years. Assuming you, eventually, win the support of your fellow cardinals, you have one final thing to do before becoming pope: pick yourself a new name.
There is no formal rule, you can name yourself anything you like but it’s tradition to take the name of a previous pope. Upon your acceptance of the job, the final ballots are burned clean to make the smoke white and announce to the world that a new pope has been selected. So that’s the career path: be born into the right half of the population, become one of a billion catholics, then one of 400,000 priests, then one of 5,000 bishops, then one of 200 cardinals, wait for the current pope to die or retire, and convince 2/3rds of your fellow cardinals to select you as the one, the only pope.