sábado, 4 de septiembre de 2021

Almodovar's "The Human Voice"

Pedro Almodóvar released a short (30') film in English, "The Human Voice" in 2020 which was acclaimed by critics all over the world.  It is a free and personal adaptation of Jean Cocteau's classic "La Voix Humaine", where a barroque Almodóvar is interested in showing the boundaries of artifice and the connection between cinema and theatre, deceit and sincerity, lies and truth. 

The movie is, basically, a monologue, where Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, in a riveting performance, displays her vocal versatility to disclose all the feelings of a woman who has been abandoned by her ex-lover and receives a last telephone call to sort out the last mundane details of their separation: she pretends to be cool and casual at the beginning of the call, until she can't stand her own lies any longer, loses controls and admits to her ex-lover -who is a "dweeb", in Tilda's words, ("an idiot", in Spanish "un memo, un baboso"), that she is just a nervous wreck. 

The drama of the monologue is set in the unique atmosphere of Almodóvar's films which is created by the music of Alberto Iglesias and the photography of José Luis Alcaine, the paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, Vargas, Man Ray, Isabel Quintanilla, Giorgio de Chirico and all the loud colours, objects, circles, shapes and squares of Almodóvar's personal universe.

Below you can watch a facetime interview to Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton when they presented the film in the the New York Film Festival at the Lincoln Centre in September 2020.  The video is very long (1:04:19), but it is interesting to listen to Almodóvar's English, although at some points he turns to Spanish to be translated by a consecutive interpreter (for example when he starts talking about the sets and the scenery of the film at 29:01 and continues talking about the lockdown during the pandemic). 

A highlight of the interview is Tilda Swinton's long answer to the question about her character who is in a world that is a mixture of a theatre stage and a cinema set (36:00- 42:11).  She explains that the telephone helps her character to create a fabrication of reality, a performance to deceive her ex-lover on the phone, in contrast to the first minutes of Almodóvar's film, where she is silent and we can see her true feelings. Although you can watch the video with subtitles, Tilda Swinton's complex and metaphorical answers are recommended for C1 students and above, whereas Almodóvar's answers in English can be easily understood by B2 students.

In the six minutes of Tilda Swinson's answer you can notice her richness of expression, for example: deception, to dissemble, the predicament, painful, a dignified goodbye, to fall apart, a fabrication, inarticulacy, articulacy, a pose, utterances, the script, an axe, to smash [a glass], frankly, it's overacting, to overdo something, incredibly moving, a trope, a cliche, a soap opera, a set, to fake [it], to throw open your heart, to spill your guts, it's not good taste, a massive meltdown, a dweeb, a twist and turn, to twiddle with [something], vulnerability, fakery.

If you are very interested in "The Human Voice", you can watch the trailer here, you can also watch this interview to Tilda Swinson by Mark Kermode on BBC Radio 5 which is shorter and very precise (07:39) with or without subtitles, or another interview to Ms. Swinson at the 77th Venice Festival (6:03), where she was awarded the Honorary Golden Globe for a lifetime achievement.

"The Human Voice" can be watched on Movistar TV beginning on September 3rd, 2021. Recently, Almodovar presented "Parallel Mothers", his latest film, at the Venice Film Festival.

jueves, 8 de abril de 2021

Goya's 275th Birthday Brings Aragon into the Spotlight

The 275th anniversary of Goya's birth has become an opportunity to bring the underpopulated county of Campo de Belchite and the village of Fuendetodos back to the map.  

The Guardian recently reported on the "Territorio Goya" project, which aims to exploit the 200th anniversary of Goya's Black Paintings to "stem the decline of a region where there are just 4.8 inhabitants per square kilometre". In this article, which is suitable for C1 students and above, you can come across words like: to summon, to stem [the decline],  to devour, a witches's sabbath, to drown, a printmaker, [to be] appalled, slumber, to cling [to the map], a curator, a resident, [annual] income, a profound pull, to empower, the plight [of Campo de Belchite], the hollowed [Spain], a demographic challenge, [to be] squeezed, to have a project underway, to mark [the 275th anniversary], demolished, [to be] stripped out, canvas, a mock-up [image], to commission, to reintepret, the reworked [paintings], an installation, a casualty, boom-and-bust [cycle], the [perfect] venue, artworks, [to be] displayed, to make the pilgrimage, [the project] is about [ensuring that...], to receive [his] dues, to undertake [a commission], Follies [series], rough [landscape], to be keenly aware of, a lighthouse.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York is currently offering the exhibition Goya's Graphic Imagination, which, according to The New York Times, "offers a vital tonic from an artist with (to our eyes) all the right political commitments: horrified by violence, revolted by unearned priviledge, standing up for freedom and knowledge and rights for all". If you want to read a review of the exhibition catalogue written by Mark MacDonald, you can follow this link to Enfilade, the blog of the Historians of Eighteenth Century Art & Architecture (HECAA) society. This text is suitable for C2 students and above.

Finally, you can also watch this 20':24" video below, which is a virtual tour of the exhibition with subtitles in Spanish, so, it can be accessible to C1 students and above.  The video is a fantastic visual lesson on Goya's artistic production by the curator of the exhibition, Mark MacDonald.

viernes, 2 de abril de 2021

10 Good Friday Traditions in Ireland


Good Friday and Christmas were the only days of the year that pubs closed in Ireland until legislation was passed in 2018 to allow pubs to open.  In this The Irish Times story, you will learn about some of the old traditions associated with Good Friday, a text which is recommended for C1 students and above.  

The report also includes a short 2':55" video where some publicans and local customers talk about the closing of pubs on Good Friday in the village of Drumconrath in Co Meath. The video, without subtitles, and with strong local Irish accents is recommended for C2 students.

In the article you will come across words like: to liven it up, uneventful, a foreboding, guilt-ridden [religious observations], the Stations of the Cross, a retreat, repository, a cluster of [interesting observances], to guard against [headaches], to draw [blood], a bald patch, drips, a rafter, disrespectful, to unhook, fltches [of salted bacon], to nail to the timber, blacksmiths, carpenters, idle, a saw, a hammer, to drive a nail, to cleave [cleft], shrubs, bushes, to thrive, to dig [potatoes], seed, to set [their seed potatoes], spud, the cuckoo, cabbages, turnips, to sow, oats, to rot, cattle, tapeworm, to cast off, [to go] barefoot, thorns, bleeding, a sore, clergy, Maundy Thursday, to ward off [sickness], Lenten [fast], [to lay] laid [eggs], to rub, best-before date, to go off, a plea, to have [a plea] granted, the congregation, the altar, black fast, dairy, Lent, cradle, Ash Wednesday, Spy Wednesday, sowens, to soak, oatmeat, mashed potatoes, drab, gruel, nettles, herring, seaweed, shellfish, to carve, carrageen, laver, limpet, droves of [children], the swallow, the heron, the robin, a switch, a remnant, tax returns, to be submitted, liminal, to grab, a spade, verruca, corn, to queue up, a collation, heritage.

domingo, 21 de marzo de 2021

Migrants in the Canary Islands

The radio programme "All Things Considered", has recently reported about the African migrants that are temporarily being sheltered in hotels in the Canary Islands.  Here you can find a link to the audio (3':42") and the transcript on NPR's webpage
And on this link, you can download a lesson plan which includes a listening comprehension exercise, the key and some questions for discussion which can be used as oral exam practice for a monologue or an interaction at C1 level.

The vocabulary is not particularly difficult, some of the words you will come across are: pandemic, to halt [global travel], to host, a wave [of visitors], a surge, packed with [tourists], the occupancy, to be down to [COVID restrictions], to soak up [the sun], asylum seekers, [to play] draughts, apprehensive, to flee [conflict], risky, to starve, to scrape a living, the mainland, to bounce back.

miércoles, 17 de marzo de 2021

St. Patrick's Day

With social restrictions in place because of COVID19, St. Patrick's Day is going to be celebrated differently again in 2021, but, it is still going to be a worldwide online celebration.  To join in the fun, and feel the spirit of Paddy's Day, here you can watch a selection of videos and a quiz.

The first video comes from The Economist, and it explains the history and relevance of St. Patrick's Day as a celebration of the brand "Ireland" and "Guinness", Ireland's main export to the world. The video is only 2':22" long, the pace of the narrator's voice is not fast, and there are good subtitles, so it is suitable for B1 students and above.

For a more institutional version of the "Ireland" brand, you can watch this serious 2021 video produced by the Irish Foreign Ministry, which lasts 3':06", and has subtitles, but whose language and background music, make it more suitable for B2 students and above.

SmarterTravel shows a tourist view of St. Patrick's Day celebration in the streets and pubs of Dublin back in 2018, in this 1':13" video with big, simple text and no voice, which is also suitable for B1 students.

C1 students and above can visit the webpage of the Irish Times and do a general knowledge test about Irishology.

And finally, to rejoice your heart, you can tap your foot to the catchy rhythm of an Irish song and enjoy this cute video by Jess Glynn, published in 2014, which can be recommended for B1 students and even for lower levels. Happy Paddy's Day!

lunes, 8 de marzo de 2021

Women's Struggle Around the World

On International Women's Day, Rappler, publishes the video "In Contested Cybercrime Laws, Activists and Women Are in Danger" (6':49") about the repression of women's activism around the world.  Authoritarian regimes and dictatorships have passed cybercrime laws that punish feminist activists and other dissidents with imprisonment like Loujain-Al-Hathloul in Saudi Arabia, but also in other parts of Asia, like Myanmar, Thailand, Fiji, or the Philippines, where María Ressa, the CEO of Rappler has been accused of "ciber libel" and has been jailed for writing critical articles against President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal anti-drug policies. At the end of the video, three women activists leave a final message: Momoko Nojo (Japan), Marine Maiorano Delmas (France) and Frida Guerrero (Mexico). 

This video with subtitles contains a lot of legal vocabulary, but the subtitles can allow even B2 students to follow it.  In the video you will find less frequent words to enrichen your vocabulary like: released [from prison], to be jailed, to fast-track, the lifting of prohibition, the male guardianship system, counter-terrorism law, [sexually] assaulted, a travel ban, vague [laws], dissent, a bill, a military takeover, [a law] to be in place, to stop [the state] from intervening, impinging on [public order], online abuse, a Trojan horse, uncanny [similar provisions], to engage in acts, cyber libel, a conviction, [an act] hotly contested, rendered, a tradeoff, chilling, most targeted groups [for harassment and attacks], [cases] recorded, perpetrated, intimidation, oftentimes, to defame, to rape, outspoken [women], submissive, domesticated, hate speech, sexist remarks, utilized, to assassinate their characters, divergent tactics, crackdowns.

If you are interested in the topic, you can read the article Women in South Asia: Hostile Encounters, published by Dawn (Pakistan), and International Women's Day: Plight and  Right of Nigeria Women, published by Vanguardngr.com (Nigeria). You can also listen to this 36 minute NPR radio interview where, María Resa talks to Terry Gross in Fresh Air about the crackdown on the press in the Philippines, a long interview with a script for C1 students and above.

lunes, 1 de marzo de 2021

Genevieve Bell, a Leader to the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Professor Genevieve Bell is a cultural anthropologist, a technologist and a futurist. She is the head of the 3A Institute (3Ai), at the Australian National University, where she is building a new branch of engineering to explore the impact and the management of artificial intelligence, data and technology on human behaviour. She previously worked for 20 years at Silicon Valley, leading a team of 100 scientists at Intel, as The New York Times reported in 2014

Genevieve Bell has recently presented the line of research in the 3Ai, which brings together experts in the fields of culture, technology and the environment, with the TED Talk below, entitled "6 Big Ethical Questions About the Future of AI". In this 14':48" video with subtitles, professor Bell speaks with a vey clear, educated, Australian accent and she uses academic words which might be transparent to a Spanish learner, but the cultural and engineering concepts she explains make the talk suitable for C1 students and above. I would like to thank my former student May L. for sharing this video with us.

Some of the words you can find in the video are: algorithm, to make sense of [something], AI, system.level scale, mechanization, automation, digitization, deceptively, sustainably, to research into existence, to theorize into existence, critical thinkers, critical doers, collaboratively, to frame the questions, to decolonize our imagination, work in progress, a glimpse, to gather, [fish] traps, fish holding pens, remarkable, an inspiration, meaningful, to sustain [systems], [our] legacy, a sense of purpose, a [clear] framework, an approach [of problem solving], question framing, to open up, challenges, autonomy, agency, assurance, interfaces, indicators, intent, to wander [down the street], controls, limits, a keyslot, to override [the system], trust, liablility, explicability, manageability, policy, regulation, the electrical grid, productivity, efficiency, sustainable, to articulate [a conversation], decommission, a [new] path, to draw the boundaries, to convene, a banner, cybernetics, a holistic [system], to reclaim, to accommodate, a physicist, a heady mix, expertise, diverse, to launch, a cohort [of graduates], to range, backgrounds, committed, a lone [inventor], a shared sense of purpose, owners, ceded, sacred, to pay my respects to, to dwell on [what they mean], a protracted [period of time].

If you are interested in AI and education you can listen to this podcast which includes a conversation with Professor Genevieve Bell and Dr. Amy McLennan, a research fellow at the 3Ai Institute from the New South Wales Department of Education. You can use the transcript, if you do not understand parts of the conversation.

domingo, 14 de febrero de 2021

Happy Valentine!


Love is the driving force that moves our hearts and inspires our mind. There are thousands of songs and poems that talk about the miriad of emotions love can arouse.

Here you can find a short text about heartbreak and hope, written by Teresa M., who won one of the awards in the 2021 Valentine Competition at the E.O.I. nº 1, Zaragoza, and below you can find two very different love songs: the video "Break My Heart" by Dua Lipa released in 2020 and a 1960 hit by Etta James, "A Sunday Kind of Love".

The vocabulary is quite easy and the songs can be heard with subtitles, so this post is suitable for B1 students and above.  The less frequent words you will come across are: skylight, a letdown, to grip [my heart], relief, serenity, to get it wrong, to know for sure, letting you go, love at first sight, on the square, scheming, to enfold [someone] in my arms.

I hope you can feel Cupid's arrows deep in your heart. Enjoy Valentine's Day!

by Teresa M.

It is dark now...
I will open an skylight in my head
to let the black clouds out.
You hurt me.
You lied to me.
A deep letdown gripped my heart.
The further you go, the closer my happiness gets.
Spring is coming.
Relief, serenity.

Dua Lipa's "Break My Heart" (2020) ...

... and Etta James's "A Sunday Kind of Love" (1960).

sábado, 6 de febrero de 2021

5 Celeb Stories

The C1.1 students became gossip reporters last week, when they had to find a story about celebrities, their relationships and personal lives.  Five stories were voted in the four mini-groups as the best: 

María B. presented "Did Kanye West Cheat On Kim with Jeffree Star?" after reading the story in Dazed Digital

Vera R. talked about Dora Maar, Picasso's lover, muse and "a major surrealist photographer" in her own right, and then she wrote her story "When Love Creates Art and Tragedy", based on two stories from The New York Times and The Guardian.

Adriana R. wrote a piece on Heather Mills and Mike Dickman, after compiling information from three stories in The Sun "Who is Heather Mills' Fiancé Mike Dickman?", the same story on January 14th, and "The Most Staggeringly Expensive Celeb Divorces Ever" and after reading a fourth text from Heather Mills' Profile in Hello Magazine.

Rafaela S. wrote a short text called "Gossiping About Meghan Markle and Prince Harry", reporting news from Hollywood Gossip, The Telegraph and People Magazine.

Coral d J. shared with her classmates the biography of Adele in Hello Magazine. 

These texts are suitable for B2 students and above.  You will find words like: to cheat on [Kim], to file for [divorce], to be done, the bar exam, shit, to storm [the US Capitol], a coup attempt, to be unfaithful, alledgedly, a [beauty] guru, to hook up, to claim, to fuel the fire, to tweet, a make-up artist, celebs, the [eternally] spurned mistress, a long-running affair, to break off [an affair], a thrill, the scruciating [Weeping Woman], to depict, an atrocity, politically engaged, to be devastated, [to suffer] a breakdown, to be overlooked, portraits, [to get] engaged to, a toy boy, paparazzi, a bitter divorce, to have a jinx, an earthquake. 

viernes, 29 de enero de 2021

Dubai's World Islands Private Mansion Tour!


Australian social media celebrity Supercar Blondie shows us round a luxury villa in Dubai with a snow room in the extreme heat of the desert. Check it out! If you have $24 million, you may consider buying it! This short video below (9':15") can be watched with subtitles and it is suitable for B2 students and above.

The language is cool and informal, and you will find few difficult words: to hang out, a desalination plant, sustainable, an irrigation system, stitching, the hustle and bustle, I feel like a million dollars, soak it up!, an infitity pool, tidal, super VIP, to wave [hello], inspirational [neighbours], a villa, solar power, the groceries, the mainland, make it happen!, a [Swedish] bunker, a sauna, a gym, a massage room, no way!, "glitzer" (a German word which means "glitter" or "purpurina"), ridiculous, layers.

viernes, 22 de enero de 2021


Dating is an art, a communication game where you want to show your feelings, but you do not want "to seem too eager". 

In this post you can find two articles from The List, a "women's news and lifestyle site with a twist": Texts to Send After a First Date and Things You Should Never Do on a First Date.

These two texts are recommended for C1 students, as the vocabulary is very rich in colloquial American slang.  Some of the less frequent words you will find in the dating and texting article are: nerve-wracking, to feel a spark, super cheesy, flirty, cute, to ghost your date, to hang out with friends, to hit it off, to get the hint, whereas in the second story you will read frazzled, tardiness, phubbing (which is a new coinage), a self-fulfilling prophecy, to feel upbeat/ over-the-top, to moan about, to whine, to brag, a faux-pas, daunting etc. A full list of the most interesting words in these two articles can be found in the "Glossary of the Blog".

You can also read a recent history of dating since the 1970's in 25 Ways Dating Has Changed in the Last 50 Years, published on Stacker.com, a website that "transforms expert analysis into digestible stories": the contraceptive pill, feminism, the romantic mixtape, LGBTQ+ rights, new technologies, speed dating or even the "Engagement Chicken" recipe have shaped dating into what it is today, so, if you want to find out, please click on the link above and you may add some dating words to your own personal lexicon, like "a hook-up", "catfishing", "ghosting" or "breadcrumbing". This reading can also suit C1 students.

domingo, 10 de enero de 2021

"I Have a Dream" & the American Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday in the USA which is observed on the third Monday of January (the 18th of the current month in 2021), as Dr. King's birthday was on January 15th. His speech, "I Have a Dream" has inspired several generations of civil rights activists to fight peacefully but unyieldlingly for justice and against any kind of discrimination. American Rhetoric.com ranks "I Have a Dream" as number one in the list of the most influential speeches in the USA, it is powerful, moving, rich in literary and biblical references and very rhythmical -a well-crafted mixture of political speech and Baptist sermon.  You can also watch the whole speech on the YouTube video below. 

The speech needs a certain historical introduction, as it contains numerous references to the struggle against segregation laws in the 1950's and 60's, which students will problably miss otherwise. This lesson plan for a two-hour C1 class includes some reading, speaking and vocabulary tasks (1h 30'), based on extracts from the Wikipedia's page on the Civil Rights Movement, with a slide presentation to illustrate the major events of the movement and a clip from Bob Dylan's song "The Death of Emmett Till", which is mentioned in the Wikipedia texts. The second part of the class is a  simple listening and reading task with a fill-in-the gap exercise on the transcipt of Dr. King's speech "I Have a Dream" (20'- 25'). The online file includes another document with further examples of Jim Crow laws. The lesson is hard at times but hopeful.

The text contains a lof of legal terms in American English.  Some of the less frequent vocabulary students will come across is the following: facilities, [a court] to rule, literacy, to file a suit, a plaintiff, to overturn a decision/ a court ruling, a melting pot, to flirt, to dispose of, casket, to rally support, to acquit of a crime, double jeopardy, outrage, to spark, a standoff, a [lunch] counter, to pledge, bail, a restroom, to flee, to cram, turmoil, a stance, to enforce [a law], to skip school, restraint, upheaval, to gather, to fulfill [a requirement].

If you want further information on the March on Washington you can watch this Time Magazine short documentary (6':05") or just browse on Google or YouTube.  The rally ended with some memorable musical performances by Joan Baez, The Freedom Singers, Peter, Paul & Mary, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Odetta, or the Eva Jessye Choir, which are worth watching.

jueves, 31 de diciembre de 2020

The Best Songs, Books and Movies of 2020

This year has been particularly tough, but if you look back you will surely remember wonderful moments, lessons you had never learnt before, and, perhaps, a song, a book or a film that will stay with you long after 2020 has gone by. It's time to take stock, and here you can find several lists of the best in 2020: the 100 Best Songs of 2020 by NPR,with their official video and an extract from a review, and NPR's Best Books of the Year 2020, with a mini review at one click.

The New York Times is another renowned and respected source of cultural information. Here you can find the Best Movies of 2020, the 10 Best Books of 2020 and if you are into music, the Best Albums of 2020.

Finally, for a more European viewpoint, you can check the BBC's Best Albums and Songs of 2020 (text only, no direct links to the music, sorry!), the BBC's Best Films of 2020 and the BBC's Best Books of the Year 2020.

The vocabulary of cultural reviews is incredibly rich: literary, technical and slangy at times, so it is very suitable for C2 students, but C1 and even B2 learners can still enjoy the music of the songs and understand the gist of the texts. Here is some of the less frequent vocabulary you will find:  

In the first 5 entries of NPR's 100 Best Songs: whopper, a mixtape, to drop, crappy, shred, jam, at a loss for words, buoyant, to be stuck, [the] forseeable [future], [silver] lining, to craft, relentless, chart-topping, juggernaut, hashtag-ready [exclamations], truly sublime, damned it, to work wonders, desperado, sounds at home, bluegrass, string band album, sardonic, trippy, cryptic, an [ambitious] go-getter, to pray, to live lean, to come off as a fluttering, ethereal ode to newfound [love], a lens, to shed light on, self-confidence, gaze, debut, thereafter, cataclysmic [events], [an eight-year] hiatus, to feature, [the] sole [appearance], [the] grim [theme], uplifting [beats], the soundtrack, a funk-rock house party, to throw [a party], [its] opening [song], a mildly psychedelic welcome mat, bassist, to settle into a groove, wandering [voice], off-kilter synth riffs, to hum etc.

In the NYT's Best Movies of 2020: the screening rooms, blockbusters, in storage, to bleed, to doomscroll, to prompt, to put down [my phone], to tether [me to the world], our preferred [movies], first- and second-run cinemas, art houses, cinémathèques, sightlines, moviegoing, it was instrumental to, texture, to clock [many hours], unmoored, classy, shades, to tape [shopping bags], to figure out, to soak up, the stream [of faces], devastating [Trump] performances, skateboarding, sneezes, coughs, to settle [into a new home], to march [for Black lives], to mourn [the deaths], joyous, enlivening, to grow fond of [people], well-being, [a] shameful [day], discrete [pleasures], [the] seemingly [endless], fleeting [Instagram stories], GIFs, to bypass, to blur [time], respite [from the clock-and-capitalism-determined flow of everyday life], every so often, I haven't a clue, [my] conviction, to weather [the crisis], streaming, to morph, to outlive, time will tell, [a brilliant] take, to embrace, bootstraps, sow, rambunctious litter [of piglets], [a] one-legged [chicken], to roam blissfully, exhilating genre-buster, to upend, weird, deeply [political], a rebuke to rugged [individualism], rage, to waft [off the screen], gripping, to track the aftermath, a floundering playwright, to stake a claim, wit, rap, a burst [of glorious colour], dazzingly, a heartbreaker.

In the BBC Best Books article: [a] bumper [year], dystopian [fiction], a memoir, to round up, [BBC Culture's] picks, to deliver, to burrow down, his outlook, the hotly-anticipaped sequel, to embark on [a new quest], vaults, to be hooked, a playful [viewpoint], afterlives, hyperreal, surreal, a mind-bending [collection], multifaceted [scariness], her struggles [and dilemmas],[to be] relayed, revealing [moments], poignant, to unpick [society's racist structures], hidden [histories], to home in on [the role of white patriarchy], to uphold [a system], to disenfranchise etc.

A simple lesson plan for a distance class: There is plenty to read, listen and learn on this post. If you want to activate some of those words, and you already have your "distance speaking partner", you can give them a call or make a videoconference and talk about what you have discovered in these lists, or just anwer these simple questions:

  • What is the best song you have heard in 2020? Why do you like it?
  • What is the best book you have read in 2020? Why do you like it?
  • What is the best film you have watched in 2020? Why do you like it?
It is really hard to choose one song among 100, as the best of 2020. #69 Joy Oladokum's "I See America" captures this year's spirit of despair and hope; #56 Steady Holiday's "Living the Life" oozes simple beauty; # 75 Mireya Ramos' version of "Angelitos Negros" is just amazing; #63 Lido Pimienta's "Eso Que Tu Haces" discovers the power of the new Latino woman; #43 RMR's video is really striking with its blend of images and melody; #39 Dua Lipa's "Break my Heart" is so much fun to celebrate the coming of the New Year; #38 singer-songwriter Soccer Mummy's "Circle the Drain" is a matter-of-fact description of the pains of mental illness which chills your heart; #37 Sun-El Musician's "Uhuru" brings some authentic African flavour to this year's music crop; #28 Stephanie Lambring performs in "Joy of Jesus" a beautifully-crafted Christian country song; #24 Fiona Apple "I Want You to Love Me" is fresh, original, bold and perfect in its rendition; #19 Joshua Reman's, Brad Mehldan, Christian McBride and Brian Blade's "Right Back Round Again" shows that the jazz tradition is alive and kicking; #7 Bob Dylan's "Murder Most Foul" is a tour de force and a musical master-class by the old bard and #4 Mickey Guyton's "Black Like Me" is a distressing and compelling anthem about the everyday racial tensions in a small American town.  

There are many other wonderful tunes which haven't been included in this shortlist (#98, 36, 33, 22, 17, 16, 13, 12, 10, 9, 6, 2, 1 among others), but to top the list of the best song of 2020, I would like choose #55 Shemkia Copeland's blues"Walk Until I Ride" 'cause it has the beat, the lyrics and the faith to touch my heart, my brain and to move my feet. Keep healthy and happy in 2021.

lunes, 28 de diciembre de 2020

Common European Framework of Reference Self-Assessment & Learners' Beliefs

This is a lesson plan based on the Common European Framework of Reference and the European Language Portfolio, which can help students to reflect upon their history as language learners, their goals, beliefs and interests, and to do informal self-assessment of their language level using the Self-Assessment Grid of the CEFR.  It can be used the first or the second day of the course, before starting with the textbook, but it can also be used as distance conversation practice in the topic "Languages". The questionnaire is supposed to be for C1 students, but, with minimum changes, it can be adapted for B2 and even C2 learners.

Here you can find a link to the Questionnaire "Language Learning Experiences and Beliefs" for conversation practice, again the Self-Assessment Grid of the CEFR and a lesson plan with suggestions for teachers.

The less frequent vocabulary includes the following words and expressions: concening, current affairs, delivery, [to be] implied, predictable [information], attitudes, viewpoints, prose, with ease, rate [of speech], to handle [social exchanges], to keep the conversation going, to search for [expressions], [for social and professional] purposes, skilfully, to convey finer shades of meaning, to backtrack, [my educational] background, events, to round off [with an appropriate conclusion], a [clear] smooth-flowing [description or argument], the recipient, a wide-range [of subjects], to highlight, a wellstructured [text], at [some] length, salient [issues], [to present] a case.

viernes, 18 de diciembre de 2020


Christmas is a commercial and religious family holiday which is celebrated in many countries around the world, including Spain and the UK. It is also a school holiday and each student always has something to say about Christmas: whether they find it exciting and uplifting, or gloomy and depressing, Christmas is always a very productive conversation topic in EFL and there are so many carols and songs that is very easy to find some music to bring to class. 

Here, you can find a lesson plan for a B1 conversation class which includes a Learn English with Ben video which compares British and Spanish Christmas, one of the most popular Christmas carols, Silent Night, in Tori Kelly's a capella voice, with a fill-in the gap listening task and the full lyrics to serve as the key, this link to Dougie MacLean's version of Auld Lang Syne, which is mentioned in the video.  In addition, you can listen to this BBC 5 Live podcast with an exculsive interview to Father Christmas (there is no script, so it is suitable for C2 students) or watch this 3 minute clip of the interview highlights on BBC5 Live In Short, which includes subtitles and, therefore, it is accessible to B2 students.  For further reading, you can check this article in "The Converstation" about the origin of Christmas decorations, which, perhaps, is more suitable for B2 learners.

This year, with the epidemic and the restrictions to social gatherings and movement, there will be much more to add to the Christmas conversations, so, Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!  

These are some of the less frequent words you will find in the video: pandemic, let me know, calendar, baubles, garlands, Christmas cards, on display, to stick, a Nativity scene, impressive, a figurine, to do a number two, to defecate, lottery, a total payout, community spirited, the winnings, the "Fat One", to meet up, seafood, starters, roast pig, Christmas Eve, nougant, nugget, Christmas carols, stockings, gifts, vivid memories, excitement, enthusiasm, a hangover, the Queen's speech, turkey, roast vegetables, Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, mince pice, brandy butter, fantastic, Christmas crackers, a snapping sound, a crown, board games, Boxing Day, alms box, extende family, New Year's Eve, grapes, to chime, a difficult challenge, to peel, to hit midnight, Auld Lang Syne, leftover [turkey], a curry, New Year's resolutions, Kings' Day, 3 Wise Men, floats, hang on a minute, to grow up, to stay [with us]. 

viernes, 11 de diciembre de 2020

Oral Presentations and Public Speaking Tips

December is a good month for oral presentations. Students have a long bank holiday in Spain and not many university exams yet, so they can prepare a short, five-minute presentation about a topic of their choice. This activity takes only three lessons, one to give them encouragement and basic guidelines and two lessons for the presentations themselves, all in all, from 5/ 6:30 hours of classroom time and the results are always impressive.

Here you can find a Lesson Plan for B2, C1 and C2 students which revolves around an Interactive Exercise that was originally published by Allyn & Bacon Public Speaking (www.abpublicspeaking.com, but this link is no longer available on the web), which has been adapted for B2, C1 and C2 students. You can also find the Key to the Interactive Exercise, which the teacher can use to give students the main guidelines for the task, and an Oral Presentation Checklist to help the teacher assess the presentations. 

You can also find three more handouts: 10 Tips for Improving Your Public Speaking Skills by Marjorie North from Harvard Extension School, Oral Presentations from Duke University Writing Studio, and a glossary with Useful Language for Oral Presentations, that my colleague Mar C. once passed me, which can be a really useful vocabulary list. In addition, C1 and C2 students can also watch this 14':46" video with subtitles by Thomas Frank and listen to his 9 Public Speaking Tips:

YouTube is loaded with videos to help students start speaking in public, here you can find two more links: Presentations in English, How to Give a Presentation by Oxford Online English, which is suitable for B2 and less experienced students, and 6 Public Speaking Tips to Hook Any Audience, by Mohamed Qahtani, which can be interesting for C2 students who want to incorporate basic acting techniques to present longer monologues and engage their audiences. And the best models for modern, oral rhetoric  can currently be found at TED Talks.

Some of the words you will find in the Interacative Exercise Key are: to churn, to wring [wet], to spell disaster, to dispel, the flow [of your points], setting, reservations to overcome, the adrenaline rush, to tighten, self-defeating, to discard, time constraints, time slot, to disrupt, an issue, to undermine, to strive [for comfort], a cap with a bill, overly loose clothing, blousy sleeves, smooth, to mar [the flow of speech], to interject, to stare, to scan, to dwell, the prevailing [norm], to avert from [direct eye contact], to pace [back and forth], to sway [to and fro], the culprit, to set up [a display table], a slide show, to enhance [my presentation], to engage [the audience], a rule of thumb, the razzle and dazzle, a back up [plan], a [computer] crashes, a bulb blows, overhead [transparencies].

domingo, 29 de noviembre de 2020

The Future of Jobs: the Most Valuable Skills for 2021-2025

In the challenging economic scenario of a global pandemic, which has brought about confinements, telework, shop closures, furlough schemes, but also new business opportunities for pharmaceutical or computer companies, what are the top job skills that thriving companies are seeking in their new recruits? Here you have a collection of four articles that list the most highly demanded soft and tech skills in the corporate world.

The first article comes form HR Vision, it quotes the recently published World Economic Forum report, "The Future of Jobs", which predicts that by 2025, in the summit of a digital and biological revolution -the 4th Industrial Revolution- companies will be seeking candidates with communication and interpersonal skills, the so-called "soft skills", like "complex problem solving", "critical thinking", "creativity", "people management" or "emotional intelligence" to outperform robots and get things done in a changing business environment. The complexity of the vocabulary makes this article suitable for C2 students.

You will come across words like, self-driving cars, quantum computing, on the cusp of [the Fourth Industrial Revolution], lightning speed [advancements], [a] mind-bloggling [change], to earmark, genomics, to thrive [in this brave new world], to survey, leading [companies], to strap yourself, to rev up, flux capacitator, a balance beam, to swing, to leap, to twirl, back and forth, limber, to shed [new] light, nimble, to flex [our cognitive muscles], to take up, try your hand at [an art class], to glaze over, the comfort zone, to embrace, to flag, for the time being, to be high up [on the list], to shine a spotlight on [consumers], carbon footprint, food safety, labour standards, a grip on [service oritentation], to step into [the minds], the knack [for strong decision-making skills], to nab [seventh spot], sheer [volume], to amass, to sift through, to figure out, to set aside [time], overwhelming, skillsets, to give a boost, to play off, to piggyback, artsy, seemingly, to unleash, on a regular basis, to wander, to weigh up [the pros and cons], savvy, to give [humans] a run for their money, to top [the list], settings, in a nutshell, at breakneck speed, core [skills], to zero in, to be honed, the holy grail, to keep apace [with the changes].

ToolBox, quotes various sources to list the top 10 technical skills in demand for 2021: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) top the list, followed by Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing -dominated by market leader Amazon AWS, which is building three new data processing centres in Aragon- and Data Analytics. This article contains a lot of technical jargon, so it is classified above C2 and it is recommended for Experts (level Ex).

Here, you will find words such as [IT] openings, fierce [competition], high-paying [jobs], [the most] sought-after [tech skills], to grab [top-paying jobs], in-demand, pegged, core, to mine [data], insights, pro, neural networks, natural language processing, robotics, deep learning, chatbot, in the wake of [pandemic recovery], [top technology] trends, to range from, ethical hacker, a prospective [employer], a sexy [job], to rule the roost, to rely on [data], highly valued, to crown as [the top emerging in-demand role], data wrangling, k-means clustering technique, software developers, shortcomings, latency, edge computing, to bypass, the Internet of Things (IoT), to fit in, versed in, embedded systems, rampant, to focus on, scrum, to pursue [excellence], to reckon, to pair, to advance [a career], to open up, back-end [framework skills], the job [outlook], to spruce up, double-digit [growth], to qualify [for a position], to upgrade, to match [your career goals], 

LinkedIn Learning lists the top skills needed in 2020, and the courses where you can learn those skills (for free only up to February 2020). At the end of the article, you can also watch a short promotional video with automatic subtitles (1':00"). This text is slightly easier, so, it can be read by C1 students above.

In this article you will find words and expressions like: to surface, timely [data], in-demand, to stand out, to unlock, to hone, highly sought after [skills], to dive into [the list], to make or break, to take on [new opportunities], to top [the list], soft skills, [top] spots, evergreen, to gravitate towards, to fall off [the list], to advance [your career], to brush up, stakeholders, [follow your] lead, to embrace [reality], to show up, stressful, to underscore, blockchain, to highlight, workforce, asset, to be run, [to uncover] insights, to augment, to harness [the power of AI...], the [average] attention span], expertise, a must-have [hard skill], to leverage, [to be] hyper-targeted, to be hard pressed, [the sales] funnel, insatiable [appetite for video content], to cultivate [essential soft skills], to be empowered, 

Finally, here you can read the list of the top job skills for 2025 from the World Economic Forum webpage, and an estimate of how long it will take employees to reskill.  This article is suitable for C1 students.

In this article, you will encounter words like: to reskill, to top [the list], resilience, to require, double-disruption, to take hold, to map, to track, at our disposal, the bounty, to be leveraged, to unleash, to upskill, to deploy [safety nets], to be displaced, destitution, bespoke, to thrive, to estimate, a shift, in-demand [skills], gaps, core [skills], to track, granularity, cross-cutting [skills], to pick up [new skills], a sharp [rise], trend, a fourfold [increase], to seek out [opportunities], fivefold, ninefold, funding, to purse [new opportunities].

domingo, 22 de noviembre de 2020

Lewis Hamilton: The Greatest British Champion?

Lewis Hamilton recently won his 7th F1 title in Turkey, matching Michael Schumacher's all time record. This feat has prompted the British media to relish a debate about Lewis Hamilton's place in the history of F1 and British sport in general. Here you can listen to a BBC Radio 5 Live programme, "Chequered Flag", where a panel of 3 journalists, Rebecca Clancy, from The Times, Scott Mitchell from The Race and Saith Hardy, a freelance reporter from the USA, talk about the most popular sportsperson in Britain nowadays: his recent victory in the Turkish Grand Prix,and his leading role as an activist in various social causes, including racism. The podcast lasts 53':48", and there is no script, so it can be suitable for C2 students. Below you can find the glossary and here, on this link, a list of the different sections of the interview which can be used as a supplementary listening guide for the students who might need that kind of written support.

If you want to listen to Lewis Hamilton himself, here you can find an interview with automatic subtitles by Gayle King, recorded at 92nd Street Y Community Centre in New York, where Lewis Hamilton talks about his earliest memories of car racing, his childhood, his school, racism, the strains of driving F1 cars, fashion and music, his interests outside motor racing etc. (1:14:59).  This interview can be suitable for C1 students.

This is the glossary for the BBC Radio 5 Live interview, which is long enough to be used as a listening guide: a defining year, the paddock, a monumental moment, to cheer (for him), a standing ovation, achievement, colossal, realm, to witness history, the greatest ever, ultra succesful, a statesman, whole package, measured in his emotion and focused, a genious display, [last few] laps, that genious and brillance, so critical [in his career], to stay put, a leap of faith, to count my blessings, the right thing for me, to be aware of, surroundings, to match an icon, to dream big, plenty to pick, to take points away from him, cannot hold a candle to Lewis on Sunday, can't leave anything on the table, you scrap everything, tenacity, to pit, tyres, he had no right to win [the race], absolutely ridiculous, blown out of the water, absolutely ferocious, absolutely useless, slippery [pit lane], astonishing, acrobatics, do the Maths in your head, strands of information, he gets credit, to deserve, talent, to stay focused, to beat [Michael's] record, a fantastic achievement, to set up the car, the best ever, to be honest, his record surpassed, he would be OK, fair to compare, to exhibit, mastery, an outstanding [driver], win percentage, brilliant, rolled them into one, creeping up around 30%, [the car] they step into, these machines, the sum of all this, the current crop [of football players], facilities, data, magical vacuum, to set parameters, tiers, a like to like comparison, to read the stats, stunning, to take a bow, tributes, to reach out, biassed, based in [Britain], to be hailed as [the greatest sports person], the realm of, in his breadth, he has utterly dominated, Swedish domiciled, the key difference, the equipment, head-to-head, unique, the outright [best], to be knighted, they stand out, engaged, involved, charities, issues, using their platform, they gravitate to him, to step forward, to make his voice heard, charitable contibution, never swayed away from him, the stopwatch, the real world, he has a voice, utilize [his voice], more round up, there is purpose in [something], squeezed in a box, this deal [among us], to work out, to turn up, social intelligence, work ethic, inspirational, glamour, sustainablility, he has a spotlight on [him], to lead the way, to push forward, human rights record, his focus, to speak up, to dream big, not built into them, to deal with, to strengthen, to go through, to take with [him], makes people uncomfortable, there's much more to be done, to drive change, to race against, key points, meritocracy, a blinked view, not a bouncer, good enough, incredible, paddock, [no one] to look up to, to condemn [issues], his stature, to get enraged, to galvanize people behind him, rightly so, racist slurs, to preserve, to take on this mantra, quite clear, cash is king, he revels in this idea, foundations, to get heavily into, different irons in the fire, to ge a headline, he won't play ball, pretty impressive, he transcends sports, a headline generator, an incredible work ethic, quite unusual, aloof, moody, incredibly thoughful, to put a lot of effort, to speak for ten minutes on end, not waffle, underlying point, to quote, on black and white, incredibly softly spoken, glib, disingenious, weird lingering, misconceptions, in your copy, a nice bloke, baffling, post-race interview, he'll definitely be around, to check out 2020, he'll stick around, a decent chance of being in F1, to win all the Wallies around, getting the contracts down, not so straightforward, sponsorship deals, to walk away, he definitely is hungry, end on a high note, to ball out gracefully, to set the bar high, to move aside, to move on, our panel.

sábado, 14 de noviembre de 2020

Happy Diwali!

Diwali festival celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil. It is observed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and New Buddhists all over the Indian subcontinent and in the diaspora, at the end of October or at the beginning of November, depending on the Hindu moon calendar. In 2020 Diwali begins on 13th November and it runs for five days, but the main celebration is held on the second day, November 14th.  Different gods are worshipped in different parts of India, and in the families, houses get spotlessly clean, clay oil lamps are lit, "to symbolize the purification of the mind and to remove negativity, clutter and ignorance" and fireworks and firecrackers are let off in the streets. Other Diwali traditions include playing cards, baking and eating sweets, dressing up in the best attires, and exchanging gifts. Finally on the fifth day of Diwali, brothers and sisters honour their common bond by getting together and sharing food. If you want to find out more about this festival, you can click on this Tripsavvy link. This text is suitable for B2 students and upwards. 

In that article, you will find interesting words like: disrupted, fireworks, firecrackers, a row, brightness, a kingdom, clutches, the defeat, a demon, to be free [from prison], to dispel [our own darkness], outwards, to overlap, a fortnight, mankind, [legend] has it, a goddess, to churn, to ready, to purchase, to gather, to play cards, to gamble, to be auspicious, the doorway,the courtyard, to burst crackers, an effigy, clay [lamps], candles are lit, [fireworks are] let off, a fearsome [goddess], to be worshipped, sugarcane, jute sticks, mechants, shortcomings, the bond, blessings, [houses are] spotless, to remove clutter, joy, [firecrackers] go off, breathing [difficulties], to be aware that, peak [travel time], [trains will be] heavily booked, crowded, ear plugs, damaging [to the ears], [pollution has] skyrocketed.   

Below, you can find a National Geographic video with automatic subtitles that explains the Diwali celebrations when you are travelling in India and a Diwali Special Bollywood video:


sábado, 7 de noviembre de 2020

What is Your Personality Type? The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Can we categorize people's personality? Psychologists have tried to do so, it is part of their job.  The video below shows a categorization based on Jung's theories, which were later on applied by two American female psychologists, to develop a well-known questionnaire, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Personality tests, horoscopes etc. could be priceless materials to introduce character description adjectives in the EFL class.  This lesson plan for C1 students includes the Myers-Briggs test, a list of synonyms and some horoscope work, to present and practice this lexical area.

You will come across words like: to check out, proper, at face value, eccentric, to flex muscles, a gut instinct, to spot, hands-on, to give away, to have a hard time, to excel, to crave, [to be] in the spotlight, to dive deep, reluctant, willing, to thrive, to carve, to forge, insightful, to see right through [it], mundane, to shy away from [something], charismatic, talented, jolly, reckless, laid-back, reliable, bigoted, deceitful, fickle, loutish, stingy, clumsy, shrewd, withdrawn, smug, naive, sluggish, touchy, bold, rebellious, gullible, committed, off-putting, articulate, fussy, trusting, trustful, trusworthy, wilful, thorough, rash, ruthless, gloomy etc.

sábado, 31 de octubre de 2020

Why Food Allergies are on the Rise

"Food allergies have risen to an absolutely crazy extent", according to Grahan Rook, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at University College London, and hospital admissions figures in the US, Australia and Europe, are part of the data that prove that strong statement. This BBC Future article discusses two hypotheses -the hygiene hypothesis and the dual-allergen exposure theory- that try to explain this sharp increase in food allergies around the world, and the environmental factors that affect the response of our immune system to certain products. The length, technicality and textual complexity of this article, make it suitable for C2 students.

The more interesting new words you will come across in this article are: on the rise, risky, a minor reaction, itching, swelling, a mild, severe [reaction], anaphylaxis, a state of shock, wheezing, dizziness, vomiting, pulse, blood preasure, to drop, airways, hospital admissions, [increased] threefold, to see [a 72%] rise in [the number of hospital admissions], to be aware of [food allergies], to pinpoint, self-reported data, food intolerance, prevalence, the "gold-standard" test for [a food allergy], to involve [feeding], a [clinical] setting, time-consuming, costly, to come [with risks], peer-reviewed sources, the rate, the range [of foods], to widen, to go by the name of ["the hygiene hypothesis], to give a wide berth, appalling, siblings, hay fever, eczema, declining [family size] household amenities, cleanliness, the gut, [to increase] the likelihood of [meeting] the microbiota, [born by] caesarian section, the birth canal, [an allergic] disorder, to lower the risk, to develop an allergy, to coin [a phrase], biocide-treated timber, plasterboard, to bear [no relation to], a failure, dual-allergen exposure, a detour [into], to end up with [guidance], dust, to trigger [a response], an infant, early-onset [eczema], to handle, a window of opportunity, an EpiPen, to caution [women] against [eating peanuts], pregnancy, a conclusive link, to change tack, barely, vulnerable to [food allergies], to deprive ourselves [of Vitamin D], a Goldilocks [scenario], amid [a rise in food allergy cases], to yield, promising [results].

sábado, 24 de octubre de 2020

Display Copy: Old Clothes are the Newest Thing in Fashion

Display Copy is a new fashion magazine that just features vintage and thrifted items from second hand and charity shops like eBay, Etsy or the Salvation Army, but pictured by top-notch models and photographers. "The idea was to make used clothes desirable", says Brian Hemingway, editor of the magazine.  The New York Times reports that "upcycling" is gaining momentum in the fashion industry, and well-established brand names like Miu-Miu, Levi's, Maison Margiela, Patagonia, Gucci, Stella McCartney or Burberry have launched collections of recycled clothes and have set up second life stores.  This article is suitable for C1 students.

You will come across words like: disposablility, chic, a host of big brands, joy, upcycling, the cover [of a magazine], to feature, to debut, newsstands, a plus-size model, inclusivity, glossy shoots, vintage, secondhand, thrifted, pre-loved, for resale, a stream of [mostly] on-line shoppable [content], collectible, sustainable, [upcycled] apparel, 18-karat gold, to scour flea markets [for inspiration], to embrace, to tweak, to refashion, to jazz up, to unveil, a buyback [program], denim, to follow the footsteps, garments, charity shops, to deconstruct, to rework, to double down on [the idea], to come in the wake of, pioneer, attire, partnership, second life store, samples and pieces, to gather [dust], closet, to sell off, embellishment, tags, one-off, quasi-couture, to plot, to reissue, a cape, premier, to put the spotlight on, conventional wisdom, to addle [their senses], to risk [losing their attention], [wallet] share, to turn out, short term, to reek of [insecurity], to rely on [freneticism], white noise, to boost sales, a glut [of stuff], the value proposition, to hang on to [a garment], to be done with [something], to grapple with [the impact of..., the problem], [systems] weren't in place, housedress, leftover fabric, pandemic, lockdown, mills, deadstock, to prompt [Farfetched to expand], on-site [credit], the landfill [problem], to bolster, the [much] heralded [growth], to hit [$ 6 billion], to turn away from, to price out of [something], accessories, to co-opt, to gross out, to move on, to open a new realm [of possibility].

jueves, 15 de octubre de 2020

Indian Matchmaking Causes a Stir in India

Indian Matchmaking
is a Netflix TV show that has become a huge hit in India, but it has also stirred a heated debate about arranged marriages and the role of women in modern relationships.  Some people love the show, and they think it is "realistic and honest", while others find it  regressive and even "cringe-worthy".

In the BBC News article, you will come across words like: cringe-worthy (informal), a [huge] hit,a  matchmaker, a [huge] buzz (informal), docuseries, to jet-set, bride, groom, a meme, to hate-watch (informal), in-your-face misogyny, casteism, colourism, [to cause] outrage, posh [hotels], closet, at stake, to leaf through [a database], to pull out, a [good] fit, to trawl through, a hunt, to come as a surprise, affluent, to rely on, a shopping list, an outsider, [an] alien [world], dating, [to suggest] condescendingly, insightful, hilarious, unaware, a [regressive] mindset, a caveat (formal), an astrologer, a face reader, auspicious, stubborn, to compromise, to adjust, to call out, picky [clients], to gloss over, to scar [women permanently], chattle, painful [memories], [bride viewing] demeaning, to put on display, to be sized up, to reveal, prejudice, a freaking [reality show], woke [people] (US informal).

viernes, 9 de octubre de 2020

Louise Glück: "Landscape" and Other Poems

Poet Louise Glück has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Poetry must be read out loud to appreciate its sound and its music, the unique sound and music of a language, in this case English, which cannot be faithfully translated into any other language.

Below you can watch a YouTube video of Louise Glück reading out loud several of her poems at a Lannan literary event.  After an introduction by Peter Streckfus, the poet reads "Mock Orange" (10:17), then two poems from her book "The Wild Iris" (10:29).  Next, two more poems from "Averno" (14:03): "Telescope" (14:27) and "Landscape", which is introduced at 15:50 and recited at 17:26.  Then, Ms Glück goes on to read two poems from "A Village Life" (29:24), and. finally, the poetic rendition ends with two texts form "Faithful & Virtous Night" (43:11).

You can read the words of "Landscape" while you listen to the poem on this link from "The Threepenny Review", you should listen to the poem several times before you can glimpse some kind of meaning.  Nevertheless, poetry is more than a factual message, poetry is the sound of words, poetry is tempo, so, you can enjoy, straightaway, the rhythmical patterns of English, the articulation of consonants, the quality and length of the vowels that the poet recites, slowly and carefully -which we tend to turn a deaf ear to, when we are engaged in our everyday communication exchanges- and that auditive perception is worthwhile in itself, even more so, if you are a mystified learner of a foreign language. After listening to the poet, you can try to recite the poem yourself, paying mindful attention to the pronunciation of phonemes, words and sentences -a pronunciation class in quest for poetic beauty! This poem is accessible to C1 students for the lexis is rather easy: [the sun] sets, bare, chestnut, quilt, damp, to trail, to rush, to strain the leash, path, sunset, precipice, to call out, faintly, twilight, to untie [his horse], to stir, to float, propitious [time], demure inviting [sounds], to vanish, to bleach, [an image] to fade, to set fire to [a field], wheat, tinder, for [the farmer's] sake, char, [a field] parched, failure, abiding, a memento, soil, a slot, complacent, harsh, obsolete, shallow, to soothe, the earth, to defeat, accurate, shelter, thickly, steadily, [sure] footing, a premonition.

If you want to read an introduction to the poetry of Louise Glück, you can follow this link to "The Poetry Foundation", where you will find an article with a dense collection of review extracts which is recommended for Experts, above C2 level.  Here you will find a lot of information about the recent Nobel Prize winner and about her poems.

One article that may strike you in "The Poetry Foundation" is this interview to Boston-based composer Harriett Staff, who has set the text of "Averno" to music. She describes the process of turning text into music in these terms: "To be set as music easily, the text needs to be concise. There has to be some sense of rhythm - even a single phrase that has a strong sense of long and short beats. And then the vowels need to be longer and the consonants leaning towards softer sounds, 'l', 'm', 'n', with fewer hard consonants. I don't think too much about meaning at the beginning. When I find a poem that seems to feel as if it could be music, I look for a single line that speaks to me musically, I memorise it, and I start saying it with various emphases and melodic lines. When something begins to emerge that sounds natural and musical, I write it down. Usually it is both melodic and rhythmic." This interview is suitable for C1 students.

sábado, 3 de octubre de 2020

Election Polls: the Swing States That Will Decide the Next President

On Tuesday November 3rd 2020, Americans will vote for the next President of the USA, but the battle between the two candidates, President Trump and Vice-President Biden is fought particularly fiercely in the "swing" states, where there race is very close. The reason is that the Presidential election is an indirect election: voters choose an Electoral College first, and then, the elected members of that Electoral College vote for the President, so the popular vote does not always decide the President, but the number of "electoral votes" -a minimum of 270-  that each candidate has won in each of the 50 states of the Union -the winner in each state carries all the votes from that constituency. Some states are clearly Republican, so they are called "red states", basically, the Mid-West and the South, other states usually vote for the Democrats, they are called "blue states", mainly on the West Coast and in New England, but there are "purple states", which "swing" or change sides in sucessive elections, like Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18 votes), Iowa (6 votes), and, in the last two elections, Pennsylvania (20 votes), and they become the real battleground for Presidential elections. 

This article from the Los Angeles Times reports on the latest polls in the "battleground states" of the 2020 Presidential election. The vocabulary is rather technical, so, the reading is recommended for C1 students and above.  You will come across words like: polls, battleground states, a tight [race], former, to butt [heads], to bar, blue states, red states, a high-profile [event], too-close-to-call [states], a flurry [of polls], backdrop, to trail, worrisome, key states, the industrial belt, an aberration, a realignment, [non-college-educated] working-class [white] voters, [Republican]-leaning [Ohio], on a knife's edge, a dead heat, [his] edge, coveted [Pennsylvania], a lead, likely [voters], survey, a split, to beat, to trend for [Trump], [to remain] close, a snapshot, pollsters, to flip [for Biden].

If you want to follow election polls, The Guardian Polls Tracker collects reliable national and state polls results in 8 swing states and gives you the average in the last 14 days, or you may check the Politico US Election Forcast, with charts, the latest news and a map of the "solid", "likely" and the "lean" states, together with the "toss-up" states, which are the most undecided.