martes, 31 de diciembre de 2013

Madrid Teacher series: British food discussion

The topic of conversation among the Madrid Teachers this week is British food.

What do you know about British food?
Can you name some typical British food?
Can you name some famous British chefs?
What role does the international cuisine play in British food?

Watch the episode and check whether you know as much about British food as the Madrid teachers.

Once again, the debate gives us a great opportunity to check some features of spoken English, many of which we have already dealt with in this section:

The use of so to introduce a topic in the conversation.
The use of really? and yeah? to show surprise or disbelief and react to an opinion or piece of information we’ve just heard.
The use of well to show hesitation when we are talking.
The use of you know to gain thinking time while we are talking.
The use of like to give examples.
The use of things like that and all those things to show vagueness in an enumeration.
The use of yeah to react to what somebody else has just said.
The use of actually to introduce a piece of surprising information.
The use of absolutely instead of yes to confirm something we have just said.
The use of the auxiliary do to emphasize some information we are giving.
The use of kind of to express vagueness.

So it's been a while since I’ve been back to England, so I’m looking forward to going home and having some good old English food.
English food!
Fish and chips!
Well, there’s a lot more to English food than fish and chips.
Really? Isn’t English all food mashed potato and…
Well, you know, we have traditional dishes like, you know, shepherd’s pie which is mashed potato and meat and vegetables, and the steak and kidney pie and things like that, Cornish pastries and all those things. But then, you know, these days the English… the restaurants scene in England is really buzzing, with lots of international restaurants, lots of international food having influence on English food…
The most Indian food I ever had in my life was in London.
Hands-down. In East London there is a street where they just huller out…
Brick Lane
… yeah, where they just huller out deals, and you go in there, and liquid seeps from every orifice in your face as if you were in heaven.
It sounds dangerous. I don’t know if I want to go to that restaurant.
I’m telling you, I’m telling you… It’s wonderful.
Yeah, yeah, I love spicy food… that’s Indian.
Actually, actually there are some, what you might think Indian dishes which are actually English dishes like chicken tikka masala, which was invented by the Indians for the English.
Oh, yeah?
It’s England’s national dish?
So you now claim it as your own.
We might have a few Indians…
It’s like American pizza
We might have a few Indian spices in it but it’s our dish, the number one food in England.
And if you go to any Indian restaurants in the States the number one dish order and the number one that they advertise is chicken tikka masala.
You’ve been eating English food for longer than you knew.
Yeah, really. I didn’t know that.
And I don’t know if you guys have ever had one, but a steak and ale pie, you know, in a proper British pub…
Very good.
… could be one of the best things I have ever had, the fluffy pastry and the gravy.
It’s not the health option though, is it? It’s not good for the arteries maybe.
It’s good for the soul.
It’s better than …
Did you know outside of France, London is the place which got the most Michelin stars, you know the Michellin stars.
That’s not true.
I read this the other day.
That’s incorrect. It’s absolutely Tokyo.
Well, then it must be after Tokyo it is London, but it’s strange everyone criticizes English food, but then, you know, we do have a lot of restaurants with Michelin stars. We might be international…
…capitals in the world?
You do have a lot of famous, a lot of celebrity chefs.
Yeah, like Jamie Oliver, he’s famous in Australia, too.
Yes, he is.
And then we’ve got Gordon Ramsey, who is quite famous in the States.
He’s the rude one, isn’t he?
Well, yeah, every other word is a swear word. But his shows are quite… I’ve been watching Kitchen Nightmares, it’s quite good. He kind of goes into a restaurant that is failing and he tries to help them, make the restaurant a success. It’s quite interesting, he doesn’t usually manage…
I wouldn’t trash talk the fish and chips because it’s such a simple dish. You have a wonderful fish and fresh chips, it can really make your day, I think I want one today.
Oh, yeah, me too.
Hey, come up to my place, I’ll make fish and chips.
Got it.

lunes, 30 de diciembre de 2013

Man Places Ad for Holiday Companionship

Christmas is sometimes a lonely time for many people. Find out about James Gray, who was fed up with spending Christmas alone.

Self-study activity:
Watch the one-minute video and answer the questions about it.

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

1 How old is Mr Gray?
2 How many Christmases had he spent alone?
3 What did he do to find company for Christmas?
4 What were his plans for people in the same situation?
5 How many people responded to his invitation?
6 How did he manage to get lots of invitations to spend Christmas in company?
7 Who did he spend Christmas with ten years ago?
8 What is Jake Morrison doing?
9 What has Jake Morrison offered to pay?

To check your answers you can read the transcript below.

You can also read The Irish Post article here.

James Gray, an 85-year-old living in south London, decided that 9 years of spending holidays alone was enough, so he placed a newspaper ad asking for people to share Christmas with him. James Gray, an 85-year-old living in south London, decided that 9 years of spending the holidays alone was enough, so he placed a newspaper ad asking for people to share Christmas with him. He was hoping to set up a hotel luncheon for those in similar situations, but didn't get an overwhelming response. The one person who did say she'd attend later changed her mind. While the ad didn't work as he'd planned, he has ended up getting flooded with invitations to join others in their holiday festivities. Much of that response is due to a story featured in the Irish Post about James' predicament. In the article, James revealed that he has no immediate family to share the day with, and the last time he saw anybody on Christmas was a decade ago. Even then, it was just his accountant. Among the many offers extended was from Jake Morrison, who is hosting a party for people in situations similar to Mr. Gray's. He's offered to pay for Gray's transportation to and from the event as well as for a hotel room should he like to stay overnight

domingo, 29 de diciembre de 2013

Addicted to pleasure: Whiskey

Actor Brian Cox reveals the rich and controversial past of sugar, alcohol, tobacco and opium to uncover how the commercial exploitation of these products hooked the world.

Today, whisky is a source of Scottish pride; it's one of the UK's few growth industries. In this episode, actor Brian Cox reveals how whisky was born and shaped in opposition to the British tax system, and how that history forged the character of Scotland's national drink. But as he discovers, during the 19th century, addiction became a huge social problem with Scots drinking around six million gallons every year to escape the often unbearable conditions of their urban lives. The Scots reputation for hard drinking was born, an image Scotland struggles with to this day.

You can read the transcript for the first ten minutes of the programme here.

sábado, 28 de diciembre de 2013

Reading test: 10 Tips for Managing Your Holiday Stress

In mid-December New Avenue published the article by Suzanne Gerber 10 Tips for Managing Your Holiday Stress, which is more than perfect to put our reading comprehension skills to the test these festive days.

Match the headings with each of the paragraphs below. 0 is an example and there is a heading you do not need to use.

A Expect things to go wrong. Paragraph 0 (example)

B Maintain healthy routines.
C Let others help.
D Don’t keep delaying things that must be done.
E Stay in the moment. 
F Try to get in touch with old buddies
G Take time for yourself.
H Take a break from electronic devices.
I Focus on one thing at a time.
J Don’t try to resolve family conflicts.
K Eliminate financial stressors.

0. The turkey may get overcooked or your kids may hate their Christmas gifts, but remember: These are not ultimately the most important things, says Dr. Masand. “Appreciate the season for the time spent with loved ones, create new memories and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

1. We all want to buy that perfect gift or prepare a memorable meal, but those (ephemeral) things can take a toll on your wallet and your stress levels. Besides, a modest but an individually selected gift can bring someone more joy than a generic big-ticket item. “Make a budget and stick to it,” says Dr. Masand. Your family and friends are more likely to remember a calm, happy you than what was under the tree.

2. This is a biggie. You don’t have to be the hero of the holiday season, says Dr. Masand. “Ask each person to bring a dish to dinner, make decorating a family activity where the kids help out and consider a grab-bag gift exchange where each person buys only one gift to alleviate the stress of having to get something for everyone.”

3. Easier said than done, of course, what with meal-planning, gift shopping and organizing family activities. Sinha shares something that works for her. “I tell my kids to think of the brain as a ball. If you have five different things going on at the same time, you’re dividing that ball into five pieces and breaking up your resources. Focus on one thing and commit to doing that for the next 10 minutes or whatever it takes. Then take a break and recoup before you do the next thing.”

4. Get started a few weeks earlier and do a little at a time. By all means, says Dr. Masand, make a list!

5.  “I have people make a list of things they like to do, such as reading a book or getting a manicure — small things, but they’re positive,” says Sinha. “Those activities have been proven to decrease stress.”

6. Whatever you do throughout the year to keep in check, don’t stop now. Keep going to the gym, running or biking. “You also want to get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, drink enough water and keep up with your social network,” says Sinha. “When you become stressed, you feel overloaded and your body starts to respond with increased heartbeats, blood pressure and stress hormones.”

7. This is the last thing you should try to do. “Many individuals use the family holidays to try to resolve long-standing issues with family members,” says Dr. Masand. “And this often has disastrous consequences — particularly when alcohol is involved. Save these matters for a later date, and ideally in a one-to-one conversation. “

8. This sounds simple, but with so much going on, it can be particularly challenging. “Don’t act in the moment, just observe it," Sinha advises. "Observe your thoughts — then let go of them. Over time and with practice, you can almost free yourself from the urges that become actions and lead to trouble.”

9. The holidays are a wonderful excuse for a “digital detox.” Those seemingly innocuous beeps and pings actually have a physiological effect on us. “Your heart rate goes up and it takes a while to come down,” says Sinha. “While I’m all for the gadgets, I would absolutely say take a break from them.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

1K; 2C; 3I; 4D; 5G; 6B; 7J; 8E; 9H; (F not used)

viernes, 27 de diciembre de 2013

Ashton Kutcher Acceptance Speech - Teen Choice Awards

In August this year Ashton Kutcher made this acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards.

Self-study activity:
Watch Ashton's speech and answer the questions below. The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

What's the surprising fact that we learn about Ashton?
What are the three pieces of advice Ashton gives teenagers?

Here’s to my friend and the ultimate choice award recipient Ashton Kutcher.
 What’s up? Oh WOW! Okay, okay, let’s be, let’s be brutally honest, this is the old guy award, this is like – this is like the grandpa award, and after this, I get to go to the geriatric home. First of all, I don’t have a career without you, guys. I don’t get to do any of the things I get to do without you.
You know, I thought that, hi! I thought that it might be interesting in Hollywood in the industry the stuff we do, there’s a lot of insider secrets to keeping your career going and a lot of insider secrets to making things tick and I feel like a fraud.
My name is actually not even Ashton. Ashton is my middle name. My first name’s Chris. And it always has been. It got changed when I was like 19 and I became an actor. But there are some really amazing things that I learned when I was Chris, and I wanted to share those things with you guys, because I think it’s helped me be here today.
So it’s really 3 things.
The first thing is about opportunity, the second thing is about being sexy and the third thing is about living life.
So first, the opportunity. I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. When I was 13 I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof. And then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. And then I got a job in a grocery store deli. And then I got a job in factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground. And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And ever job that I had was a stepping stone to my next job and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.
Number two: being sexy.
The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful. And being generous. Everything else is crap! I promise you! It’s just crap that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don’t buy it. Be smart, be thoughtful, and be generous.
The third thing is something that I just re-learned when I was making this movie about Steve Jobs.
And Steve Jobs said: When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is and that your life is to live your life inside the world and try not to get in too much trouble and maybe get an education and get a job and make some money and have a family. But life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing and that is that everything around us that we call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own thing, you can build your own life that other people can live in. So build a life, don’t live one, build one, find your opportunity, and always be sexy. I love you guys.

jueves, 26 de diciembre de 2013

Doga, yoga with dogs

Doga started in the US, when a growing group of health-conscious dog owners wanted a way of combining yoga with spending quality time with their pets.

Now 'Doga' - yoga with dogs - is growing in popularity in the UK, mainly thanks to the efforts of Swiss-born yoga teacher Mahny Djahanguiri.

Self-study activity:
Watch this BBC video clip and answer the questions below.

The activity is suitable to intermediate students.

1What's Mahny Djahanguir's therapeutic background?
2 How did she start doga?
3 How do doga and yoga differ?
4 How does Mahny know what's beneficial for the dog?
5 How popular is doga these days?
6 With what mental condition does doga work really well?

I’m Mahny Djahanguir and I’m a yoga teacher. I teach yoga not just for humans but yoga for humans and dogs together. And I come from a therapeutic background, of working many, many years in yoga and yoga therapy with children.
I saw people doing yoga on the beach and there were dogs running around freely and I thought, there must be some way of actually doing, combining the traditional yoga with the humans and the dogs together, that the dog can benefit from yoga. It just looked so pure and surreal, just exactly what I wanted to do. It just dawned on me I had to do something about this.
What I started with, I always started with was the breathing and the chanting and yaoming. It works because it centers the person and it centers everything around you. I changed a little bit because I’ve noticed some doga practitioners and yoga practitioners, owners expect a little bit of movement from the dog as well, so I started to play around a little bit in between doing poses where they can lift their dog up or do a special little extension where the dog extends out, you know, or an upside inversion because the owner does wanna feel that they’re also doing the yoga for the dog.
I don’t have disclaimers at this point but I want it think that I have almost like a mental disclaimer with the owner where I trust them that they know what’s best for the dog.
I think it’s a good exercise… see my little crazy poppy.
I find this cross very happy for poppy.
The poses in itself is just cool, yeah, if you can be the warrior and lift them up, great. If you can’t, just reach out or just do the pose and let your dog sit there or observe you from the side. There’s so many differences in every dog, not just breed, the personality, what I’m getting to know, and it’s so interesting, just they are little people.
I can see doga being introduced worldwide. I’d love to teach workshops and teach communities and shelters, especially shelters for dogs. Also yoga works really well with autism. I use yoga with my autistic clients, two men, they are blind and autistic and we’ve done yoga. They don’t like to touch, they don’t like to be touched but for some reason they’re fine with the dog.
Doga is fantastic, it’s just going to so many therapeutic avenues, that’s what I see and that’s what I want to see come out of this, this work that really let’s get, let’s get everyone to bond free nature.

miércoles, 25 de diciembre de 2013

Talking point: Unusual journeys

This week's talking point revolves around the topic of unusual journeys, that is, trips where the important most important part is the journey and not the destination.

Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas flow more easily and you can work out vocabulary problems before hand.

• What do you like and dislike about travelling?
• Who is the most travelled person that you know?
• What's the longest journey you have ever taken?
• Which is more important: to go somewhere or to get away from somewhere?
• Would you ever go on an overland journey to more than three countries?
• Do you cycle? What's the longest bike ride you've ever done? Would you use a bike as your means of transport for your holiday?
• If you got very, very tired of your current life, and you wanted to ‘get away', where would you go?
• What films or books you have seen or read that described a long journey?
• What unusual journeys have you heard of?
• Watch the three video clips below, which show unusual journeys. Discuss what you think of them and whether you would like to go on any of those journeys.

The Way of St James

OzBus London to Sydney

Taking a gap year

martes, 24 de diciembre de 2013

Christmas Unwrapped-American Traditions

The History Channel brings us some interesting facts on Christmas traditions.

My friend José Siro Muñoz has transcribed the video and generously handed it over for me to post it on this blog.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and note down all the years that are mentioned.
Watch the video again. What does each year refer to?

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

As the 19th century dawned, Christmas would be one holiday that would pull the new nation together. But it wouldn´t be the carnival Christmas of old England, nor would it be particularly religious. America would invent its very own Christmas, and in the process reinvent it for the whole world.
“After 1820-1830 the family was very quickly and perceptibly becoming an agency that was designed to provide the emotional nursery for children so that they could grow up being sensitive, little people who took a lot of pleasure in the family and in the world itself.”
Now there was a holiday where attention could be lavished on children without seeming to spoil them. Americans now knew why they were celebrating Christmas, but they didn't know exactly how to go about it. The old pagan revelry was clearly inappropriate for a Victorian home, but some ancient traditions were perfect for reviving. 
The Christmas tree has its roots in Germany where decorated evergreens had always been a part of the winter celebrations. But the tree might´ve stayed there if not for the Royal marriage in 1840 of Victoria the Queen of England to her cousin Prince Albert of Germany. Albert brought his German ways to Windsor Palace, including the annual Christmas tree. In 1848, the London Illustrated News published this engraving of the Royal Family standing by the first Christmas tree most English had ever seen. In just a few years, a decorated fir could be found in nearly every English home at Christmas. Americans embraced the Christmas tree just as quickly as the English had. In fact, its connection to the old world was one of its strongest selling points.
“For a lot of Americans, this is going to be new holiday traditions, not something their parents would do, especially in the case of the more austere Protestants. So they're looking for a reason for what they're doing, and one of the most convenient reasons they can have is they can say, this is the way it's done in Germany, or this is the way it´s done in England"
All of a sudden, Christmas traditions were popping up everywhere.
In 1828 Joel R Poinsett, America´s minister to Mexico, brought back a green and red plant that seemed perfect for the new holiday.
And in 1843, the English firm of JC Horsley printed the first Christmas card. It seemed as though every vestige of the old bacchanalian Christmas was gone, but even the Victorians couldn't clean up Christmas completely.
“Victorians were particularly keen on mistletoe because, of course, you could actually kiss a lady, or a lady could kiss a man, but normally, in the normal course of events, you would not be allowed to kiss.”
By mid-century, Christmas was everywhere in America, in the streets, in the homes, in the marketplace. The one place could you not find Christmas was in church. Most Americans were protestant, and the protestant church had ignored Christmas for years, but protestant Victorians longed for official religion on this sacred day.
“What a number of them do initially is say, " well, if we can't find a Christmas service in our Baptist or Presbyterian church, let's go see what the Catholics are doing," or "let's go see what the Episcopalians are doing, and increasingly that puts pressure on these latter-day puritans to have Christmas services because there's a way in which laypeople began to expect it.”
Church services, mistletoe, and Christmas trees - America’s new holiday now seemed firmly in place.

lunes, 23 de diciembre de 2013

The Bear & The Hare -Christmas ad

Poor Bear is the only animal that never gets to celebrate Christmas because he has to hibernate every year. However, this year is different. This year Hare has a brilliant idea.

Enjoy this beautiful song by Keane, Somewhere only we know, and if you are in the mood, complete the gaps in the lyrics below. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

There once was an animal who had never seen Christmas.

I (1) ... across an empty land.
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand.
I felt the earth beneath my (2) ... ,
Sat by the river and it made me complete.

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on.

So tell me when you’re gonna let me in.
I’m getting (3) ... and I need somewhere to begin.
I came across a (4) ... tree,
I felt the (5) ... of it looking at me.
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been (6) ... of?

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on.

And if you have a (7) ... why don’t we go
Talk about it (8) ... only we know?
This could be the end of everything.
So why don’t we go
(9) ... only we know?

1 walked 2 feet 3 tired 4 fallen 5 branches 6 dreaming 7 minute 8 somewhere 9 Somewhere

domingo, 22 de diciembre de 2013

Extensive listening: Detroit on the edge

In mid-October, CBS aired this fourteen-minute report on the decline of Detroit, America's former industrial capital.

This is the way Bob Simons introduced the programme:

"Few cities have provided more to more Americans than Detroit. When it filed for bankruptcy in July, it became the largest American city to do that and admit defeat. It wasn't a sudden blow; a hurricane or a tornado. Detroit's decline was more than 50 years in the making. What happened? People will tell you any number of things. They're all true and they're all linked: the decline of the auto industry, race riots, a mass exodus, corruption, bad management and bad luck. The end result: $18.5 billion of debt that Detroit can't pay.

The bankruptcy filing just confirms what residents had known for years: the city that was once an industrial capital of America had hit rock bottom. But there are those who believe that you've got to get there before you can rise again, before you can reinvent yourself. But we begin with what an American city looks like when it has gone bankrupt."

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 21 de diciembre de 2013

My American Friend: Podcasts for English learners

I discovered My American Friend a few months back, and I feel I should have let you know way earlier.

As it is stated in the About section of My American Friend, “my American friend” blog and podcast was born with a view of "learning English by using it to explore the American and European cultures, habits and lifestyle."

The Italian singer/songwriter Marta Innocenti and her American friend Cindy help us improve the language "while taking you into a pleasant journey on both sides of the Atlantic ocean."

My American Friend is the right podcast to improve your English and to learn something new about America and Europe. Listen to Marta Innocenti's conversations with her American friend Cindy. Every episode includes new words and expressions about a new subject.

Marta and Cindy have published 48 podcasts so far. The podcasts are just perfect, as they come together with transcription and detailed vocabulary notes. On top of that, they are manageable time-wise, under ten minutes each episode.

If your English level is intermediate or above, My American Friend is a good way of improving your listening and vocabulary skills in a stress-free way.

viernes, 20 de diciembre de 2013

50th anniversary of Great Train Robbery

In early August the BBC reminded us that it is 50 years since the Great Train Robbery.

A gang made up of 15 men escaped with the equivalent of over £40m in today's money - after they held up a Glasgow to London Royal Mail train on a bridge in Buckinghamshire.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

1 What two words are used to describe the robbery?
2 How did the robbers bring more than 100 mail sacks from the train to their vehicles?
3 How much money did they take?
4 How old is Gordon Goody now?
5 Where did the robbers hide the money?
6 What is it said about the game of Monopoly?
7 Why was the Great Train Robbery important?

To check your answers you can read the transcript below.

They were the criminals who changed the history of crime.
The engine and the front two coaches of the mail train have been brought back here to Cherington Station to be examined yet again.
The robbery was a mixture of audacity and violence. The gang stopped the train further up here by fixing the signals, but then hit the driver, Jack Mills, to force him to move his train to this bridge where the rest of the gang were waiting. They formed a human chain to bring more than a hundred mail sacks down to their waiting vehicles, taking around two and a half million pounds, equivalent today of forty million.
The country was stunned, the police baffled, the train emptied.
You know, see what kind of dough we’re talking about, you see it could be up to five million pound.
Gordon Goody was part of the gang. Now, eighty-four and living in Spain, he’s told a new documentary he knew this was an epic raid.
I wasn’t unaware of the consequences here, you know, and going up against The Queen stealing the Royal Mail, I mean, in the old days they used to talk and say is like a…, I suppose you could say we were modern, modern Dick Turpins sort of thing.
But for the train driver Jack Mills the robbers were anything but glamorous highwaymen.
The gang drove thirty miles away and hid at Leatherslade Farm. PC John Willie was the local bobby. Now seventy-five, he was asked to check out the farm.
This is one of the outlying buildings.
As soon as they arrived here, he became suspicious.
I spotted in an alcove off the kitchen area a trap door in the floor. I could see parcel wrappers, banknote wrappers, consignment notes, all of them bearing the names of the famous high street banks. I think that I knew that then I was in the train robbers’ hideout.
This monopoly set, now in a museum, was also found there. The gang had played using real money from the raid, all adding, say historians, to the mythology of this crime.
Start of an era and end of an era. It was probably the last of the great cops and robbers crimes, even the American press was saying this was the greatest robbery of all time. It was the swinging sixties.
There’ve been bigger, bolder, more bountiful robberies since but fifty years on it’s the great train robbery that slipped into iconic historic notoriety.
Duncan Kennedy BBC news in Buckinghamshire.

jueves, 19 de diciembre de 2013

Urbanization’s Cost in China

In China, a massive migration of 250 million rural residents into cities by 2025 is so rapid and far-reaching, there are concerns that some people will be left behind.

Self-study activity:
Watch this five-minute New York Times video and say whether the statements below are true or false.

The activity is suitable to intermediate students.

1 The creation of a consumer culture and of large groups of farmers unadapted to city life are two of the consequences of this migration.
2 The whole of Yang Jingxin's family live on his income.
3 The government doesn't give any money or help to the new city residents.
4 Most of the people who moved from rural areas to the city lived on subsidies in their villages.
5 Residents from rural areas are being forced to move to the city.
6 Human rights seem to be a priority for the Chinese government.
7 Written complaints seem to have hardly any positive effects.

As China moves forward with ambitious plans to move 250,000,000 rural residents to the city by 2025, farmland is being replaced by high-rise buildings at an unprecedented pace. But the timeline and mass of migration is so rapid and far-reaching there are concerns that some people will be left behind.
But one by-product of the urban movement could be the creation of the consumer culture. Another possible result could be the creation of very large groups of farmers unable to find their way in their new environment.
On the outskirts of Xion, Yang Jingxin and his family have been living with his nephew since his village was bulldozed three years ago.
The situation is like this: There are six people in my family, me, my wife, my mum, my son, daughter-in-law and grandson, six people. Our entire income is from my son and daughter-in-law.
Residents transitioning from farm to city are given various government compensations, including money and new apartments, but Mr Yang claims he’s received nothing from the farm which he says was taken. With his farm and way of life buried in the past, Mr Yang says he doesn’t have the resources to live a modern life.
Many of those who moved from rural areas were surviving off the land. They grew vegetables, raised animals and drew water from their own wells. But in the city, their skills as farmers don’t help them  [bring] money to the table. In a low-rise building down the street, Mr Yang gathers with his neighbours from his former village every day, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea. The mood in the room is dark. Many here say they’ve been waiting for nearly three years for compensation or new houses in the city.
They forcibly tore down my house, they hired some jobless guys and thugs. They climbed over my wall into my yard. They ripped the keys away from my belt and opened the inside lock of my house door. They dragged me away and lifted my wife out. Then they drove an excavator in and destroyed my house.
The government says it’s working to adjust laws to better protect farmers’ rights, but many in this village have stories of being bullied out, or forced to sign contracts they are not allowed to read.
We haven’t got a penny now, not a penny. They told us the account was ready, that they would first tear down your house and then give you the money, but there was no contract.
Huiqing’s houses were torn down without any official paperwork. This group hired a lawyer from Beijing to help with the settlement. However, the case did not get far after the lawyer says he was intimidated by powerful developers.
In the end, we didn’t reach an agreement. They got violent and took me away from the villager’s home. They hit me in the head, slapped my face and pushed me down the stairs. Then they forced me into the car and kept hitting me. They wouldn’t let me leave for hours. They forced me to meet their leader. They took me there and pushed me out of the car. I saw the office of their leader. I thought I would be safe but it wasn’t true. I was pushed in the office and I saw him sitting behind the desk. He was just staring at me. Then the thugs poured tea on my face and body. He just stared at me in silence.
As Chinese urbanization machine rolls onward, some experts believe human rights may be a victim of what the Chinese government calls progress. One result could be a growing underclass of angry farmers turned unemployed urban citizens.
If you go to write a complaint letter, you’ll find most letters are like stones dropped into the sea, or some departments will just leave it to a lower branch, but the lower branch is actually the problem maker. So after you write the letter, your complaint will go to the people who make the problem. So you can imagine, how can the problem be solved? It’s very difficult.
I don’t want how to live anymore. I’ve just been borrowing money and doing some small jobs to earn some cash. I’ve used my savings to support our lives. In the future, I don’t think we can continue to live like this. We’ve lost our basic life insurance. The future is dark for us and we don’t know where to go.
Reporting for The New York Times in China, this is Jonah Kessel.

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

miércoles, 18 de diciembre de 2013

Talking point: Appearance

Today's talking point is a follow-up to yesterday's entry on style with our Madrid Teachers. The topic is appearance and it stems from an entry in The New York Times Learning Network, What Does Your Hairsytle Say About You?

Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas flow more easily with you meet up with your friends and you can sort out vocabulary issues beforehand.

Are you a fashion-aware person?
How important is appearance for you?
How often do you shop for clothes?
How often do you go to the hair-dresser's?
What style of clothes do you usually wear?
What style of clothes do you never wear?
How do you dress up for special occasions?
Name five situations in which making a good first impression is important.
How do people usually make a good first impression?
What are people who wear tattoos or piercings, dye their hair or have spiky trying to express?
Hippies, goths, skaters... are some well-known teen tribes. To what extent is fitting into a group more important than being an individual?
'You can't judge a book by its cover.'  Do you agree?
What does your hairstyle say about you? Why?
Does your hair affect your personality? Does it make you more or less confident, for example? Or more serious or spontaneous, depending on the style?
Do you spend a good amount of time and money trying to get your hair right?
Do you think about your hair a lot? Explain.
If you could change your hair for a day, just to try on a different look, what would it be? Why?

To gain further insight into the topic, you can read The New York Times article The Afro as a natural expression of self.

Picture source: The New York Times

martes, 17 de diciembre de 2013

Madrid Teacher series: Talking about style

Three Madrid Teachers talk about style this week. Their conversation is a bit philosophical and might be a bit hard to follow for intermediate students. If so, read the transcript of the conversation below.

In the first place, watch the video through to get familiar with everything that is being said. Watch it as often as you wish and remember you can read the transcript below.

Now pay attention to the following features of spoken English that the speakers use:

- Use of auxiliary verb for agreement ('he sure does'). That way, we don't have to repeat all the information that another person has just said.
- Use of you know to gain thinking time.
- Showing agreement with what is being said (active listening): Yeah; That's it; Yeah, absolutely, I agree; Ok; Of course; Yeah, it's true.
- Showing disagreement with what is being said: I don't understand what you're talking about; No, not necessarily at all; I don't think you have to
- The use of I mean to rephrase what you have said before so that you can explain your ideas more clearly.
- The use of you mean to check that you have understood correctly.
- Vague language when the right words don't come to mind: What's this style thing you're talking about?; or something like this.
- The use of so as a connector to link ideas.

Now it's over to you. What do you think about style? Try and use some of the features of spoken English we've been commenting on above.

The other day I was watching a film with George Clooney and I was reminded, that man has some style! He sure does. I love George Clooney. He’s really captured that old Hollywood style that you don’t see in most actors anymore. You know, that era of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. He’s, he’s really got that sharp style.
Yeah, elegance.
I don’t understand what you’re talking about, I don’t. . . What is this style thing you’re talking about, really?
Oh man! Take a look at these people, I mean, if you had them in a lineup or something. Look at their clothing, the way that, the way that they wear vestments compared to the average Joe. Yeah.
The crisp suit and the nicely ironed white shirt and, the way he carries himself also. George Clooney’s, you know, a style icon.
Or a woman, a woman with a dress that, not only is it a beautiful fabric or color but the way that it fits her body, or something like this. The way that it goes with the look in her face. If she’s got a really sharp face maybe it’s a, a crisp fabric.
And then how she accessorizes it: her handbag, her shoes, her jewelry.
Of course. Jewelry, women and jewelry. Christmas is always set.
Sounds really expensive to me. It sounds like you have to have a lot of money, then, to have style.
I don’t think it…, I don’t think you have to. I think you have to have an eye for what looks good and what suits you.
That’s it.
I think that’s really important.
You mean like Versace or Pierre Cardin or…
No, not necessarily at all. I mean, sometimes at a thrift store or a charity shop you can find, you can find a simple button down whose color matches your eyes or your skin tone. Or, for some reason seems to fit your body type perfectly. And then, what? Two or three dollars later, you’re walking out smiling.
Yeah, absolutely. I agree. The only thing it takes is time.
You have to want to invest time into looking good, I think.
I remember I bought a second-hand shirt once and after the first day it stunk to high heaven.
Yeah, there’s always that danger.
It had a serious case of body odor, let me tell you.
There’s always that danger. But the people who have style, it’s not just these, the famous Hollywood icons like we’re talking about. I mean, it could be, sometimes you walk down the street and you see someone and turn your head and go, “wow.”
Yeah, it’s true.
Something about what they’re wearing.
OK. And that’s, maybe got something, more to do with, it’s got more to do with, the walk or the look or, no? than the item of the clothing.
Well I wouldn’t, I’d say that’s also a part of style.
Yeah, I think . . .
I mean, the way to get style is not necessarily, is not only shop for clothing. I mean, pay attention to the way that you carry yourself, the cadence in your voice, I mean, there’s a whole lot to style.
Your manners, and the way you treat people, and the way you speak to people. So I think it, you know, you have to behave in a way that matches your clothes and your clothes have to match how you behave.
So, now what we’re talking about is substance, not style.
Style, why do we have to separate the two? Style can be a visual extension of the substance within. And, in fact, I think that might be a perfect definition.
So if you dress plainly, you don’t have style. But you might have substance? Or you can’t possibly dress plainly and have substance?
No, I wouldn’t say that. That’s not fair to all the plain dressed substantial people. But, maybe I should revise my definition of style then.

lunes, 16 de diciembre de 2013

Male bonuses double those of women, says study

The pay gap between men and women is made bigger by bonus payments given to male managers which are far higher than those for women, says the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Self-study activity:
Listen to this short BBC news item and find out more about the study.

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

Get Adobe Flash player

1 How much did men earn in bonuses on average last year? And women?
2 Name, at least, two of the three factors that are mentioned for this difference in salary.
3 Why are women reluctant to take legal action?
4 What does '17%' refer to?
5 And 'three'?
6 What is a major challenge for employers and the government?

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

The gender pay gap has been highlighted and condemned before now. Men in the same sort of jobs as women being paid more. Today we learnt that’s been made worse by the gulf between bonuses paid out to executives. A survey by the Chartered Management Institute shows that men earned average bonuses of more than £6,400 last year compared with just over 3,000 for women. In the most senior roles, male directors got bonuses of £63,700 on average whereas their female counterparts received just over 36,000. The group says there are several factors behind this.
Women are perhaps less adept than their male counterparts at negotiating for pay rises in bonuses. The second is, of course, that women leave the workforce to have children and often return with less confidence than they need. And lastly at the top it’s a very male-dominated culture, that can put women off.
If there’s discrimination over pay, women can take legal action, but experts say that’s not always straightforward.
It can take many months if not year to get a full hearing. A tiny proportion of claims get to a full hearing. And inevitably I think some employees may be reticent about bringing claims because of the impact it may have on them in the market.
Today’s report comes at a time of intense debate about how to increase female representation at senior levels across the business world. Of the top one hundred companies just 17% of directors are women. Although that’s upped over the last year, there’s widespread recognition that more needs to be done to boost that number.
Just three of the top one hundred have female chief executives, and business organizations acknowledge that while progress is being made, there’s still a long way to go on boardroom diversity.
The honest truth is that we need to do a lot more and we need to do… we need to move faster, so we need to look at the pipeline, how can we stop women from leaving businesses, perhaps when they have children, and we also need to look at other schemes like mentoring schemes and networking schemes that encourage women to stay in the workplace and get women networking with other women in a similar position.
Ending the agenda pay gap and ensuring equality in the workplace remains a major challenge for employers and the government.
Hugh Pym, BBC News

domingo, 15 de diciembre de 2013

Extensive listening series: The long walk of Nelson Mandela

"The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela" is the portrait of Nelson Mandela that PBS first aired on 25 May 1999, when he was preparing to step down as president of South Africa. "The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela" is a biography of one of the great figures of the 20th century, who passed away on 6 December.

The programme tells the story of the man behind the myth, his character, leadership and life through friends, allies, adversaries, and his fellow prisoners and jailers on Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 prison years in a two-hour biography

You can read a full transcript of the documentary here, although CC subtitles are also available.

sábado, 14 de diciembre de 2013

Reading test: Is it better for children to have siblings?

Our reading text this week revolves around the topic of family life and it was published on the BBC's Magazine this summer under the title Is it better for children to have siblings?

Click on the links above to go to the article and read it through for your enjoyment.

Now that we are acquainted with the text, it's time for us to try a reading comprehension activity. Read the Is it better for children to have siblings? again, and say whether the statements below are true (T) or false (F).

1 Colin Brazier is the author of the article.
2 The people who write studies like The Cost Of The Sibling act freely and have no personal advantage.
3 The study by The Child Poverty Action Group about the cost of raising a child is objective.
4 The author of the article is trying to prove the point that large families are good.
5 Only children have a tendency to be obese.
6 Having a brother or a sister is overall beneficial for a child's mental health.
7 Having brothers or sisters prepares children better to fight allergies and autoimmune disorders.
8 If you are the eldest brother or sister you are more likely not to cause offence to the people around you.
9 The increase in the number of only children may cause a number of social issues.
10 Being the parent of an only child has negative consequences for the parent in the long run.
11 The term 'helicopter parenting' seems to have a negative connotation.

Now, the gist (main ideas) in the article is not hard to follow, but that doesn't make the article an easy one to read, as there is a number of idiomatic expressions that are not always self-explanatory. We have selected a few:

plug a product
rocket science
pecking order
the iron fist
the silver tongue
helicopter parenting
risk life and limb

See if you can work out the (approximate) meaning of these expressions through the context. If not, you can find their meaning below.

The text also lends itself to studying a good number of family-related vocabulary. You can check the meaning of the words below by double-clicking on them.

eldest/middle/youngest child
only children
raise a child
grow up

1T 2F 3F 4F 5F 6T 7T 8F 9T 10F 11T

Idiomatic expressions:
plug a product: To advertise something by talking about it a lot or praising it, especially on the radio or television.
not (the stuff of) rocket science: Used to say that you do not think that something is very difficult to do or to understand.
pecking order: A hierarchy of status among members of a group of people or animals, originally as observed among hens.
the iron fist: Rigorous or despotic control.
the silver tongue: Ability to persuade people to do things.
helicopter parenting: Parents who pay extremely close attention to a child's experiences and problems.
risk life and limb: To do something very dangerous where you might get hurt

viernes, 13 de diciembre de 2013

Naomi Campbell on racism in fashion

Naomi Campbell spoke out during London Fashion Week in September this year to accuse sectors of the industry of discriminating against black and Asian models.

This video clip in which Naomi is interviewed for Channel 4 is a tough one. It is a bit lengthy, the speakers talk quite fast, their voices often overlap, they get angry at times, there are cultural references and a bit of name dropping... in short, it has all the elements that make listening the hardest skill of all.

Let's give it a try, anyway.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video through and just get acquainted with what is going on there.

Watch the video again and say whether the statements below are true or false.

 1 Naomi is accusing the fashion industry of being racist.
2 More than eighty percent of models in big fashion shows are white.
3 The situation is worse now than when Naomi started in the industry.
4 Naomi has talked to Victoria Beckham.
5 Naomi has worked as a fashion model for more than thirty years.
6 Naomi's campaign is being successful.
7 For Naomi, what people think of her is very important.
8 As well as modelling, Naomi has a TV show.
9 Naomi feels optimistic about seeing more models of colour in London.

Are you essentially accusing the industry that you've done very well in of of being racist?
No, I'm saying the act of not choosing models of colour is racist, so I'm not saying I'm not, we’re not calling them racist, we’re saying the act is racist and I'm also saying that they may not intentionally know, but they do choose, they hire casting directors, they hire stylists, and they are now the ones who choose the models not so much, so much the designer anymore. So it's not directly the designer but it does affect their house and their brand.
So what you're saying is that over eighty percent, of eighty-two percent of last year's walks on fashion runway shows in New York, in New York Fashion Week were white models and just 6 percent black.
6 percent black and 9 percent Asian.
And is this worse than it was when you went into the business, what, twenty seven years ago?
Yes, yes it was, it is, sorry, because when I started modeling I did Yves Saint Laurent, I did...Versace, there was a great balance of models and color.
But you're a well famous supermodel, why can't you go up to Victoria Beckham…
Who says I haven't?
…and what is Victoria Beckham saying.
I haven't got up to Victoria Beckham but who says I haven't got up to designers that I am friendly with and said, hey, why are you not using more models of color. I have.
And what do they say what do your friends say?
We want to, you're right, you're right but it doesn't happen.
You’re the face that launched a thousand magazine covers, doesn't your success prove that black models can be extremely successful?
We don't want them to hide behind their aesthetic of when they say what the show is gonna be this aesthetic this season. We want them just to allow balance diversity, and yes, I have worked for 27 years, almost 28, and it's very upsetting to me, it’s heartbreaking to be sitting here in 2013, even having this interview.
And you've chosen normally, you've named really big brands Calvin Klein, Armani, Prada has it got to the point where you will not work for companies that you think are involved in racist … .
I'm lucky enough that I work on television now and I still do modeling as well, obviously, and I'm not trying to accuse and point fingers and embarrass anyone. We're just basically trying to say ‘be aware’.
And does the British end of things particularly disappoint you, given that you're Streatham born and bred, that you're naming Alexander McQueen, you’re naming Mulbury…
I'm not pointing, I'm not pointing to one country, we are pointing to the fashion industry as a whole.
But you’re naming Alexander McQueen, you’re naming Mulbury, you've named Victoria Beckham…
Yeah, because they haven't used any models of colour.
And how will you measure success from your campaign, the fact that you've written to all these fashion houses.
New York was okay, New York shows have just finished. Huge difference, big difference, so many more models of colour, 6 black models in Calvin Klein, there were none last year, so things are changing.
You're quite famous for having Nelson Mandela as a role model, I'm wondering whether you feel this is your campaign other than this is what you ...
I feel this is our campaign and as I said Bethann Hardison is a woman I've looked up to and known since I'm 15 years old…
This is your fellow black model.
And Iman also the same, with huge respect to both and I feel if I'm able to open my mouth but it’s something Mr Mandela did tell me I could do when I was younger, if you can use your mouth to help others, do so. You can speak to help others.
Because I mean people most recently you've been in the headlines for the whole Charles Taylor diamond business.
I don't want to talk about that.
The only reason I ask…
I don't care about that. This is fashion, this is what I've known to do, this is my job, when it comes to my job I don't think anyone can fault me.
I just wondered, wondered whether you were worried…
I don’t care what people think about me…
… it were harder for you to speak out because you’ve been critisised in the past.
I don’t care what people think about me as their opinion, they are allowed to have their opinion but what they cannot do for me is my job and this is my business fashion, this is what I'm in and this is what I see. You have a reputation rightly or wrongly for being quite an angry person.
I'm not here to talk about me, I’m here to talk about balanced diversity, so I think I will finish you as I need to get back to my set and finish my TV show.
But let me finish my question. I would have wondered whether there's a good anger and a bad anger, this is actually a good anger to have.
This is.. it's not about… I’m not angry and I don't like the thing of the angry black woman. This is not what this is about. We are just… you asked to interview me because we've done very nice interviews in America and you wanna know what it's all about, so we're telling you what it's all about. We feel passionate, feeling passionate about something does not have to mean to that you are angry.
What is your message, to finish, to the London fashion industry … based on what week of the year?
I think, I have faith in London because London fashion, the British Fashion Council were the first Fashion Council to respond and so I …
And what did they say to you?
And so… it wasn't to me it was a letter sent to Beth Ann so I, and it was a positive response. I feel really optimistic about London. I think London is gonna do the right thing and we gonna see a lot more models of colour on the runway, that's how I feel about London.

1F 2T 3T 4F 5F 6T 7F 8T 9T 

jueves, 12 de diciembre de 2013

Germany’s coal mine 'ghost town'

Chancellor Angela Merkel has massively reduced Germany's dependence on nuclear power, but other forms of energy have had to be used more extensively to fill the deficit.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

1 What has happened to the cemetery in Immerath?
2 What source of energy has replaced nuclear energy in the last two years?
3 What result has Angela Merkel's energy policy had for consumers?
4  Where are the people standing in the new village built to replace Immerath?
5 What is the percentage of wealthy people in Germany?

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

Welcome to Immerath, or rather, what remains of it: A ghost town, where the streets have no life, where most of the graves in the cemetery have been dug up and moved elsewhere, moved because Immerath is to be destroyed to make way for a coal mine, itself the size of a small town.
When Angela Merkel abandoned nuclear energy two years ago she said renewable fuels would fill the gap. One day they should, but for now coal is still needed.
Angela Merkel has led a massive push in Germany to get it using more solar power and wind power, and yet her critics say her energy policy is a mess that has resulted only in higher energy prices for consumers across Germany, a country that is still dependent on coal.
A lot of windmills around here…
Green energy revolution has cost a fortune in subsidies, costs that are passed on to energy consumers like Georg. Will that affect how he votes?
All the persons who will need energy have to pay much more for the energy because of the change.
What do you think overall about the way Germany has been run at the moment?
It’s a good life, yeah.
People are happy, they want to continue with all they have?
Yeah. And therefore I think if you see the election, it wouldn’t change because they have no reasons.
In the village built to house those expelled to make way for the coal mine, they were blessing the ground where one day the new church will stand. Most are now positive about the move. Some, however, are less optimistic about their country.
They don’t care anymore, so in a lot of people are not choose not to go for vote, which I find this very…  it’s a pity.
At the moment in Germany only a minority is wealthy, more and more people are becoming poor, and that’s building up problems for the country. Put simply, people won’t be able to survive on the minimum wage or on their pensions.
Back in abandoned Immerath, a solitary Angela Merkel poster hangs outside the old church. She’s likely to win this election, even though here there is no one to vote for her.

Matthew Price, BBC News, Immerath.

miércoles, 11 de diciembre de 2013

Talking point: Stereotypes

This week's talking point revolves around the topic of stereotypes. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below, so that ideas flow more easily the day you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary issues beforehand.

Have you ever lived or worked or travelled outside your country?
Was it an easy or difficult experience? Why?
What were the main differences from where you live?

How easy/difficult is it for immigrants or vistitors to adapt to the lifestyle in your country? Think about these aspects:
  • eating habits
  • family life
  • greetings
  • hospitality
  • personal space
  • work-life balance
  • showing emotions
  • sense of humour
Think about typical stereotypes in your country about the relationships between: 
older and younger people
men and women
employers and employees

Which cultural aspects in your country do you think: 
visitors can begin to understand more quickly?
take longer to get used to?
you can only understand when you know the culture very well?

Geographical stereotypes:
name some nationality stereotypes
name some regional stereotypes
name some profession-related stereotypes
To what extent does your experience conform to these stereotypes?

To illustrate the topic you can watch the video below, which shows the way some European nationals view one another.

If you are really interested in the topic, Claudio Azevedo has a comprehensive lesson on the topic of stereotypes in his wonderful Movie Segments for Warm-ups and Follow-ups.

martes, 10 de diciembre de 2013

Madrid Teacher: Comparing apartments

In this Madrid Teacher video Thomas is asked questions about his new apartment by a colleague.

Self-study activity:
The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Watch the video through and try and understand as much as possible.

Vocabulary note: lounge is another word for sitting room in British English, as well as a public room in a hotel, theatre, or club in which to sit and relax [the hotel has a pleasant lounge and bar]. Another meaning of lounge refers to the seating area in an airport for waiting passengers [the departure lounge].

Watch the video again and answer these questions:
Is Thomas happy with his new apartment?
Which apartment is better, the new one or the old one?
Who does Thomas share his new apartment with?
Who did he share his old apartment with?
How old are the people Thomas is sharing his apartment with now?
How many bedrooms are there in the new apartment?
What do they use the lounge for?
Where did he work in his old apartment?

So, Thomas, I heard that you just moved to a new apartment.
I did.
And how is it, are you happy?
I’m very happy.
Mm-hm. Is it better than the old apartment?
It’s, It’s much better.
And why is it better? Is it bigger than the old apartment?
Not only is it bigger, but now I share it with people, with my friends.
Were you sharing and apartment before?
I was, and it was with someone whom I had not met before I started living there.
So, it wasn’t a friend, it was a housemate.
Yeah, it was an old woman.
OK. And, now you are living with young people.
Yes, I, as I said I’m living with my friends, a man and a woman about my age and with whom I share quite a lot.
Mm-hm. And how many bedrooms in your new apartment?
And do you have communal living space as well?
Oh, we have a, a lounge, a salon, quite large. It’s really a, a great spot. It’s always got people inside.
That’s good. What do you use the lounge for?
Basically everything, because our bedrooms are not very large, so I do my work on my computer at the kitchen table in the lounge. So, we also eat in the lounge. We watch TV. Sometimes we have social gatherings. We read on the couch.
And where did you do your work in your last apartment?
In my bedroom. My bedroom was basically my only space in my last apartment. In the new one, it’s all shared.
Sounds very nice.
It’s excellent.