martes, 21 de octubre de 2014

Madrid Teacher: The secret to exercise more

In our Madrid Teacher series this week, four teachers, Thomas, Vicky, Louise and Sophia, discuss physical exercise and fitness. This gives us an excuse to pay attention to the specific features native speakers of English use in their speech.

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

Now watch the video more carefully, and pay attention to the following characteristics of  spoken English the four teachers use:
  • Use of so as a linking word in conversation.
  • Use of fillers to gain thinking time: erm; er; well; You know
  • Use of vague language: kind of; and all this; and stuff; sort of; like; and these kinds of things
  • Involving listeners in the conversation: What, what seems to work for you guys or friends that you know?; What about you?
  • Use of I mean to paraphrase what we have just said and make ourselves clear.
  • Use of like as a linking word.
  • Signalling the speaker that you are paying attention to what he/she is saying: Mm-hm; Oh, OK; Oh, no; Wow…wow
  • Use of just to emphasize the verb.
  • Showing agreement: Yeah; I agree with what you said about
  • Use of auxiliary do in an affirmative sentence to emphasize the information: I do give myself
  • Use of actually to introduce a piece of surprising or unexpected information: I actually need motivation
  • Use of actually to emphasize what you are saying: distracts you from what you’re actually doing
  • Use of actually for admitting something: I don’t know what they said actually
  • Use of really to emphasize the adjective.
  • Showing surprise: Really?

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with a family or relative and discuss your attitude to physical exercise and fitness. How regularly do you do sport these days? And in the past? Are you a fit person? What everyday activities may help you to be fit? Have you ever done a job which involved physical exercise? To what extent do the people around you motivate you or deter you from doing sport? Don't forget to use some of the features of spoken English we have revised in this lesson.
Thomas: So, it seems to be a problem with a lot of people, erm, motivating, getting the motivation up to do exercise, to do sports. I read this article, where, that… er, related a study, erm, when you live with people who are athletic and fit, the motivation is almost inherent, and you kind of… gravitate toward that model. And the same is true in the opposite direction. If you live with people who are very lazy and just watch TV and all this, you just kind of become a lot more lax about your own fitness level. What, what seems to work for you guys or friends that you know?
Vicky: For me, it’s a lifestyle thing. I mean, like, I used to be very, very fit, but my job involved… well, my job involved diving, so I was carrying heavy equipment, I was swimming for hours every day. So, it was a very, very easy thing to integrate into my life.
Thomas: Mm-hm.
Vicky: Whereas now, I, I don’t know, I just feel like it’s difficult to find the time. It’s difficult to make the time to do things.
Louise: Yeah.
Sophia: Yeah.
Vicky: Luckily there’s a gym next-door to my house, so I’ve just joined that. But the only reason I’ve joined that gym, it’s a horrible gym, but… it’s there. It’s two minutes away.
Louise: Yeah, convenient.
Sophia: Yeah. Yeah.
Vicky: You know? It’s so convenient. I think…
Louise: I find I have to trick myself into exercising by making it part of my transport, er, routine. So if I know I have to be at work, I’ll walk or I’ll ride a bus.
Thomas: Oh, OK.
Louise: So that way it’s both practical and exercise at the same time.
Thomas: I was going to imagine you running down the street in trainers and stuff.
Louise: Oh, no.
Vicky: Yeah, do you leave deliberately five minutes later so you have to rush in the streets?
Louise: Mm, I do, I do give myself a short, a short period, it, it’s a very fast walk.
Vicky: Power walk, ha ha.
Louise: Yeah, it’s a power walk. Ha ha.
Thomas: OK. What about you?
Sophia: Yeah, I actually need motivation I don’t, I don’t do any exercise. My only exercise is commuting. But like, but like you, I, er, I walk fast. It’s a brisk walk, so sort of exercise. Not, not quite jogging but brisk walking.
Louise: Yeah.
Vicky: But they say brisk walking, I think, I think I read something the other day that if jogging burns off some, like, eight hundred calories per mile, per mile, per hour, I don’t know what they said actually. The equivalent if you’re walking briskly, you still burn off four hundred or six hundred calories.
Louise: It, it’s still good for you, especially if you’re going up and down hills and these kinds of things, stairs are good. So it’s OK. But what I…
Vicky: That’s another thing.
Louise: I agree with what you said about, erm, about having partners in crime. You know, you need, you need to have, er, the motivation of people around you wanting to do the same thing. I think it’s really important.
Thomas: [Yeah, yeah.] And it almost distracts you from what you’re actually doing. I remember the first time I ever went on a long run, I had no idea that I could do it and I could because the guy I was with didn’t shut up the whole time.
Louise: Ha ha ha.
Vicky: Really?
Thomas: So, for about three miles he talked incessantly and I didn’t even realize what we were doing.
Vicky: Wow…wow.
Louise: Yeah, it’s good. I think team sports are good, too.
Thomas: Oh yeah.
Louise: A good, good fast game of netball, it’s good exercise, and it’s fun.
Vicky: That’s it, when it’s fun and there’s adrenaline, it’s a lot more motivating than when it’s all on your own, off you own back.
Louise: Yeah, yeah.
Thomas: So I think we’ve come up with the perfect formula: it’s either partners in crime or get a job that requires you to be fit.
Louise: Yeah, ha ha ha.
Vicky: Ha ha.

lunes, 20 de octubre de 2014

The Parking Dance in New York City

Every day, drivers across New York double-park their cars as street sweepers pass by, a practice known as alternate-side parking.

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

1 Cars are allowed to return to their side immediately after the streets have been cleaned.
2 Some drivers set their alarm clock to remember to move their cars back.
3 Some drivers wait in their cars until the prohibition ends.
4 Drivers complain of damages to theirs cars.
5 If drivers fail to move their cars, they risk getting a ticket or heavier penalties.
6 A new bill was passed recently allowing drivers not to move their cars while the street is being cleaned.

Every day throughout New York City, it’s the high stakes dance of alternate side parking. When parking is prohibited on one side of the street so the streets can be swept, drivers double park on the other. It doesn’t matter when the street sweeper passes, cars are not allowed to return until the prohibition is over.
How many times do you estimate you move your car back and forth?
In a week or in a…
In your lifetime.
Oh, many thousand times, easily.
In my lifetime, in my lifetime? It feels like millions.
Some drivers leave their cars and return just before the prohibition ends to re-park legally.
I leave my car and set the alarm on my phone and come, come back and move it again.
I’m home during the day generally, so I feel that’s a relatively good deal if… to get your street cleaned.
Some choose to wait in their cars until the prohibition ends.
People come by, I’ve had my mirror taken off, I’ve had dents in my car, I’ve had scratches. Sometimes I leave it and just bite the bullet and get a ticket if I don’t have the time to move it, I’ve done that too.
Time it wrong, you get a ticket. Pay your tickets late, you get the boot, or you get towed.
But this might all change. City council member, Ydanis Rodríguez has introduced a bill that will allow drivers to return to their spot directly after the street sweeper passes by.
I’ve heard about that, so after the street is cleaned, we can move back, we don’t have to stay here for the hour and a half or two hours or whatever it is.
Yeah, what do you think about that?
I think that’s great, I would love to do, I would love that.
I thought, I thought that bill is passed already.
I don’t think that’s a good idea personally, because how do you know whether it’s come and gone, you have to keep looking outside. Sometimes they never come, and that’s really annoying.
Whether or not the bill actually passes, the dance of alternate side parking will continue.
So I’d really like to move my car back right now. Yeah!

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domingo, 19 de octubre de 2014

Extensive listening: Who do you think you are- JK Rowling

As Wikipedia points out, "Who Do You Think You Are? is a British genealogy documentary series that has aired on the BBC since 2004.  In each episode, a celebrity goes on a journey to trace his or her family tree."

The episode on JK Rowling belongs to the 8th season (2011), and we can see JK Rowling setting out to investigate her French roots. Jo has always been intrigued by her late mother's French ancestry, but knows very little about it. Beginning her journey in Edinburgh, Jo's search takes her from The Savoy in London, to once-bloody battlefields and the back streets of urban Paris.

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

sábado, 18 de octubre de 2014

Best story ever

Strombo is a Canadian talk show host. The 'Best Story Ever' video clips are part of his show. They are short videos featuring interesting and (mostly) funny anecdotes of well-known people, which might be of interest to the English language learner in the intermediate-to-advanced spectrum to develop their listening skills and which you can find here.

Here are a couple of examples of 'Best Story Ever' videos, showing American political activist Ralph Nader and Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin.

Ralph Nader
One day I came home from school and I was in the fourth grade to my mother, and I said, mom the boys are wearing long pants. I wanna wear long pants. I said if I keep wearing short pants, if I trip I'm going to cut myself and, you know, in cold weather it’s cold without long pants. And she smiled and said, Ralph, are you worried about being different? I was not to be persuaded so I unloaded my trump card. I said, mom their mothers let them wear long pants. And my mother looked at me again with her beautiful smile and said, well, they have their mothers and you have yours. And by the way, Ralph if you're ever gonna wanna be a leader, sometimes you have to turn your back on the pack. I never forgot that. I'm Ralph Nader and that was one of my best stories ever.

Ian Rankin
So I was at University, doing a PhD and suddenly got an idea for a crime novel. I, I thought how do I find out about the police? Went along to a police station and asked if I could speak to a couple of detectives. Sadly I’d been a student at the time, in the mid-eighties, I looked a bit like a tramp. Told them the plot of my novel and the two detectives said, well, we have a really great idea. Why don’t we pretend you're a suspect in an ongoing inquiry. What I didn't realize was these cops at this very police station were investigating a crime that was almost identical to the one I’d just told them about was going to be in my book. So they took me to an interrogation room. They interrogated me for an hour and a half. They got all the information online, on their computer. I didn't think anything of it. Went home that weekend, hadn’t got some great stuff from them, I thought. My dad said to me, you, you're crazy if they think you did it, and you were coming into the police station to play games with them. So I went back to the police station the Monday morning, asked for the two detectives and they said, yeah, you're the only suspect we have in an ongoing police inquiry. So that was a problem for me because what it told me was that when you do research as a novelist you tend to get into trouble. So for a while after that I didn't do any research, I didn’t look into the police, I didn’t get near the police because I did not want to become the only suspect in a murder inquiry. That's what happened to me when I was writing my first Inspector Rebus book. My name's Ian Rankin and that's my best story ever.

viernes, 17 de octubre de 2014

Leaving Williamsburg

Living happily in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Heleen left everything behind and moved to a farm upstate New York. Why did she go?

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

Leaving Williamsburg from Charles Schwab on Vimeo.

1 Why did the narrator's parents manage to find a building for a good price in Williamsburg?
2 What renovations did her parents do to the building?
3 Why is 1992 important for the girl?
4 Who moved out of the city?
5 Why did the narrator's parents separate?
6 How does the narrator describe her childhood?
7 Where does the narrator live now?
8 How does the narrator's mom make a living?

My parents found a building in south Williamsburg, right under the Williamsburg Bridge in 1982. They were able to get it for a fairly good price probably because the neighbourhood was so bad. There were gangs, and drugs and it definitely wasn’t a good area (1) .
They renovated the entire building. The backyard was really my mum’s project. They took out the cement. She made a pond. She put in plants and ivy. She really turned it into this incredible green space (2). Which was such a rarity in such a down-and-out gray neighbourhood and although I don’t remember it, I’ve seen so many photos of myself playing in the backyard and spending many days there in this beautiful oasis.
So in 1992 the City of New York was going to repair the Williamsburg Bridge, they needed to sandblast to get rid of all the lead paint. Unfortunately, they didn’t follow the proper precautions and all the kids in the neighbourhood got lead poisoning, including myself. My lead levels were through the roof. I needed to get out of the city as soon as possible (3).
She came here and she didn’t have a job, she didn’t have friends, she had a young child and she had to completely start over again. It was also difficult because my dad was still working in the city [the narrator and her mom (4)], so she was essentially alone for a lot of the time. Eventually they separated because they were living two very different lives (5).
Although it was really hard on my parents, I think my mom’s decision to ultimately move here was the best thing that could have happened for both of us. I had such an idyllic childhood. The countryside was my backyard. During the summer when I had time off from school, I would spend all day outside and I got to use my imagination, and I really got to be a kid a lot longer than I think I would have if I’d lived in the city (6).
Now that I live in LA (7), I just love coming back here. I come back as much as I can to see her so happy, to get fresh air and to just be in this incredible nature. Even though the garden in Williamsburg was so beautiful, what she has here is unparalleled: Giving riding lessons, breeding horses, going on trail rides (8), it gives her so much joy.

jueves, 16 de octubre de 2014

How playing an instrument benefits your brain

When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What's going on? Anita Collins explains in this TED-ed lesson the fireworks that go off in musicians' brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

Remember that if you drop by TED-ed , you can do a number of tasks related to this video, which include comprehension questions (Think), additional resources to explore (Dig Deeper) and conversation (Discussion).

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 Tasks such as reading or doing math problems each have specific areas of the brain where they are carried out.
2 Listening to music has a specific area of the brain where it is developed.
3 Listening to music and playing a musical instrument are pretty much equivalent in terms of brain activity.
4 Playing a musical instruments makes the visual, auditory, and motor cortices stronger, which allows us to outperform in other activities.
5 Listening to music involves skills controlled in both hemispheres of the brain.
6 Playing a musical instrument makes the brain bigger.
7 Musicians make better planners and strategists.
8 Musicians usually have better memory.
9 Research has shown that learning to play a musical instrument shares a lot of aspects with learning other activities related to the arts.

Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments there are fireworks going off all over their brain? On the outside, they may look calm and focused, reading the music and making the precise and practiced movements required. But inside their brains, there's a party going on. How do we know this?
Well, in the last few decades, neuroscientists have made enormous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work by monitoring them in real time with instruments like FMRi and PET scanners. When people are hooked up to these machines, tasks, such as reading or doing math problems, each have corresponding areas of the brain where activity can be observed.
But when researchers got the participants to listen to music, they saw fireworks. Multiple areas of their brains were lighting up at once, as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elements, like melody and rhythm, and then put it all back together into unified musical experience. And our brains do all this work in the split second between when we first hear the music and when our foot starts to tap along.
But when scientists turn from observing the brains of music listeners to those of musicians, the little backyard fireworks became a jubilee. It turns out that while listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain's equivalent of a full-body workout. The neuroscientists saw multiple areas of the brain light up, simultaneously processing different information in intricate, interrelated, and astonishingly fast sequences.
But what is it about making music that sets the brain alight? The research is still fairly new, but neuroscientists have a pretty good idea. Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. And as with any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities.
The most obvious difference between listening to music and playing it is that the latter requires fine motor skills, which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain. It also combines the linguistic and mathematical precision, in which the left hemisphere is more involved, with the novel and creative content that the right excels in.
For these reasons, playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain's corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively, in both academic and social settings.
Because making music also involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians often have higher levels of executive function, a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing, and attention to detail and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects.
This ability also has an impact on how our memory systems work. And, indeed, musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions, creating, storing, and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently. Studies have found that musicians appear to use their highly connected brains to give each memory multiple tags, such as a conceptual tag, an emotional tag, an audio tag, and a contextual tag, like a good internet search engine.
So, how do we know that all these benefits are unique to music, as opposed to, say, sports or painting? Or could it be that people who go into music  were already smarter to begin with? 
Neuroscientists have explored these issues, but so far, they have found that the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity studied, including other arts. And several randomized studies of participants, who showed the same levels of cognitive function and neural processing at the start, found that those who were exposed to a period of music learning showed enhancement in multiple brain areas, compared to the others.
This recent research about the mental benefits of playing music has advanced our understanding of mental function, revealing the inner rhythms and complex interplay that make up the amazing orchestra of our brain.

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miércoles, 15 de octubre de 2014

Talking point: Maps and geography

This week's talking point is maps and geography. 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 geography an interesting subject for you?
  • How can studying geography help humanity?
  • How many names of famous explorers from the past do you remember? What did they achieve?
  • Do you have a good sense of direction?
  • Do you like using maps?
  • Do you find them easy to use?
  • How have Google Earth and Google maps improved the traditional two-dimensional maps? Do you know how to use them?
  • Have you ever used a navigator when driving? Do you find them easy to use?
  • Do you know how to use a compass?
  • Have you ever taken part in games like orienteering which use maps to reach a point?
  • Imagine that you are going to travel around the world on a sailing ship without electronic equipment or satellite help. What are the most important things you would expect from your map?
  • How would your maps be different if, instead of sailing, you are going to book a plane seat  to different countries on business trips?
  • Why do world maps have north at the top? How useful are they in countries like Australia?
  • When you see a map of the world, do you consider it an honest, factual representation of the globe? Why might a map not show the whole truth?
    To illustrate the topic, watch this video clip in which someone explains how to use a Tomtom One Satellite Navigation system.

    You can do a listening activity based on the video on this blog post.

    How to use a GPS
    Hello there. This is the Tom-tom One Satellite Navigation Unit. I’m going to give you a review about how to use it. You push the button up on the top and hold it until the screen lights up, and then it will track the satellites. So it’s… the blue arrow is where we are, and it’s showing us a map of the roads ahead.
    You push, you touch the screen and it brings up the main menu, and here you go navigate too. And then you if you’re going to an address that you’ve never been to before, you push “address” and then you can choose from these four. If it’s, you’re going to do it through a postcode, if you’re going to the city centre, and this is a street and a house number or crossing an intersection. I mostly use the postcode and the street and house number. Or if I’m going into a city, I just push city.
    So then I go to “press postcode” and it gives me the postcode. So if I press this one… The postcode is coming up up there. You don’t need the space, and then it will bring you up all the possible streets under that and you need to select them. If you can’t see it in the top two, you push that arrow, and it brings you up all of the once. And then you press “back” again. That’s Lower High Street, I know that because that’s where I live. I push it and it asks me for the number. I put the number… (16). And then it brings you up the choice of which route you want to go. The fastest route, shortest route, avoiding motorways, walking route, bicycle route or limited speed. I always go for the fastest route. I press “done”, it calculates the distance. Gives me a brief view of the map how I’m going to go. It says it’s going to take seven minutes, it’s 2.4 miles. Then I press “done”, and here it tells me which way to go. And down here it tells you the time that it is now, which is quarter past seven and the time that I’m going to arrive approximately. Here it tells you what’s the next turn, which in 170 yards. And down there it tells you the speed that you’re doing. And then I put it up on the… I plug it in to make sure…there it tells you there are satellites that are locating it, at the bottom right.
    If I push that, that’s for the volume, you just push that…
    Navigator voice: At the end of the road, turn right, then take the second right.
    …that’s the volume, and there it goes again, it goes back. If I press this, it gives me details of the route. There’s the address that I’m going to. That’s the battery there. It’s not charging now, because the engine is not on, and again it shows me the time it will take me and the distance. Press “done” and… if it says… if you’re driving in the night, you’ll want to change this screen to night vision, which is a lot softer (in your eyes) for your eyes. So you press “change preferences” use night colours, and it brings you out like this. Which I am, always use it like that. And you can add a favorite, navigate to, find alternative routes… That’s more of the menu here. That’s if you want to clear the route, so it says “no route plan” this you can leave it there until you know where else you want to go,… to prepare your route… That’s it.