domingo, 30 de noviembre de 2014

Extensive listening: I belong to Glasgow (Alex Norton)

I Belong To Glasgow is a BBC series where four famous Glaswegians (Karen Dunbar, Alex Norton, Sanjeev Kohli and Elaine C Smith) talk about their city.

In this episode, Alex Norton "looks for the Glasgow he knew as a child in the 1950s. The tenements and closes he played in have been knocked down but their spirit lives on. Alex drops into the Citizen's Community Theatre, meets the woman who first put him on the stage, travels by tram, wears Lex Mclean's bunnet, wins a shoot out at the Grand Ole Opry and belts out one of the best Glasgow songs ever."

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

sábado, 29 de noviembre de 2014

British Council Skills

The British Council offers English language learners of almost all levels (those who are in the A1-B2 range) the possibility of improving their listening, reading and writing skills through activities and exercises in exam format.

There are around 10 prepared activities in each of the four levels (A1, A2, B1 and B2), and they all come complete with texts, exercises, answers, transcripts and audio files, all of which are downloadable.

The British Council Skills are specially suitable for learners who must sit skill-based exams.

viernes, 28 de noviembre de 2014

10 Questions for Elizabeth Gilbert

'Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of several books, most famously Eat, Pray, Love. She’s written a new one, a novel this time, called The Signature of All Things.' That's the beginning of the interview of Belinda Luscombe to Elizabeth Gilbert for Time magazine last year.

Needless to say, this is not an easy interview for intermediate students of English to understand, even strong ones. However, students at this level may expect to have to deal with situations in which they have to listen to authentic listening material. In such situations, picking up the main ideas of what is being said and being able to follow the thread of the conversation sound like very realistic tasks.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and put the topics of the interview in the order in which they are mentioned.

A proud gardener
An heirloom that belonged to her great-grandfather
Elizabeth Gilbert taking up gardening - 1
Gilbert comparing herself with one of her characters - 5
Her attitude to the success or failure of her latest book
Personal life
The title explained

I’m Belinda Luscombe from Time. Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of several books, most famously Eat, Pray, Love. She’s written a new one, a novel this time called The Signature of All Things, and I’m super excited to say that she’s here with me today. Ms Gilbert, welcome.
Thank you. Nice to be here.
So the new book is set in the world of botany.
Why botany?
It started with gardening. I, I, you know, I’m a traveler and I had finally settled down and found a house and had a yard. And like all gardeners, I got obsessive about it and realized that that whatever I was gonna write next, it was gonna have to be about plants. And so I started researching a lot of the plants that I was working with and trying to find out their provenance, which is a really fascinating history of discovery and science and trade and betrayal. There’s all sorts of amazing plotlines…
Who knew?
… that run through the plant world and then I came upon this 1784 edition of Captain Cook’s voyages that belonged to my great-grandfather and that I had inherited, and started paging through it and realized that the story of Joseph Banks and the idea of botanical exploration and the age of enlightenment was where it was at. And that little moment in history between the end of the age of enlightenment and the beginning of the industrial revolution was really fascinating planned stuff, and so I decided to set the book there and put a woman into it.
What have you had the most success with in your own garden?
I have an amazing wild flower meadow that I put in my garden to get rid of a lawn. I’m extremely anti-lawn. I feel like lawn is basically green asphalt.
Lawn is over, folks.
It is a dead, you know, golf course lawns and every yard makes me sad. And so I ripped up what had been sort of a golf course lawn and replaced it with a wild flower meadow that has now become quite the butterfly disco. So it’s pretty gorgeous. I’m very proud of it.
And why did you call it The Signature of All Things.
The Signature of All Things is actually a theory that was posited by a rather mad German 16th-century mystic named Jacob Bone, who posited that God had hidden in the design of every plant on Earth a clue as to its usage. So, for instance, sage leaves are good for liver ailments and they’re shaped like liver. Walnuts are good for headaches and if you crack open a walnut it looks like a human brain and he went really kind of ape with this fascination and by the time my characters came around, his theory had been much discredited in lieu of… or had been replaced by a better taxonomy. But I have a character in my book who still believes in that and still searches for the mystical divination of plants, and I just love the idea of that, that notion and the language in it.
Do you have any, any sympathy for a signature of all things in terms of, you know, some kind of divine or spiritual thumbprint?
Oh, my God! Me? Have you, have you read Eat, Pray, Love?
I have a great deal of sympathy for any cocackmamie theory that, that tries to find meaning in randomness. I am all about that. My… I don’t actually resemble my character in that regard. My character is very much an empiricist, she’s every inch a scientist, and it was really kind of an interesting exercise for me to write from the point of view of somebody who can only believe what is proven, because I am susceptible to everything and she is susceptible to nothing except the facts.
The lead character is Alma, in your book is, she’s a woman of means.
And because of that, she can do whatever work she wants. Now, you are now, thanks to your mega jumbotron, I think you can call it, mega jumbo death star, a woman of means, and so, is this why you’ve returned to fiction? Would you care, really if this book didn’t do well?
I think, I think every creative person would care if a book wasn’t or something they had worked on for as many years as I worked on this novel was not well received. But I feel like the skates for me personally on this are very low and that’s mostly because of the fact that I already did the hardest homework assignment of my life. I already wrote the book that came after Eat, Pray, Love. And once that’s done, and that, that spell has been broken and that enchantment has been snapped and everybody can go about their normal business and all expectations are sort of off the table, I am free.
Not very positive about marriage in this book. These marriages don’t all go very well.
Now, you’re a wife now, are you still not a fan of the institution?
I like my marriage, I don’t … I can’t say that I’m, you know, I, I like my… but I do. I like my marriage, but my marriage is very unusual. I’m married to a man who said to me from the very beginning you are young and ambitious and I’m already sort of lived out my ambitions and I want my role in this marriage to be the supportive partner, partner to be your champion while you go out in the world and make your way. And I don’t think that, I think we can all agree that most women don’t necessarily have that experience with matrimony. And, and history has shown again and again and again that marriage is a fantastic deal for men and not always a particularly good deal for women. And I take issue with a lot of the assumptions that we have around it. That said, I, I’m happy in my own. I wish that more marriages were like mine. I, I hope that more marriages over time will become like mine. But I still think that by a large measure, I think women end up sacrificing more.
When you, you encounter fans these days, do you get asked more about eating, praying or loving?
Loving. It’s, it’s always loving.
When it’s fans, it’s even more intimate because they come to me with this sort of shorthand where they say, I just broke up with David, you know, you know. Or I just found my Felipe. Or you know like there’s, there’s things in my life that, that, that they can identify with in their own and so, yeah, love I mean I think, you know, the eating is nice, the praying is usually the last thing anybody wants to talk about. But the love is always first, first and foremost in people’s minds.
Liz, thanks so much.
Thank you so much. My pleasure.

A proud gardener - 3
An heirloom that belonged to her great-grandfather - 2
Elizabeth Gilbert taking up gardening - 1
Fans - 8
Gilbert comparing herself with one of her characters - 5
Her attitude to the success of her latest book - 6
Personal life - 7
The title explained - 4

jueves, 27 de noviembre de 2014

Listening test: Radio ads

Listen to five radio ads and match each with its corresponding heading A-G. There is one heading you do not need to use. 0 is an example.

A - A bank
B - Dating agency
C - Parks and recreational areas
D - Prize-winning opportunity
E - Shopping centre
F - Store for outdoor enthusiasts
G - Tips on how to sell a house - 0 Example

Key and transcript:

0 Tip on how to sell a house
Ok, you’re reading Edina Realty radio, so you’re looking for conviction… Alright?
Take one.
Home selling tip number twelve. When it comes to marketing your home, remember the three most important things: Location, location Edina Realties Sold. Sold.
You’re getting warmer. Can it sound like a foregone conclusion?
No, no, no. Now I’m just hearing frustration in your voice that is actually the opposite of what we want. One more.
I think we’re going to go as in your first take, can you play that back?
Edina Realty. Sold.

1 A bank
I’m a contractor.
And I work hard to be known for good service.
To prove that I can do the job right.
To build things that last.
So that one day…
One day…
So one day…
I can open my own coffee shop.
Change people’s minds.
Help build our community.
We all work hard for something greater but in Fifth Third Bank we know every dream as unique. That’s why we ask about yours. Fifth Third Bank, the things we do for dreams.
Equal Housing Under Member FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)

2 Prize-winning opportunity
Crystal, Crystal.
Hugh, you missed your plane to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu can wait. These can’t. Here.
Oh, Hugh! Scratch games.
When you feel the way I feel, just doesn’t feel right to bottle up of those feelings?
And when you desire something, the desire grows even more desirable.
I’m not sure I follow.
What I’m trying to say, Crystal, is…
…will you do me the honour of making me the luckiest man on earth…
Oh, Hugh! Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
… by playing these scratch games with me?
Oh, you always knew just what to say to a woman.
Add some drama to your day with scratch games from the Minnesota state lottery. You could win up to $500,000, lottery players must be 18  or older.

3 Store for outdoor enthusiasts
Dear journal, I’ve been lost for some time now. Last saw companions by mountain stream. Over all, I’m in good spirits, but rations running low. Despite situation, I hear the call of the wild like never before.
Attention Gander mountain shoppers for Brian Singer. Please report to customer service. Your wife is looking for you.
Before closing, I’ll head due north toward camping department.
Gander Mountain is so big outdoor enthusiasts may lose themselves in all the hunting, fishing and camping gear.
If I conserve candy in pocket, I could stay here for weeks.
The new Gander Mountain Store in Janesville, now open in the Pine Tree Plaza.

4 Parks and recreational areas
Mr and  Mrs Martin, welcome to the teacher-parent conference.
Thank you.
I’m concerned about your son, Dylan.
He’s been telling his classmates that he has a giant waterfall in his back yard.
Oh, Jesus!
Clearly you don’t have a giant waterfall in your backyard?
No, we have fourteen.
Yeah, and he knows that.
Oh, yesterday he said that his backyard is 200,000 acres.
It’s 230,000 acres. Oh, that boy. Listen, thanks for bringing up Dylan’s under-exaggeration issue to our attention.
Yeah we’ll talk to him this weekend.
Yeah, absolutely, right after we hit the bike trails.
In your backyard.
Minnesota State Parks and trails are practically in your own backyard. Odds are. There is one less than thirty miles away. For just $25 dollars a year your family has unlimited access to hike, bike, kayak, Geocast plus programmes and activities. Discover Minnesota State Parks and Trails at or call 1888 visit MN. Brought to you in part by the federal recreations trails program from FHWA.

5 Shopping centre
So last night Tim calls me.
Really? Oh, oh, you’ve dropped your lipstick.
Thank you.
And he says he made a mistake.
Yes, he did. Oops! Your glasses! On the ground.
Would I ever consider taking him back?
You wouldn’t, would you?
What was that?
It’s money, right there.
Thank you very much. Oh, that’s just it. I need someone I can trust.
Of course, you do.
Your cheque book.
It’s behind you.
There it is, and I say, look what I need is a relationship. Oh, no!
What you need is a new purse.
When you don’t quite have everything you need, head to Galeria. 69th and France, Edina

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2014

Talking point: Success

This week's talking point is success. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below, so that ideas can flow more easily when you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • Are you an ambitious person? What are your ambitions?
  • Which ambitions have you already achieved?
  • What would you say were the major achievements of your life so far?
  • What else would you like to achieve?
  • Have you ever won anything or come first at anything? If so, how did you feel?
  • Are you a competitive person who likes to win, or do you prefer to just take part and set personal challenges?
  • What do you understand by 'success'?
  • What is the best way to achieve it?
  • Discuss these five different ideas of success and how to achieve it? Which idea do you identify yourself with best?
- having good sales figures (how: self-discipline and perseverance)
- enjoying what you do and feeling happy (how: adopting a positive attitude in life)
- getting what you want (vg, learning to use the computer; proving somebody wrong) (how: self-confidence)
- doing something positive and useful with your life (how: leaving a legacy, vg having children, writing a book)
- doing your best (how: training, preparation)

To illustrate the topic watch Richard St. John talking on the 8 factors that lead to success.

Richard St. John's 8 secrets of success
This is really a two hour presentation I give to high school students, cut down to three minutes. And it all started one day on a plane, on my way to TED, seven years ago. And in the seat next to me was a high school student, a teenager, and she came from a really poor family. And she wanted to make something of her life, and she asked me a simple little question. She said, "What leads to success?" And I felt really badly, because I couldn't give her a good answer. So I get off the plane, and I come to TED. And I think, jeez, I'm in the middle of a room of successful people! So why don't I ask them what helped them succeed, and pass it on to kids? So here we are, seven years, 500 interviews later, and I'm gonna tell you what really leads to success and makes TED-sters tick. 

And the first thing is passion. Freeman Thomas says, "I'm driven by my passion." TED-sters do it for love, they don't do it for money. Carol Coletta says, "I would pay someone to do what I do." And the interesting thing is, if you do it for love, the money comes anyway. 
Work! Rupert Murdoch said to me, "It's all hard work. Nothing comes easily. But I have a lot of fun." Did he say fun? Rupert? Yes! TED-sters do have fun working. And they work hard. I figured, they're not workaholics. They're workafrolics. Good! 
Alex Garden says, "To be successful put your nose down in something and get damn good at it." There's no magic, it's practice, practice, practice
And it's focus. Norman Jewison said to me, "I think it all has to do with focusing yourself on one thing" 
And push!  David Gallo says, "Push yourself. Physically, mentally, you've gotta push, push, push." You gotta push through shyness and self-doubt.  Goldie Hawn says, "I always had self-doubts. I wasn't good enough, I wasn't smart enough. I didn't think I'd make it." Now it's not always easy to push yourself, and that's why they invented mothers. (Laughter) Frank Gehry -- Frank Gehry said to me, "My mother pushed me." 
Serve! Sherwin Nuland says, "It was a privilege to serve as a doctor." Now a lot of kids tell me they want to be millionaires. And the first thing I say to them is, "OK, well you can't serve yourself, you gotta serve others something of value. Because that's the way people really get rich." 
Ideas. TED-ster Bill Gates says, "I had an idea -- founding the first micro-computer software company." I'd say it was a pretty good idea. And there's no magic to creativity in coming up with ideas, it's just doing some very simple things. And I give lots of evidence. 
Persist. Joe Kraus says, "Persistence is the number one reason for our success." You gotta persist through failure. You gotta persist through crap! Which of course means "Criticism, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure." So, the big -- the answer to this question is simple: Pay 4,000 bucks and come to TED. Or failing that, do the eight things -- and trust me, these are the big eight things that lead to success. Thank you TED-sters for all your interviews! 

martes, 25 de noviembre de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Product placement

In our Madrid Teacher series, three teachers discuss product placement and publicity this week. As usual, that gives us an opportunity to revise some of the features of spoken English native English speakers use in their conversation.

First of all, watch the video through, so that you can get the gist of what the conversation is about.

Now watch the video more carefully, paying attention to the following:
  •  Making suggestions: Let’s start again; What about…?
  •  Use of hedging to introduce our opinions so as not to sound so dogmatic: I guess, I suppose
  • Use of vague language: kind of; or something
  • Use of tag questions asking for confirmation: doesn’t it
  • Use of actually for emphasizing the information you are about to give 
  • Use of actually for introducing a bit of surprising information
  • Use of for instance and for example to give examples
  • Use of fillers to gain thinking time: er, erm; you know; Well
  • Use of so as a linking word

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with a friend or relative and discuss product placement in TV series, films, press conferences or any other event. How do you feel about this advertising strategy? How ethical is it for you? Should any restrictions be implemented?

In you conversation, don't forget to use some of the features of spoken English we have revised in this post.

What I wonder is if you both think it is ethical in different movies or maybe different events or anything to place products so people see it indirectly…
Like subliminal… messaging?
Let’s start again.
What I wonder, and I would like both of your opinions regarding this, is if you think it’s ethical for them to place products in different movies or different events in order to… what’s the word?
Give a subliminal message.
I guess it’s kind of manipulative in some ways, especially in children’s films or films which...
It depends on the product, doesn’t it?
Of course.
Ah, but actually that’s an interesting point for children’s films. What about…?
I’ve seen a film, for instance, called Over the Hedge, and it’s all these little animals, er, who, they’re all, erm, hibernating animals and they collect all their nuts and, erm, goodies and food for the winter etcetera, until a fox comes along from the city and tells them about garbage cans and how amazing they are. And, er, and, then he makes them all work for him, because he’s actually working for a big bear, who’s er a rubbish junkie and has, you know, a really insatiable appetite. And so he has these, this sweat shop of little animals working, working for him, emptying rubbish bins.
But do they show products?
Yes! And the products are everywhere, you empty... It’s kind of a satire on suburban consumerist society so I suppose that’s negative in a sense, but there’s, you know, it doesn’t matter, they say that whatever publicity a film gives a product, it’s, the publicity is still, the point of it.
Any publicity is good publicity, [Yep.] that’s interesting, that’s what they say.
So it reminds me of, for example, Back to the Future, I know that we’ve seen that film at least a hundred times…
And always they have the product of Pepsi.
Yeah, Pepsi.
Well Pepsi’s a big one, and Coca-Cola, absolutely. But also cereals, I remember they’re always having breakfast and there’s always a big box, you know, a bigger box than I’ve ever gotten of life cereals or something.
Yeah, well it’s just like life. It’s a big box.

lunes, 24 de noviembre de 2014

History of Thanksgiving

We have moved this week's listening test to Thursday 27 November so that teachers and students can do the video activity History of  Thanksgiving well in advance of the holiday.

The history of Thanksgiving Day is a short educational video that covers how Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 1 and intermediate 2 students.

1. When did the Mayflower arrive in the new world?
2. How many colonists died during the first winter?
3. What did Quantum show the colonists to do?
4. What did the king of the Wampanoan, Massasoit, donate to the feast with the pilgrims?
5. What event was commemorated on December 18, 1777?
6. When did President Lincoln declare the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day?
7. What event is organised by Macy’s Department Store on Thanksgiving Day?
8. Why was Thanksgiving Day moved to the fourth Thursday in November in 1941?

Turkey, pumpkin pie, family, football, and parades. Where did these traditions come from and how did they become a part of a national holiday we call Thanksgiving?
To understand the origins of this holiday, we must take a look back at the origins of our country itself, particularly at the Plymouth Colony and it’s crucial first year.
In the fall of 1620, the cargo ship Mayflower transported a group of 102 English men, women and children to the new world.  A portion of this group were separatists, people who had religiously separated themselves from the Church of England, and wanted to come to the new world to find religious freedom. In time, these people would come to be known as the pilgrims.
The Mayflower arrived in the new world in December 16, 1620 (1), weeks later than they had originally hoped and landing much farther north than they had planned, putting them in present-day Massachusetts. These unfortunate circumstances made for a particularly harsh winter — nearly half the colonists died (2) and those who did not, fell ill.
As the spring of 1621 approached, the luck of Plymouth Colony began to change. The colony was visited by several local Indians, or Wampanoan people. One of these visitors was Quantum, otherwise known as Squanto. Squanto spoke English and showed the pilgrims how to use fish as fertilizer (3) to grow crops on sandy land. He was their interpreter. He even chose to live among the colonists at Plymouth.
By November 1621, things were looking up for the pilgrims. They had survived their first year in the new world, and had a successful enough harvest to continue living there. The pilgrims collected their harvest which could have included corn, pumpkins, squash, and some grain. They caught fish and gathered together wildfowl and birds, such as ducks, geese, and even wild turkeys to feast on in celebration.
The mighty king of the Wampanoan people, Massasoit, joined the pilgrims with 90 of his men. He also donated five deer (4) to this great feast which lasted for three whole days.
To the pilgrims, this celebration was not the start of a new holiday. It was a common harvest festival much like the ones held in Europe, after every fall after a good harvest.
On December 18, 1777, Washington held a national day of Thanksgiving to commemorate the defeat of the British Army in Saratoga (5). Through the remainder of the Revolutionary War, Washington proclaimed several national days of Thanksgiving to commemorate special days.
By the end of the war, individual states, particularly in the North, had gotten used to having a yearly Thanksgiving Day, though there was no official national holiday and the date of the feast would vary from state to state.
Thanksgiving as we know it today was made possible largely by the efforts of a 19th century writer named Sarah Josepha Hale. She was America’s first female magazine editor, and author of the famous nursery rhyme ‘Marry had a little lamb’. During the Civil War, Hale was convinced that a national Thanksgiving Day would awaken in American hearts the love of home and country of thankfulness to God and peace between brethren.
She wrote letters to governors and even to President Abraham Lincoln. A few days after receiving her letter, on October 3rd, 1863 (6), President Lincoln, issued a proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day.
Year after year, Americans continue to celebrate this day of feasting and thanks even though Congress had not yet ratified it as an official holiday. Over the years, the date seems to coincide with the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In 1924, Macy’s Department Store started their Thanksgiving Day Parade (7) which route heads down the streets of New York and ends at the store.
Also in the 1920s, the Detroit Lions came up with the idea of a Thanksgiving Day football game. In order to boost dwindling attendance. It was not until 1941 that congress finally made Thanksgiving a legal holiday. When they did, they moved the holiday up one week so that official day of Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday in November. This was done in an attempt to extend the Christmas shopping season (8).
Today, more than anything else, Thanksgiving is about family. Though the way we serve our turkey and our pumpkin may have changed, and our entertainment varied over the years from archery and display of arms to football and parades, Thanksgiving has become a welcome day of rest to spend with loved ones in recognition and appreciation for all the blessings for which we are thankful.

domingo, 23 de noviembre de 2014

Extensive listening: Who were the Greeks?

Think of the ancient Greeks and we form a picture in our heads either of old bearded men talking philosophy or ripped warriors tearing their enemies to shreds. Ancient Greece seems full of such contradictions. A place that invented democracy but also ran on slave labour, that idolised youth but left children to die through exposure. The key questions for Dr Michael Scott in  Who Were The Greeks? – the two-part series he wrote and presented for BBC Two – was how to make sense of those contradictions, how to understand what made ancient Greece tick.
What was really exciting about this challenge was bringing together traditional historical investigations with hard-core archaeology and science. The use of infra-red imaging in the British Museum, for example, to see ancient coloured paint (Egyptian blue) never seen before on the Parthenon marbles. For Dr Scott, the most thought-provoking piece of evidence was the well in Athens containing the bodies of infants and dogs, which is examined in the first part. It symbolised how different this world was. Why throw dogs into a well with dead babies?
But, in seeing the bones of these children, and in recognising the markings of killer childhood diseases like meningitis, or defects like cleft palate, it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by sadness, grief and pity. The same human emotions I suspect that affected the mothers and fathers of these children 2,000 years or so before.

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

sábado, 22 de noviembre de 2014

Reading test: Kindles inferior to paperbacks for memorable stories

In this week's reading test we are going to use Charlotte Rancie's article Kindles inferior to paperbacks for memorable stories in the Telegraph to practise the 'insert a sentence' kind of task.

Seven sentences have been taken out of the text below. Insert one of the sentences A-I in its corresponding gap 1-7 in the article. There is one sentence that you do not need to use. 0 is an example.

Sales of ebooks are growing at a rapid pace, rising by 20 per cent last year and prompting some concerns (0) …  .
But according to a new study, the increasing popularity of ebooks may have an impact on the way we absorb and remember what we read. The study, conducted in Norway, claims (1) … than if they'd chosen to read the same text on paper.
Researchers gave 50 people a 28-page short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half of the participants read the story on a Kindle, and half in paperback form. They were then tested (2) … .
Those who had read the story as an ebook found it much harder to remember its events in the right order than those who had read it in paperback.
Anne Mangen, one of the researchers behind the study at Stavanger University, said: "The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, (3) … ." One explanation, the researchers have suggested, could be that "the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide (4) … as a print pocket book does".
"When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, (5) … ," said Mangen. "Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, (6) … , and hence the story."
Mangen hopes that her research into the impact of digitisation on reading, and evidence that reading in general is becoming more "intermittent and fragmented", will eventually be used to recommend (7) … .

A - and shrinking on the right
B - on what they remembered
C - people struggle to remember what they've read on e-readers
D - providing more fixity and solidity to the reader's sense of unfolding and progress of the text
E - that fans of ebooks may find they have fewer memories of their reading
F - that the days of traditionally printed books may be numbered 0
G - the same support for mental reconstruction of a story
H - when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order
I - which texts are best read digitally and which offer more benefits when read on printed paper

 Photo:  Kindle by sm0k1nggnu under Creative Commons

1E 2B 3H 4G 5A 6D 7I

viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2014

CNN explains fracking

CNN explains fracking to us.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

1 The traditional drilling for oil and gas and the new technique of fracking do not differ very much.
2 Fracking involves breaking the rock.
3 US is the leading country in the world as far as fracking goes.
4 US has abundant amounts of oil and gas if compared to other countries.
5 US laws allow fracking in the same places as traditional drilling.
6 Fracking companies use air to push fluid down into the rocks and fracture them.
7 Fracking companies are reluctant to explain their technique.
8 Fracking is safe as far as pollution goes.
9 Fracking is synonimous with money.

One of the things that oil companies and gas companies and geologists always kind of knew is that there were pockets of oil and natural gas under big rock formations, big layers of rock that you couldn’t get at by drilling straight down, so this process involves drilling horizontally.
Fracking gets its name from hydraulic fracturing. And what that means? Hydraulic, they are using water and a lot of chemicals and some sand and other things and they fracture the rock by pushing it out at a very high speed. That fractures the rock and releases the oil and the natural gas.
About 87% of the fracking that was done last year worldwide was done in North America. The Bakken Shale which is out in North Dakota, you have the Marcellus Shale, which spreads through New York and Pennsylvania, so that’s the kind of rock, shale, that you find these oil and gas pockets underneath.
The US doesn't have that much oil or gas if you look at it compared to the rest of the world. And also, remember there are a lot of places in the US where you can't drill for oil and gas: the governement only allows it in some places so they allow fracking in different places that they do, say, traditional drilling. It is also and can be less expensive to frack for natural gas in, say, Pennsylvania, than it is to drill for oil off the coast of Louisiana.
This is the image that people know about fracking, right? A drinking water tap catching on fire. That happens when you have methane in the drinking water. So what you hear from advocates, environmentalists or those who live near there is that the drinking water is contaminated either because there is natural gas in it or because there’s chemicals that is… that are being used to kind of push the fluid down into the rock, fracture it and it could seep into ground water.
A lot of these chemicals are dangeours. We don't quite know exactly what’s in it because nobody requires the companies to say exactly what's in it and they say that if they told us the secret ingredients, that would put their business model at risk.
This is the central debate about fracking : whether or not things get in the ground water. The companies who do this say, no, it's completely safe largely because there’s space, there’s a lot of rock in between the fracking operations and drinking water, be it wells or reservoirs.
Fracking can bring a lot of money, a lot of development and a lot of jobs to an area that didn't have that option. So there are places in Pennsylvania, there are places in North Dakota that because of fracking have put a lot of their residents to work. Then also you have these companies who pay home owners to be able to drill on their land so they make money out of it too.

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jueves, 20 de noviembre de 2014

Taylor Swift announces new album

In mid-August this year Taylor Swift announced that she was to release a new album.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 Why is Taylor Swift making history that day?
2 What does 'two years' refer to?
3 What's the key word of what may happen in two years?
4 When was Taylor Swift born?
5 What's the lesson she has learnt in these two years?
6 What two things does she think about all the time?
7 What greatly reflects life and who we are?

You can check the answers by reading the transcript below

Welcome to this live stream extravaganza adventure-a-thon! Tonight they’re telling me that we’re making history because this is the first ever worldwide live stream for ABC and Yahoo to get together (1) and I’m so excited I can’t even!
Well, I’ve been working on a new album for two years (2). And two years gives you enough time to grow and to change (3), and to, you know, change your priorities, change where you live, change your hair, change what you believe in, change who you hang out with, what’s influencing you, what’s inspiring you. And in the process of all of those changes that happened in the last two years, my music changed.
I’m thinking about how this new album is a bit of a rebirth for me because it’s so new. I’ve never really made these kinds of changes before. And having been born on December 13th, 1989 (4), this album is called 1989.
The song that… the idea came up with and what I wanted to write about was the idea that, I’ve had to learn a pretty tough lesson in the last couple of years that people can say whatever they want about us at any time. People can say whatever they want about us at any time and we cannot control that (5). The only thing we can control is our reaction to it. And I figure that we had two options. You can either let it get to you, let it change you, let it make you bitter or not trust people. Option two, you see, you just shake it off.
I wanted to tie this to this metaphor that I’ve been thinking about a lot because all I think about are metaphors and cats (6). My idea was that life itself and who people actually are can be greatly reflected in how they dance (7). We basically decided that we would get this huge group of incredible professional dancers of all different types of dance and throw me into the middle of them and see what happens. So fun fact, at the end of the video, you will see a group of about 100 fans. Those are people we plucked from Instagram, Twitter, website, letters, everywhere. Can I get a round of applause?
Thank you to the fans in New York and around the world. Thank you to ABC and Yahoo. This is the most unbelievable party you threw for us. And to go, pre-buy the album go to You know what they say. There’s no sale like a presale. No one says that. I love you. Thank you for watching with us.

miércoles, 19 de noviembre de 2014

Talking point: Adoption

Our talking point this week is adoption. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas flow more easily with you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • What can couples who are unable to have children do to resolve their problem?
  • Would you adopt even if you could have, or already have, your own children?
  • Why might some couples prefer to have children that are biologically their own? Why do other couples choose to adopt?
  • If a couple wants to adopt a child, do you think they have a right to choose the child's age,sex and race?
  • When should parents tell the child that he/she was adopted?
  • Where possible, should the adoptive parents maintain contact with the natural parents?
  • Should the adoptive parents try to let their child be interested in his/her natural cultural background?
  • Why do you think some people object to international adoptions?
  • Why do some couples volunteer to be foster families (to look after a child for a period of time when the child's natural parents have problem or are in jail)? Would you volunteer to be a foster parent?
To illustrate the point, you can listen to Charlotte and Martin, who were both adopted at a young age, talking about their experience in this BBC4 Radio audio file.

My parents have always sat me down from, from the age of two, from when I could talk really, and really sort of said you’re adopted, you know, told me what it’s about, so when I’ve always had relevant information given to me throughout the years.
Being adopted now feels no different from being normal because I have a family, so it’s great.
Did you, did you not ever feel like you didn’t have anyone to speak to anything?
It’s not been a huge issue for me actually, no, because I’ve never actually felt it’s been a bad thing, I’ve always seen the positive side of it, I’m not sure how it has been, for you has it been the same?
You know, it’s been different for me like before we had the Talk Adoption Group I literally, I felt so lonely like I didn’t have really anyone to talk to about it, so I don’t know, I just thought maybe you might have felt the same because I didn’t know anyone in Cardiff who was adopted, I just, I didn’t realize there were so many people out there.
I knew about the adoption but my family has always put positive on it, so I’ve never really seen the downside of being adopted.
Did you not have like, like in primary school I had this one time when they asked me to do like a family tree and I didn’t have any photos of myself and I felt really bad. Did you ever have that?
I have had photos of myself when I was quite small, I mean a small baby but not when I was like newly born, or anything like that, so it kinda started if on the family tree it kind of started from a few months old and then it kind of escalated from there really, so I kind of had a family tree but wasn’t from the very, very beginning.
Yeah, because I didn’t make one at all because I was told in primary school like because I didn’t have picture, I couldn’t take part.
I know, it’s a bit harsh.
Yeah, that was a bit harsh.
I know, I felt, you know I was younger so I saw, I just, you know went along with it.
I think that’s the thing when you’re younger. You don’t quite understand why people are saying things like that, why people are acting towards you in that way. When you get older, you kind of understand it a lot more and you understand.
And the people do as well I find.
Yeah, yeah, I mean, to you you’re completely normal and I think to other people who have a family from the start, I think that’s kind of normal to them and then adoption is normal to us, so it works two ways, and I think that in-between there’s a kind of misunderstanding possibly with them. I mean, I’ve really never been asked the question, would you want to contact them, would you want to do this, and I mean, if I’m gonna answer that now, it would be not really, because I have a family, they’ve been there for me all my life and I don’t really think I need anyone else intruding in the kind of happy family I have now.
Yeah, well I see what you mean like but for me it’s different because a lot of my best friends I’ve told, like they do ask me like quite a lot what you gonna do when you’re 18, like you know, like which is fine for me because it helps me think about it, if I’m not thinking about it I wouldn’t know what I would do, so for that question at the moment I think I am definitely thinking about like having a look at my files and…
Yeah, of course.
… and then I’m gonna like make a decision on that whether I meet my birth parents, but at the moment I think I would like to because I feel like there is something missing and I’d like to see what they look like and things like that.
I think it’s nice to kind of know there is a bit of explanation in the files, but I’m not sure whether I’d actually want to have a look at them.
Because you’ve always got that chance that it may not be as exciting as you thought it would be, it may, might disappoint you, it may have something a bit kind of negative and I think I might kind of be like, well this is kind of weird because the people who actually gave birth to me weren’t ideal and I think, I don’t know, it’s, it’s a strange, strange thing, actually. I’m inquisitive to see what will be in the files. Whether I’d actually end up meeting them personally, I don’t really know.

martes, 18 de noviembre de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Street style

In our Madrid Teacher video, four teachers talk about street style and fashion. As usual, we'll be using their conversation to pay attention to some of the features of spoken they use.

First of all, watch the video through, so that you get familiar with the conversation.

Now watch the video more carefully, paying attention to the following:
  • Involving listeners in the conversation: How do you feel about...?
  • Use of like to introduce examples
  • Use of like as a filler
  • Use of filler to gain thinking time: you know; like
  • Use of really to emphasize the verb and the adjective
  • Reacting to what you have just heard: Polka dots!; Oh, yes?; Oh, wow; Really?
  • Showing agreement: Yes. Maybe, yes; That’s right; Yeah, that’s right; Exactly
  • Use of vague language: and those kinds of places; all that
  • Making suggestions: what about...?

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with a friend or relative and discuss the topic the four Madrid teachers were talking about. Do you like the current fashions you see on the streets? Do you follow them? Where do you get the inspiration as to what to wear? Do you pay attention to friends, or colleagues/classmates and try to imitate the way they dress? Have you ever bought clothes in charity or second-hand shops? Are you creative fashion-wise?

In your conversation with your friend or relative, don't forget to use some of the features of spoken English we have revised today.

How do you feel about the current fashions on the street at the moment?
The eighties fashions?
Yeah, it’s a bit eighties at the moment.
Some things I like. Like, for example, leggings are comfortable at least. They’re quite a practical item of clothing. And some things I really, really dislike. Like . . .
Like what?
Like polka dots.
Polka dots!
Oh, I like them.
So, so you’re not really. . . You like them?
Yeah! I have a really nice black and white polka dot dress.
I think it depends on the size of the polka dots.
Yes. Maybe, yes. That’s right.
And are you going down, down the High Street to buy things from Top Shop and Zara and those kinds of places? Or you’re tending to avoid them?
Yeah, I think I would go to those shops.
Oh, yes?
But I think the best way to get, like, the new trends is just to go on the street and see what people wear and... because there are loads of different trends, and you can pick from everything.
Yes, but where do you find the clothes, then, to fit the trends? Where do you shop?
Yeah, High Street I guess, yeah. Zara, and for teenagers, Bershka, Stradivarius, all that.
Yes. And do you ever, do you ever buy things from charity shops or second-hand shops?
I have. Oh yeah. In, in the States they have, like, church bazaars, you know? And a lot of people, like, a lot of people, like from rich neighborhoods, like, donate clothes. And you can get real deals, like real bargains.
Yeah? What’s your best find?
Oh, wow. Oh, this leather dress.
Yeah, I once found a leather dress with a zipper going up the side. Yeah.
Sexy lady!
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, it was really cool.
The thing is that, I don’t . . . Because in England there are lots of charity shops, aren’t there? But in Spain, not many.
It’s not that common, is it?
No. So, . . .
There’re a couple of shops, like around the Chueca area, Tribunal, there are a couple of shops, but it’s not...
Oh, yeah, there are quite a few, Retro City and a few others.
Yeah. There’re vintage, there’s vintage shops, I’ve found, but not charity shops.
That’s right.
It’s, there’s a bit of a difference because at the vintage shops, someone has found the great clothes somewhere else and then put them in the vintage shop and made them a bit more expensive, so… yeah, yeah.
Although you can donate clothes to the vintage shops, they just won’t ever give you money for them.
Or give you par of exchange.
And what, what about adapting things that you buy from the High Street? You know, adding little bits and pieces that, that, that are creative.
That is good for the credit crunch, isn’t it? So you can “remodelate” everything.
Yeah, I, I don’t know.
You’re not creative that way?
I do it occasionally but, I do it occasionally but, I must admit I’m often lazy ‘cause often in my mind and I have great plans but the reality doesn’t materialise as often.
Well, what I have done maybe is do it like, a top, I wear as, as a skirt maybe…
Just to . . . so it looks different or something.
That’s a short skirt.
It would be, yeah.
But then you wear the leggings underneath.
That’s right.

lunes, 17 de noviembre de 2014

Urban Gardeners Grow Crops in Spare Spaces

Urban living does not always allow space or conditions for gardening. But more and more people are finding ways to use limited resources to grow vegetables and even raise chickens. In this National Geographic video you can follow some urban gardeners in Washington, D.C., and meet a garden designer who helps them make the best with what's available.

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 Lots of cities have access to big open fields.
2 A lot of people have vivid memories of growing up in a garden.
3 Most of the people interested in growing their own food don't have direct experience with it.
4 Some people grow food on their roof tops.
5 The food the kids don't eat in the morning is used as compost for the garden.
6 Most families who grow food in their garden are self-sufficient as far as food is concerned.

It's difficult to grow food in the city, but more and more people are trying to. We usually don't get access to the big open fields. What we get are the scraps, we get the tiny side yards, we get the little scrap of lawn between the sidewalk and the street. My job is to re-engineer those pieces of land into edible spaces that are producing food for the families that live around them.
Most people's great-grandparents and probably their grandparents have had a garden or grew up with a garden, I hear that a lot from people, who they say, oh my grandmother had this, this huge garden, it was so beautiful, I want to recreate that for my kids. But there's a gap there where it seems like a whole generation of people just completely missed out on what it is to grow your own food.
There is enormous value in putting the food system in the community as opposed to making it some abstract thing where tomatoes come in cellophane. Tomatoes come off a vine, and they can come off a vine in your own backyard. And that is an extraordinarily empowering thing for people, in addition to being delicious.
This is about as urban as it gets, it's very busy and very noise and crowded. But this garden is sort of a secret on our roof. Coming up here and finding the new growth every day is just, it’s a huge surprise and it just brings me so much joy. It's hard to explain.
A vegetable garden has, has rich soil, there's flowers, there's natives, and it fosters a healthy ecosystem.
If the kids are raising out the door first thing in the morning and they've, you know, not finished all of their food, I can take those leftovers out to the hens. They're getting a good breakfast, there's not a whole lot of waste. They get our leftovers, the lay eggs, we eat the eggs. We're all kind of having this nutrient cycle that's pretty, pretty wonderful and pretty remarkable.
You might not be able to feed your whole family growing in your backyard, but you can produce a whole lot in a small little space. And the food that comes out there is going to be more nutritious and tastier than anything you can buy in the store.

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domingo, 16 de noviembre de 2014

Extensive listening: GoPro's video revolution

One year ago CBS's 60 Minutes aired the segment GoPro's video revolution, about one of the world's best-selling cameras that's revolutionizing video production.

This is the way reporter Anderson Cooper introduced the segment:

"Nick Woodman is an avid surfer who 12 years ago created a waterproof camera so he could record himself and his friends catching some waves. It's called a GoPro, and it's one of the bestselling camera in the world, and it's made Woodman a billionaire. Since our story first aired in November, Woodman has taken GoPro public with an IPO and expanded into a media business built around his wearable camera.
A GoPro can go just about anywhere, but what really sets it apart is that it allows anyone to become the star of their own real life movie. The results can be astonishing.  With GoPro cameras attached to their helmets, Matthias Giraud and his friend record what it's like to ski down a mountain in the French Alps, and then to ski off it. With GoPro you don't just see the action, you experience it. The camera is small, light and runs by itself. Underwater, on waves, on slopes, in the air, GoPro has become the go-to camera for people who like adventure and action sports."

You can read a full transcript of the segment here.

sábado, 15 de noviembre de 2014

News in levels

News in levels is an excellent site to develop the reading, listening and vocabulary skills for students of all levels.

Every working day a short video news item is published (usually from ITN News). The content is adapted for level 1 (beginners) and level 2 (intermediate) students, with the speed of delivery also adapted. Level 3 students (advanced) always  listen to the authentic video material.

There is always an accompanying transcript with the key words highlighted. These key words are also defined for the students in level 3.

Learners can also download activities for free for some of the news items.

All in all, News in levels looks like an excellent site for learners willing to learn English in a systematic way, especially if they don't have much time availability.

viernes, 14 de noviembre de 2014

Buses in San Francisco for the homeless

Lava Mae ('Wash me' in Spanish) is a San Francisco non-profit project which aims to deliver dignity  to the homeless by providing them with access to mobile shower and toilet facilities.

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

1 Lava Mae intends to set up 7 shower stalls for the San Francisco homeless.
2 Doniece Sandoval learnt about the replacement of San Francisco buses in a meeting.
3 Public showers were prohibited in San Francisco in 1992.
4 The biggest challenge they are facing is what to do with the used water.
5 Doniece Sandoval can feel the public support for the idea.
6 Similar ideas to the Lava Mae project have been put into practice somewhere else.
7 They use a 50-litre water tank for heating the water.
8 Users are expected to spend half an hour having a shower.
9 A non-profit organisation is advising the people behind the Lava Mae project.

There are only seven locations in the city of San Francisco where if you're homeless, you can go to take a shower. We're looking at 16 to 20 shower stalls for the 3,500 people who actually live on a street and that's untenable and I just thought if you can put gourmet food on wheels and take it anywhere, why not showers and toilets?
I had seen an article on the Chronicle recently about the Feds providing money to the city to replace these old diesel buses and I just started thinking I wonder what they're going to do with those buses? I want those buses!' So we reached out to Muni and we found out that they have a donation programme.
So we're transforming a passenger vehicle into, essentially, a bathing facility.
You want to see this tucked back tighter?
And you want to see a cove?
We brainstorm for several months how this could even be possible in a city like San Francisco which is so ridden with permitting and regulatory hurdles. The actual bus we're using is a 1992 Gillig Phantom Bus. It's an Enguno bus which historically ran from all the way down to the Sunset.
To drive a bus like this and have big, giant water tanks, we completely destabilized it. So we, for example, will be drawing water from fire hydrants.
The biggest challenge I think was how to deal with all the black water and gray water which is generated from two showers running every half hour, three hours a day. That's a lot of water.
You can see the shell of the bus and then the two shower pods which are inserted inside the confines of the exterior wall.
Over and over again people said, you are crazy and we love this idea and we will support you if you go out and get it done.
My name is Chris Doherty. We're here at Airco Mechanical in Sacramento, California. We're in the mechanical room of the Lava Mae Bus. We have the engine here on this side of the wall. We have the mechanical room here which is all the workings of the bus and then we have the two bathrooms as we work forward on the bus. The biggest challenge is in completing this is nobody's ever done this before so a lot of just trial and error.
So the unique thing about this particular plumbing system is that you would see this in a small commercial building or residential house and we put this in the back of a Muni bus to run two full bathrooms. So this here, we have a 50 gallon hot water heater, it's powered by propane and this delivers all the hot water to our showers, our lavie's and our heating system.
So the unique thing about this particular bathroom here is that we have skylights in here, we have a digitally-controlled shower, we have hot and cold and we're still on a bus.
It's just two units that have a shower, a sink, a toilet and a small changing area so, it's idea of even though you're only going to be on the bus for 20 minutes or so, it's 20 minutes of complete privacy and respite to hopefully recharge yourself in a lot of ways.
We decided that what we would do is partner with an existing non-profit that's already serving the homeless that ultimately doesn't have showers and sanitation available to them. So we augment the services that they're offering and we also benefit from their expertise and their wisdom about how to operate best in this realm.
Lava Mae is not about ending homelessness. What we are about is providing hygiene because we believe that hygiene brings dignity and dignity opens up opportunity.

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jueves, 13 de noviembre de 2014

The Corpse Flower

Here is the famous corpse flower in full bloom at the US Botanic Garden. While many visitors expected to smell the flower's powerful scent, a few were a little disappointed.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 Why is an Italian explorer in Sumatra mentioned?
2 When does the peak smell usually come?
3 What does the smell attract?
4 How long does the plant release the smell?
5 What gets trapped inside the plant?
6 When does the plant produce the most stinking smell?

You can check the answers by reading the transcript below.

I'm interested to see the stinky, corpsy smell.
According to this brochure, it's a stinky plant.
Well, they said rotting meat.  So I'm going to assume if it's in bloom it's going to stink.
We're display a titan arum.  The latin name of this plant is Amorphophallus titanium.  It's a really awesome plant that was first discovered to Western scientists in the late 1800s by an Italian explorer in Sumatra, Indonesia (1).
It's got this crazy, disgusting smell.  In fact, the Indonesian name for the plant directly translates as 'corpse flower' and it smells like a rotting corpse.
The peak smell usually comes within just a couple of hours of opening (2).  So as soon as it is open enough, it starts generating the stench and that peaks within three to four hours later.
The way the flower works is it has two runs of flowers down in its base, and the female flowers are the first to start.  And their strategy is to put the cattle call out to every carrion fly, beetle, sweat fly [insects (3)]...
They think they are going towards a rotting corpse which is what they love.  They love to eat them.  They like to lay eggs in them.  They like to have a great time in them.
So it pulses that smell out to get insects in that hopefully already have pollen on them from a previous plant that was in the male cycle somewhere in the area.  So they come in, the heat generates the smell.  It's just overwhelmingly wonderful for them.
The plant only releases the putrid smell for two nights (4).  The insects actually get trapped inside the plant (5).
And then the male flowers open up.  It's already got the pollinators inside.  It doesn't need to make any more smell.  So after that first twelve hours, its got what it needs in there, it starts raining pollen down on them and then it can let them go. It kind of starts easing up after the flower's been open about 24, 36 hours.  And the beetles can escape, again with pollen on them.
It didn't smell that bad, actually.  I didn't smell any really bad odor but I guess it was if you got close enough. We weren't that close.
It wasn't as strong as I thought it would be. But I could kind of smell it.  It smelled like a mixture of maggots and really smelly feet.
Fortunately for the public, the plant produces its most odoriferous emissions the middle of the night from about midnight to 4am (6).  So nobody will be around.  So during the day when the visitors come in, it's just going to be a bit less of that smell.  And so people will smell it.  And the plant is in a rather large greenhouse and that will dilute the smell a little bit but people should be able it, no problem.
Every now and then, I could a little whiff and went, 'Whoah!.' Also, I don't really, we don't really smell rotten flesh all that often.  Just alone it was cool to look at.

miércoles, 12 de noviembre de 2014

Talking point: Looking after yourself

This week's talking point is looking after yourself. 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.

How important are these things if you want to look after yourself?
  • Keeping fit: doing exercise (where?, who with?, how often?); walking; doing sport
  • Beauty: Looking after your skin, face, hair, teeth, feet; using beauty products and treatments
  • Wellbeing: Having a healthy diet; cutting down on some food and drink (vg. red meat); cutting out some food and drink (alcohol); having regular check-ups at the doctor's or dentist's
  • Boosting your brain power: reading; doing puzzles; playing computer games; learning new things
Have you ever been to a spa? What is their appeal to some people? Are they good value?
If money was no object, would you hire the services of a stylist and a personal shopper?
If you could design your ideal way of keeping fit and you had no time/money restrictions, what would it be?


Rank the following activities from the one which would give you the most pleasure (1) to the one which you would least like to do (8). Then discuss your choices with the members of your conversation group and agree on an activity to do together and try to agree on the most unpopular activity. Remember to always give reasons for your choices.
  • a day in a health spa
  • a few hours in a gym
  • a long walk in the countryside
  • a lazy day at home
  • a clothes-shopping expedition
  • a day on a hot, sunny beach
  • a competitive sporting activity
  • a meal in a posh restaurant
 Photo: Ruschi under Creative Commons

To illustrate the point you can listen to BBC's 6 Minute English episode Men's Body Image.

martes, 11 de noviembre de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Talking about Pubs

In our Madrid Teacher series this week, three teachers talk about pubs, which gives us an opportunity to revise features of spoken English.

First of all, watch the video through, so that you can get acquainted with the conversation.

Now, pay attention to these phrases in the teachers' speech:
  • Showing agreement: Yeah; Of course; Yeah, that’s it; Yeah, it’s true; Exactly
  • Showing disagreement: No, I, I don’t think so
  • Using really to emphasize the adjective
  • Use of quite to emphasize the adjective
  • Using I mean to paraphrase what you have just said and made yourself clear
  • Using just to emphasize the verb
  • Use of hedging so as not to sound too dogmatic in your opinions: I guess; I don’t think that
  • Use of actually to correct yourself
  • Use of vague language: like
  • Showing surprise: Really?; Wow, what, really?
  • Fillers to gain thinking time: Well; you know
  • Reacting to what you have just heard: Oh! That sounds delicious; That sounds like torture

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with a friend or relative and discuss your experience of pubs. How do the waiters and waitresses typically behave? What's their attitude to customers? Do you ever engage in conversation with them? How differently do waiters/waitresses behave if you are a regular? What's your experience of pubs and bars in other regions and countries?

Don't forget to use in your speech some of the features of spoken English we have revised today.

I love going to the Australian pubs. I know I can go in, and I can get a big, cold beer.
You can do that anywhere.
No, I, I don’t think so. It’s really important to know what you’re getting into when you walk into a particular bar or pub. For example, some bars don’t sell cold beer. I mean it should be cold but it’s not really cold.
Oh, you’re talking about, like, freezing almost.
Ah, OK.
And a lot of bars, if you walk in and you just say, “I’ll have a beer!” Maybe, maybe they, they don’t just serve the person who walked in the door last. There, there could be an order, an unspoken order. In fact, some of the best bars have unspoken orders.
Yeah. Unspoken rules. I mean, what about shouting? I mean, for me it’s quite normal if I go to the pub with my friends, I’ll buy the first round of drinks. And then someone else will buy the second round, and someone else will buy the third round, and hopefully there’s not a fourth round because that might be too much. But, I’m quite used to that. But other places you go to, it doesn’t work that way.
Of course. Some people don’t do that.
It doesn’t work that way here.
It depends on the crowd that you go in with I guess, and, of course, the bar. But there are certain places where, actually, I’d say it’s most places, if you were to snap or whistle at the bartender, . . .
Oh, yeah. . . .’re asking for trouble.
You’ll never get served.
In some bars here, it doesn’t matter what you do. They’re, they’re like permanently bitter. They’re very cynical people. I don’t think that’s. . .
Yeah.  And then, when you respond in kind, you find that they might warm up to you a little bit.
I spent the first few months here trying to be everybody’s friend. “Oh, thank you very much! Hi, yeah! I’d love a beer!” It’s, you know, you’ve got to use the “give me.”
Wow, what, really? OK, I have to try that.  So you have to mistreat them, and if you do that, . . .
Well no, not mistreatment, but don’t waste time on pleasantries. If you’re there for a beer, ask for the beer.
Just, “give me a beer.”  That’s it.
Yeah, that’s it. And that’s the way that certain places work. Other places, you say, you go in and they say, “How’s your day?” or, “What’ll it be, sweetheart?” And you say, “Ah, you know? I think today I feel like this.” Some bartenders don’t care what you feel like. They just want to know what you’re thirsty for.
Yeah, it’s true. There’s this stereotype of bartenders being a shoulder to cry on, you know? The depressed, sad people go in and, you know, they’re drowning their sorrows in a, in a, in a drink and the bartender has to listen to all their worries and all their troubles with their love life.
While they polish glasses or rub their hands in a towel.
Exactly. How many movies have you seen, have you seen that character in?
Yeah, well, if they, you just serve with a smile and a direct look, instead of ignoring people, like they do sometimes.
I’ve got a bar that’s more than a smile. You walk in and the guy kind of shouts something incomprehensible, turns around with a glass, and dips his arm into a cauldron and comes out with steaming broth. And gives you that next to your beer, and takes one for himself. And you have to take a shot of the broth in which snails are fried, and things like this.
Oh! That sounds delicious.
It’s . . .
That sounds like torture.
It, at first, it was. But you realize later on its fortification. And the man’s got quite a few years under his belt. I attribute it to the broth.
Broth and beer.
Broth and beer.
OK. I’ve never heard of that before.
I should, they, I think that might be the name of the bar. OK.

lunes, 10 de noviembre de 2014

Listening test: Marathon running

Listen to two BBC reporters discuss marathons and fill in the blanks in sentences 1-7 with up to four words. 0 is an example.

0.    The distance of a marathon is 26 miles or 42 kilometres.

1.    Nuala liked the French marathon best because participants could eat ………………………  .
2.    Dan will be running his first ever marathon in under  …………………………….. in Brighton.
3.    Nutrition is a technical word for the …………………………….  .
4.    When runners take part in a marathon they lose a lot of water because of ……………………… .
5.    Marathon runners usually get …………………………….. because of the rubbing of the shoes against the skin.
6.    The good thing about a marathon in a big city is that there’s a large crowd ……………………………. you, which creates a party atmosphere.
7.    It’s important for runners to break down the race in …………………………….. pieces of about three miles.

Dan: Hello, I’m Dan Walker Smith and in today’s programme I’m joined by Nuala O’Sullivan.
Nuala: Hi Dan.
Dan: Now in today’s programme Nuala and I are talking about marathons. These are the very long runs covering 26 miles or 42 kilometres (0). Now Nuala you’re a very experienced runner, so how many marathons have you run?
Nuala: Well I’ve actually run four Dan. I’ve run them in The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and France.
Dan: OK, which was the best out of the four you did?
Nuala: Oh definitely France. I was running through the vineyards and you got little drinks of wine all the way along and there was steak and oysters (1) to eat as well. I mean it was just…it was a gourmet marathon; it was just fabulous.
Dan: That’s quite different from the normal marathons. You’re not going for a certain time; you’re going for an enjoyable experience.
Nuala: Well, I would say I was going for a good time because I wanted to enjoy myself, not a good time as in getting a fast time.
Dan: Ah very good, very good indeed. OK, well I’m running my first ever marathon in under a month’s time (2). I’m running the Brighton marathon on the south coast of England, so maybe you can give me some advice on that. Now I want to talk to you about nutrition and hydration. Everyone tells me that these are really important for long-distance running, so could you tell me a bit about them?
Nuala: Sure. Well nutrition is a technical word for the process of absorbing food (3). If food is nutritious, it’s good for your health.
Dan: OK, and what about hydration?
Nuala: Well, to hydrate something means to add water to it. So when you’re running, you have to consider hydration or how much water you’re taking in, because you’re going to lose a lot through sweat (4). So if you’re doing a lot of exercise, you can become dehydrated; that means becoming ill from not having enough water.
Dan: OK, I’ve been training since Christmas more or less, about four months now, and I’m definitely getting some pains when I’m doing my long runs.
Nuala: Oh what sort of pains do you get Dan, blisters (5)? They’re usually caused from rubbing or if you burn yourself. They’re very common in runners because your shoe might be rubbing against your foot and then that way you’d get a blister.
Dan: It’s more a muscular pain.
Nuala: So you probably need to stretch your legs more.
Dan: Well there are some of the physical problems for runners. But Nuala, how important is your mental attitude for running marathons?
Nuala: Oh I think it’s really important. And I think if you’re doing yours in a big city like Brighton, there’ll be lots of people out encouraging (6) you. It’s always nice to have a big crowd; it makes it a kind of party atmosphere. But the other thing to bear in mind is that 26 miles is a very long distance, so you might want to break it down into bite-sized (7) pieces. Bite-sized literally means something that is small enough to eat in one bite. So my advice would be: don’t think about running the whole 26 miles, just think of the next three miles in front of you.
Dan: OK well that sounds like great advice to me. And goodbye!
Nuala: Goodbye!

domingo, 9 de noviembre de 2014

Extensive listening: Britain's Hidden Housing Crisis

At the end of 2012 BBC's documentary programme Panorama aired a special report on the impact the economic crisis was having on the housing sector in Britain, Britain's Hidden Housing Crisis. This is the way the programme introduced the documentary:

"Britain is in the grip of a housing crisis of a sort not seen before - where even the most unexpected people are finding themselves homeless. Every two and a half minutes someone in Britain is threatened with losing their home. This Panorama Special follows four stories over five months and reveals the devastating impact of being evicted from your own home and losing everything - from an investment banker now sleeping rough in a park in Croydon; to a businessman who lost his company in the recession; and a grandmother who gets cancer, has to stop working and then has her house repossessed"

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

Britain's Hidden Housing Crisis from James Jones on Vimeo.

sábado, 8 de noviembre de 2014

Reading test: Good friends are hard to find and even harder to keep

This week's reading test is based on The Guardian article Good friends are hard to find and even harder to keep, written by Tim Lott in mid-August.

Read the article and choose the option a, b or c that best completes each sentence. 0 is an example.

A survey by Relate rather shockingly suggests that as many as 10% of people in the UK don’t have a single friend to turn to. That translates into nearly 5 million adults who are, in effect, friendless.
Even factoring in that many of these unfortunates may be elderly people whose friends have died, or inadequates who lack functional social skills, that is still a significant number of ordinary people who just don’t know how to maintain good friendships.
I am fortunate to be able to claim at least four friends, of both genders, who stretch back nearly 40 years, and a number of other more recent ones that are close and durable. But I have also lost enough to understand that friendships are difficult, and the closer they are the more difficult they become. This is also true of family relationships, but it’s very hard to escape your family. With friends, if you annoy them too much, they can just drop you. Within this simple fact lies one of the first principles of friendship – tread carefully. Friends are precious, even irreplaceable, but they are also fragile.
Treading carefully is easier said than done. Part of a good friendship is honesty, and sooner or later one is forced to choose between being amenable and giving a friend the honesty you think the relationship merits. But honesty is always a risky strategy, whether it’s asking “Do you like my new dress/suit?” or “Do you like my new girlfriend/boyfriend?” Sometimes you are forced to find out what your friendship rests on, and sometimes the foundations prove insubstantial.
Friendships can be rooted in a number of different impulses. Unhealthy elements like need, the desire for borrowed status, and the wish for flattery are as common as the more healthy ones like mutual interests, sense of humour and natural compatibility. The healthy and unhealthy are often mixed together, the latter concealed under the myth of “friendship”, which suggests, more than marriage, a certain (unrealistic) perfection of sensibility.
The thing with friends is that because they tend to be bit-players in one’s life – “let’s meet for drinks/a meal/a game/a movie” – it’s easy to build up a false idea about someone with whom you share a friendly relationship.
Generalisations along gender lines are always tricky, but – and this is a purely personal observation – I think women sometimes struggle with friendship in the long run as they seem to have an unspoken pact that a friend should always be supportive. They just invest so much in each other. Men often accept a little grit in the ointment – one can tell a male friend to fuck off without losing his friendship. Female friendships can struggle when the faults in either party begin to surface. Friends, like marriage partners, love each other, but they must also be allowed to hate each other sometimes.
I do not know what I am doing right to have kept such good friends for so long, but it is certainly worth pointing out that none of them have got to the present point without negotiating moments of crisis. In each of my closest friends there have been moments when the friendship has nearly foundered – but we somehow came through them to a relationship that was stronger than it was before the crisis.
The nature of friendship changes, and you have to change with it. Once, hopefully, I fascinated my friends and charmed them. After 40 years, I am sure I often bore them – and that is inevitable. A good friendship, like a good marriage, ceases after a while to be a mutual entertainment society and becomes instead a sorority or fraternity of battle-scarred veterans. We are still here, we still enjoy being around each other, and we treasure our shared histories. This is something precious, even if it isn’t always a laugh riot.
Is there a secret to long friendships? Simply this – an absence of pride. Too many falter on stubbornness or the determination to hold on to offence. Successful ones rely on humility and the recognition of human fallibility. These are not merely useful attributes. They are the heart and soul of friendship

0 Example
A survey reveals  
a) the shocking percentage of people who lack functional social skills.
b) that a lot of elderly people don’t have friends.
c) that a lot of people are friendless.

1 The author
a) has concluded that having a close friend is the previous step to losing them.
b) has concluded that you can’t take your friends for granted. 
c) has had the same friends for forty years.

2 The author thinks that
a) a good friendship is based on making the right choice.
b) if you’re really honest with your friends, the friendship will not last.
c) some friendships lack solid foundations.

3 In the author’s opinion, friendships are likely to fail if
a) the person just seeks social acceptance.
b) the two friends are very much alike.
c) your friends often compliment you.

4 Most friends
a) have a false idea of one another.
b) just meet to go out.
c) spend little time together.

5 Women
a) are less willing than men to accept their friends’ defects.
b) fight to keep a friendship less than men.
c) invest more time than men in their friends.

6 The author
a) doesn’t enjoy his friends’ company so much now.
b) found out who his closest friends were in moments of crisis.
c) has had his ups and downs with his friends.

7 The secret of a long friendship lies in our
a) understanding that it cannot be perfect.
b) willingness to keep it.
c) willingness to forget offences.

Photo: Mani Babbar Photography, under Creative Commons

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