lunes, 30 de junio de 2014

How do languages change and evolve?

A few weeks ago Alex Gendler published the Ted Ed-lesson How do languages change and evolve?, where he explains how linguists group languages into language families, demonstrating how these linguistic trees give us crucial insights into the past.

Ted Ed lessons offer a neat framework for us to work on lessons, consisting of watching the lesson, answering comprehension questions about the video lesson, giving us ideas to further explore the topic, and offering ideas for discussion.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 In the beginning, all of humanity spoke a single language.
2 Some very different languages stem from the same language.
3 Ancestor and protolanguage are different things.
4 Pronunciation is a key element in deciding whether two languages are related.
5 By finding out about a language linguists can also get to know about the origin and lifestyle of the people who spoke that language.
6 One of the problems researchers find is telling the difference between a language and its dialects.
7 There is evidence that the major language families were all related at some stage.

In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, all of humanity once spoke a single language until they suddenly split into many groups unable to understand each other. We don't really know if such an original language ever existed, but we do know that the thousands of languages existing today can be traced back to a much smaller number. So how did we end up with so many?
In the early days of human migration, the world was much less populated. Groups of people that shared a single language and culture often split into smaller tribes, going separate ways in search of fresh game and fertile land. As they migrated and settled in new places, they became isolated from one another and developed in different ways.
Centuries of living in different conditions, eating different food and encountering different neighbors turned similar dialects with varied pronunciation and vocabulary into radically different languages, continuing to divide as populations grew and spread out further.
Like genealogists, modern linguists try to map this process by tracing multiple languages back as far as they can to their common ancestor, or protolanguage. A group of all languages related in this way is called a language family, which can contain many branches and sub-families. So how do we determine whether languages are related in the first place?
Similar sounding words don't tell us much. They could be false cognates or just directly borrowed terms rather than derived from a common root. Grammar and syntax are a more reliable guide, as well as basic vocabulary, such as pronouns, numbers or kinship terms, that's less likely to be borrowed. By systematically comparing these features and looking for regular patterns of sound changes and correspondences between languages, linguists can determine relationships, trace specific steps in their evolution and even reconstruct earlier languages with no written records. Linguistics can even reveal other important historical clues, such as determining the geographic origins and lifestyles of ancient peoples based on which of their words were native, and which were borrowed. 
There are two main problems linguists face when constructing these language family trees. One is that there is no clear way of deciding where the branches at the bottom should end, that is, which dialects should be considered separate languages or vice versa. Chinese is classified as a single language, but its dialects vary to the point of being mutually unintelligible, while speakers of Spanish and Portuguese can often understand each other.
Languages actually spoken by living people do not exist in neatly divided categories, but tend to transition gradually, crossing borders and classifications. Often the difference between languages and dialects is a matter of changing political and national considerations, rather than any linguistic features. This is why the answer to, "How many languages are there?" can be anywhere between 3,000 and 8,000, depending on who's counting.
The other problem is that the farther we move back in time towards the top of the tree, the less evidence we have about the languages there. The current division of major language families represents the limit at which relationships can be established with reasonable certainty, meaning that languages of different families are presumed not to be related on any level.
But this may change. While many proposals for higher level relationships, or super families, are speculative, some have been widely accepted and others are being considered, especially for native languages with small speaker populations that have not been extensively studied.
We may never be able to determine how language came about, or whether all human languages did in fact have a common ancestor scattered through the babel of migration. But the next time you hear a foreign language, pay attention. It may not be as foreign as you think.

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

domingo, 29 de junio de 2014

Extensive listening: Coca Cola The Real Story Behind the Real Thing

CNBC's Melissa Lee goes inside the world of Coca-Cola to reveal how Coke has made itself the most recognized brand on the planet.

With unprecedented access, CNBC pulls back the curtain on Coca-Cola, the most recognizable brand on the planet. In an original one-hour documentary, "Coca-Cola: The Real Story Behind the Real Thing," CNBC's Melissa Lee reveals never-before-seen labs, secret archives and high-tech product testing. Cameras follow Coke's urgent campaign to reinvent itself after years of losing ground to arch-rival Pepsi in the race to develop new, blockbuster beverages. Meet the men and women whose mission it is to put the buzz back in the bottles and see how Coke gets its drinks into the mouths of people in the farthest corners of the globe. From the production line to "Cola Wars," discover the secret that makes Coke pop.

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

sábado, 28 de junio de 2014

Teach Unicef

TeachUNICEF is a portfolio of free global education resources. The resources cover are interdisciplinary (social studies, science, math, English/language arts, foreign/world languages).

The lesson plans, stories, and multimedia cover topics ranging from the Millennium Development Goals to Water and Sanitation.

TeachUNICEF's aim is to support and create well-informed global citizens who understand interconnectedness, respect and value diversity, have the ability to challenge injustice and inequities and take action in personally meaningful ways.

We hope that in providing engaging and academically rich materials that offer multiple voices, we can encourage the exploration of critical global issues while presenting opportunities to take action.

H/T to Free Technology for Teachers.

viernes, 27 de junio de 2014

The Luckiest Unlucky Man To Ever Live

This is the strange but true story of Frane Selak.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video through and note down the timeline of the lucky-unlucky events in Frane's life. Also, note down the different means of transport involved in each accident.

After checking the answers, retell Frane's story in your own words.

You can check your answers by reading the transcript below.

Meet Frane Selak, an elderly music teacher from Croatia. And depending on how you look, at it either the world’s unluckiest or the world’s luckiest person to ever live.
His unbelievable yet true story begins on a cold winter’s day in 1962. Traveling from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, a fault with the line caused his train to jump the track and plunge into the freezing river below. While other passengers were killed in the crash or drowned in the sinking wreckage, suffering a broken arm, Frane managed to escape and swim to shore. Little did Frane know at the time, but this incident marked the beginning of a series of bizarre events that would occur over the next 40 years of his life.
The following year while travelling aboard a small plane bound for Rijeka, disaster struck for a second time. Mid-flight, both engines stopped working, cabin pressure dropped, and the plane began losing altitude.
You might have thought that this was probably the worst thing that could have happened, but you’d be wrong. While the plane plummeted towards the ground, a malfunctioning door blew off, and poor Frane was sucked out of the aircraft. Tumbling through the air without a parachute, Frane must have thought he was a goner. But while the plane crashed into the side of the hill, killing all 19 on board, Frane somehow managed to land in a haystack and survived with only minor injuries.
Another two years went by before Frane’s next brush with death. This time while travelling by bus, ice on the road caused the wheels to lockup and the vehicle skidded through the safety guard and into the valley below. Four passengers were killed, but not Frane.
Tired or perhaps terrified of public transport, Frane began to travel mostly by car but that didn’t seem to help either. In 1970, his car engine burst into flames, but Frane was able to jump free before it exploded. Then three years later in 1973, the fuel pump in his new car ruptured causing another engine fire. But this time the flames were blown straight at him through the air vents, needless to say he survived this too albeit with less hair than he began with.
In 1995, he survived being hit by a bus. And in 1996, a careless truck driver forced him off the side of a mountain road. His car plunged 300 feet and exploded in a ball of flames but Frane wasn’t in it, having somehow jumped out of the window, he was found clinging to a tree, somewhere down the cliff face.
Now Frane’s story may have ended there, as since then Frane hasn’t been involved in any other death defying incidents, however there is one last twist to this man’s incredible story.
In 2003 at the age of 72, Frane bought a lottery ticket. His first one in over 40 years, he won the jackpot, safely securing his place as the luckiest, unlucky person to ever live.

jueves, 26 de junio de 2014

Google Self-Driving Car Project – A First Drive

Watch volunteers take a ride in Mountain View, California, in a prototype of the self-driving Google car.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video through and order the topics below in the order they are mentioned.

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

Better than a human
Bringing the things in life together
First timers
It knows what to do at any time
My quality of life would improve
Not working on it for long

Today, we have something extra special for you guys, and you guys will be some of the first people outside of our team and outside of Google to ever ride in it.
There it is! Oh wow! Isn’t that cute?
Go ahead and buckle up.
Ok Annie, here we go!
Alright let’s go!
There’s no steering wheel in the way.
It was a big decision for us to go and start building our purpose-built vehicles. And really they’re prototype vehicles. They were a chance for us to explore: what does it really mean to have a self-driving vehicle. But in the small amount of time we’ve been working on it, we have functional prototypes and that’s exciting.
Oh, it’s really cool! It’s like really kind of a space age experience.
Okay. Hurray! We’re like queens.
You sit, relax, you don’t need to do nothing. It knows when it needs to stop, it knows when it needs to go.
It actually rides better than my own car.
Yes. It’s true.
What she really liked was that it slowed down before it went around a curve. And then it accelerated in the curve. She’s always trying to get me to do it that way.
That’s the way I learned in high school driver’s ed.
So if I had a self-driving car, I can spend more time hanging out with my kids, or helping them with their homework, even just tending to them, finding out how their day was and not having to wait till you get home and have dinner and all that so, it’ll be good.
The human feeling of it is very well-engineered and it is very smooth. There is nothing that makes you feel the least bit threatened.
It’s impressive! I’m totally in love with this whole concept.
Our lives are made up of lots and lots of little things, and a lot of those little things for most people have to do with getting from place to place, in order to connect and do things, and be with people, go places that they need to go and do things. And so there is a big part of my life that’s missing, and there is a big part of my life that a self-driving vehicle would bring back to me.
This is a first step for us, and it’s really exciting to see the progress we’ve made. The opportunity for people to just move around and not worry about it, it’s going to be incredibly empowering and incredibly powerful for people.
I love this!

Better than a human - 4
Bringing the things in life together  - 6
First timers -1
It knows what to do at any time - 3
My quality of life would improve - 5
Not working on it for long - 2

miércoles, 25 de junio de 2014

Talking point: Talking about your favourite famous person

In our weekly 'Talking point' section we will be focusing on the anecdote feature of Macmillan's Inside Out for a few weeks.

Today's topic is talking about your favourite living famous person. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below, so that you ideas flow more easily when you get together with the members of your conversation group and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • Is it a man or a woman?
  • What are they famous for?
  • Are they a singer, actor, politician or something else?
  • What do you particularly like about them?
  • How long have you been a fan?
  • When did you first become aware of them?
  • Did they look any different from how they look now?
  • What do they look like now?
  • How old are they?
  • Are they married?
  • Do you know where they live?
  • Are they world famous?
  • Have you ever seen them in real life?
 To illustrate the point, here's an interview with Colin Firth for Time Magazine, who might be someone's favourite famous person, who knows.

10 Questions with Colin Firth - TIME from marina rossi on Vimeo.

Colin Firth is an Academy Award winning actor. His new movie is Railway Man and I’m excited to say that he’s here with me now. Mr Firth, welcome.
Good to be here.
So Railway Man is based on the story of a former POW, who, who goes back to Thailand to kind of hunt down one of his torturers, more or less. Are veterans particularly interesting characters to you, is it just the, is it just that’s two great stories?
One of the most interesting areas of my job is when I get asked to have a brush with someone else’s extraordinary experience, whether it’s beautiful or horrific or inspiring or, or otherwise. It’s nevertheless an exploration beyond anything that has happened to me. And and it become my job, a very difficult job at the to understand it as best as I can. And then to hopefully relay something of it you know, through this particular medium.
When I saw the movie I thought, oh, this is going to be a nice little romance between Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.
He’s a wonderful man. I’ve seen it, but he’s a mess.
You couldn’t possibly imagine what he’s been through.
And then suddenly, you’re in a war movie. And I was like, oh, he’s tricked me with his romanticness.
Well I think that’s Patti Lomax felt when she met her Terry Lomax. I think, we’re, we’re walking a mile in her shoes, because she didn’t really have a clue when she met him.
I love him and I want him back.
As you see in the film, it wasn’t really until they got married that it very suddenly and abruptly became apparent because his nightmares were harrowing. For anybody who, who is present or even in the same house, they couldn’t even have guests staying with them because his screams were so distressing. So, yes, she met a charming, somewhat eccentric rather brilliant individual who proved to be profoundly complicated and extremely damaged.
Do you believe in revenge?
It’s a question that comes up and I think it’s a question that probably should come up. But I don’t really think. I’m not in the business of answering that question. And I don’t think the film is really trying to. It’s not a morality tale. It’s not a bromide for life. It’s not a prescription.
It takes the position though, I would say on revenge.
I don’t actually think it does. I think it tells a story about how a man found healing and some peace by letting go of his need for revenge. I asked Erik himself over lunch. It’s a very strange thing to find yourself asking a question about someone’s plan for murder. And his wife’s sitting there, and we’re having Shepherd’s pie.
Yes. And I wasn’t quite sure what the proper vocabulary is in polite company. But I have. I said, did you? I mean, did the people around you, the counselors, your wife, were they aware of your, your plan to like… and he just said ‘kill him?’ Well, yes, and he said, ‘oh yeah.’ And he said it didn’t matter whether they knew or not. And he said, I knew I was going to do it. He’d thought about it and it was like he’d seen in the film. And he said he’d nursed himself to sleep on the screams of his, his victim, in his mind, and he had, he sustained himself on that, you know, and I think this story is meaningless unless we are honest about that, and those years spent completely compelled by those things. I think it makes it much more meaningful and it, and actually it adds, I think it adds incredible weight to the decision he eventually made.
At one point, Nicole Kidman’s character kisses you unexpectedly, and I’m thinking, well, that’s gotta be happening to Colin Firth all the time, though.
Really? Strange women coming up and kissing you awkwardly.
Oh, no, no. If only. No.
Oh, come on.
No. And I can honestly say I think it has never happened, and no, it’s that way in my dreams. And in my dreams that it would look like Nicole Kidman.
Questions from readers. This one is from Kirstie Cameron from New Zealand. Did you keep the waterlogged  white shirt from Pride and Prejudice?
No, there were probably about seven of them because, yeah, they came from a costume house called CosProp in London, very good, it was the most wonderful tailor there who made it all on a tiny, tiny budget. We had to rotate very few costumes to make them looks as if I had a lot. And I didn’t. And it was a moment when just for the sake of continuity we had to look like I’d been for a swim, and this shirt is barely soggy or clingy or any of  the things that is mythologised to be and they’ve even got me coming out of a lake which I never did. And that got voted as the most memorable moment in television history, the thing that never happened. And so I think it’s been auctioned off probably more times than is actually feasible.
Is your Italian good enough for you to do an Italian movie?
Yes as long as I’m playing an Englishman I couldn’t be mistaken for an Italian.
Do you have a favourite word in Italian?
I love, I mean the insults are wonderful, because they use them more sparingly than we do. But they really do use them to great effect. Stronsa is a wonderful word, it’s an insult.
Is it clean enough to say?
 It means a piece of ***, but it’s more specific than that, it means a floating piece of ***. And there’s the whole thing of Lafigura, because we don’t really have that concept. It’s about the impression you create. It’s very important. It’s important enough to have a word, which is in very, very common currency. So bella figura is when, you know, I’ve made a good impression of myself. It’s not as we have to… I’m saying it in  a way which is rather labored, but it’s not. A bella figura. It means like ‘that came across well’ or que bruta figura or figuracha you put acho on the end is the bad version of something. And that’ll mean when you’ve, there’s been a gaffe or when you…
Messed up.
Yes, so you’ve just, you know, if I sat here and made some idiotic mistake about who I was talking to or where I was, that would be a figuratta. And we don’t really have that.
We do it, we just don’t do it.
We do it but we have to sort ofanatomize it and create a phrase out of it, and you know, and so you often find that there a lot of these things have a precision in that language which we don’t.
Mr Firth, thank you so much.
Thank you.

martes, 24 de junio de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Awfully annoyed

In our weekly Madrid Teacher series, four teachers discuss things that annoy them.

Watch the video through to get the gist of the teachers' conversation.

Watch the video again. This time pay attention to the following features of spoken English:

Use of so as a connector.
Use of like as a connector.
Showing agreement: Oh, yeah; absolutely; It's true
Use of really to emphasize the information we are giving.
Use of you know as a filler to gain thinking time.
Use of erm as a filler to gain thinking time.
Use of I mean to paraphrase what you have just said.
Use of vague language when we can't be very precise: kind of
Involving listeners in the conversation by asking them questions.
Use of actually before giving some surprising information.
Use of anyway to return to the main point in the conversation.

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with a friend and talk about the small things in life that annoy you. You can also talk about the situations the Madrid Teachers discussed.

Make a point of using some of the features of spoken English they used.

Louise: So I was walking down the street the other day. I hate to be stuck behind somebody who walks slowly. It drives me crazy.
Thomas: Oh, yeah.
Louise: I can feel the steam coming out of my ears.
Thomas: Absolutely.
Louise: Is there anything that really really gets you mad?
Thomas: You know, going along with that, I feel the same way but then when I see someone rushing past me, I’m, like, why don’t you just leave a little earlier.
Vicky and Louise: Ha, ha, ha.
Thomas: Really, it’s gotta be my pace exactly, anything slower, anything faster drives me nuts.
Joyce: Or one thing that really bothers me is like, you know, I usually walk down the stairs or sometimes I walk up, you know, those escalators and then, you know, if I’m walking down and somebody’s like behind me like they want me to go faster so it’s like "Excuse me" I’m already walking, like, you know.
Thomas: This is a life or death situation here, I mean, we’re on moving stairs.
All: Ha, ha, ha.
Louise: They could eat you right up.
Vicky: Or when people stand on the wrong side of the escalators and block the passage to walk.
Joyce: Oh, I always tell them to move. I always say, Please can you please move to the right. I always tell them.
Louise: It’s true. Getting places seems to be a source of annoyance. I mean the airports, the metro, all those kinds of places seem to be, seem to be ripe for creating situations that can be annoying. Have you had any bad travel experiences, annoying things when you’ve been traveling?
Vicky: Oh, yeah, actually, you know, over Christmas there was a lot of snow everywhere. My flight was delayed, erm, by four hours. I was flying with Easyjet. It wasn’t so bad but you know how after you’ve been delayed for a certain amount of time, I think it’s two hours or two and a half hours the airline or the company are actually obliged to give you something like a sandwich or a drink or something.
Thomas: Wow, I’ve never heard of that.
Louise and Sophia: They are.
Thomas: All airlines? Is this…
Vicky: It’s a blanket thing, they’re obliged to give you something because they are putting you in a situation where you may not have currency for that country left over, or you’re in a situation where you weren’t expecting to be in, for a long period of time plus the airport’s extortionate, there’s not very much selection, there’s not much choice, anyway, but with Easyjet, nothing, got on the plane and they said finally after five hours now because we waited on the runway for that, OK, you’ve got a budget of 4 euros fifty to have a snack and a drink, a non-alcoholic drink, OK, fine, whatever, but then I said OK, so can I have this sandwich for two euros fifty, a hot sandwich ‘cause I’m starving and this drink, can I have a Coke? "Oh, no". The total came to four euros. And they said, "You can’t have hot food included in this.”
Louise and Sophia: It’s so petty.
Vicky: But then I said, fine, so can I have a Snickers and a packet of nuts and the drink. "Oh no, no, sorry you can only have one snack and one drink. Even though it doesn’t come to your budget.”
Joyce: Well that’s absolutely ridiculous.
Vicky: Ha, ha, ha.
Louise: I feel a bit annoyed just listening to that story. Those petty rules that they put on you they’re just too much.
Vicky: Yeah. Ha, ha, ha.

lunes, 23 de junio de 2014

Listening test: The story of Inditex

This is a listening activity for Intermediate 2 students about the story of the Spanish holding Inditex, one of the largest fashion retail groups in the world with eight brands and over 6,300 stores scattered all over the world. We have devised this activity as a task for exam preparation, and it is based on a Radio Nacional de España podcast.

Choose the option a, b or c that best answers the question or completes the sentence. 0 is an example.

0 What is said about Inditex?
a) It is one of the biggest companies in the world.
b) It is a family business
c) It is a miracle.

1 Which sentence is true, according to the text?
a) Ortega’s father suffered a railway accident.
b) He was 12 years old when his father died.
c) His parents didn’t have money to feed them one day.

2 When he left school
a) he was 13 years old.
b) he started working for a shirt shop.
c) he couldn’t get a job for some time.

3 When Ortega and Rosalía started their business
a) they made their own clothes.
b) they were working at a big store.
c) they controlled all aspects of the business.

4 Ortega soon realized that
a) it was best to keep prices low.
b) there were ways to compensate low prices.
c) selling clothes was better than making them.

5 Amancio Ortega
a) is a genius.
b) has prioritised people.
c) is a mad visionary.

6 Amancio Ortega
a) is hard-working.
b) drives himself to work.
c) doesn’t like being surrounded by people.

7 What is Zara’s main philosophy?
a) Producing your own clothes.
b) Knowing how to persuade customers.
c) Looking after customers.

Rosalía Mera untimely death has brought into the limelight once again the phenomenon, someone’d call it the miracle of how the company she helped create, a business of family origins, has become one of the biggest multi-national businesses in the world.
The Inditex story has become a textbook study in most of the best economic and business schools around the world. The story goes that the clothing empire had its origins in a small incident when Amancio Ortega, the son of a humble railway worker in Galicia in North West Spain, suffered a humiliating experience when he was but a boy. And that incident marked him for life.
Covadonga O’Shea is a journalist and writer and unusually she’s had access to Ortega when she was writing the authorized version of his extraordinary life.
He gets all emotional when he recalls the day he was 12 years old and his mother went to pick him up from school and on their way home they called in to a local shop to get some food but the shop keeper said ‘I’m sorry, Josefa, I can’t give you any more credit.’ That meant she couldn’t feed her kids at supper time. He still suffers when he recalls that incident as if it had been a slap in the face, a real humiliation, and he vowed this will never happen to my mother again.
It changed the course of the young Ortega’s life.
He quit school and started working to make money even though he couldn’t get a work permit because he hadn’t yet turned 13, so he became a messenger boy for a shirt shop in La Coruña and with that natural intelligence of his he began thinking about how, rather than selling things that other people make, you could do it all yourself.
The result of those reflections was that Ortega, his elder brother and sister, his wife Rosalía and her sister-in-law set up their own company to make dressing gowns, which they sold to the big stores. But they were still unhappy about not controlling all aspects of the clothing business. Esteban García Canal is a professor of business at Oviedo University.
Once you have produced your own clothes, why not also sell them yourself? So what Ortega did was complete the circle, so to say. I design and make my own clothes, distribute them and then sell them. In that way he could keep his prices down because what he failed to earn in manufacturing the clothes he could make up for in sales or in distribution.
And it was that completed circle that led to the foundation of Zara in 1975. These are the business facts but there were many other reasons that made Zara such a success, the personality of Amancio Ortega is clearly one of them. But was he a genius or just a lucky businessman, someone who found himself in the right place at the right time? A question for Covadonga O’Shea.
He’s a visionary, but not of the mad kind. He has his feet firmly on the ground, and he’s managed to convince the people who work for him that there are two important things: First, that the customer is always right, and that one must aim for excellence.
Mamem del Cerro, a colleague here at Radio Televisión Española believes other more basic qualities can also explain Ortega’s success.
He is a man with an enormous capacity for work, with enormous drive and with the essential leadership needed to be at the helm of a company this size, a man who he himself says knows how to surround himself with highly qualified people but above all who has known how to communicate his ideas.
But what is the philosophy employed to make and sell Zara’s clothes? According to Professor García Canal there are many ideas, but one of the main ones is that Zara doesn’t produce clothes and try to persuade people to wear them, it makes the clothes its client wants.

1C 2B 3A 4B 5B 6A 7C

domingo, 22 de junio de 2014

Extensive listening: Endless memory

Lesley Stahl reports on the recently discovered phenomenon of "superior autobiographical memory," the ability to recall nearly every day of one's life.

This is a CBS 60 Minutes segment, and this is the way reporter Lesley Stahl introduced the segment:

'It is often said that we are our memories - that web of experiences, relationships, thoughts, and feelings that make us who we are. We don't remember it all of course. That would be impossible. Or would it?

There has been a discovery in the field of memory recently, so new you won't find it in any textbook. It's so hard to fathom, there are some who remain unconvinced.

For the moment, the scientists studying it are simply calling it "superior autobiographical memory." And unless you happen to know one of the handful of people discovered so far who have it, get ready to be amazed.'

You can read a full transcript for the segment here.

sábado, 21 de junio de 2014

Reading test: The best way to win an argument

The best way to win an argument is an article by Tom Stafford published on BBC Future. We are going to use it to practise the kind of reading comprehension activity that puts to the test our knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.

Read the article and choose the option a, b or c that best fits in each blank.

How do you change someone’s mind if you think you are right and they are wrong? Psychology (1) … the last thing to do is the tactic we usually resort to.

You are, I'm afraid to say, mistaken. The position you are taking makes no logical sense. Just listen up and I'll be more than happy to elaborate on the many, many reasons why I'm right and you are wrong. Are you feeling ready to be convinced?

(2) … the subject is climate change, the Middle East or forthcoming holiday plans, this is the approach many of us adopt when we try to convince others to change their minds. It's also an approach that, more often than not, (3) … the person on the receiving end hardening their existing position. Fortunately research suggests there is a better way – one that involves more listening, and less trying to bludgeon your opponent into submission.

A little over a decade ago Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil from Yale University suggested that in many instances people believe they understand how something works when in fact their understanding is superficial at best. They called this phenomenon "the illusion of explanatory depth". They began (4) … asking their study participants to rate how well they understood how things like flushing toilets, car speedometers and sewing machines worked, before asking them to explain what they understood and then answer questions on it. The effect shown was that, on average, people in the experiment rated their understanding as much worse after it had been put to the test.

What happens, argued the researchers, is that we (5) … our familiarity with these things for the belief that we have a detailed understanding of how they work. Usually, nobody tests us and if we have any questions about them we can just take a look. Psychologists call this idea that humans have a tendency to take mental short cuts when making decisions or assessments the "cognitive miser" theory.

Why would we (6) … expending the effort to really understand things when we can get by without doing so? The interesting thing is that we (7) … hide from ourselves exactly how shallow our understanding is.

It's a phenomenon that will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to teach something. Usually, it only takes the first moments when you start to rehearse what you'll say to explain a topic, or worse, the first student question, for you to realise that you don't truly understand it. All over the world, teachers say to each other "I didn't really understand this until I had to teach it". Or as researcher and inventor Mark Changizi quipped: "I find that (8) … badly I teach I still learn something".

Explain yourself

Research published last year on this illusion of understanding shows how the effect might be used to convince others they are wrong. The research team, led by Philip Fernbach, of the University of Colorado, reasoned that the phenomenon might (9) … as much for political understanding as for things like how toilets work. Perhaps, they figured, people who have strong political opinions (10) … more open to other viewpoints, if asked to explain exactly how they thought the policy they were advocating would bring about the effects they claimed it would.

Recruiting a sample of Americans via the internet, they polled participants on a set of contentious US policy issues, such as imposing sanctions on Iran, healthcare and approaches to carbon emissions. One group was asked to give their opinion and then provide reasons for why they held that view. This group got the opportunity to put their side of the issue, in the same way anyone in an argument or debate has a chance to argue their case.

Those in the second group did something subtly different. (11) … provide reasons, they were asked to explain how the policy they were advocating would work. They were asked to trace, step by step, from start to finish, the causal path from the policy to the effects it was supposed to have.

The results were clear. People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop (12) … how they rated their understanding of the issues. People who had previously been strongly for or against carbon emissions trading, for example, tended to became more moderate – ranking themselves as less certain in their support or opposition to the policy.

So this is something worth (13) … in mind next time you're trying to convince a friend that we should build more nuclear power stations, that the collapse of capitalism is inevitable, or that dinosaurs co-existed with humans 10,000 years ago. Just remember, however, there's a chance you might need to be able to explain precisely why you think you are correct. (14) … you might end up being the one who changes their mind.

1 a) conceals   b) sustains   c) reveals
2 a) if   b) whether   c) providing
3 a) results from   b) leads to   c) give rise
4 a) by   b) when   c) on
5 a) take   b) mistake   c) misinterpret
6 a) bother   b) disturb   c) care
7 a) are able   b) succeed in   c) manage to
8 a) despite   b) no matter how   c) nevertheless
9 a) pervade   b) keep up   c) hold
10 a) would be   b) would have been   c) were
11 a) Rather than   b) Instead   c) In place of
12 a) of   b) in   c) on
13 a) bearing   b) bear   c) to bear
14 a) Otherwise   b) All the same   c) Nonetheless

Photo: ask-gratitude

1c 2b 3b 4b 5b 6a 7c 8b 9c 10a 11a 12b 13a 14a

viernes, 20 de junio de 2014

Tibetan Dog 'sold for $2 million' in China

Watch this short episode about a Tibetan mastiff puppy sold in China at an astronomical price.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and fill out the gaps in the transcript.

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

A Tibetan mastiff puppy has been sold in China for almost $(1) ... , a report said Wednesday, in what could be the most expensive dog sale ever. A property developer paid 12 million yuan ($[2] ...) for the one-year-old golden-haired mastiff at a “(3) ...” fair Tuesday in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the Qianjiang Evening News reported. “They have lion’s (4) ... and are top-of-the-range mastiff studs,” the dog’s breeder Zhang Gengyun was quoted as telling the paper, adding that another (5) ... canine had sold for 6 million yuan. Enormous and sometimes ferocious, with round manes lending them a passing resemblance to (6) ... , Tibetan mastiffs have become a prized (7) ...  among China’s wealthy, sending prices skyrocketing.
The golden-haired animal was 80 centimetres ([8] ... ) tall, and weighed 90 kilograms (nearly 200 pounds), Zhang said, adding that he was sad to sell the animals. Neither was named in the report. “Pure Tibetan mastiffs are very rare, just like our nationally (9) ... pandas, so the prices are so high,” he said. One red mastiff named “Big Splash” reportedly sold for 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in 2011, in the most expensive dog sale then recorded.
The buyer at the Zhejiang expo was said to be a 56-year-old property (10) ... from Qingdao who hopes to breed dogs himself, according to the report. The newspaper quoted the owner of a mastiff breeding website as saying that last year one animal sold for 27 million yuan at a fair in Beijing. But an industry insider surnamed Xu told the paper that the high prices may be the result of insider agreements among (11) ... to boost their dogs’ worth. “A lot of the sky-high priced (12) ... are just (11) ... hyping each other up, and no money actually changes hands,” Xu said. Owners say the mastiffs, descendants of dogs used for hunting by nomadic tribes in central Asia and Tibet, are fiercely loyal and protective.

1 2 million  2 1.9 million 3 luxury pet 4 blood  5 red-haired 6 lions 7 status symbol 8 31 inches 9 treasured 10  developer 11 breeders 12 deals

jueves, 19 de junio de 2014

Destination New Zealand

Yesterday we talked about a journey we have made. As a follow-up to it, here's an idea for our next holiday: Destination New Zealand, a short National Geographic video clip.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

1 What adventure sport was invented in New Zealand?
2 What expression is used to describe the mountain resort of Queenstown?
3 What does 'sixty days' refer to?
4 Why were jet boats invented in the first place?
5 What does 1994 refer to?
6 Which two requirements are necessary to enjoy the adventures shown on the video?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript below.

Hello everyone, I’m Patty Kim.
Today we’re heading off to New Zealand, well-known as a thrill-seekers paradise. This is the country that invented bungee jumping of all things. And that’s just the beginning.
Get ready and pack your sense of adventure as we escape to this rugged, South Pacific nation.
If you are looking for an adrenaline high, there may be no easier place to find it than New Zealand.
After all, this is the country that invented commercial bungee jumping. Pioneered right here at the Kawarau Bridge.
For more ways to just feel glad you are alive, wander into the mountain resort of Queenstown, New Zealand’s epicenter of adventure.
"You know we quite proudly call ourselves the adventure capital of the world, there are so many adventure activities to do here, in fact we worked it out that if you did one of every type of activity you'd be here for sixty days." 
It’s tough enough to jump at Kawarau but at other site in Queenstown the drop is enough to make adventure seem like lunacy.
"The people who have to really try hard to jump are the ones that get the most out of it."
At least that’s the theory.
“How was that?”
“ I'm never bungee jumping again."
To see Queenstown’s rivers from another perspective, try roaring down one in a jet boat.
“Nothing like it!”
Jet boats were invented to navigate New Zealand’s shallow rivers, but it turned out that they were just as effective scary the living daylights out of customers paying for the privilege.
Queenstown has enough adventure activities to easily fill a week and you can often get your thrills on a budget by booking several adventures at once.
And while Queenstown offers one-stop adventure shopping, there are plenty of other places in New Zealand that get your pulse racing.
On the North Island the volcanic area of Rotorua is home to geysers, great hiking and an odd orb called the Zorb.
"Just rollin' around, not knowin' which way you're goin', slidin' over and under each other."
David Akers, his brother and another New Zealander invented the Zorb in 1994.
“Here we go!”
"For some people, this is their bungee jump. They're never going to do anything more adventurous than this and it's terrifying for them.”
David Akers, Zorb Inventor
"It seemed like a good idea at the time. I'll tell you at the bottom."
First-timers often feel anxious as the Zorb heads down hill, but just about the time you think this is an activity better suited to hamsters than humans, the Zorb literally knocks you off your feet.
You can’t steer it or stop it. Yet you can’t help but enjoy it.
So if you’re headed to New Zealand and you got a little spare cash and a fairly strong stomach, you too can do something crazy and live to tell the tale.

miércoles, 18 de junio de 2014

Talking point: A journey you have been on

In our weekly talking point we will be focusing on the Inside Out (Macmillan Publishers) 'anecdote' section in the coming weeks.

Just let me remind you of the fact that there is a whole section on this blog devoted to anecdotes, many of which are based on Inside Out videos and activities.

Today's topic is talking about a journey. Think about a journey you have been on and go over the questions below so that ideas flow more easily when you get together with the members of your conversation group and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • Where did the journey start?
  • When did the journey finish?
  • What was the reason for the journey?
  • What form of transport did you use?
  • What was the weather like?
  • Who did you go with?
  • How long did it take you?
  • What did you do during the journey?
  • Did you stop en route? What for?
  • Would you like to go on the same journey again? Why?
To illustrate the point you can watch the Macmillan video The Journey, about an ill-fated journey made by a group of friends from Basingstoke to a party in Oxford.

You can download a worksheet for the video here and the transcript and the key here.

martes, 17 de junio de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Accent attack

In this week's Madrid Teacher series, two teachers discuss the variety of English accents. Their conversation gives us an opportunity to go over some of the features of spoken English.

First of all, watch the video through to get the general ideal of the conversation.

Now watch the video again, and pay attention to these characteristics of spoken English:

Use of so as a connector.
Showing agreement with the speaker: Definitely; Absolutely; Of course
Showing the speaker that you are paying attention: Ok; Y’all, yeah.
Use of actually to introduce a piece of surprising information
Fillers to gain thinking time: erm
Using vague language: kind of, sort of
False starts: Do you... can you...
Use of say with the meaning of 'for example'.
Use of really for emphasis.
Use of like as a linking word.

So, recently I’ve been watching this series called Friday Night Lights...
I’ve never seen it...
No? It’s about a high school football team, but it’s not about football, it’s about everyday life around football. But it’s based in Texas. And before watching the series, I didn’t use to think that I liked the Texas, Texan accent, but now I like it. It’s catchy, you can see that if you lived there you’d be able to catch that accent.
Actually, when I was younger, 100 years ago, erm, we lived, when I was a child, we lived along the Texas border…
…and before that, for example, I always used to think it was horrible hearing people say “y’all”...
Y’all, yeah.
But I realised that I picked up on that Texan, sort of, southern “y’all”.
Absolutely. And so it was actually really hard to get rid of it.
And it just kind of, it just sort of, grabs you and then you have that accent. And then later it can sort of go away.
They say “y’all” in other parts of the United States, don’t they?
Yeah, they do. Also, for example, in Louisiana…
Yeah, in the south.
Yeah, it’s more the southern accent.
Yeah, the southern. So, what else do you think about accents? Do you, can you, for example, identify the difference, say, in different places in England, the north, south, Wales, Scotland…
Yeah, I’d say so.
Can you?
Er, yeah. Because I know people from all over the world, and so when I hear an accent I think about those people, so I associate the sound. So that’s how it works, how I do it, how I can tell the difference between the north of England and the south, or London.
Because I think a lot of times there are different accents. But if, for example, someone really doesn’t know someone from the United States, they have an idea that all American accents are the same…
Of course, of course, no, they’re very different.
… and that all British accents are the same, even though…
Well, even as an American, when you hear a South African accent or an Australian accent, Irish, Scottish, all those different… It’s English, but it’s a different accent. Can you place that? Can you place the location?
That’s interesting. Some, yes. But others… So, for example, what about someone... Because I think we all know someone who has lived in several places. And maybe they have, like, a little bit of an American accent, and a Scottish accent.
A mix. Keep it interesting.

lunes, 16 de junio de 2014

What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web is used every day by millions of people for everything, from checking the weather to sharing cat videos. But what is it exactly?

Twila Camp describes this interconnected information system as a virtual city that everyone owns and explains how it's organized in a way that mimics our brain's natural way of thinking.

Self-study activity:
This video clip is part of a Ted-ed lesson that comes complete with comprehension questions, additional resources to delve deeper into the topic and ideas for discussion.

I think a good way to go about it would be trying to answer the TED comprehension questions in the first place and then watch the video lesson to check your answers.

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

The World Wide Web, where you're likely watching this video, is used by millions of people every day for everything, from checking the weather, ordering food, and chatting with friends to raising funds, sharing news, or starting revolutions.
We use it from our computers, our phones, even our cars. It's just there, all around us, all the time. But what is it exactly?
Well first of all, the World Wide Web is not the Internet, even though the terms are often used interchangeably. The Internet is simply the way computers connect to each other in order to share information.
When the Internet first emerged, computers actually made direct calls to each other. Today, networks are all around us, so computers can communicate seamlessly.
The communication enabled through the Internet has many uses, such as email, file transfer, and conferencing. But the most common use is accessing the World Wide Web.
Think of the Web as a bunch of skyscrapers, each representing a web server, a computer always connected to the Internet, specifically designed to store information and share it.
When someone starts a website, they are renting a room in this skyscraper, filling it with information and linking that information together in an organized way for others to access.
The people who own these skyscrapers and rent space in them are called web hosts, but anyone can set up a web server with the right equipment a bit of know-how. There's another part to having a website, without which we would be lost in the city with no way of finding what we need.
This is the website address, which consists of domain names. Just like with a real life address, a website address lets you get where you want to go. The information stored in the websites is in web languages, such as HTML and JavaScript.
When we find the website we're looking for, our web browser is able to take all the code on the site and turn it into words, graphics, and videos. We don't need to know any special computer languages because the web browser creates a graphic interface for us.
So, in a lot of ways, the World Wide Web is a big virtual city where we communicate with each other in web languages, with browsers acting as our translators. And just like no one owns a city, no one owns the Web; it belongs to all of us. Anyone can move in and set up shop. We might have to pay an Internet service provider to gain access, a hosting company to rent web space, or a registrar to reserve our web address. Like utility companies in a city, these companies provide crucial services, but in the end, not even they own the Web.
But what really makes the Web so special lies in its very name. Prior to the Web, we used to consume most information in a linear fashion. In a book or newspaper article, each sentence was read from beginning to end, page by page, in a straight line until you reached the end.  But that isn't how our brains actually work. Each of our thoughts is linked to other thoughts, memories, and emotions in a loose interconnected network, like a web.
Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, understood that we needed a way to organize information that mirrored this natural arrangement. And the Web accomplishes this through hyperlinks. By linking several pages within a website or even redirecting you to other websites to expand on information or ideas immediately as you encounter them, hyperlinks allow the Web to operate along the same lines as our thought patterns.
The Web is so much a part of our lives because in content and structure, it reflects both the wider society and our individual minds. And it connects those minds across all boundaries, not only enthnicity, gender, and age but even time and space.

domingo, 15 de junio de 2014

Extensive listening: Vikings, journey to new worlds

Here's the beginning of the documentary on Vikings: Journeys to New Worlds, which explains how these fighters impacted their time, and still have some influence over the world today. The film was shot on location in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland.

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 14 de junio de 2014

Learn English with photos: Second collection

In September last year we posted about Jeffrey Hill's collection Learn English with photos, a ten-installment video series for intermediate students with the aim of developing their vocabulary and listening skills.

Jeffrey Hill, whose extraordinary The English Blog should be a must for both teachers and students of English alike, has launched a second collection of video lessons.

There are two videos so far in the new collection, The Car Boot Sale and Chicago, but keep track of The English Blog to find out when any new videos come out.

The videos come complete with transcript, glossary and activities.

Thank you, Jeffrey.

viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

Etiquette classes for a chance Obama meeting

First Person is a series of video features published every Monday on the BBC News website which tell the stories of unique individuals from all walks of life in their own words.

In this episode First Person talks to Crystal L Bailey. The etiquette teacher runs classes for children in the US capital who need to know how to behave on social occasions.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 How old are the children admitted to Crystal's school?
2 Why is it important for children who live in Washington to know how to behave in public?
3 What does Crystal teach at the start of every lesson?
4 What sport did one of Crystal's students play with one of Obama's daughters?
5 What do American people associate tea with?
6 What quality does Crystal want her students to feel after each lesson?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript below.

I’m Crystal L Bailey, director of the Etiquette Institute of Washington, here in our nation’s capital. And I teach children etiquette from ages all the way from three and a half to eighteen. Well, the young people that I work with, they run the full gamut. But being in Washington DC, you never know if you’re being called to dinner to the White House with Sasha and Malia, so these young people have to be prepared, whether they’re eating one course or ten.
I start off every lesson we’re teaching how to make a great first impression. Eye contact and that firm handshake and a smile will get you farther than any type of education that you may have, and so being in Washington DC, and make sure that these young people are prepared, and that they don’t become nervous even if they are meeting a big way.
Now let me see how everyone use a napkin if they had to use a napkin.
One of my students told me that she was good friends with Sasha, President Obama’s daughter, and that they played soccer and she hoped the girl was not mad at her because she had kicked her with a ball. So, I just never know who my students are or what experiences they may have had.
I was able to come right here in Washington DC and get to talk to Senator Mark Warner about the importance of government for funding juvenile diabetes, and also last year I was able to get a personal tour of the Capitol building and the White House.
It’s just great for her to always have her manners on and to be able to hang herself with grace and poise when she is in front of someone, is able to speak to someone in such a capacity.
So let us move over to the tea table.
I think for Americans a lot of time we see tea is having something with the Queen, and so it’s really a unique and regal experience for young people. It transports them to a different place and really a different time.
Just check and make sure it’s not too hot on your lips.
As we talk about those things in what will it be like immersing yourself in a different culture or going to a different country.
And I just want to see how quiet you can be.
After a lesson I really want my young people too feel a sense a confidence that they can walk into any situation and really handle it with an A-plus personality. I know that as I work with these young people and they go on, they’ll be representing their parents well with their meeting partners at a law firm or meeting associates from on the Hill.

jueves, 12 de junio de 2014

Recycling Steel

Steel is strong, versatile and 100% recyclable. Learn how old steel shipping containers are given a new lease on life as liveable spaces.

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

The activity is suitable for Intermediate 2 students.

1 Steel is not entirely recyclable.
2 By recycling steel air pollution is reduced by 76%.
3 Recycling steel started in the 20th century.
4 Americans invented the steel container.
5 Steel containers last forever.
6 Steel containers can make buildings several floors high.
7 The insulation in the container stops you from hearing the rain.

Steel is the world’s most popular metal and rightly so, not only is it incredibly versatile with a thousand and one different uses; it can also be incredibly green.
Because steel is one of the very few man made materials that’s 100 percent recyclable, and for this reason steel scrap very rarely goes to waste.
And this is great news because for every ton of steel recycled you save 1 ½ tons of iron ore, ½ a ton of coal, 75 percent of the energy and 40 percent the water that you need to make steel from scratch. Air pollution is also reduced by 86 percent and water pollution by 76 percent, plus you save yourself the job of getting rid of one and a quarter tons or solid waste.  In this case recycling definitely makes sense.
This recycling and reuse of steel has been going on for generations, in fact your knife and fork could have been made out of the remnants of a Victorian bridge, an old battle ship or even a sword wielded at the battle of Waterloo, and the process goes on and on even today.
Now if I ask you to name a classic piece of 1950's American design, the steel shipping container probably isn't the first thing that springs to mind, but I tell you what, you can't argue with success.
Steel containers in one form or another have been around for most of the 20th century, but it was the American's, back in the 1950's who were the first to standardize the boxes. This led the way to a fully integrated road rail and sea transport system.  Today 90 percent of the world’s goods are transported in steel containers and there an estimated 200 million of them worldwide. And after 10 years or so of being loaded and unloaded and shipped around the globe, they tend to get fairly beaten up and are often retired even though many of them are still structurally sound.
With millions of these old containers piling up around the world, there's growing interest in finding new uses for them.  So how do you fancy living in a steel house?
And the reason why steel containers like these convert so easily into buildings is down to their inherent structural strength. Because of this they require just a simple concrete base and they can be piled up to ten stories high.  That's just what these people have done on this ground breaking development in the heart of London's Docklands. Ian Feltham shows Jonny round.
Come in.
Wow this is amazing; I have to say this is not what I was expecting at all. What's it like living in it?
It is just like living in a, a normal house, when you are actually in here and you're going about your every, you know your everyday things cooking and sitting down to dinner and stuff you... it's just er like a normal apartment.
And what about when there's heavy rain, is it loud?
It's er, it's so well insulated I mean I think you, you probably get erm a little bit of pitter patter on the steel work but in a kind of nice way it's er...
Yeah it's quite a reassuring sound isn't it?
So this is quite a wide room so this is obviously not a single container.
These are... This is two 40 foot containers, basically cut down the middle and joined together, you can see the join runs right the way through and then the two containers go back there and have got the bathroom and the bedroom the other side.
Yeah it's a lot more spacious than I was expecting, it's really nice.  Well thanks very much for showing me round.
You're very welcome.
And all the best.

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

miércoles, 11 de junio de 2014

Talking point: A time when you were in a dangerous situation

This week's talking point deals with personal stories. To be more precise, you will be talking about a time in your life in which you were in a dangerous situation. It is based on the famous anecdote feature of Macmillan's Inside Out.

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

You're going to talk about when you were in a dangerous or exciting situation:
  • What was the situation?
  • When did it happen?
  • Where were you?
  • Who were you with?
  • What were you doing?
  • What happened?
  • What happened next?
  • How did you feel?
  • What were the consequences?
  • What happened in the end?
To illustrate the way you can tell an anecdote, watch Laila telling us about an occasion in her life when she went through a dangerous situation. You can answer the questions below to check your understanding of her anecdote..

a) What happened to Laila?
b) Who was Laila with?
c) Why were they in the States?
d) Why did they go to New York from New Jersey that day?
e) Why did they take a taxi?
f) How much do taxis usually cost?
g) How much did they pay?
h) What problem did the taxi driver have when they got to New Jersey?
i) What did the taxi driver ask Elton to do?
j) What did the taxi driver do when Elton got out of the car?
k) How did Elton react?
l) What excuse did the taxi driver give?
m) What time was it?
n) What did Elton and Laila do?

a) She was Nearly kidnapped by a taxi driver in New York b) A friend, Elton c) They went to another’s friend wedding d) To see Manhattan, have a laugh, go to some bars, and do some cabbing e) They missed their last train home. The last train was at half twelve f) $120 g) $70, because Elton haggled h) He didn’t know the way i) To ask for street directions at a petrol station j) He drove away with Laila in the car k) He ran after the taxi, and caught up with it because the taxi had to stop at a red traffic light l) He had driven away to ask somebody else for directions m) 4 am n) They paid the taxi driver and walked the rest of the way

martes, 10 de junio de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Cooking shows

In this week's Madrid Teacher series we are dealing with cooking shows on TV. Four Madrid Teachers, Thomas (USA), Louise (Australia), Vicky (Scotland), Sophia (England), are having a discussion about whether they like cooking shows or not, and what their favourite cooking shows are. Their conversation gives us a great opportunity to revise some key features of spoken English.

Watch the video through to get the main ideas of what they teachers are saying.
Watch the video again. This time pay attention to the following:
  • Asking for clarification: What do you mean by that?
  • Using really for emphasis.
  • Showing surprise: Oh my lord!; Really?
  • Showing agreement: Yeah I agree; Oh yeah; Yeah, exactly; It’s true.
  • Showing understanding: Oh, I see.
  • Using vague language: and things; or something like that; kind of
  • Using fillers to gain thinking time: Wel; erm
  • Hedging: Softening our ideas so as not to sound categorical or because we're not sure of the information we are giving: [I] think
  • Using so as a linking word
  • Using like as a linking worl
  • False starts: There are, there are
  • Reacting to what the speaker is saying: That’s, that’s interesting.
  • Using I mean to make yourself clear.
  • Using actually to introduce some surprising information.
Finally get together with a friend or relative and discuss the topic of cooking shows. Try and use some of the features of spoken English when you talk.

Thomas: What is your favorite cooking show?
Louise: None? Ha ha ha.
All: Ha ha ha.
Thomas: What? What do you mean by that?
Louise: I really hate cooking shows.
Thomas: Oh my lord!
Louise: I just find them so boring. I think TV executives have to come up with a more interesting way to entertain us.
Thomas: There’s nothing more interesting than food.
Louise: Really?
Thomas: No I’m teasing but…
Vicky: Ha ha ha. Eating food, not watching food being made though.
Joyce: [Essential for survival!]
Louise: Eating food… yeah. Yeah I agree.
Thomas: Oh, I see. So in that way it can be a bit, er, torturous. But I find them so engrossing.
Louise: Really?
Thomas: Oh yeah! Some, like Iron Chef, the competitions and things, when they, watching
these guys cook with the knives…
Vicky: Oh…
Thomas: That’s one way of, that’s… Well, what other cooking shows… Does anybody like cooking shows? Am I alone here?
Sofia: I, I, I, I like them. There’s one that comes on on the BBC with… [I] think his name’s James Martin or something like that. And he actually has people come in and talk about the food they like, and so they have a discussion and then you watch him cook things but, they’re talking about things in general so it’s not just a cooking show but it’s nice entertainment as well.
Thomas: OK.
Sophia: So I like that, and… Gordon Ramsey, do you all know him?
Thomas: Oh, of course. Hell’s Kitchen, or something?
Vicky: Yeah, Gordon Ramsey’s.. yeah he’s quite entertaining, I suppose. But that’s his horrible character that’s entertaining to the public, it’s not…
Louise: Yeah, it’s not his skill as a cook.
Vicky: …the process. Yeah, exactly.
Louise: Yeah.
Thomas: That’s what the media has marketed, and, and turned into his celebrity, er, appeal, but…
Vicky: Mr. Nasty, ha ha.
Louise: Yeah.
Thomas: There are, there are other chefs where it is about the cooking. There’s one in the States where, erm, this guy, it’s called The Take Home Chef, and he kind of assaults people in a way in the, er, market and says, “how about we pay for all the food, go to your house with you, and cook something together?” And then the crew actually follows the person food shopping for their family into their home, and this guy does a, stages a cooking show in a different home each time.
Vicky: Oh OK, that sounds…
Sophia: That’s, that’s interesting.
Thomas: I mean it’s cool because, what’s cool about that is that you see how to cook, erm, with what you have around the house, and, like what ingredients to get in the market. Where, as opposed to these other ones where it’s like, “well we have this saffron that you can only get at midnight in Andalucía.” People in LA are like, “well…OK. Can I use… garlic, salt?”
Vicky: [Yeah, ha ha. At this market.] I think that’s one of the things I find frustrating, actually. When you watch a cooking show, everything’s so… clean, organized, perfectly prepared. Which is obviously your ideal kitchen, but I live with seven other people and it’s never like that. Ha ha ha, you know?
Louise: Yeah, you never have everything pre-chopped that you can just throw into the saucepan, it’s always…
Vicky: No. Exactly.
Sophia: But if it wasn’t like that, imagine how disorganized the show would be. “Oh, does anyone have an onion? Oh well go to the neighbour and get an onion from the neighbour.” Ha ha ha. It has to be like that, it’s TV.
Vicky: Ha ha ha. It’s true.
Thomas: Maybe that would be another direction that they could, er, take them in.
Sophia: Yeah. Real, real-life kitchens.

lunes, 9 de junio de 2014

10 Questions for Carla Bruni

Watch this Time interview with Carla Bruni and answer the questions below.

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

1 What’s the title of her latest album?
2 How much did her husband know about the song ‘Raymond’ before its release?
3 Is Mr Sarkozy like a pirate in real life?
4 What’s the colloquial meaning of ‘atomic bomb’ in French?
5 How long was Carla the First Lady of France?
6 What do we learn about Carla’s ‘fathers’?
7 What is her attitude to magazine covers?
8 Why are fashion houses using more and more older models these days?
9 Why do politicians not have much dress sense?
10 How long has she been driving for?
11 What does she wear when she travels by public transport?

Carla Bruni is a model, a singer and the former first lady of France. She has a new album out called Little French Songs and I'm delighted to say that she’s with us at Time today. Miss Bruni, welcome.
One of the songs, I think it's ‘Raymond’…
It's about your husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, is that right?
Yeah, yeah.
Did you show it to him before you recorded it?
I don't really have to show it to him because, you know, since we're living together my poor family has to
hear my music, believe me. He knew it step by step.
In the song you say ‘although he wears a tie, my Raymond is a pirate.’
What does this mean?
There’s something very establishment-ish, you know, with people wearing perfect suits and ties and being very serious and having, you know, important jobs and so. It’s just a joke about the fact that no matter, despite the fact that he's wearing,  he can be…, he could be like a pirate, but this is only a song, you know, this is nothing serious.
You also call him in this song an atomic bomb if I'm translating it right.
In French atomic bomb just means someone I would say looking hot really, I mean, a sexy or something. It's more like a very common way to say … which means an explosive type of person, you know. Obviously while your husband was the leader of France, your behavior has to be very watched. Is it very hard to pursue your particular dreams, do you then say, okay Nicholas, now it's my turn.
It wasn't such a lack of freedom at all, really, but of course I couldn't go and tour and I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to do as  a musician but, you know, time flies so five years flew and here I am and I can go back on tour.
Should he run again, you have to discuss it?
I don't think you can discuss that, you know, he doesn't discuss with me if I should sing again or not, you know it’s…
Yes, but to be fair if you’re saying he doesn't have to come with you, he doesn't have to be on stage…
That's true.
…and when your… really involves you and your children when he's… if he runs again.
Definitely, definitely.
So I mean have you discussed how would you…?
It is not at all the subject of the moment.
You found out later in life that the man who raised you was not your biological father. Have you reached out your biological father, are you friends?
Oh, yes, I met him. We have very good contact and I also have a sister a younger sister, so it's really nice. It was like a plus.
You have been on, you know this is a rough estimate, on about 250 magazine covers. Doesn't it get old to see your face there on…
I don't really look at it.
Well, it's kinda hard to avoid that you’re going through an airport.
It’s very easy to avoid. It makes you a bit crazy, I could say. There's no point to try to control it.
You just recently did some modeling for Bulgary.
Are you surprised to find yourself still modeling at your age?
Not really, because lately I’ve noticed that they are using woman of our age more and more. I think women do not identify themselves only to very young girls, you know, because models are most of the time very young.
As you met world leaders traveling around, and as they came to France, who had the worst dress sense?
Political people, they don't have really much time for it.
Right, right.
So I don't see why they should be interested in that when they have many other important things to do…
That’s a good point.
 … to tell you the truth.
So you're pretty much saying everyone, is what you're saying.
No, no, no. Everyone dressed well, you know, and I don't think I'm so specially well-dressed neither you are.
So you know, and we're not in politics so…
They have a lot of hard work to do, a lot of weight on their shoulders so I think it’s not about the colour of the jacket.
I ask everybody this, what was your first car.
No license, the bike.
You don't have a license?
Still don’t have a licence?
No. Still don’t have a licence. I tried many times.
All right. So you bike around Paris or wherever you’re living?
I walk around and I get driven sometimes.
You can’t walk the streets.
I can walk very easily. I take the Metro, I can take the Metro.
What, with a big hat or…
No, with a small hat, everything that is big, you know, attracts attention. If you put large glasses, big hat…
So little glasses…
…and bodyguards, of course, everyone would notice you. But if you put, you know, reading glasses, a baseball cap, no hair and sport shoes, no one looks.
Really? Carla Bruni, thanks so much.
Thank you very much.

domingo, 8 de junio de 2014

Extensive listening series: Living to be 90 and beyond

In May CBS's programme 60 minutes aired this segment about the factors that determine that we will make it past age 90?

This is the way reporter Lesley Stahl introduced the segment:

'It's always been a dream of mankind to live forever. Since the start of the 20th century, we have increased life expectancy in this country by a remarkable 30 years -from just 49 in 1900, to almost 79 today. And more and more of us are making it into that group we all hope -and kinda dread- joining, the over 90 crowd, affectionately dubbed "the oldest old."
Men and women above the age of 90 are now the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Yet very little is known about the oldest old, since until recently, there were so few of them. So what determines which of us will make it past age 90? What kind of shape we'll be in if we do? And what can we do now to up our odds? Finding out is the goal of a groundbreaking research study known as "90+."

You can read the transcript here.

sábado, 7 de junio de 2014

Reading test: teaching in prisons is where I can make a real difference

This week's reading test is based on The Guardian article Teaching in prisons is where I can make a real difference.

Reading the article here and then choose the option a, b or c which best answers the question or completes the sentence.

1 Which sentences is true, according to the text?
a) The inmates are encouraged to receive education in prison.
b) The inmates themselves decide to receive education in prison.
c) The inmates who receive education find a job when they are released.

2 Which sentences is true, according to the text?
a) The writer of the article is a vocational teacher.
b) The writer’s family discouraged him from being a teacher.
c) The writer first worked as a teacher at a rehab centre.

3 Which sentences is true, according to the text?
a) The most difficult part of teaching in a prison is handling the prison students’ language.
b) Most students are reluctant to do any work in class.
c) Surprisingly enough, prison students have a lot of things in common.

4 The London football hooligan…
a) left the class the first day because he didn’t like the teacher.
b) returned three weeks later and showed the teacher that he could read.
c) ended up helping other inmates.

5 The man in his 50’s…
a) was reluctant to learn.
b) used to freeze in exams.
c) had no memory at all.

6 The hardest thing of studying in prisons is…
a) that students can only study for three and a half hours.
b) the fact that students find it hard to connect with their education.
c) that the results aren’t usually good.

7 Which sentences is true, according to the text?
a) Schools are to blame for the number of people who end up in prison.
b) Some difficult children are hopeless.
c) Second chances sometimes present themselves.

 Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

1a 2b 3b 4c 5b 6b 7c