lunes, 30 de noviembre de 2015

Listening test: Tacoma Transformed

Listen to a report on the US city of Tacoma, Washington, and choose the option A, B or C which best answers the question or completes the sentence.

1) How do Tacoma and Seattle compare?
A. Tacoma and Seattle are equally well known.
B. Tacoma has been overshadowed by its neighbour Seattle.
C. Tacoma is better known than its neighbour Seattle.

2) Tacoma became known as the City of Destiny…
A. as it was the western terminus for the North Pacific Railroad.
B. because it had very good ‘publicity people’.
C. because many people from the East dreamed of going there.

3) What happened in Tacoma some years ago, according to Jane Shafer?
A. A new mall meant the end of the smaller department stores.
B. Tacoma's main street became popular because of its new shops.
C. The city became more prosperous with the new mall.

4) Tacoma's revival began to take place when…
A. people realized what the city's city centre had to offer.
B. property in Seattle became too expensive.
C. the local authorities redesigned the city centre.

5) Penny Grellier argues that…
A. artists brought with them some gang activity.
B. Tacoma has always been a more interesting city than Seattle.
C. Tacoma was dangerous and only became attractive recently.

6) What has happened to Tacoma in recent years?
A. It has become something of a futuristic city.
B. Its population has grown and a new cultural life has started up.
C. Some industry has moved back from Seattle.

7) How does Penny Grellier describe the new architecture?
A. A mixture of modern art and restored old factory buildings.
B. Some of the best new buildings in the US are here.
C. Very much influenced by the city’s industrial past.

Seattle, Washington, in the USA's Pacific Northwest, is known the world over, thanks to grunge music, Boeing aircraft, Starbucks coffee, and Microsoft. Relatively few people around the world have heard of its neighboring city, Tacoma, which has tended to stand in Seattle's shadow. Yet all that appears to be changing. Historically, Tacoma should have been the major city and Seattle the minor one. It was founded as a logging and shipping settlement in 1864. Its unusual name was taken from 'Tacobet' — the Native American name for Mount Rainier, clearly visible some 50 miles (80 kilometres) to the southeast. When Tacoma was chosen as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, it even became known as the `City of Destiny'.
Yet this was not to be. Jane Shafer, a volunteer at the Washington State History Museum, says that "Seattle had better publicity people and Tacoma got left behind. This continued in the twentieth century. She grew up in the town and remembers what it was like when she was a teenager:

Jane Shafer: There were several department stores' in downtown Tacoma, all of which are gone now. A big change carne along when they built a mall to the south of here... Tacoma Mall, I guess it's called, it may have a new name by now. But the department stores disappeared one by one! And for a long time the main street in downtown Tacoma, Broadway, was just empty.

Seattle became particularly trendy in the 1990s and this actually helped its less fashionable neighbor. When property prices in Seattle became increasingly expensive, people started looking south towards Tacoma. As often happens in ‘post-industrial society’, the artists were the first people to take advantage of the city's low-rent spaces. The local authorities also decided it was time to clean up the ‘City of Destiny’ and make downtown more attractive to visitors, explains Penny Grellier, volunteer at the Tacoma Art Museum:

Penny Greitier: Well, Tacoma began as a really industrial city and it hasn't been until... probably only 10 years ago that it really wasn't a very attractive area to come to. It's getting a lot better because it used to be fairly dangerous, there was a lot of gang activity in Tacoma. And so people weren't focused on things like art, they were focused on not being shot and things like that! So...

Today Tacoma has a thriving tourist industry, focused on the Museum District around Pacific Avenue. Restaurants, bars and shops now fill the warehouses that stood empty and abandoned for almost half a century. The population of the city has expanded to over 200,000. The museum areas are linked by the colorful Bridge of Glass, which features the work of world-famous local glass artist Dale Chihuly. The bridge also links the city's downtown and port areas. Penny Grellier says that the new Tacoma hasn't forgotten its industrial past:

Penny Grellier: But in the architecture that's going up now, you see this kind of marriage between modern art, or architecture, and what already exists here. For instance, the design of this museum, the architect, Antoine Predock, wanted to make it a very modern structure. Kind of like: here's the new Tacoma, and then also include a lot of windows, not only for natural light, but so that you could see what came before, all these old factory buildings and the layout of the city.

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

domingo, 29 de noviembre de 2015

Extensive listening: Back to the wild

In March this year CBS 60 Minutes released Back to the Wild which dealt with controversial conservationist Damian Aspinall, who wants to close all zoos, including his own, and free the animals to the wild. But is it a good idea? This is the way reporter Lesley Stahl introduced the segment:

"More Americans go to zoos every year than to professional baseball, football, hockey and basketball games combined. We get to encounter the dangers of the wild from the safety of suburbia. But increasingly zoos see their mission as not just displaying animals, but also saving endangered species. And that raises an interesting question: can endangered animals born and bred in captivity be released into the wild? As we first reported in March, a conservation group called the Aspinall Foundation is trying to find out. It's run by Damian Aspinall, a multimillionaire who owns a chain of casinos in England but his biggest gamble involves his animals."

You can read a full transcript for the segment here.

sábado, 28 de noviembre de 2015 is a site that allows you to build up your reading skills and vocabulary in a language of your choice (there are 17 languages to choose from, English included). You can use the desktop version of or its app.

To start using, first you have to log in through your Facebook account or through your Google account, then you choose the language you want to study and your level (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and off you go.

You are given a selection of articles from the international press and once you have made your choice, you start reading it. You can build up your own personalised dictionary by selecting individual words that you want to learn. will store them for you and will show you how to pronounce them. You can use these words for revision purposes later on.

This short video will show you how works.

viernes, 27 de noviembre de 2015

A Chinese woman has saved over 3,000 dogs from being killed for food

Renowned Chinese dog rights activist Yang Xiaoyun has saved thousands of dogs from the slaughterhouse, and continues to raise them.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip and anwer the questions below. The activity is suitable for Intermediate 2 students.

1 What did Yang Xiaoyun use to make for a living?
2 What does 'twenty' refer to?
3 Why are so many pets sold and killed?
4 How does Yang Xiaoyun get the funds to help the animals?
5 Why do many Chinese people support the idea of killing animals?
6 Why do animal rights groups oppose Yang's project?

Pensioner Yang Xiaoyun has gone from (1) school teacher to one of China's most well-known and controversial animal rights activists, lauded and vilified for her direct approach to rescuing pooches in distress.
(2) Over the past twenty years Yang has saved thousands of dogs from the slaughterhouse and the streets, and continues to raise many of them in her home.
The former teacher is just one of many members of China's growing middle class now beginning to fight what they see as a barbaric abuse of man's best friend, in a country where pets can be rounded up and (3) sold for meat and an animal protection law has yet to be introduced.
For 20 years she has woken up at the crack of dawn to take care of hundreds of stray cats and dogs. (4) She has sold her home and remortgaged her son's home. She is in 800,000 yuan worth of debt buying the 200kg of food needed every day to feed the animals. Now that she has sold her home, Yang lives in a shack next to one of her dog compounds.
She had originally hoped to set up a home for the rescued dogs but was given a frosty reception by (5) locals, most of whom fiercely support what they see as a cultural tradition no different to consuming turkeys at Thanksgiving.
Some within animal rights circles also worry that by buying up dogs en masse (6) Yang is simply encouraging more people - be it lazy owners or dog snatchers - to sell their animals to activists.
The day Yang visited Yulin's dog market, many there said they had come with the explicit hope of selling their dogs to Yang and her helpers. Although countless dog lovers and volunteers are constantly at Yang's side to help her and her dogs, Yang has on occasion found herself at odds with some other animal rights groups.
Yang said that such clashes between volunteers and activists have become more common in recent years in China but she will continue her fight to save the helpless animals from ending up on someone's plate.

jueves, 26 de noviembre de 2015

Taxi Hotel Tourists sleep in converted cabs to avoid pricey hotels

An American entrepreneur is offering accommodation with great views to those on a very tight budget.

Watch the video and answer the questions below. The activity is suitable for Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 students.

1  How much do you have to pay to stay the night at a taxi cab?
2 What two kinds of vehicles are offered as hotels?
3 How far is Times Square?
4 How are these 'hotels' popularly known?
5 What happens if a guest needs the toilet?

Travelling to New York City can be an expensive business but a new venture aims to cut the cost of accommodation dramatically. For (1) less than $40 the night budget travellers can enjoy million dollar views of Manhattan from the back of a taxi cab.  Entrepreneur Jonathan Powelly started offering (2) vans and New York taxi cabs as overnight rentals on the Airbnb website in April. Each of the vehicles has been converted to accommodate a large bed, a fan and not much. 
I think it's just an adventure. No one's ever done it before. It's different, it's safe, you have a view of just the beautiful Manhattan right here and it's convenient. You're only one stop from Grand Central Station. (3) You're only 2, 3 stops from Times Square, less than 10 minutes, and I think the people that do it are just the type that want to try something different. It's really fun, it's really comfortable and not many people can say that they purposely slept in a taxi. 
The (4) so-called rolling rooms have already attracted plenty of attention from tourists seeking a central location without the big city price tags. 
I think it's really exciting because, first, the view is awesome and second we don't have that much money for our normal hotel in Manhattan and so this is a really nice opportunity for us. 
Guests may enjoy the views but they're reminded that the rooms don't have all the comforts of a Manhattan hotel. Powelly has helpfully made a list of all (5) the restaurants in the area that allow his guests to use the bathroom.

miércoles, 25 de noviembre de 2015

Talking point: Design

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

Is design important in our lives? Consider the following fields:
gadgets and technology
interior design 
food design 
graphic design

What or who influences our choices in design?
What makes a design fashionable?
Is it important to you to have unique or personalised things? Why (not)?
What kind of talent do you need to design clothes or gadgets that catch on?
What's the best designed house or flat you have ever seen?
Describe the room in your house or flat you like the least and get ideas from your partner to change its design.

To illustrate the point you can watch this interview with Vivienne Westwood.

Nice to see you, Vivienne. Looking fantastic.
Yes, really good to see you, nice to see you, yeah.
Have a seat. What do you think about the clock, do you like it?, Do, do you think it's high fashion?
I don't know, it looks like clock and it’s a big one, and I don’t know if this works.
I hope so, I hope so. You see, you see. That’s part of the fun, well, it’s a giant alarm clock. Let’s start.
How are you?
I’m well, I have just giving this sort of talk and then… sorry.
It’s quite late in the evening.
Sorry, yes, sorry. And it went well, and I’m pleased
You're reading from your manifesto that you’ve written.
Yes, yeah, yeah. I’ve tried the most important thing about it that I was trying to do is to convey a sense of urgency about the dangers we face from the ecology and I have really, the most important thing I can say quickly is read James Lovelock’s book The vanishing face of Gaia, you've got to.
You've always been very passionate about current affairs issues, haven’t you? You see yourself a bit of a freedom fighter I think.
I'm, you are right and I'm a bit embarrassed at having admitted that, but but even as a child that is what seemed to mark me out, is what I've understood about myself, yeah.
What sort of childhood did you have, Vivienne?
An ideal childhood, a mother who just adored me, living in the countryside.
This is in Derbyshire.
Yeah, the boundaries keep changing, it was in Cheshire at the time, 12 miles from Manchester but the bottom of the Pennants most fantastic countryside, yeah.
Have you got any top tips for fashion in a recession?
Dress up, wear your old favorites over and over again, don't buy new clothes, take the tablecloth but look great, you've got… by less, choose well, okay, and, and add things and just do it, make it very personal and don't buy all this generic clothing that just needs lots of time in the washing machine.
And how do you know what to wear on any given evening, how do you choose from your array of clothes?
Well, I have not, I don't take something from every collection but I do borrow it and so I'm very, very fortunate, I've, I can look different all the time…
Oops someone is coming in the door, carry on Vivienne, carry on.
What are you wearing tonight?
Can you just shut the door then? Sorry, ‘cause I get so easily distracted. I'm wearing the…
This is the glory of five minutes though.
Yeah, yeah.
Any interruptions we just hammer on ahead. Okay, tell me, Vivienne.
This is from a collection called Chaos point because we're at this chaos point. It was a lot to do with the Brazilian jungle. I don't know whether this looks like the Brazilian jungle. It reminds me slightly of tribal things and body painting and then I don't know, it's just it's just this great, great dress that is just, you know, you can I don't know you you sort of, it's a bit bondage.
Can you tell me something, you (told) what you said earlier, you spoke earlier about you never wash your bras. Is that true? I can’t quite believe it.
Yeah, because I, I my husband uses our washing machine, I've never actually used it ever, and I just wash little bits of things said that get dirty but a lot of the time but if it got a grease spot, just put talcum powder on it, absolutely disappears, it’s brilliant, and I, of course I wear these particular bras that give me a bit more uplift than, than I’m due, I, I don't wash them, otherwise they're not very nice after. I just put talcum powder on them to clean.
Where'd you get your inspirations for your designs, do you have a muse?
I think that without culture, without a deep interest in the most wonderful models of excellence that the human race has ever produced, I don't think you can have ideas. This is why people run out of ideas because it's like having a fridge with no food in it. You have to get your ideas by studying art and the way people saw the world in the past.
I've got a confession to make. This clock is so unclear, I don't quite know whether we’re four minutes in or five minutes in, so if we are five minutes in, you get a bonus minute, we're going to carry on. Tell me about your hair color. What’s the inspiration behind that?
Well I don't know, I just… I don't have any inspiration. I just, just… the way… what I do is I just put henna on it, a bit of bleach where the brown still is and then and then henna.
When, when you walk around…
…and that makes it kind of natural you put henna, mix it with flour because then you could control it, doesn't get too shocking.
We’ve only got 25 seconds. When you are out and about in London or in other cities or in the countryside in the UK, what do you make of the way the Brits dress, what do you make of the way we dress in this country?
Well mostly I don’t notice people. I only noticed people when they look great and usually it’s older people that can look wonderful. I saw a man at a concert last night, a music concert and he just looked brilliant …
I have to interrupt but time is up, time is up and the alarm didn’t even go off, so I think maybe we did do six minutes.
Okay, alright.

martes, 24 de noviembre de 2015

10 questions with Carrie Fisher

Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher about the films that made her famous, her future plans and motherhood in this Time interview.

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

The activity is suitable for Advanced students.

1 Carrie Fisher is a Libra.
2 Carrie Fisher's daughter dislikes her mom's job.
3 Carrie Fisher didn't like the third Star Wars film because she had to wear a metal bikini.
4 She liked Empire because the actors' skills were put to the test.
5 She's proud of having worked in the Star Wars films.
6 Carrie Fisher will never star in a TV show.
7 She regrets not having had more children.

I was born to simple folk. As your age, it’s about dignity…
No way!
If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true.

I’m Ari Karpel with Time and I’m here today asking ten question of Carrie Fisher, whose one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, about her life in Hollywood is about to come to HBO. Carrie, thank you so much for welcoming us into your home.
Well, thank you for coming to my home.
So now, you could probably spend hours answering this question. From Ernie Barrera of Lakeside, California, what was it like growing up in a show-business family?
The answer to this is, you mean compared to when I didn’t grow up in a showbiz family? I don’t know. It’s like saying what’s it like to be a libra? I guess I was on movie sets more than other kids. But again, what I mainly can say is, compared to what?
Now Susan Browman of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, wants to know what single event in your life you’re most proud of.
I’m proud that my daughter turned out to be as well as she has, and certainly and I can’t take credit for all that, by any means. But I don’t know that my daughter, she’s kind of an event for me. Maybe I’m more of an event for her. But… I don’t know. I think I never thought I would have like a real life in a way. I… That’s something that comes from growing up in a kind of showbiz family… is that you have these fantasies of having a real life, but I’m proud of… that my daughter has… she’s survived me.
Okay, it’s time to get down to some Star Wars.
All right.
Daniel Johnson, of Rockaway, New Jersey, wonders which Star Wars movie was your favourite.
Which was your least favourite?
Of my three?
Of yours and those that are…
I didn’t like the third one but I liked the metal bikini. I wish I could still get into it. I didn’t like Jar Jar Binks, and I could never get into that.
And why was Empire your favourite?
It was the most emotional one. It was the most spiritual one. And Irv Kershner who passed away just the other day, he really was very thorough with the new… there was character work to do. We didn’t have just to recite this impossible dialogue: “I have placed information vital to the survival of the rebellion into the memory system of this R2 unit”. Make a character, give that layers. I’ll wait here.
That one’s definitely my favourite, too. Ramon Salas of Venezuela asks… he wonders whether the Princess Leia character was the dark side of the force in your professional carrer.
No. It’s a… those are great movies. They’re milestones. I love movies. Why shouldn’t I be proud of being in that?
The dark side? You’ve ever seen… let’s see, Hollywood Vice Squad? Or The Star Wars Christmas Special? That’s really good. Was Star Wars the dark side? I think there’s so much competition for that one.
Li Bingyang of Harbin, China, loved your performance on 30 Rock. Are you interested in starring in a TV show?
No…ish. Maybe. Who knows? Not really. I don’t like to learn lines and I don’t like reality TV, but there’s something in the middle that might interest me. But who knows what I’m gonna do? And also I can’t… worse looking so there’s not a lot of… well, you know, you age. It’s not my fault.
You know, God set it up this way or somebody did. Anyway, so I’m gonna get worse-looking so I’m not gonna get as happy to watch myself but also I’m not really selling the house so much as the furniture, so…
If you could go back and visit yourself at the age of 22, what advice would you give yourself and would you listen anyway?
Put those pills down. No, I wouldn’t listen. Have more kids. Put the pills down. Be kind to others and obey the Girl Scout laws.
Carrie Fisher, thank you so much for speaking to us and for having us to your home.
No, thank you for coming.
It’s so nice to meet you.
You too.

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