jueves, 24 de septiembre de 2020

Covid Symptoms: Is it a Cold, Flu or Coronavirus?

Autumn is coming to the Northern hemisphere, children are going back to school and coughing, sneezing or runny noses are also back in our households.  If you have any of those symptoms, you may also worry that you have caught the coronavirus. You can watch this short BBC News video (1':51") below to find out the differences between these three respiratory illnesses.  It is not very difficult, and there are automatic subtitles, so it is recommended for B2 students and above.

You will come across basic health vocabulary like: a blocked nose, a runny nose, a sore throat, a cough, flu, (a) temperature, (a) fever, to self-isolate with your household, sneezing, to catch your sneeze, the spray, to infect [others], tissues, a loss of taste, a coughing episode, to have trouble breathing, to spread [covid 19], a nasty cold, to put you down, social distancing, masks, handy.

If you want more information, you can read the written version of the story here, there are more new words, and many links to other related health stories. Some of the new words are: to fight off, a thermometer, chest, armpit, to tuck, to tug, squeeze, muscle aches, chills, tiredness, a stuffed nose, a heavy cold, to feel unwell, a coughing fit, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, [sneeze] droplets, the [flu] jab, the run-up [to winter], to present with [respiratory symptoms], a [skin] rash, a mild/ severe [symptom], [to feel] breathless.

sábado, 19 de septiembre de 2020

Big Train, Comedy Sketches

A good laugh is always welcome, but sometimes it is as necessary as the air we breathe.  Big Train is a sketch show in the best British comedy tradition, which was originally aired on BBC Two in 1999 and 2002, and can be watched now on YouTube with automatic, but not terribly accurate, subtitles. Some of the episodes are built upon surreal conversations, puns or cultural parody like the London to Edinburgh train project below, and they are suitable for C1 students. Other episodes act out more visual jokes and they might be enjoyed by B2 learners.  I first found a reference to this comedy on William Bertrand's News Blog "I Spilled the Beans", which is on my favourite list of blogs, on the left column. I hope you find something you can laugh out loud with!

The vocabulary is not as difficult as the implicit information that is presupposed and is being parodied. Some of the most difficult words in the London to Edinbrugh sketch above are: proposal, super fast, franchise, a model, the actual train, to stand to reason. 

Other selected episodes can be reached below:

Starting Blocks Lesson (B2 level): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GmmAUbfhMU&t=76s

Do You Speak English (C1 level): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxUm-2x-2dM

Murder at the Dinner Table (rather gory, for C2 students): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLY-282dBIw

Creep (creepy, for C1 students): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tTofn3WqaQ

Tits Monkey (utterly ludicrous, for C1 students): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKPZCnrY2Ho

Hypnotherapy (B2 level): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7ZWAQnCZ-s

martes, 15 de septiembre de 2020

What is an Algorithm?

The most difficult words you will find in the video are: algorithm, search engines, dating apps, to be baffled [by science], a riddle, overwhelming, to pick her brains (informal), a set of instuctions, to enable a computer programme [to do something], billions, a server room, a bunch of [blocks] (informal), to be concerned about [something], to drag and drop [blocks], a drone, a flip, a challenge, a hoop, a lap, no offence (informal), to take over the world, to take our jobs, to deskill [humans], dependent upon [them], trusting of [them], on the flip side, to speed up decision-making, to spot (something), the criminal justice system, social care, credit checks, prolific, adverts.

miércoles, 9 de septiembre de 2020

jueves, 3 de septiembre de 2020

Antonio Banderas on "Pain & Glory" and Chutzpah

Antonio Banderas, talks to Terry Gross on Fresh Air about his latest movie with Pedro Almodóvar, "Pain & Glory", which earned him a "Best Actor Award" in the Cannes Film Festival and a nomitation to the Oscars, and about his acting career both in Spain and in Hollywood.  In addition, he explains what the contracultural movement, "La Movida" meant in 1980s Spain, when a whole country regained control of its own future and started enjoying public and private freedoms that had been alien during the dictatorship, and finally, he talks about his Soho Theatre in Malaga. During the interview, Antonio Banderas talks very openly about his experience as a learner of English, who started an acting career in Hollywood, with a very basic level of English and tons of chutzpah, and about the challenge of doing radio interviews in English.

This 37 minute long interview can be accessible to B2 students, as long as they have the support of the transcript, but it could be heard by higher level leaners while commuting, walking or doing housework. The interview might prove extremely interesting for examiners of English, as a genuine example of interlanguage from a bilingual Spanish speaker of English, who has a good command of his second language in terms of oral fluency, vocabulary range and an ability to explain complex ideas in detail and with touches of humour, but who still shows traces of L1 interference in some aspects of phonetics, word order and even in verb tenses.

In the vocabulary, you will find, among other words, quite a few examples of cinema and medical jargon, like screenwriter, ulcers, reflux, to star [in a film], rehearsals, the shooting [of a film], to dig up [deep into memories], a falling out, to overdo, to be bigger than life, the framing, to be measured [with the actors], [colours] clash or match, [it] is unheard of, swell (American English), a warehouse, stents, to be right on, a crier, a tough guy, teary, vulnerable, laundering money, to rule [a country], restraints, the counterculture, eerie, to prove [ourselves], anathema, on the screen, a scandal, there's something wrong, to usher [a new era of freedom], trans and straight characters, a gasp, to be under the political boot, customs, to be compromised, to grow up [in Spain], chutzpah (colloquial for "nerve" or "daring"), perseverant, a movie based on a novel, to fake, to do a screen test, to learn [your lines] phonetically, the exception to the rule, to comprehend English, to be out, to reassure [somebody on something], to label [somebody], a crane, a stunt guy, a harness, to rehearse, CGI (computer-generated imagery), grenades, a conflagration, excellence.

viernes, 28 de agosto de 2020

Twitter Turns an Old Quarry in Nigeria into a Tourist Hotspot

B2 learners (and above) will find rich, descriptive vocabulary here, like an abandonded quarry, a tourist hotspot, a cliff, a moss-lined footpath, to shimmer [in the sun], [the views are] breathtaking, on the outskirts, to be thronged, food vendors, a burgeoining community, expatriates, lockdown, to be somewhat bemused, city-dwellers, tiers, a stunning view, sightseers, a winding footpath, the top terrace, [the path] snakes down to the water's edge, the brave, to plunge into, an aquifer, a fracture-prone area, tremors, to warn amateurs against hiking, fun-seekers seemed not to be deterred, chagrin, to put measures in place, to clear up a trail of plastic waste, to split, a clean-up dash, to dispose of [litter], to poison [a place], [a job or a profession] to be cut out for [me].

sábado, 22 de agosto de 2020

The 50 Best Irish Films Ever Made


This article from The Irish Times draws up a list of the 50 best Irish films ever made.  After an introduction that discusses what can be considered an Irish film and what not, the critic describes briefly the plot or the performance of the actors in each film.  The density of information and the rich vocabulary give little context for the English learner to understand new words, so this text is recommended for C2 students. 

You will come across words like sane, to claim, a parlour game, to be set, fanciful, loose(r), to score, jerry-rigged, to shoot a film, it gets you a long way down the road, stand-in, to be up for [consideration], to lure, to settle, to play hardball, a fleeting mood, to qualify [for this list], a bunch, to make [Irish films] happen, a space probe, weed, a peddler, offload, to pit [them] against, a kingpin, unabashedly, thrall, interweaving [urban stories], abrasive, to buzz about, heighthened, to snatch, a toddler, unsettling, to light out, a minor-key gem, ailing, to stumble, to befriend, a saviour, inner city, sparse, lead performance, sterling support, selkie, an informant, ailments, overdue, a shoestring [production], to soar, on the brink of, upheaval, blarney, hoodlum, a coup d'etat attempt, a treatise, a portrait, turmoil, gorgeously rich, to stick in the memory, to segue, curveball, to stalk, to carve out a niche, a masterpiece, to be fuelled, masterly, on the run, backward, a depiction, stunning, to permeate, a boffin, to rage, to ponder [human life], an asylum, a carer, overlooked, disabled, to tend to [their dying mother], a newsreel, annus mirabilis, to boss [the Oscars], winningly [absurd], boosted by  stirring performance, deserving winner, to skirt, to fall for firebrand [Maureen O'Hara], dowry, sime wave, to be muted as, to drift towards, to tweak, holy kismet, scoundrel, stately composition.

lunes, 10 de agosto de 2020

Geena Davis Talks About Gender Inequality and her Career in Hollywood

Geena Davis became a household name with the film "Thelma & Louise" back in 1991. Since then, she has had a long career in the movie industry and as an activist to denounce gender inequality in Hollywood.  In this interview, she talks to The Irish Times about The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which she launched and has successfully managed for two decades; about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement; about being a mother in her 40's and about her career in general. 

The interview is long and the language includes some colloquial, American slang, so it is suitable for C1 students. You will surely find new words and expressions like: Hot dog!, harassment, prejudice, a sweatsuit, athleisure, a bra, knickers, snappy, personable, pals, cosy, lockdown, a homebody, downtime, to snuggle, to wipe, to scrub, to account for, to make up the top 100 grossing films, far-fetched, endeavour, to focus on, to launch, a toddler, her jaw dropped to the floor, gender bias, a dwarf, to gather data, mainstream industry, misogynistic, ennui, in the wake of [#MeToo], to wash away, to retrench, to read up on [a topic], pluckiness, to be let down, a slash, a hit, to go by, a lap, an audition, a [film] set, to fall off the cliff, blithely, femalecentric, tippy-top, high profile, a cameo appearance, a trailer, a showgirl, an outfit, rhinestones, high-powered women, onscreen, lingerie, to start out, to bat a question away, to land a role [or a job], a flop, shattered, to starve, to gasp, to live up to your expectations, to shrink, to vanish.

If you want to listen to Geena Davis's voice, you can listen to this 27 minute, Fresh Air interview to herself and to director Maria Giese, where Geena Davis talks, about her acting career, her Institue on Gender in Media and gender inequality in Hollywood. This is radio interview, which was originally broadcast on NPR in 2019, covers some of  the very same topics as the The Irish Times article above, but it is recommeded for C2 students, even with the help of the script. 

lunes, 3 de agosto de 2020

Jaden Wolfiez Ashman, the Teenage Gamer Who Became a Millionaire

Wolfiez talks with a teenager's working-class intonation and he uses colloquial words, which makes it a bit more difficult to understand him despite the subtitles, so this video is suitable for C2 students.  You will come across new words like: "e-sport, chill, quid, set-up, too fancy, step, mortgage, to frame, logo, to be plastered, to take pressure off me, childminder, living day-to-day, you are clock watching, to moan, to strive to do something".

If you want to watch an interview to Wolfiez and his mum one year before when he had just won all that money, you can click below on this "Good Morning Britain" video on ITV , which has subtitles and it is also suitable for C2 students because of their accent:

viernes, 31 de julio de 2020

Padma Lakshmi Hosts and Produces "Taste the Nation" and "Top Chef"

Padma Lakshmi is an international model, the host and executive producer of the TV show "Top Chef" in USA, and now she is the host of the new food and travel programme, "Taste the Nation" on Hulu, a leading Disney video service, where she visits chefs in immigrant communities who have contributed to the American culinary heritage.

The interview lasts 41 minutes, so it can be used by C2 students and experts as background listening while you are doing something else, like walking, gardening or ironing. There is a full script which helps to pick up unintelligible words, or to do a reading and listening exercise with C1 students.  You can also find a text that summirizes the highlights of the interview.

The interview contains many new words, including cooking ingredients: to acknowledge, cages, backbone, to pick up, to leave off, to be vilified, insight, a diner, to get heckled, [to sneak] snuck snuck, to take somebody to task, a rocking chair, dosa, lentil, crepe, batter, upma, sauteed, sooji, rava, couscous, quinoa, to streamline, carnivorousness, pepperoni, baloney, cold cuts, squeamish, tripe, offal, brewers, to be spotted, audition, legit, booker, mortified, a rocky start, outsider, appeal, scar, to dawn on me, cachet, S & M, pose, to squander, knickers, stockinged, cleavage, duster jacket, keloid, whole-hog, grunge, billboards, self-loathing, to admonish, to rear-end, embankment, jaws of life, windshield, ribs, home-bound, penance, secular, to have a career in [food], a major in theatre, to pay off, collage loans, premiere, cookbook, a spiral notebook, to jot down, splash, ploy, freak, compound, a knitted blanket, a crocheted blanket, to sling slung slung, a platter, gosh, to dress up, guilt, to make waves, sexually assaulted, op-ed, to be challenged [in court], unwillingness, it weighed on me, date rape, taxing, to rip off, to cherish, chronic pain, to crumple in bed, a heating pad, the period, to handle, to dispel, to wreak havoc, lining, leftover tissue, memoir, to instil in [somebody], cuddly, siblings, hem, sari, a well-read person, verbatim.

domingo, 26 de julio de 2020

Sam Giambalvo, a Nurse and a Moving Embrace at the 7:00 Clap

This is a "human interest" story from Humankind, a USA Today video channel on YouTube and Facebook that features "uplifting stories about kindness, triumphs and special relationships". 

Sam Giambalvo is a travelling nurse who tells an emotional story at the 7:00 clap back in June 2020. She speaks fast, standard American English, but there are subtitles, which can be very helpful. You will hear lots of expressions related to feelings, for example: sirens, applause, honoring, frontline workers, to pass away, ER, to follow your feelings, comforting, I lost it, let me be upset, a split second, to get me through the shift, to give a hug, to look forward to something, a terrace, a storey, to hold a sign, to wave for you, to point at you, he fist pumps, he'll blow kisses, sirens wailing, joyous, appreciation, to sprint out there, to show up, God is blessing us, break, upbeat music.
This video can be recommended to C1 students (with the subtitles).

martes, 21 de julio de 2020

Morgan Bullock, an African American, Irish Dancer

Morgan Bullock is a 20-year-old African American from Richmond, Virginia, who uploaded an Irish dance version of Beyoncé's "The Savage Remix" on Tik Tok, which went viral. Many people loved her artistic performance, but there were some who accused her of "cultural misappropriation".  If you want to find out the end of the story you can click on the following BBC link to watch a 4:15 video of the story with subtitles, which could be accessible to B2 students: bbc.in/30p2Y6w

But if your level of English is higher, you can try the full BBC video report below, which is 10:51, and has no subtitles

martes, 7 de julio de 2020

Ennio Morricone, the Italian Composer Who Wrote the Soundtrack of the Far-West

Ennio Morricone has died at the age of 91 in Rome. He was the composer of the score of  more than 500 films, including successful "spaghetti westerns" like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", "Once Upon a Time in the West" with director Sergio Leone and other box office hits like "Cinema Paradiso", "The Mission" or Brian de Palma's "The Untouchables".  He won an honorary Oscar in 2007, and an outright one for Quentin Tarantino's film "The Hateful Eight" in 2015.  He was recently awarded the 2020 Princess of Asturias Prize for the Arts by the Spanish Crown.

He managed to create an atmosphere of mystery, toughness and humour by orchestrating music based on "howls, gunshots and groans".  Rose Friedman, writing an appreciation for NPR, says that in Western movies, where dialogue was minimal, "music did the talking". Here you can listen to a 4-minute radio report with its script, and a written version of the story. Both can be accessible to B2 students.

The vocabulary level of the reports is challenging, though, and you will find words like "sneaky tricks,  whistles, animal calls, creaks, gunshots, groans, howls, hip, a raucous sound, avant-garde, to be off-and-running, choirmaster, the score, to pay off, to win a prize".

miércoles, 1 de julio de 2020

You Don't Own Me by Lesley Gore

You Don't Own Me
(1963) is a feminist song that makes a strong statement in favour of women's emancipation in the second wave of the feminist movement (1960s-1980s), (you can find out more about this on this Wikipedia link). The song is quite easy to understand, here you can find a lesson plan for B1 students with a fill-in-the gap listening task, the full lyrics and a speaking activity which includes a discussion and an sing-along exercise to promote articulatory fluency.

I would like to thank my student Cristina T. for sending me the video of this song.

In 2015, one month after Lesley Gore died, the Australian singer song-writer Grace released a cover of the song which was a hit in the  music charts of Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Here, you can find a link to Grace's video and compare the two versions of the song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEt7bnuO5y0

sábado, 27 de junio de 2020

Galway's Craic

This superb BBC description of Galway's "craic" (which is a kind of light-hearted, mischievous approach to life) portrays the atmosphere of the streets, pubs and people in that Western Irish, bohemian town. In only 12 slides and a video, you will come across words like bustling pubs, freshly poured pints, lilting music, fiddle, mischief, craic, a local, promenade, odd, damp, to strip down to swimsuits, to plunge into, roiling waters, shivering, dripping, wont, to go with the flow, gale-force winds, counterweight, to breed, laid-back spirit, to foster, layout, an out-of-towner, low-key, to pervade, buskers, winding streets, a month goes by, to distil, pretention, uncontrivedness, breakdown, to edge in, to clutch, to connect with other people, to settle for something

The text is short, but the vocabulary is very descriptive, so it is suitable for C1 students, although B2+ students can also enjoy the pictures and get the gist of the text.

Music & Craic in the Streets of Galway

If you want to feel the "craic" of Galway from your own home, even if your level is B1, you can watch this You Tube video of some Galway buskers performing Hit the Road Jack:

But if you prefer something more Celtic, this video of Irish folk music and dance is for you:

Here, you can find some buskers playing an anthem, Song for Ireland by James Gallagher:

If you like an unpretentious, young, hippy style, try this cover of The House of the Rising Sun:

More street talent with a fiddle and some Mexican flavour: 

This video shows the largest performance of the song Galway Girl in the streets of Galway in 2016: 

I hope you have enjoyed Galway's "craic" wherever you are, 

But if you still want some more, you can watch this tourist documentary which includes, at the end, 20 minutes of Irish  music from the pubs and streets, with visuals of Galway, the Connemara region and the Cliffs of  Mohair. 

martes, 16 de junio de 2020

Rowan Atkinson's Sermon

Rowan Atkinson does not play Mr. Bean here, but he is very funny, too. He plays an Anglican vicar giving a Sunday sermon, the Gospel of St. John. You will come across literary language and archaic grammar structures from the Bible, like it came to pass, he said unto them, waterpots, he knew not, they inquired of him, behold, lo!, wailing and gnashing of teeth, ye (archaic for you), you shall be known, hearken onto somebody, Pharisses etc, but there are English subtitles, so, it can be accessible to B2 students and above.


jueves, 11 de junio de 2020

"Shirley" Starring Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss plays the role of writer Shirley Jackson in the movie Shirley, which began to stream on virtual cinema platforms on June 5th.  Here you can read and listen to a 7 minute review of the film by Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang, broadcast on NPR's Fresh Air. Film reviews are usually very rich in language, and when they are broadcast on the radio, they are particularly difficult to understand for the density of information, as they are usually literary essays read out loud, so both the audio and the text are classified as C2.  You will come across words like bond, fraught, glimpse, to chime, to deserve, script, loosely, insight, bout, to pursue, chore, vicious, to thrive, to get back on track, to root, wrinkle, muse, stand-in, layers, dizzyingly, jagged, close-up, to swerve, handheld, score, to pulse, to grapple with, conundrums, to blur, uncannily, to excel at, exertion, to tease out, odd, tenderness, prickly, to awe, to bind, to cheat on somebody, to endure to chafe against something, and snobbery. 

You can also do a listening comprehension exercise based on the interview that Elisabeth Moss gave to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday when she was promoting her film The One I Love.  The pace of this 5 minute, 7 sec radio interview is fast, but natural, and the language is rather colloquial, you will find words like time-shifting, impressive, rom-com, widespread, to set up, plot, crossroads, to send off, retreat, to reset, hijinks (high jinks), to ensure, to end up doing something, boundaries, shooting, breakneck, naive, calculating, gullible, weird, show runner, roles, to get something down, to work on something.  In the file you will find a recording of the interview, the script, a multiple-choice listening task and the key.  You will also find a lesson plan for both the film review above and this radio interview. The listening and speaking task has been designed for C1 students.

viernes, 5 de junio de 2020

Future Boyfriend (2016): a Sci-Fi, Romantic Film

Future Boyfriend is a short (11 minute), romantic film with a clever sci-fi twist in the plot. I would like to thank my student May L. for sharing this video with me.

Some of the new, colloquial language you may find is: I should come clear about something, disrupting the fabric of time, to take in, to have a lot to handle, weird, gross!, grisly, a better shot, a creep, to work out, to get this straight, deal?

If you want to know more about the film, you can watch this 5 minute video, Behind the Scenes of Future Boyfriend, where the main actors, Ron Morehouse and Emily Bell talk to some of the movie technicians and relatives the day the movie was shot.  You will find lots of technical and colloquial words related to movie-making, like  sneak peek, prepping, shoot, clips, behind the scenes footage, crew, picture lock, premiere, make-up and costume person, on set, cameo, to steal the show, being background, a stern look, handled, appreciative, I'm drained, stills (Watch out! The subtitles are not always perfect!). This sneak peek view of the film is also suitable for B2 students.

jueves, 28 de mayo de 2020

Shavuot, a Jewish Tradition

Shavuot is a Jewish holy day that marks the beginning of the harvest ("Bikkurim" or the collection and offering of "The First Fruits" to the Temple in Jerusalem) and also the reception of the Torah, with the 10 Commandments, given to Moses at Mount Sinai, 7 weeks after the departure from Egypt in Passover (Shavuot means "Festival of the Weeks" in Hebrew).  So, originally, Shavuot had an agricultural origin, which is kept in the tradition of decorating the house with greenery and flowers, or having a pic-nic in the woods or in your garden.  Later, when the Jewish people became more learned, some rabbis added to the festivity the practice of an all-nighter, "Tikkun", which involves staying awake all night and reading the Torah (the 10 Commandments, Ruth's or Ezekiel's books etc), having social debates about Arts & Culture etc. In 2020, Shavuot is celebrated from sunset May 28th to nightfall May 30th.  If you want to know more about Shavuot, you can read this article by Chabad.org. These texts are suitable for B2 students.

Food is an important part of the celebration too.  Ashkenazi Jews like to eat dairy products, like ice-cream, cheesecake or drink some milk, whereas Sephardic Jews prefer to eat a large meat meal, or the "Bread of the 7 Heavens" which you can see in the picture below right and you can bake by following this recipe in Spanish from eSefarad.com.  And kids like to bake aleph-bet shaped cookies.  Below, you can watch a short video by "BimBam", which has subtitles, but it is narrated at a fast speed and with several Hebrew words,  so it is more suitable for C1 level.

I would like to thank A. C. Sefarad Aragón for their kind help to write this entry.

domingo, 24 de mayo de 2020

Eid-al-Fitr, The End of Ramadan

Eid-al-Fitr is the first day of  the month of Shawwal and the day Ramadan ends, so it is celebrated by Muslims around the world: people dress in their best clothes, exchange gifts, attend communal prayers, listen to a sermon (khutba), practice charity with the poor (zakat al-fitr), and they greet with the words "Eid Mubbarak!" (Holy Feast!) as you can read on this web page.

In Turkey, this year's Eid's celebrations will be severely restricted to fight the spread of the coronavirus epidemic: a strict 24-hour curfew has been ordered in 83 provinces for two days and worshippers will not be allowed to pray in mosques, as you can read in this Aljazeera report and video, which is accessible to B2 students and above.

But the epidemic has also brought "amazing signs of solidarity" like the Berlin church that has hosted Muslim worshippers to help them maintain physical distancing rules while they pray together in Eid-al-Fitr, as Aljazeera reports in this B2 article.

In Arabia, Saudis are finding new ways to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr in lockdown:  Muslims will perform Eid-al-Fitr prayers at home, and they will exchange homemade gifts, decorate their home for the occasion and play home games like pinatas,  according to this Arab News report, which quotes 30-year-old Hadeel Ezmirli: "I want to at least feel the vibe of Eid, even though I will be at home".  This article, for its length and vocabualary can be classified as C1.

jueves, 21 de mayo de 2020

"Our Planet" in International Biodiversity Week

You can celebrate International Biodiversity Week (18- 22 May) by watching the first episode of the Netflix documentary "Our Planet", which has just been released on YouTube.  The stunning beauty of the images, the music, and the impeccable English on the voice of Sir David Attenborough will surely open an imaginary window to the wonders of our natural world and the fragility of its future preservation.
Subtitles are available, so this 49':27" documentary can be enjoyed by B2 students and above.

domingo, 3 de mayo de 2020

Mother's Day

Mother's day is celebrated on May 10th in USA, India and Australia, on March 22nd in the UK and Ireland and on May 3rd in Spain. Here you can read three stories related to the topic.

The first story is Kate Middleton's virtual visit to a new mother in a hospital in South-West London, where she has a friendly conversation with the astonished new mother, who describes the experience as "surreal".  Kate's goal was to raise awareness about the mental health issues that can affect new mothers.  The story comes from "The Daily Mail", a royalist tabloid in the UK, and it is suitable for B2 students.

The second story comes from The New York Times, and it reports on how florists are preparing to deliver bouquets of flowers for Mother's Day in the USA during confinement.  The language in the article is very descriptive -precise nouns and adjectives- which can be challenging, so the text is suitable for C1 students, but the pictures, of course, can be enjoyed by anyone.

Finally, the third story also comes from The Daily Mail, but from the Australia edition, in this case.  The article explains how social distancing restrictions will affect the celebration of Mother's Day in the different states and territories in Australia.  The text is not too difficult, it is full of passive voice verbs, but it can be read by B1 students with the help of a dictionary to look up words like "gatherings" (meetings), "to ease restrictions" (to reduce or to soften restrictions) or "hugs" (embraces).

Spaniards Rush Outside After Lockdown

Yesterday was the first day that Spanish people were allowed to exercise outdoors after 49 days of lockdown.  It was a day so many people had been longing for and, perhaps, a day to remember.  This is how Reuters reported the story for Channel News Asia (CNA) in Singapore.
This text is suitable for B2 students.

domingo, 26 de abril de 2020

Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter has led a whole generation of children into the pleasure of reading a long book, but, advanced learners of English may find it quite hard to read a Harry Potter book because they will certainly come across a large number of unknown words in the descriptions of the book.  

This lesson focuses on the descriptive vocabulary that is often found in fiction by analysing a passage in chapter 3, The Letters from No One, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The lesson also incorporates two scenes of the film (The Hogwarts Letter and A Visit from Rubeus Hagrid) to set the background and to show the aftermath of the text. The task includes a reading comprehension exercise, a short vocabulary matching exercise, and a longer word pairing task, which can be used as a revision, after the oral discussion. You can find all the materials on this link.

As a lead-in, you can ask students if they have read Harry Potter's books or seen any of his films. Then, you can elicit information about Harry Potter and his adopted family, uncle Vernon, aunt Petunia, Dudley, and how they treat Harry.  Finally you should introduce "The Letter Scene", which describes the days before Harry's 11th birthday.

After reading the description of the rickety, old shack on the coast and doing the exercises, you can play the second film clip, A Visit from Rubeus Hagrid.

The speaking part of the lesson can be a discussion about books and reading:
  • What do you prefer, reading print or e-books? 
  • What is better, reading the book or wathching the film? 
  • Which was the first book that you read as a child? 
  • How can you introduce children to reading books? 
  • Do you read for pleasure or for school? 
  • Do you read more or less than years ago?
This lesson is suitable for C1 students.

jueves, 23 de abril de 2020

St George's Day

St George is part of an ancient tradition both in England and in Aragon.  He is the saint patron of England and also of Aragon and its flag is in the shirt of the second kit of Sociedad Deportiva Huesca.   The story of St George slaying the Dragon to rescue the Princess is still very popular in schools and it is often celebrated in the streets.  On this Wikipedia link you can read a detailed explanation of the legend and its iconography (this text is C1 level).

On the right, you can watch a short video for children that tells the tale of St George in a very simple way.  The video has subtitles both at the foot of the cartoon and underneath, in the configuration spur wheel, so it can be understood by B1 students:

It is not easy to find references to Saint George's Day in the British press, but you can try these: an article in the progressive newspaper The Guardian about the historical facts behind the legend of St George, or, on the other side of the British media spectrum,  a number of recipes to celebrate St.George's weekend in the conservative tabloid The Sun (both can be recommended to C1 students). 

If you want to find children's games and more to celebrate St George's day in confinement, you can visit the webpage of History at Home from English Heritage (C1 level). On the right, you can watch a video of a 2017 edition of St George's Festival at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, in 2017:

miércoles, 15 de abril de 2020

Coronavirus Spanglish in Gibraltar

The coronavirus epidemic has spread fear and disease around the world, but it has also spread a colourful array of funny videos and memes to laugh at our plight.  A good example is this video with a conversation in Spanglish in Gibraltar, a British colony in Spain.

This video is basically in Spanish, so it is suitable for B1 Spanish  students and above, In the case of other L1 students, a C2 level of Spanish is advisable.

domingo, 12 de abril de 2020

American Pie (1971), by Don McLean

American Pie is, problably, the most popular, long song  (8:33) in the history of modern music and its lyrics are the most widely debated too.  It is number 5 in RIAA's project "Song of the Century", which promotes the musical and cultural heritage in American schools, and it has been covered by many artists, including Madonna in 2000.

The meaning of the lyrics have been discussed all over, in forums, books, in the press etc., but Don McLean has  always refused to explain its symbolism and hidden references, he often tells his fans "American Pie means I never have to work again", as the BBC reported in 2015. The song contains a deluge of references to the leading artists in pop music from 1958 to 1971, and some of the landmarks of the social history of the 1960's like segregation, the fear of nuclear war, flower power, Woodstock, the drug culture and heroin etc.

According to the analysis on the webpage The Rare Exception, which is a dead link now, but you can read here  (http://www.rareexception.com/Garden/Pie.php. ) and to Bob Dearborn's analysis of the meaning and references in the song, American Pie tells the story of a young newspaper boy who was stunned to read about the death of  three top music idols at that time: Buddy Holly ("Peggy Sue"), Richie Valens ("La Bamba") and The Big Bopper ("Chantilly Lace"), "the day that music died" in 1958. Then, the song goes through the musical history of the 1960's, with references to Bob Dylan ("the jester"), Elvis Presley ("the king"), the Beatles ("the quartet"), The Rolling Stones & Mick Jagger ("Jack Flash" and "Satan"), and Janis Joplin ("the girl who sang the blues"), to name a few, while it drops hints about the social background of the 1960's.  But then, after Janis Joplin, who died of an overdose, the melody slowly grinds to a halt... and dies. Don McLean goes back to the religious imagery he used at the beginning of  the song, in the fifth stanza ("Do you have faith in God above"... "Do you believe in rock'n roll") and he says "I went down to the sacred store" [...] "But the man there said the music wouldn't play" and he goes on to mention the three aspects of Catholic deity "the father, son and the holy ghost", a double reference, perhaps, to the three dead musicians (McLean attended several Catholic schools), and, at that point, the melody slowly picks up momentum, until the song is reborn again.

Is "American Pie" a metaphor for the resurrection of God at Easter and his belief in the resurrection of rock'n roll music? Or is it a catchy pop song to celebrate spring and the regeneration of life after a long winter? The jury is out, it is up to you to figure out, what do you think?

The lesson  includes a simple fill-in the gap exercise and the full lyrics as the key.  The speaking goal of the lesson would be to encourge students to speculate and make guesses about the meaning of the lyrics, before and after they hear the teacher's explanations about the references in the song.  The lesson can be used with B2+ students, but it is problably more suitable for C1 students.

viernes, 10 de abril de 2020

Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle...

Understanding a poem like Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is a tremendous achievement for any learner of English, and a considerable challenge for the EFL teacher. The topic is hard and the syntax is disjointed by the metric of the poem, a villanelle, but the pathos of the poem can be felt, if not understood, when you first watch these Welsh actors reciting the poem for BBC Cymru Wales:

It is fascinating to hear the sounds and the words of a foreign language and to understand almost nothing, just like when you first started learning English a long time ago.  Reading poetry or song lyrics has a power, it can take you back to that initial stage when English had the magic of unintelligibility. 

jueves, 9 de abril de 2020

Royals by Lorde

Song lyrics can stir the imagination of the learner. Rhythm & criptic allusions can immerse the listener in a hazy atmosphere in which eyes must be open wide to try to catch a glimpse of the meaning of the lines. Undestanding song lyrics is always a challenge.  Listen to this song by Lorde, try to guess its message and discuss your guesses with your partner, if you can talk to someone. Here, there is a the gap-filling exercise to help you follow the song.

Your guess may be right or wrong initially, when you are learning a foreign language, that is not too important.  What is really important is that you have activated your guessing skills in your brain, which are essential to reconstruct fragmentary understanding of the flow of speech and the fact that you have produced some sentences to discuss your guesses with a partner. 

Here, you can find a link to a Wikipedia article that gives some insights into the lyrics of the song.
In short, the song expresses "detailed disapproval of the luxiourious lifestyle of contemporary artists".  Lorde criticises pop, rap and hip hop singers like Kanye West, Jay-Z or Lana del Rey because they often talk about luxury cars (Cadillacs, Maybach), expensive alcohol (Grey Goose, Crystal), jewellry (diamonds, gold teeth) etc, which is very far from her own reality: her house, her neighbourhood and her friends ("I'm not proud of my address", "no post code envy", "we'll never be royals" "my friends and I [...] count our dollars on the train to the party", "we didn't come from money").

Now, for a change, you can watch an acapella cover of the same song, by the Florida State University AcaBelles.  Which version do you like better?

Here you have the compete lyrics of the song, which can be used as a key to the fill-in the gaps exercise above.

This task can be done by B2 students and above.

domingo, 5 de abril de 2020

The Lion King (1994)

On the left, you can watch the opening scene, "The Circle of Life".  The music of this song was composed and performed by Elton John and the lyrics by Tim Rice.

The film is a story about loss, power struggles, overcoming trauma, personal growth and coming-of-age.  In this short E! News interview, the original voice actors, Jonathan Taylor Thomas (young Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa) and Matthew Broderick (adult Simba) talk about the plot of the film, their own characters and how they recorded their voices over the animation. The interview has subtitles, so it should be accessible to B2 students.