martes, 16 de septiembre de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Spend away

In this week's episode of Madrid Teacher, three teachers discuss spending habits and consumerism. Their conversation gives a great opportunity to study some features of spoken English.

First, watch the video through, so that you get the gist of what the conversation is about.
Now, pay attention to the following elements that the speakers use in their conversation.
  • Fillers to gain thinking time: Erm; you know; Well
  • Reacting to what the speaker is saying to show that you're paying attention: Yeah; Oh, really; Oh wow
  • Use of so as a linking word.
  • Use of and as a linking word.
  • Use of really to emphasize the adjective.
  • Use of just to emphasize the verb
  • Use of vague language: or whatever;
  • Showing agreement: Absolutely; Exactly; Of course, yeah; Of course, that’s true; Yeah, yes, you’re right
  • Use of actually to introduce a piece of surprising information

Now it's over to you. How do you feel about buying brands and expensive products? Are you a person who is always careful with money and tries to get the best bargains? Do you know any spendthrifts? How good is consumerism for the economy of a country? And for the environment?

When you discuss the topic with your friends, try to use some of the features of spoken English which have come up in the video.

Erm, the other night I was at a dinner with some friends, and they had just gone shopping…
…and so they were talking about what they had just bought and showing things off. And they were actually bragging about how expensive the jeans that they bought were. It was ridiculous prices. And I just thought it was really interesting because, when I brag, I generally brag about a bargain, a deal, you know. I got this for fifty cents, you know. I just thought it was interesting, the difference.
Yeah, for me… the thing about buying something really cheaply and it is really good…
And that, that makes you feel really good.
Getting a really great deal, yeah.
And the opposite is terrible. When you spend loads of money and then you realise you don’t like what you got.
Which is horrible.
I revolt on it, yeah.
And every time you see it you think oh, I spent four hundred pounds on that…
And never use it, yeah.
But it’s curious, how for example, in different cultures, how we show our wealth…
…or how we share how much we’ve spent is different in different cultures…
Because I remember once I was travelling in China, and if you had something that was a name brand, or whatever, sometimes they would leave the stickers on the bottom so that everyone else would know how much was spent.
Oh, really?
Absolutely. And also they would ask, how much did you spend on that? They were always asking different prices, but again it’s not considered a rude thing. Because in another culture that might be considered something quite like you would never ask.
Well, there are some cultures where they wear their wealth in gold…
… and I always found that really interesting as well.
Yeah, yeah.
Well, then you hear about these famous people who just spend ridiculous amounts of money on, you know, things like spending millions of euros on a car…
…when you can probably just get a nice you know, good car for half the price…
…or tenth of the price. Or like the erm, people, famous people spending millions on parties…
On parties, yeah. Dropping five hundred thousand euros or dollars on…
But doesn’t everybody?
Oh yeah.
Did you hear about the um, party with erm, Mittal, when he was, they did things like send out an invitation, and in the invitation box there was a diamond, just like…
Oh wow, I want an invite!
Yeah. Just send the invite and keep the diamond.
That’s what I would call a bargain.
Some people say that it’s actually good for the economy. Think about it.
Of course, yeah.
Spending all that money, it does help the economy in some way.
Of course, that’s true.
So, you know, if you go out and you spend too much, you’re not being selfish. No, no, you’re just giving it, you’re sharing it.
Our economy depends on people…
…buying things, and then factories can produce things. And that’s a whole other question, whether that’s good or not, isn’t it?
There was a point in time that the president was saying: Go out and buy, spend!
Yeah, and he is supposed to be environmentally-friendly president.
That goes against the environment in a way, doesn’t it? Because the more you produce, the more pollution.
Depends on what you’re buying.
There are pros and cons to all of it, isn’t there?
Spending too much, spending too little.
Yeah, yes, you’re right. If you don’t spend, people lose jobs I suppose.
Of course, yeah.
Then, none of us would have money to spend at all.
I think we should all get rid of our bank accounts and spend all our money.
Exactly, well let’s go now!
Not that we have any money, but...

lunes, 15 de septiembre de 2014

Listening test: Romance across cultures

In this week's listening test we are going to practise the multiple choice task. Listen to this radio programme about a writer and choose the option a, b or c that best completes the sentence or answers the question.

1) How is Mary George known in the publishing world?
a. Marcy Markusa
b. Mary George
c. Elizabeth Thornton

2) Mary George switched to writing historical romance because ...
a. her Jane Austen-like style was acclaimed.
b. she wanted to make a living as a writer.
c. she was really keen on comedy.

3) What sentence is true, according to the text?
a. She expects to sell 2,000,000 copies of her book.
b. She learnt how to write novels while doing another job.
c. Her education was not helpful in her job as a writer.

4) When Mary wrote her first historical romance, her family was ...
a. happy.
b. not sure what to think.
c. sad.

5)  What sentence is true, according to the text?
a. She published her first novel at 40.
b. She has three careers.
c. She has enjoyed her professional life.

6) What does Mary think her heroine would want for Valentine’s Day?
a. Nothing material.
b. Not a very big gift.
c. She doesn’t know.

Marcy: Hi I'm Marcy Markusa. Well, did you happen to celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th?  On Information Radio we marked the occasion by interviewing Mary George, a Manitoba novelist who writes historical fiction under the pseudonym Elizabeth Thornton.  In this interview, Terry McLeod finds out how Mary became a writer.  He also asks her what she thinks her latest romantic heroine, Faith McBride, would want for Valentine’s Day.
Terry: How did you become an historical romance writer?
Mary: Um, well I first started off um 1987, my first little book was published.  It was a sort of Jane Austenish book, because of course I’m a great fan of Jane Austen, and it was a comedy of manners.  But it didn’t take me long to figure out that I could not make a living writing these small books and my editor, she suggested a historical romance and I loved the history. And then the history moves the plot.
Terry: So ah how did you come to learn to write these things, starting out as a lay minister, and especially good ones that would sell two million copies around the world?
Mary: Um, I always was good with words.  My education in Scotland you know prepared me for this kind of thing. All the papers we had to do, the the analysis, that’s what I was good at. And even the sermons I had to do at the church occasionally when Bruce Miles was away, my Minister. But even that prepared me because I was good at putting words together and I had a family who are writers, and they kept saying, my son and my husband, you’ve gotta write a story, you’ve gotta write one of these murder mysteries you love so much. Y’know, you’d be really good at it, you’re good with words.  So when I wrote my first romance they were bitterly disappointed.
Terry: You started in your, in your forties to write?
Mary: Yes, forty-six. 
Terry: You’re kind of like a Carol Shields, a, you know, a latish bloomer?
Mary: Yes, oh yes, I’ve had three wonderful careers.  I was a teacher, I was a lay minister and now I’m a novelist.
Terry: Now tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, and many men wonder what women really want as a gift. What would Faith McBride want?
Mary: Well, I can’t, I don’t really know, on Valentine’s Day?  I don’t think she’d want very much for Valentine’s Day but for every day of the week she would want a man who cherished her, and loved her and respected her. And that’s what you want for Valentines.
Terry: Thanks so much for coming in. Great to meet you.
Mary: It’s been a pleasure.  

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

domingo, 14 de septiembre de 2014

Extensive listening: Why reading matters

A few years ago, in a BBC documentary, science writer Rita Carter told the story of how modern neuroscience has revealed that reading, something most of us take for granted, unlocks remarkable powers.

Carter explains how the classic novel Wuthering Heights allows us to step inside other minds and understand the world from different points of view, and she wonders whether the new digital revolution could threaten the values of classic reading.

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

[BBC documentary] Why Reading Matters from International Dimensions of Tech on Vimeo.

H/T to Larry Ferlazzo.

You may also like to know that Ross Hailpern has devised a Ted-ed lesson based on the first ten minutes of the documentary.

sábado, 13 de septiembre de 2014

Reading test: Advice for foreigners on how Britons walk

This week's reading test is taken from a BBC article by Mark Easton published in mid-July, Advice for foreigners on how Britons walk.

We are going to use it to practise a kind reading task students particularly dislike, because they see it basically as guess work. To complete the task, you will have to read the article carefully several times. Think about the part of the speech that is needed in each blank (noun, verb, adjective), collocations, the grammar of specific words, the surrounding language.

Fifteen words or phrases have been taken out of the article. Choose from the list below that word or phrase that best fits into each gap. There are two words or phrases you do not need to use. 0 is an example.

We drive on the left, but which side do we walk on?
Some friends from Australia (0) … me this question as we battled down London's Oxford Street the other day, weaving our way through determined shoppers, (1) … office workers and ambling tourists.
The answer is we don't. The British have little sense of pavement etiquette, preferring a slalom approach to pedestrian progress. When two strangers approach (2) … , it often results in the performance of a little gavotte as they double-guess in which direction the other will turn.
The British are ambulatory anarchists. We are oblivious to the Rules for pedestrians helpfully published by Her Majesty's Government. There are 35 in total but, frankly, who knew and who (3) … ?
Rule Number One tells us we must "(4) …  being next to the kerb with your back to the traffic" which implies we ought to walk on the left of the pavement. Such (5) … is blithely ignored, as any stroll down a busy high street will confirm.
An attempt to bring order to this (6) … was suggested in 2000, amid reports of rising "pavement rage". The Fast Lane Campaign proposed designated coloured lanes for pedestrians walking along Oxford Street in London - a fast lane for those rushing to get from A to B and a (7) … lane for window-shoppers and dawdlers.
Inevitably, the idea was laughed away. One group representing the rights of pedestrians dismissed it as anathema to the anarchic spirit of British walkers.
The British are bemused by countries which police pedestrians - treating those who don't use designated crossings as criminals.
There are (8) … against jaywalking in the US, Singapore, Poland, Serbia, Iran, Australia and New Zealand among other countries. But in Blighty, the state leaves it up to the individual to make their own judgement. The only exception is in Northern Ireland where, occasionally, a pedestrian may be prosecuted for jaywalking if it is deemed to have caused an accident.
Telling people how to walk is simply not British.
We may have a reputation for orderly queuing but I suspect that stems from foreign bewilderment that such organised behaviour, where it still exists, is voluntary. There is no rule that says you have to  (9) … at the bus stop. Residual affection for the queue is explained by a general belief in fair play, first-come first-served and good manners.
The accepted autonomy of the pedestrian, free to ignore the demands of pelicans and zebras, is in contrast to views on the (10) … of cyclists. The shift from foot to wheel, from kerb to street, changes everything. The sight of a bicycle rider happily free-wheeling through a red light inspires a fury never inspired by a walker who won't wait for the green man at the crossing.
The rule of law may be a fundamental British value, but we recoil at legislation that might impact on our right to roam free in the public realm. A (11) … demanding that we Do Not Walk On The Grass is often seen as an invitation for rebellion. A legacy of the enclosures which robbed people of their village greens and common land, perhaps, Brits fight for such freedoms.
At some busy UK railway stations, I have seen one-way systems for pedestrians - staircases and walkways emphatically marked with arrows and "no entry" signs to regulate foot traffic. While tourists obediently (12) … the instructions, the locals seem almost to take (13) … in walking up the wrong side.
On London tube escalators there are instructions to walk on the left and (14) … on the right, some with feet symbols to ensure everyone knows the form. People do obey these (15) … , for the most part, suggesting that different rules apply underground.
But on the street? No, we don't walk on the left or the right. We are British and wander where we will.

asked - Example
each other
line up

Photo: BBC and getty images

1 rushing 2 each other 3 cares 4 avoid 5  advice 6 chaos 7  slow 8  laws 9 line up 10 behaviour 11 sign 12 follow 13 pleasure 14 stand 15 requests

viernes, 12 de septiembre de 2014

Cover up or face fines in Majorca

The Balearic Island chain has long been a popular destination for European holidaymakers. But now tourists heading to the island of Majorca are being warned to cover up before leaving the beach or face being fined.

Self-study activity:
Watch this BBC video and answer the questions about it. The activity is suitable for Intermediate students.

1 How many tourists visited Greece last year?
2 What kind of tourists does Majorca want to attract?
3 What made the local authorities in Palma change some local laws?
4 What do 50€ and 200€ refer to?
5 What's the difference between Palma and New Jersey?
6 When are tourists expected to start paying fines if  inappropriately dressed?
7 What do critics say about this new regulation?

To check your answers you can read the transcript below.

In recent months some of the Mediterranean countries hit worse by the Euro-zone crisis as seeing their resorts filling up once again. More than 15m international arrivals landed in Greece last year (1) while Spain saw almost 60m. But have these countries learned any lessons.
Well, for the Spanish island of Majorca the answer is maybe. There they’re talking not only about recovery, but also redefining their product. In short, Palma is going up market (2). That’s why there’s been a huge investment in top of the range hotels here, more than twenty built in the last three years, and there are many more planned. And along with wanting more high-end tourists (2), locals now have higher expectations of the way they want their visitors to behave. So, less of this, and more of this. And that’s partly why they’ve introduced the good citizen plan.
Authorities in Palma say the good citizen plan and the subsequent changes to local laws came about at the request of residents (3), some of whom were so fed up with tourists coming off the beach into the old town inappropriately dressed.
The penalties which make up the good citizen plan start at €50 for anyone not wearing a top or T-shirt away from beach areas, €50 for riding a bike on the pavement and €200 if you’re caught buying merchandise from illegal street traders (4). And it’s not just places like Palma where local sensibilities are being offended by tourists, in May authorities in Qatar brought in new rules for visitors to dress modestly in public and respect the Islamic country’s values. Meanwhile in New Jersey in America, it’s the tourists who have the upper hand after laws were passed banning locals from wearing saggy jeans or pants on its boardwalks following a number of complaints from visitors (5).
There tends to be people wandering off the beach and not being aware of the fact that they might cause offence, you know, by wearing inappropriate clothing, you know, speedos, bikinis, with everything hanging out, you know. Let’s be frank, it’s not that pleasant.
Local journalist Anna Nicholas has lived in Majorca for more than 10 years and says she can see why the city council is following in the footsteps of other European cities like Barcelona, which introduced a similar plan last year.
I’ve heard they won’t slap fines immediately, maybe give people a little bit of warning for the first few months of this summer, maybe next year bring it in and come in a bit heavy once people know what’s going on (6), but I think, you know, the idea is that tourists are welcome here, you know, it’s not an idea to just slap fines on people and they have a horrible holiday.
But for unwitting tourists the laws could mean they find themselves on a more expensive holiday than they bargain for.
It was very awful to go through the city and be in contact with people they don’t wear shirts, yeah, you know, it’s not, it’s a question of aesthetic.
The fine is just €50 so, so people could learn from it because if you go in this area, by the beach, for me it’s fine if people just go in their, their swimming suit. It’s not proper if you want to go to the downtown, for example, to the restaurant to have a drink or to some shops, that time for sure you should wear something.
While critics have suggested this is just a money-making venture (7), Palma city council insists this is not true.
No, no, absolutely not. This is a manner to, to still being a relaxing city that we are, we are a really… we are in, in a good position to be a new destination for the next twenty years.
And what happens if a tourist simply says I have no money?
What happen if I go to Piccadilly Circus and I say to the police, I’m sorry, I don’t have money? What happen? It is the same in London, it’s the same in Berlin, it’s the same in… wherever. If I go to Rome and I say a police, I don’t have money, the police say, okay, come with me. And at the end, I pay. It’s quite simple, so… here’s the same.
And the vice-mayor is hopeful that other towns in Majorca will soon follow suit and adopt their own good citizen plans. But for now, it’s simple. If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it, at least not here in Palma, as it could cost you dearly.

jueves, 11 de septiembre de 2014

10 Questions with Keira Knightley

This is the Time Magazine interview with Keira Knightly for the segment 10 Questions with... early this summer after the release of her latest film Begin Again.

Self-study activity:
Watch the interview and answer the questions. The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 How well does Keira sing and play the guitar?
2 What happened to her fingers after playing the guitar for a while?
3 What's 'the other thing that's interesting about this movie'?
4 What's Keira's marital status?
5 What's Keira's strategy in real life to avoid talking to men?
6 How does she come across in real life with men? What impression do they get from her?
7 What period in history is she interested in?
8 What the relationship of Keira's beloved ones with music?
9 On what condition did Keira's father allow his wife to have another child?
10 How much money does Keira need to live on?

You can self-correct the activity by reading the transcript below.

Hi I’m Belinda Luscombe from Time. You know that guy who like totally betrayed you, and you wanted to make him super bad? Well, Keira Knightley does that in her new movie, Begin Again, and she’s here to discuss that and other things with us. Keira, welcome.
Thank you.
So, in this movie, Begin Again, you sing. Can you actually sing?
I mean, it is my actual voice in the film, but no, I’m not a singer (1). This one was pre-recorded in a studio and then we did it to playback.
And you played guitar?
I learned how to play the songs on guitar for this film. I wasn’t very good (1). I could never sing and play at the same time, so we had to do takes where I’d sing and I’d try and it wouldn’t happen. And then takes where my fingers would be doing the right thing.
So you’re going to keep up the guitar?
No, literally I was so happy to put the guitar down and never pick it up again. Well, the fingers they do actually bleed, I mean they bleed (2), and then they kind of get calloused, and then I sort of put it down for a while and I thought, I can’t be bothered to go through that again.
The other thing that’s interesting about this movie is that there is a kind of a few interesting relationships (3). The first one is between your character and Mark Ruffalo’s character, which is sort of mentor, mentee. I mean, you sort of rescue him and he sort of rescues you, I guess.
But there’s a possible, maybe romance going on that you can’t quite figure out yet. It seemed to me in the movie that the, your character is like, I’m not gonna down that road. And that must’ve happened to you in real life too, right? You must have this developed some way of, not now, because you’re married (4), but of turning away potential suitors. Girls often have that 10,000 yard stare?
Oh, yeah.
Where they like, I’m not looking either way. I’m just looking straight ahead so…
Yeah. I’ve used that one.
You’ve used that.
Yeah, that’s always a good one, isn’t it, stare straight ahead, don’t make eye contact (5), that kind of thing.
That kind of thing.
Is there any, have people come onto you…
I’m a bit of an ice queen, so I think I get quite like a frightening exterior (6). So generally speaking unless I’m kind of soli… you know, unless I’m up for it, they don’t.
You’re too intimidating.
I’m far too intimidating (6).
You scare them away.
Is there an era that you particularly like or feel more drawn to than others? Because you have done a lot of history stuff.
I’m always interested in the 40’s. I think that Second World War period I find really interesting (7), because it’s sort of its statistics like the fact that STDs went through the roof and pregnancies went through the roof with people out of wedlock. And you think it’s funny because we have such a set notion of exactly what that period was like. But the extreme kind of nature of  literally death falling from the sky around you and that kind of… er that, that moment when you don’t know if tomorrow is going to be your last day and how you live within that, I find, I find really interesting and I’m really interested in that kind of period to play with.
In the film, Ruffalo, Ruffalo’s character hears you sing this one song and it kind of he hears how he will produce it and it kind of transfixes him. Do you, do you remember having that transfixing moment with that song?
To tell you the truth, I don’t really listen to music. I know nothing about it at all, and it was sort of one of the reasons why I wanted to do this piece because I’m obviously I’m married to a musician. My brother has been in bands for most of his life (8). My fa… everybody around me is completely obsessed my music, and I don’t have that thing, I don’t… I think my brain doesn’t quite work in that way, so I will try and listen to it, I never think to put it on, I never like… I’m not one of those people that can say, oh it was this band, and this was the single and these are the lyrics. I have no idea. So, that’s kind of what I enjoyed about this was to try and get my head into that mind of a person who does express himself emotionally and creatively for music because I don’t.
Can you do a quick round of true or false?
Here we go.
Ian McShane was your drama teacher.
Yeah, but not, that Ian McShane.
See, there you go.
Different man, same name.
You didn’t have…
… foul language in your drama class.
I didn’t. Well, I sometimes did, but still not that Ian McShane.
Your father did not let your mother have you until she had written another play (9).
Her first play. That’s true.
Her first play.
And it was a big success.
It was a big success. They didn’t have the money to have another child, and she’d given up acting. And so he said that you have to sell a script, and then you can have a child. And that’s what happened.
And then they got you!
And then they got me.
Wow. You er… live on $50,000 a year.
That’s not true.
I didn’t think it was true.
Did you try it for a year?
No! I don’t know where this has come from. I’ve said all the way it’s not true. I mean, I wish it was true. That would be incred… yeah, I mean it’s, it’s a good amount of money to live on, but no, it’s not true (10).
Keira Knightley, thanks so much.
Thank you very much.

miércoles, 10 de septiembre de 2014

Talking point: Fears

This week's talking point is fears. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below, so that ideas flow more easily the day you get together with the members of your conversation group and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • What were you afraid of as a child?
  • How did you typically behave when confronted by your fear?
  • Have any of these fears persisted into adulthood?
  • What are you afraid of now?
  • What strategies or tricks do you use to lessen the anxiety this fear brings about?
  • Do you know anyone who suffers from an extreme or an unusual fear?
  • How does it affect their day-to-day life?
  • How can these people learn to overcome their fear?
Look at the list of phobias and try to agree on the one which is the most difficult to live with and the one which is the easiest to live.

fear of dentists
fear of the dark
fear of needles
fear of spiders
fear of water
fear of heights
fear of crowds
fear of flying

To illustrate this point you can watch this Speakout video about the topic.

You can read the transcript here.