viernes, 28 de febrero de 2014

Ford: The amazing self-parking car

Ford is developing a new automated parking technology that could enable drivers to park with only the push of a button from inside or outside of their car.

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

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

Parking in a tight (1) ... is the bugbear of every driver. And it’s not just that (2) ... spaces can make it hard to get out of the car. They can also leave you with scrapes and dents that are expensive to (3) ...  . So imagine a car that does the dirty work itself.
Engineers at Ford have developed the (4) ...-... car. It first finds a parking space and then manoeuvres into it. The driver doesn’t even need to be inside.
Researchers have now (5) ... in installing the technology in a real car. The next step is to make it available to the drivers as a (6) ...  on a production vehicle.
With perpendicular parking, it’s trying to help someone (7) ... into that tight space, and allow them to have some automated help within their vehicle to help them (8) ... a driving manoeuvre that they’re going to have to do frequently in their lives.
It’s estimated that there are more than 30 million off-street parking spaces in Europe. And although average car (9) ... has increased by 16% over the past 20 years, many parking spaces are still the same size. Which means the new technology is also useful when leaving a space. The motorist doesn’t have to (7) ... into the car. They just press a (10) ... and the car drives out itself.

1 spot 2 narrow 3 repair 4 self-parking 5 succeeded 6 feature 7 squeeze 8 achieve 9 width 10 button

jueves, 27 de febrero de 2014

The science of stage fright

The science of stage fright is a Ted-Ed lesson about our difficulty to speak in public. As Ted-Ed points out, "But the better you understand your body's reaction, the more likely you are to overcome it. Mikael Cho advises how to trick your brain and steal the show."

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

The activity is suitable for (strong) intermediate students.

Also remember that if you drop by the lesson on Ted-Ed  you will be able to do another listening comprehension activity together with some other suggestions to explore the topic.

1 What you feel at a podium is called stage fright.
2  Public speaking can threaten our reputation.
3  Charles Darwin experienced an uncontrolled reaction at the London zoo.
4  We have difficulty in seeing distant objects when affected by stage fright.
5 Stage fright is all psychological.
6 Practice may help us to control stage flight.
7 Some exercises might help us reduce stage flight.

Palms sweaty, heart racing, stomach in knots, you can’t cry for help. Not only is your throat too tight to breathe but it’s so embarrassing. No, you aren’t been stalked by a monster, you’re speaking in public, a feat some deem worse than death. See, when you’re dead you feel nothing, at a podium you feel stage fright.
But at some point, we all have to communicate in front of people, so you have to try and overcome it. To start, understand what stage fright is. Humans, social animals that we are, are wired to worry about reputation. Public speaking can threaten it. Before speech, you’re frightened. What if people think I’m awful, that I’m an idiot. That fear of being seen as an awful idiot is a threat reaction from a primitive part of your brain that is very hard to control. It’s the fight or flight response, a self-protective process seen in a range of animals most of which don’t give speeches.
But we have a wise partner in the stage of freaking out: Charles Darwin tested fight or flight at the London Zoo snake exhibit. He wrote in his diary: My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced. He concluded that his response was an ancient reaction unaffected by the nuances of modern civilization.
So to your conscious modern mind, it is speech. To the rest of your brain, built up to code with the law of the jungle, when you perceive the conscious the possible consequences of blowing speech time to run for your life and fight to your death.
Your hypothalamus come to all over the brains, it triggers your pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH, making your adrenal gland shoot adrenalin to your blood. Your neck and back tense up, your slouch, your legs and hands shake and your muscles prepare for attack. You sweat, your blood pressure jumps, your digestion shuts down to maximize delivery of nutrients and oxygen to muscles and vital organs. So you get dry-mouthed, butterflies. Your pupils dialate is hard to read anything up close like your notes, but long range is easy, that’s how stage fright works. How do we fight it?
First, perspective. This isn’t all in your head. It’s a natural hormonal full-body reaction by an autonomic nervous system on autopilot. And genetics play a huge role in social anxiety.
John wanted to play live thousands of times. Each time he vomited beforehand.
Some people are just worried to feel more scared performing in public. Since stage fright is natural and inevitable, it will never go, focus on what you can control.
Practice. A lot, starting long before in an environment similar to the real performance. Practising any task increases your familiarity and reduces anxiety so when it’s time to speak in public you’re confident and you’re yourself at the task in hand.
Steve Jobs rehearses epic speeches for hundreds of hours starting weeks in advance. If you know what you’re saying, you’ll feed off the crowds energy instead of letting your hypothalamus convince your body is about to feed lunch for a pack of predators.
But, hey, the vertabrate hypothalamus has had millions of years more practice than you. Just before you go on stage, it’s time to fight dirty and trick your brain. Stretch your arms up and breathe deeply, this makes your hypothalamus trigger a relaxation response. Stage fright usually hits hardest right before the presentation, so take that last minute to stretch and breathe. You approach the mike, voice clear, body relaxed. Your well-prepared speech convinces the wild crowd you’re a charismatic genius. How? You didn’t overcome stage fright, you adapted to it and to the fact that no matter how civilized you may seem, in part of your brain you’re still a wild animal. You’re a profound, well-spoken wild animal.

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

miércoles, 26 de febrero de 2014

Talking point: Celebrations and festivals

This week's talking point deals with celebrations and festivals. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that idea flow more easily when you meet up with your partners and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • Have you celebrated anything recently? 
  • What was it? What did you do?
  • What official celebrations and festivals exist in your country? 
  • What dates are they linked to?
  • What types of things happen on these dates? 
  • Do you know anything about the origin of this celebration?
  • Do you think maintaining traditional celebrations or festivals is important?
  • Can you think of a festival that is unique to your part of the world? 
  • In what ways is it unique?
  • What types of celebration can you think of in the area of sports? 
  • Do you think it's good to celebrate victories? 
  • How do you celebrate sporting victories? 
  • Can you remember a celebration from the past that was particularly important for you? 
  • What happened?
To illustrate the topic, you can listen to a journalist give a detailed description of Las Fallas, a festival held in Valencia (Spain) in an Aula Fácil lesson.

martes, 25 de febrero de 2014

Madrid Teacher series: How annoying are mobile phones?

Our Madrid Teachers are talking today about mobile phones and manners. They use an anecdote about Hugh Jackman interrupting a play in New York because a mobile rang in the middle of the performance. The conversation gives us the opportunity to study some features of spoken English that might come in really handy when we're having a conversation. These are some of the features that come up in the video clip.

- Use of I mean to rephrase what you have just said.
- Use of like as a linking word to introduce your ideas.
- Use of like with the meaning of 'for example'.
- Showing interest in what the other person is saying: Yeah; Oh, very annoying.
- Use of you know and well to give yourself thinking time.
- Use of tag questions to check information: aren't they?

Watch the video and try to spot the above-mentioned features of spoken English.

Now it's over to you.
In your opinion, how annoying are mobile phones?
Give some examples of mobile phones interrupting something when they should be turned off.
What do you like about mobile phones?
What don't you like?
Can you imagine your life without a mobile phone now?
How addictive are they?
Would you rather have a mobile with a contract or with a top-up card?

Try and use some of the features of spoken English that came up in the video.

The other day Hugh Jackman was doing a play in New York, I think. And a phone went off during the play and he just stopped it, stopped what he was doing, and he just said,’Oh come on, just, just grab it. I’ll wait until you answer.’ And . . ., and, I mean, that’s not something that an actor does usually. Like, they would never stop a play for that, but I think it was very spontaneous, because it is a bit annoying if that happens.
If he’s right in the middle of his performance, and I think it was quite early on in the, in the, in the season for the play. He was probably quite nervous and it must be so distracting to have that happen.
I was at a play a few weeks ago here in Madrid and, and it happened. And it was, it was a one-man show, it was just one guy on the stage, you know, delivering this monologue, very dramatic. And this phone went off…
Oh! Very annoying.
…and, he just, he just, he stopped also, and he just stared at the guy until he hangs up the phone. Everyone was very uncomfortable. But the incredible thing was that it happened again ten minutes later. 
Oh, the same guy? The same person?
I think, it sounded, it was the same ringtone. People are so rude, it’s incredible. I mean if you, if you go and see something like that, you turn off the phone.
I had the same thing. I went to Circulo de Bellas Artes recently, and I think it was the opening night of a play, and it was the same. Like, lots of people arrived late…
…the phones went off about three or four times. People tried to turn them off quickly, obviously. But it’s just a total interruption. They didn’t stop or wait, they just continued with what they were doing because it seemed to be taken for granted.
These are bad situations but I don’t know, what do you think about phones? Like, do you, what do you like about them? Or what do you don’t like? I mean, because, obviously we hate that about it because it’s horrible when that happens, I mean no one likes it. But obviously they are good for some reasons, aren’t they?
They’re very convenient.
Yeah, yeah.
Very convenient.
It’s handy if you’re running late. You can let your friend know that you’re going to be ten extra minutes. That’s, that’s useful.
Or you meet somebody in a public place. That’s happened to me, like you know, I always think, ‘how did I ever live without my mobile phone all those years?’ You know...
...but you know the typical, you’re meeting somebody in like, La Puerta del Sol at Christmas, and it’s like, ‘I can’t see you! Where are you?’ You know? But like, you think, like that’s happened to me, you know, going to meet somebody and like, then you go home because you never saw them. You know if you, like pre-mobile phone era. And then you say, ‘but I was standing right there!’ But there were just so many people, you just didn’t see them, you know?
Yeah, it’s too busy.
I think they are addictive, aren’t they? Because, well, I got like, my phone got stolen like two weeks ago, and I thought I would never be able to live without it, and then I’ve been fine, like, for two weeks. And then, I had to buy a new phone and I was like, I’m not sure, I’m, I’m, I’m OK like this, but obviously you need it. If you, for work, for everything.
I’ve only just got a contract phone and, I realised before I really couldn’t make many phone calls or do anything with my mobile because every time I put on credit, I seemed to run out immediately, you know. So, I grew accustomed . . . Yeah, it’s definitely worth it. But, I grew accustomed to not, like, having
a phone but not really being able to use it. And I must admit I found it far more inconvenient because nowadays, you never seem to have a landline in your apartment. Yeah like, I’ve not, I’ve not been in a flat in the past, since arriving in Spain that’s actually had a landline.
Yeah, because people used to have landlines because then, you, you know, you’d have internet. But now, even with mobile phones, you can get modems and have internet so you don’t even need a fixed line, or a fixed phone line, or whatever it’s called anymore.

lunes, 24 de febrero de 2014

10 Questions for Reese Witherspoon

Time interviewed Reese Witherspoon for their series 10 Questions for...

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

The activity is suitable for strong intermediate students.

1 What charity work is Reese involved with?
2 What happens every three minutes?
3 Apart from fundraising, which other factor does Reese mention as being important?
4 What is dangerous territory?
5 What different elements does an actor put in a movie?
6 Why do people go to the movies?
7 What film was really successful?

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

Reese Witherspoon is an Academy Award winning actress, a mother of two and a woman who has been romanced on screen by both Wilson brothers.
Reese, welcome.
Thank you.
So you’re the honorary chair of the Avon Foundation and one of its big issues is breast cancer. Is there something that we're not doing in the fight against breast cancer?
There's so much that's being down there, so much research and the progress that has been made that as with anything that is, you know, a global epidemic, I think it needs to be dealt with continually. And we talk about every three minutes a woman is diagnosed worldwide. I think it's still a situation where we have to, you know, create research and funding is always necessary and education.
Being an advocate and being in movies and also probably donating to causes, which do you find to be for the celebrity the most effective way of… affecting change?
Fundraising is utmost importance, especially when you’re talking about new technologies and new sciences and education. But, you know, it's wonderful to see my colleagues making movies about breast
cancer, you know, and really showing the psychological parts of it that are so important for women to understand and families to sort of talk about.
You said once that, this is a quote, the battles we face in this business aren’t financial but they’re moral. I wonder how much those two things are intertwined, that the reason people suspend their morals is because there's so much money on the line.
Well, I think certainly when you talk about any amount of money, I mean, there's there's morality involved and… , you know,  I think every day you make choices that you have to live with for the rest of your life and I think, you know, it's just like any other life situation, you just have to make choices that I, you know, hopefully reflect your true character. And I hope to be doing that many, although it's always dangerous territory to be talking about morals and character.
It's really the sign a fall to come usually.
You've made some incredibly successful movies and you've made some that were disappointing in the box office. Do you feel differently about that afterwards?
Yeah, of course, when movies are disappointing it's more than just the financial sort of disappointment. It's, it's a real emotional experience ‘cos you, you know, carry that with you and you put a lot of effort and energy and the movie and all the people worked with and… but it makes all the successes that much better. Yeah, I've had disastrous Saturday mornings, it’s really like, oh, really, that really is not gonna do well, so it’s right.
Can you ever tell? 

I'm really bad at that, I don't I can’t ever prognosticate what, what people are gonna like or not like, though. I just try to go with what I would want to see and, and trying to bear in mind, you know. People have very difficult lives, they wanna go and enjoy themselves at the movies. Sometimes it's easier just go to a movie and not think for a while.
Did you ever think Legally Blonde would take off as hugely as it did?
No, I had no idea it was going to be so successful. I really loved that character I loved Elle Woods so much. She’s just really interesting. One of those sort of great innocence in the world, you know.

domingo, 23 de febrero de 2014

Extensive listening series: Hollywood's Villain: Kim Dotcom

In early January CBS programme 60 Minutes aired a segment on Kim Dotcom. This is the way reporter Bob Simon introduced the segment:

Hollywood’s always had its bad guys. Think the Joker or Darth Vader. But their biggest villain is a man who calls himself Kim Dotcom. You won't see him on the big screen but, until recently, he ran a service that made it possible for you to see almost any movie you wanted to for next to nothing. Before his website, Megaupload, was shut down, federal authorities say it allowed people to access not only copyrighted films, but copyrighted music, books and video games. They claim he cost the entertainment industry more than $500 million in lost revenue. Hollywood considered him one of the worst pirates ever. The U.S. has filed an indictment against Kim Dotcom for copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering and requested his extradition from New Zealand, where he lives. That was two years ago, but Kim Dotcom hasn't gone anywhere.

You can read the full transcript here.

sábado, 22 de febrero de 2014

Reading test: 10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails

In our reading comprehension activity we are going to do a heading matching activity , a kind of reading task very much favoured in all kinds of exams these days.

It is based on the BBC article 10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails by Simon Garfield. I have had to simplify the original text a little bit to adapt it to the rubric (as a matter of fact, there's just nine tips on the activity), so make a point of reading the full article once you have done the activity.

Read 10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails below and match paragraphs 1-8 with the headings A-J. There is one heading you don't need to use and 0 is an example.

A - Be more polite than you really want to be
B - Be spontaneous, be free
C - Don't be afraid to adulate
D - Don't forget the paper clip
E - Emotional blackmail may work with your progenitors
F - Keep it brief
G - Tell it like it is
H - The young get all the blame
I - Write as you speak
J - Write back swiftly, but carefully

Before email, letter-writing guides were best sellers, the faddy self-help books of their day. There are still many things that we can learn from them before pressing "send", says Simon Garfield.

0. Heading G
In the guide Cupids Messenger of 1629, the anonymous author told his readers how to write to an unfaithful partner. There was really no point being polite. Far better to be bilious and vengeful. "Leprosie compared to thee is all health... neither thy bodie nor thy soule are free from the disease of shame and disgrace of the world." Try this ancient advice first, and only then revert to the more modern solution of a letter from a solicitor.

This advice first appeared in a Latin tract somewhere between the 4th Century BC and 4th Century AD. A letter should be "restricted", it advised. "Those that are too long, not to mention too inflated in style, are not in any true sense letters at all but treatises." Correspondents were told to be both graceful and plain. "A letter's aim is to express friendship concisely and set out a simple subject in simple terms. The man who utters sententious maxims and exhortations seems to be no longer chatting in a letter but preaching from the pulpit."

This advice, much favoured by Jane Austen, is believed to have been initially promoted by Aristotle in about 360BC. His precise instructions do not survive, but Artemon, the editor of Aristotle's letters, maintained that "a letter should be written in the same manner as a dialogue".
Aristotle carrying the morning's post.

Want to say thanks for dinner? Look to the writing manual by Hugh of Bologna from the 12th Century. One of Europe's epistolary masters, Hugh's compliments knew no ceiling. In a letter to another scribe, he observes how, under his guidance, "the uneducated are immediately cultivated, the stutterers are immediately eloquent, the dull-witted are immediately enlightened, the twisted are immediately made straight". May also do the trick when applying for a job or a loan.

In 1686, Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield, wrote a book of instruction for his eldest daughter. Some of it concerned the layout of a letter ("If you write to a Queen, begin your first line within three fingers breadth of the bottom of the paper"), but there was also advice we may heed today. He advised his daughter to carefully re-read what she had written before sending it, checking her spelling with a dictionary and making sure not to repeat words. But above all be prompt. "It is a very great incivilitie not to answer all the letters we do receive, except they come from our servants or very mean persons."

The Ladies Complete Letter-Writer of 1763 offered "polite and improving" advice on all matters "that usually interest the Fair Sex". There were template letters about the lasting impact of scandal and the dangers of over-flirtatious behaviour, and details of how to write to a woman who had lost her beauty to smallpox. But within the 275 pages there was also something that may be emailed today (albeit with slightly modified language) to an overbearing parent determined to match-make. "Punish me by any other means provoked authority can invent," an unidentified daughter pleads with her mother. "Condemn me to pass the whole remainder of my days in lonely solitude; shut me from all society, or banish me where only lions and tigers dwell. Fate cannot reach me in any shape so horrid as the embraces of Andrugio."

Lewis Carroll loved letter-writing so much that in 1888 he patented something called The Wonderland, a special case with a pocket to house every denomination of postage stamp. You bought the case and you got a free booklet entitled Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing, some of it concerned with not missing the last post. But there was also something we can use today - advice on showing restraint. Carroll warned his readers to think very carefully before getting involved in a Trollopian war. "If you have written anything that may offend, put the letter aside for a day and then read it as if you were the recipient," he wrote. "This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper, and putting in honey instead." Carroll's other rules:
•    if your correspondent makes a severe remark, either ignore it or soften your response
•    if your friend is friendly, make your reply ever friendlier

Carroll had one more piece of wisdom, as applicable now as 125 years ago. If you write that you're enclosing a cheque or someone else's letter, "leave off writing for a moment - go and get the document referred to - and put it into the envelope. Otherwise, you are pretty certain to find it lying about, after the post has gone!" For "cheque" read "email attachment".

In All The Year Round, the Victorian journal "conducted" by Charles Dickens, a contributor wrote a letter-writing guide that contained the one nugget common to almost all the guides that had preceded it - write legibly. But what of those who can write but don't? "This is more generally the fault of young people, and arises chiefly from thoughtless selfishness. Their thoughts and their time are engrossed with their own pleasures and pursuits. It is more amusing and interesting to write to young people of their own age than to write duty letters to parents and relatives." Do these terrible people not write at all? "A shabby, ill-considered, stilted letter is written at wide intervals to those whose whole life has been spent in their service, while folios of trash are lavished on bosom friends to whom they owe no duty whatsoever." Texting was only a century away…

photo credit: BBC
1F 2I 3C 4J 5E 6A 7D 8H

viernes, 21 de febrero de 2014

Jaguar attacks crocodile

This is a National Geographic exclusive video of a jaguar attacking a caiman in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Luke Dollar, a conservation scientist who helps manage National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative, explains the hunt.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

A Jaguar in water is actually not as unusual as you think it might be. They are certainly the most aquatic of all the big cats. In central Brazil here, this one is crossing the river looking for (1) ... . It’s a big hoss of a male, definitely an adult, (2) ... along the bank.
Now a Jaguar diet consists of (3) ... of 85 species, more than 85 species of different animal. They can take virtually any riparian vertebrae found in their habitat, so anything along the rivers and in the rivers is potential (1) ... out of them, it’s on the menu. Walking along the river bank for a Jaguar is like us (4) ... a buffet line. That great camouflage coat is not doing a whole lot of good for this guy right now, but instead he is depending on more on just (2) ... technique. He’s doing an excellent job (2) ..., you’re not seeing any (5) ... , even though he is partially in water, probably can’t see the bottom, making sure the (6) ... is good.
He’s on the bank here (7) ... on now. And all the way across the river there are two caimans. That’s pretty laser-beam focus, if you ask me. Now, I thought from the left here this was the other caiman that we saw in the water cause there were two in the water before but no, there is one caiman on the bank and that’s the jaguar, swimming in. Not a lot in the way of splashes there, this guy is good. One, two! Boom! Teeth in! Now that’s gotta be in the (8) ... case or at least disconnecting the central nervous system ‘cause that caiman is no longer (9) ... , he’s no longer fighting. That’s a meal he’s taking away to have at his convenience.

1  prey 2 stalking 3 upwards 4 scanning 5 splashing 6 footing 7 further 8 brain 9 struggling

jueves, 20 de febrero de 2014

Renoir Painting Bought at Virginia Garage Sale Sparks Legal Battle

A woman bought a painting at a garage sale, but a museum claims it was stolen and belongs to them. Find out all the details by watching this ABC's news story.

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

1 How much did the woman pay for the painting?
2 How big is the painting?
3 When did Renoir paint it?
4 What does 1951 refer to?
5 Where's the painting now?
6 What documents has the museum produced to show the painting is theirs?
7 Who was the original owner of the painting, according to the family?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript below.

Was it a deal or a steal? A woman says she purchased this painting at a flea market, seven dollars, a painting that turned out to have been painted by the great Renoir. But a museum says it was stolen from its collection, now wants it back so there's a tug of war and this morning who should get it? Here's ABC's Jeff Celany. 
A lucky find or a stolen treasure? This morning that's the question for a federal judge with a one of a kind Renoir painting at the center of an intense legal battle. The tiny work of art, the size of a napkin, is an 1879 landscape called On the shore of the Seine.  A Virginia woman claims the Renoir is hers. Martha Fuqua says she bought it at a flea market back in 2009 for just seven dollars. The Baltimore Museum of Art says that price was a real steal, that's because they claim the painting was actually stolen in 1951, and they want it back now that it’s resurfaced.
The FBI seized the painting until a judge determines the rightful owner. In court papers filed this week, the museum produced a list of evidence it says proves the Renoir was stolen, including a sixty year old police report, old museum catalogues and even a receipt showing a patron bequeathed the painting to the museum.
The museum is claiming it owned it and claims that it was stolen so the museum needs to prove that it was in fact stolen and the fact they did own it.
Neither Fuqua nor her attorneys would speak to ABC news but her brother says she took the painting years ago from her mother, an art aficionado.
So even if Martha Fuqua paid, as she claims here, seven dollars or she paid 70,000 dollars, if in fact the painting was stolen a thief can’t obtain, can't pass ownership on to somebody else.
Now both sides are scrambling to paint a convincing picture to the judge when they face off in court next week.

miércoles, 19 de febrero de 2014

Talking point: Art and culture

This week's talking point deals with art and culture. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas flow more easily when you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.

What areas of the Arts do you enjoy? Choose from these items:
photography - theatre - film - visual arts – painting - sketches - illustration - jazz – sculpture -  literature - dance - music - ballet - contemporary art - drawing - opera - graphic art
Are the Arts important?

Are you good at drawing or painting?
If so, how did you learn? If not, would you like to learn to paint or draw well?
Who are your favourite artists? Why do you like their work?
Why do you think some people want to become artists? Is it easy to make a living as an artist? Why (not)?
Talk about a recent exhibition or museum you went  to.
Do you like graffiti? Do you think graffiti is an art form or vandalism?

How often do you go to the theatre? Do you like watching plays? Why (not)?
What was the last play or dance show you saw? What did you think of it?
Have you ever taken part in a play or dance show?
If so, what was it? Did it go well? If not, would you like to take part in one? Why (not)?

Do you like classical music and opera?
If not, why not? If so, when do you listen to it?
Who are your favourite artists and composers?
Do you think it is true to say that classical music and opera are more popular with older people?
If so, why do you think this is?

To gain further insight into the topic of graffiti or street art you can watch the two videos below.

martes, 18 de febrero de 2014

Madrid Teacher series: There is and there are

Our Madrid Teacher series this week is intended for Básico 1 and Básico 2 students and deals with questions with the verbs there is and there are.

Before you watch the video, list as many types of shops in English you can think of.

Now watch the video and check which of the shops you thought of are mentioned.

Watch the video for a second time and note down all the questions with there is or there are the girl is asked.

Now answer the same questions about yourself.

Is there a swimming pool near your house?
Yes there is.
And where is it?
It's just around the corner from my house.
Okay. Is there a supermarket near your house?
Yes, there is.
And where's the supermarket?
The supermarket is down the road from my house.
And do you go shopping there?
Yes, I do.
Is there a library near your house?
Not very near to my house, no.
Where is it?
It's in the next suburb.
Ok. And do you ever go there?
Yes, sometimes.
Ok. Is there a train station near your house?
No, there isn't.
Is there a post office near your house?
Yes, there is.
And where is it?
It’s in the shopping centre near my house.
Ok. And is there a bank near your house?
Yes there is.
And where is the bank?
The bank is across the road from my house.
Okay, good. Where do you go for your food… where do you go shopping for your food?
I go shopping at the supermarket.
Ok. Are there any butcher’s or greengrocer’s or shops like that near your house?
Yes, there is a butcher, a butcher shop just around the corner from my house.
And do you ever go there?
Sometimes, but I prefer to buy meat at the supermarket.
Ok. Is there a cinema near where you live?
No, there isn’t.
So where do you go when you want to watch a film?
Usually I go and I hire a film from the video shop near my house.
Oh, ok. And where’s the video shop?
It’s also in the shopping centre near my house.
Everything's in the shopping center.

lunes, 17 de febrero de 2014

Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Saving drivers too scared to cross

The BBC aired this three-minute video on Chesapeake Bay Bridge in early September last year.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge, or Bay Bridge, rises in the state of Maryland. It has a reputation for being a long and nerve-wracking bridge, ranked as one of the scariest in the world to cross, so much so that some drivers would rather pay someone else to drive them and their cars across the water.
In the clip, Brittney Manzoni, a driver with Kent Island Express, tells us what gives the bridge its reputation.

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

The activity is suitable for strong intermediate 2 students.

1 The bridge is 4.3 kilometres long.
2 There's nowhere to park along the bridge.
3 Jay Gaskins finds coming down worse than going up the bridge.
4 Crossing the bridge usually takes an hour and six minutes.
5 Most of the times passengers don't talk about the bridge.
6 Some passengers travel in the trunk.
7 Chesapeake Bay Bridge is considered to be the scariest in the US and number nine in the world.

A nineteen-year-old fell asleep while driving on the Bay Bridge and a trucker had to swerve out of her way…
And a major crash on the Bay Bridge is snarling traffic both ways…
Friday night’s crash on the Bay Bridge that sent a woman’s car into the Chesapeake Bay, sparking some new fears among drivers.
It’s just scary. I feel very frightened.
This is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It’s 4.3 miles long. It’s 250 feet at its highest. There are no shoulders to pull over on, you are not allowed to stop anywhere. We escort you and your vehicle over the Bay Bridge, whether you have a fear or if you have seeing problems like depth perception, anything like that, if there’s any reason you cannot cross the bridge by yourself, we’re here for you.
I use it twice a day, you know, going to work and then coming home. I’ve been using it for probably eight years now, just the whole going up to the peak, you know, that would make me nervous, the top didn’t really bother me too bad, but coming down was a lot worse than going up. One day I might get over it, but it just seems, you know, just as easy and, you know, and a lot safer just have someone else do it.
Depending on traffic it can take anywhere from six minutes to an hour. It really depends on the weather, or what’s going on in the area, if it is a weekday or a weekend. We can drive anywhere between ten to thirty people a day. Some people are extremely nervous and we’ll talk about anything but the bridge, other people all they want to talk about is the bridge and what’s been going on with it like the maintenance and recent accidents and breakdowns. But most times we’ll just talk about what their plans are for the day to keep them calm.
They’re completely relieved once they get to the other side, there, there they’ve just got over their fear that is in the past now.
Alright, thank you.
Thank you.
Have a safe trip.
Thank you.
The trip was wonderful. I feel safe and happy.
For some people the scariest part is on the eastbound when you’re going up the upgrade, there is a bend at the top of it and you can’t, you can’t see where the bridge is going, so it looks like you’re just about to launch off the bridge. On the eastbound there’s three lanes, the sides are open like you have the barriers but they are see-through, and that doesn’t help people that have height issues.
I’ve had people request a ride in the trunk before, obviously we can’t, we cannot allow you to ride in the trunk, we’ll just have you laid down in the back seat and cover up, or just put your head down in the front, cover your face if you need to and we’ll talk you through it.
This bridge is ranked number three in the nation on the scary list. I don’t know, this part too, but I think it’s number nine in the world but there’s other scary bridges out there too, and why should we not provide a service for those ones as well, so I hope that one day we’ll be able to franchise out a little bit and branch out.

1F (miles) 2T 3T 4F 5T 6F 7F

domingo, 16 de febrero de 2014

Extensive listening: What are dreams

What are dreams was first aired in NOVA in November 2009.

What are dreams and why do we have them? NOVA joins leading dream researchers as they embark on a variety of neurological and psychological experiments to investigate the world of sleep and dreams. Delving deep into the thoughts and brains of a variety of dreamers, scientists are asking important questions about the purpose of this mysterious realm we escape to at night. Do dreams allow us to get a good night's sleep? Do they improve memory? Do they allow us to be more creative? Can they solve our problems or even help us survive the hazards of everyday life?

NOVA follows a number of scientists, including Matthew Wilson of MIT, who is literally "eavesdropping" on the dreams of rats, and other investigators who are systematically analyzing the content of thousands of human dreams. From people who violently act out their dreams to those who can't stop their nightmares, from sleepwalking cats to the rare instances of individuals who don't seem to ever dream, each fascinating case study contains a vital clue to the age-old question: What Are Dreams?

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 15 de febrero de 2014


Podclub offers podcasts adapted to the language level of learners in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish every two weeks.

As for the English podcasts, Gareth Hughes presents his Gerry's diaries, where he tells us what's been happening to him in Switzerland, Britain and elsewhere. He comments on what has caught his eye. He talks about his family, friends and colleagues. But thanks to his "outsider's" view after his 20 years living in Switzerland, he often sees things that "insiders" just don't notice. Gerry's diaries are intended for lower-intermediate to intermediate students.

Gerry’s news digest, on the other hand, is for more advanced users of English (at level B2 and above). The English is not simplified in any way. In his News Digest Gerry takes a personal look at some of the stories that have been filling the newspapers and the TV screens in Britain, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Gerry's podcasts come accompanied with the transcript and a short list of vocabulary items.

viernes, 14 de febrero de 2014

Eight St Valentine stories

Self-study activity:

Watch eight short extracts (not longer than a minute) from the film Valentine's Day and answer the question corresponding to each of the clips. Please click on the the title of the clip to watch the scene, not on the picture.

Did the boy's dad ever give him any good advice?

Has the girl announced at work that she is engaged?

Is Paula in crisis?

Does Kara have a boyfriend?

Where did the boy and the girl meet?

Why did she want to have sex with Alex?

What's the man's marital status?

How many menus are mentioned?

You can read the transcript of the clips here.
If you are in a Valentine's Day mood once you have watched the eight clips, you can have a go at answering some of the 100 questions that Breaking News English has compiled about the topic.

The story of St Valentine

Self-study activity:
1) What do you know about St Valentine's Day. Discuss with a friend everything you know about this festivity (date, origins, people's typical way of celebrating).

2) Watch the video through (without stopping). Some parts might be a bit difficult, but listen through it so that you can get a general idea of the documentary.

3) Watch the video for a second time (or as many times as you wish). Say whether the statements 1-7 below are true or false.

1. St Valentine's Day contains vestiges of the early Christian church in ancient Rome.
2. Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St Valentine’s Day in the 15th century.
3. Emperor Claudius II banned (prohibited) marriages.
4. Claudius II sentenced Father Valentine to death.
5. Father Valentine was born on 14th February.
6. Americans give 180 millions roses on Valentine's Day.
7. Valentine's Day brings in 40 billions dollars annually.

4) Now you can check your answers with the transcript below.

5) Discuss with a friend or record yourself answering these questions:
How do you celebrate St Valentine's Day?
How do your family or friends celebrate it?
What would your ideal Valentine's Day be like?
Do you think lovers really need a day to proclaim their love or is it just business?

Ah love! While it might not be what makes the world go round, it is what makes the ride worthwhile. Maybe that’s why billions of people throughout the centuries have seen fit to dedicate an entire day to grand gestures of romance… with Valentine’s Day, the only holiday best celebrated in pairs.
For all its popularity, history doesn’t give us any guarantees as to the origins of Valentine’s Day. But we do know it contains vestiges of early Christian church in ancient Rome. The association between mid-February and romance goes back to a Pagan festival known as Lupercalia, likely honouring either Lupa, the she-wolf of Rome who suckled Romulus and Renus, or Faunus, their god of fertility.
The festivities begin with an animal sacrifice. Then the ritualistic slapping of young women with strips of the animal’s skin and blood to bestow fertility for the coming year. In the 5th century, perhaps in an effort to christianise the pagan festival Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St Valentine’s Day.
As for the real St Valentine there are reportedly several cannonised by the Church. Legend has it that one said Valentine, a defiant Roman priest, lived during the 3rd century AD under emperor Claudius II. Claudius was an ambitious ruler. His battles required vast armies of men to abandon their young families for long periods of time, resulting in a military that was half-hearted and home-sick. So determined was Claudius to stop love from sapping the will of his armies that he banned marriages altogether. Father Valentine found the ban unjust and defied the emperor, continuing to marry young lovers in secret. The emperor finally caught on the priest’s actions, arrested him, and sentenced him to death. It is believed that young couples he had secretly wed would visit his cell, passing him flowers and notes to the bars as symbols of gratitude. The story continues that the condemned father Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. On February 14th, the day he was executed, it is said he passed the young girl a note. It was signed “from your Valentine”. A tradition was born.
Cupid, the wind match-maker, started out as the Roman god of love, inspired the images of cherubs for Christians and is now a favourite of card makers and mass marketers. Our modern Valentine’s Day, removed from its religious and pagan past, has evolved into one of the most celebrated holidays on the calendar. On average, American shower their loved ones with 180 million roses, red ones naturally. And almost 36 million of heart-shaped boxes of candy, not to mention all those cards, dinners and diamonds.
All told, the holiday brings in almost 14 billion dollars annually, giving retailers plenty to love as well. But if you’re worried that you can’t afford to treat your loved one properly next Valentine’s Day, take heart. The poets were right: Love is really all you need.