domingo, 31 de agosto de 2014

Why Do We Talk?

Talking is something that is unique to humans, yet it still remains a mystery. Why Do We Talk? meets the scientists beginning to unlock the secrets of speech - including a father who is filming every second of his son's first three years in order to discover how we learn to talk, the autistic savant who can speak more than 20 languages, and the first scientist to identify a gene that makes speech possible.

This BBC's Horizon documentary also hears from the godfather of linguistics, Noam Chomsky, the first to suggest that our ability to talk is innate.

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

sábado, 30 de agosto de 2014

Reading test: A Guide to Study Abroad in Greece

In this week's reading comprehension activity we are going to practise the heading matching kind of task. I have adapted the original article A Girls Guide to Study Abroad in Greece from the blog to suit our typical exam task.

Read the following paragraphs with tips foreign students need to know before studying in Greece and then decide which heading (A - I) corresponds to each of the tips 1 - 7. You can only use one tip for a paragraph and one of the tips is not needed. Tip 0 is  an example.

0. Example: B
The Greeks know how to eat and how to create divine, mouth-watering food. Make sure you learn what it means to sit at a traditional Greek taverna and spend two hours eating a meal. It is so cheap to eat out you might never cook at home.

Taking the time to enjoy a coffee is an essential part of Greek culture. It is also used as an excuse for being late to class or needing to leave class halfway through. Soon you won’t even remember how you used to dash in and out of a coffee shop in 15 minutes!

In Greece, time can be a slippery concept. I learned the hard way that meeting at a certain time is often only a rough estimation. People can be anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours late to a party and it’s not a problem. In fact, don’t be surprised if your fellow study abroaders ask if a meeting time is on ‘Greek time’ or ‘normal’ time!

Greece is packed with history from ancient and byzantine time periods so don’t miss an opportunity to learn as much as you can. Ruins and monuments are often incorporated into fast developing cities with new construction built around old ruins. Even if museums are not your thing, simply taking a walk through your neighbourhood will lead you to history’s front door.

From the stunning rocky Greek islands of the south to the mountain-filled north to the famous Peloponnese, Greece is filled with natural wonders. Make sure you get out and explore them. The islands might be your first thought, but don’t forget to branch out and also explore where tourism has not left its mark yet and where people live like they have for decades. Here you will start to really understand the roots of the Greek culture.

Greek is not an easy language to learn. Not only is there a whole new alphabet to learn for us English speakers, but there are also new sounds and it can all seem a little bit complicated. Greek is also one of the oldest languages in the world. Make an effort to learn a few words – it will help you to gain insight into Greek culture.

There is a saying in Greece along the lines of ‘relax, do it tomorrow, today we enjoy life’. Things may seem slow and even the simplest task convoluted and you will never be sure as to why. Relax, this is all part of being in a new country. In some ways, Greece will force you to learn to slow down.

Most universities will offer on campus dormitory style accommodation for students but many people also choose to live in apartments. Accommodation in most Greek cities is quite cheap and you can easily find shared apartments or possibly even afford to rent your own. Apartments can come furnished with basic items like a bed and desk but you may need to purchase things like crockery and pots and pans.

A - Be Prepared to Wait
B - Better out than in
C - Beware of strangers!
D - For intrepid souls
E - It has lots of advantages
F - It’s All Greek?
G - Relatively speaking
H - Soak it all in
I - Where to Get Your ZZZ

Photo: GoAbroadBlog

1E 2G 3H 4D 5F 6A 7I

viernes, 29 de agosto de 2014

How to milk a cow

This National Geographic video explains the process of milking a cow in this day and age.

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

The activity is suitable for intermediate 2 students.

1 What substance makes finish off the cow's digestion in the fourth stomach?
2 What does '18' refer to?
3 How safe is it to drink milk straight from the cow?
4 How much time does an Automated Milk Harvester operate during the week?
5 How are the cows identify once they walk into the box of the Automated Milk Harvester?
6 Will the machine milk a cow that has 8 litres of milk?
7 What does '10,000 pounds' refer to?
8 How beneficial is for the cow's health this milking system?
9 What three elements are necessary for Neil Rowe to fix whatever problem in the Milk Harvester from anywhere in the world?

You can check the answers by reading the transcript.

This time, we're looking at something which has been consumed by mankind for thousands of years. We're talking about milk.
But first, how is milk created?  Well, in fact a cow has four stomachs.  The first stomach begins to break down the grass before it passes through the second and third stomachs where nutrient absorption begins.  Eventually, in stomach number four, gastric juices (1) finish off the digestion process and nutrients extracted from the food are absorbed into the blood stream.  In the udder, the blood passes through very small blood vessels, surrounding groups of secreting cells called Alveoli.  It's these that actually produce the milk using the nutrients carried in the bloodstream.  Aside from the food they eat, cows must also drink plenty of water. 18 litres of it produce just 4.5 litres of milk (2).
And the traditional way of milking a cow was of course by hand using a stool and a bucket, and I'm gonna give it a go.
Farmers going back to the Iron Age milked cows in this way.
Jonny is that the first time you've done that?
Yeah.  She's obviously very full because that's coming out without much encouragement, but, it's not as easy as it might seem.
There you go, girls.
The average cow produces about 27 liters of milk a day, but it has been known for cows to produce more than a 100 liters in a day.  And you can drink the milk straight from the udder (3), as I am about to demonstrate.  There we go whisky. There we go. That is absolutely delicious.
Technology has entered the world of the Moo Cow.  Richard and Jonny have come to one of the most modern dairy farms in Britain where a laser-guided robot milks the cows.  It's called an Automated Milk Harvester and it operates 24/7 (4), allowing the cows to enter of their own free will.
So talk us through the process, how does it work?
Okay, the cows walk on from this side.  Come into the box and stand there.  They're identified by a microchip (5), which they have in a collar on their necks.  The computer will then decide whether it wants to milk this cow or whether to let this one go and take the next one.  So it's trying to be as efficient as it can.  It's always looking to harvest the maximum amount of milk every 24 hours.
Why would it let a cow go then, why would it not milk one?
If she doesn't have enough milk in her udder, it won't invest six and a half minutes of its time for a small amount of milk, it's looking for a cow with about 10 litres of milk (6).
And sorry, just explain Neil, how does it know whether it's worth milking her?
It keeps a running total on every cow in the herd.  It can then calculate to within half a liter how much milk is in the cow before it starts to milk her.
And how many cows a day is it milking?
It'll milk 70 cows, 3 times a day.  It can do about 200 milkings over the 24 hour period.
And what's the most say, a cow can yield?
We've had cows on here that have given 100 liters in a 24 hour period.
Goodness me.
Which is extraordinary isn't it.
That's massive.
Once the robot has committed to milking a cow, a brush system first cleans and sterilizes the teats with hydrogen peroxide to prevent any infection being passed on.  The orange brush then massages the cow's udder to encourage the production of the hormone oxitocin, which is needed to stimulate the milk flow.
The milk comes down through these tubes, goes through this electronic box and there's 10,000 pounds worth of sensors in there which monitor the quality of the milk (7).  It can see watery substances, cow muck, dirt, blood.  Anything which isn't normal in the milk, it will see it, and then it separates that milk out into these buckets and then when the process is finished, it takes about uh, 4 seconds to chill the milk down from 37 degrees down to 2 degrees.
Goodness me.
And it's not just the milk that's chilled.  This system can prove much less stressful for the cows.  In fact on this farm they're actually living an average of 30% longer than those on farms where they use more traditional milking methods (8).  But what happens if something goes wrong with milking when the farmer is not around?  Well, this technology is so advanced the robot just contacts him over the phone (9)!
The system actually automatically contacts you if there's a problem?
It does, yeah.  It will ring me immediately, within seconds of identifying a problem.  There are about 100 sensors on here that can all detect whether it's working correctly or not.  Any one of those finds a problem, rings me straightaway, gives me a message to tell me what the problem is.  I can then text back codes to try and fix the problem from where I am, or even if I've got my laptop (9) and a wireless broadband connection (9), I can connect on anywhere in the world, using the cameras I can see what's going on and I can use my keyboard to sort the problems out.

jueves, 28 de agosto de 2014

10 Questions for Alicia Keys

This is Alicia Keys interview for Time Magazine a few years ago. I know it's not easy at all for (strong) intermediate students. However, Alicia Keys is a really interesting figure in the music world and I feel we can all benefit from both her ideas and her music.

Self-study activity:
Watch  the video through and note down the questions reporter Gilbert Cruz asks Alicia.

Watch the video again and note down the main ideas in Alicia's answers.

If you really find Alicia's English beyond you, read the transcript below in the first place and then try to do the activities as indicated.

I’m Gilbert Cruz for and we’re here with Grammy award-winning artist, Alicia Keys. Alicia, thank you for being with us today.
My pleasure.
Our first question is from Courtney Jones, who is from Houston, Texas. Courtney asks, ‘What’s one song that still hast the ability to move you when you sing it?’
Every song has the ability to move me when I am sing it, which is something I’m very grateful for, because the songs that I write, they are very personal and they are very like emotional and I can understand them, you know, I can understand them even if the time has passed already, I can understand it. I have to say I’d probably say ‘Falling’ is the song for me. Obviously I’ve sung it a lot, but there’s a magic about that song that is just unbelievable (…) and the way it signifies the beginning of, you know, kind of my career and my life as I know it in this world. It’s like, you know, it gives chills every time (…).
Our next question is: Do you think it’s important for inner-city children to be exposed to classical music? When were you first exposed to classical music?
Wow, I do think it’s important to hear all kinds of music, you know. When I was introduced to classical music I was, I guess, you know, six or seven, which was because I wanted to study piano so badly and when we found the teacher that would help to teach me, who lived in my building, she taught classical music. So I didn’t… I wasn’t exactly looking for classical music but it found me and I found that it really opened me up to become, you know, just more… understand things even better.
Our next question: I’m amazed with how effortlessly you play the piano while singing. Who is your favourite pianist and why?
I love Nina Simone. She's definitely one of my favorites. I love here very, very much. So she's, she's probably my, my favorite (...). I love that she's a very, extremely creative, powerful, don't hold her tongue back for anyone woman who sits at the piano and will play you underneath the table. She will play anyone under the table (...).
Our next question is from Ahmo Mehmedovi. Because so many of your songs are about female empowerment, do you consider yourself to be a role model to young women?
I do. I do. I think that we all are, you know, role models to each other and have that ability to affect someone in a positive way. And I think that that, that's more my goal is to affect people in a, in a positive way, in a way that can possibly take their thoughts and, and turn them into something that could really fuel them and I find that I really wanna give people ah, something powerful and empowering and possible to think about and live for 'cause I think we see all the other stuff way too often.
Last two questions: What or who inspired you to start playing piano?
I'm not sure exactly how it happened. All I know is that I had this incredible fascination with pianos and when I would pass them I would wanna play them and I would wanna learn how to play them and if I heard people who could play I'd wanna learn how ya play like them and how could I get this music? How could I make it sound like that? It was like this feeling that just made me wanna learn. And thank God for me I had a, a supporter, a mother who was OK with that, you know, who could've probably said, please go to school leave me alone. But she said OK if that's doing that to you then let's see what we can figure out. So, I'm really grateful for that.
Our last question is about the Keep the Child Alive Foundation.
Good because if you didn't ask me I was gonna tell you.
Well, can you tell us some of the, some of the, sort of more moving things that you've seen in, in all the years you've worked with this foundation?
I sat down with this women named Mama Carol and she is mother to I would say now over a thousand children who have lost their parents or at least one parent or most of them both from, due to aids and she is now their, you know, caretaker, their advice giver, their person they can go to, to ask for help. And so I, I sat with these kids in Soweto and we just sat in a circle on the floor and I just listened to them and we spoke and it was, you know, the sun was up and then the sun was down and it was just so beautiful to hear how through all that they have experienced which would break any spirit, any strong spirit could possibly be broken by that. They are still so motivated and ready to change the world and want people to understand them and how they are humans and, you know, emotional young people but still that they're not gonna wait for anyone to come get 'em or save 'em or help 'em. They're gonna figure it out and they're gonna make it and they're gonna take care of their brothers and sisters and they're gonna make sure they're OK. And, you know, that type of strength and that type of determination that makes me very proud because it shows me what's possible. And it's possible when we just put our effort towards it.
Alicia, thank you very much for talking to us.
Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.

miércoles, 27 de agosto de 2014

Talking point: Animal rights

This week's talking point is animal rights. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas flow more easily the day you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • How well are animals treated in your country?
  • What animal rights movements are there in your country?
  • Do you agree with them?
  • What sort of things do they do?
  • Is it right to kill animals such as foxes, wolves, bears because they annoy people or kill cattle or there is overpopulation of them?
  • How necessary are zoos?
  • Should all children have a pet so that they could develop a liking for animals?
  • Should dogs, specially big ones, be allowed to live in (small) flats?
  • Do you think that the resources and time spent on fighting the cruelty to animals are well spent? Are there any more important issues in the world?
Read the list of activities that animal rights movements campaign against.
1) Can you think of any other activities that animal rights activists find unacceptable?
2) Which of these activities do you think are
   (a) acceptable and necessary
   (b) acceptable in certain circumstances
   (c) totally unacceptable
  • Testing cosmetics on live animals
  • Testing new drugs and medicines on live animals
  • Farming animals to make fur coats
  • Selling exotic animals as pets
  • Transporting live animals  thousands of miles before slaughtering them
 To illustrate the topic, you can listen to BBC's 6 Minute English episode Shark's fin soup.

martes, 26 de agosto de 2014

Madrid Teacher: Pampered pets

In this week's episode of our Madrid Teacher series four teachers discuss pets and the way they are indulged by their owners.

First, watch the video through to get the gist of what the conversation is about.

Now, pay attention to the following features of spoken English the teachers use:
  • Use of so as a linking word and to begin conversations
  • Showing surprise and reacting to what the speaker is saying: Yes?; Really?; Oh?; Interesting
  • Use of vague language: or anything; and all this stuff; or something like that; or something; and stuff
  • Showing agreement: Yeah
  • Conversation fillers to gain thinking time: erm; you know; well
  • Use of actually to introduce a piece of surprising information
  • Paraphrasing information you have just given to make yourself clear:  I mean
  • Use of really + adjective to emphasize what we are saying
  • Use of honestly to emphasize what we are saying

Now, it's over to you. Get together with a friend or relative and discuss pet owners' attitude to their pets. Do you agree with the teachers that some owners overindulge their pets? Can you think of any examples? Don't forget to use some of the features of spoken English we have seen in the video.

So, does anybody know or have any friends who own pets and treat them like humans?
I do.
I don’t dress them or anything but…
I talk to my, my cats.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think it’s a bit silly, isn’t it?
No, but talking to them is one thing…
We’re talking about, erm, I know, I know a girl who’s got this cocker spaniel and she, everyday she puts a different coloured bow, you know… on his ears… and all this stuff but the thing is she treats the animal as if it’s a child…
And, erm, and actually, one day I was at their house and, erm, I was just sitting on the sofa and the dog was next to me on the sofa, and all of a sudden just woke up and saw me and bit me right in the face.
I had never been bitten by a dog before.
Yeah, yeah, and, and somebody was explaining to me, who was a dog trainer, that if you have the dog, for example, at the same level as a human like on a sofa or something like that, then the dog thinks, you know, that you’re invading, I was invading territory…
His space.
Yeah, they’re very territorial.
I think it can’t be good to, to indulge these pets…
With, with expensive gifts and fancy clothes and, and, and gourmet meals and I mean sometimes they eat better than the humans and... I know.
Erm, I used to live, erm, in a gay community and it was the latest fashion accessory, that was like, so, erm, you’d, you’d see these dogs, I’d see dogs dyed pink… I’d see dogs with, with Burberry coats and…
It’s crazy.
And you just, and they’re always like this size and…
Yeah, they’re always Chihuahuas or poodles or something
Or French bulldogs. I’ve seen millions and millions and millions of French bulldogs recently. You know which ones they are?
Yeah, they’re ugly kinds of…
Yeah they’re like the wee ones with the really squashy face…
And they have a pointy nose and they look like they’re…
That’s what they say. They’re so cute, though.
Well, I’m not sure.
I saw one the other day, honestly, it was the funniest thing, erm, I saw a wee French bulldog dressed in a neon pink coat with leggings, like leg, leg body jacket thing and it looked like this… And the guy who was walking it was enormous, I mean, a buff guy, just thought…
Yeah, you would think it would be a woman walking the dog…
Your wife has made you go out with that, ha, ha, ha and that dog looks like it’s going to bite you.
No, I’m sure one day there will be revenge of the pampered pets.
I know.
As far as the food goes in Asia and stuff, the dogs and the cats, all the strays at least eat rice, wheat whatever leftovers are available.
Like pigs or something.

lunes, 25 de agosto de 2014

Listening test: My first job

You are going to hear some people talking about their first job. Match speakers 1−6 with descriptions A−H. There are two descriptions you don’t need to use. You will hear the recording twice.



A     The speaker developed a liking for outdoor activities.
B     The speaker had to deal with difficult people.
C     The speaker has always worked in restaurant and cooking jobs.
D     The speaker worked with a female relative.
E     The speaker learnt what jobs she didn’t like.
F     The speaker met a very important person in her life.
G     The speaker mentions two jobs.
H    The speaker has always worked in the media world.

Extract 1 Betty White
Well, my first job was actually I was doing a, a, a guest shot on a talk show on television. It is when television first started. It was in New York. But when it first started in Los Angeles, I got a guest shot. And we did a little interview. And it taught me that whatever else I did for the rest of my life, I wanted to stay in that business. And I have. I am 90 and I am still in that business and loving it.

Extract 2 Darienne Page
My first job was at the Sports Authority in Laurel, Maryland, and I was a cashier for a year or so. And there I had the opportunity to work with my brother and I learned a lot about managing money and dealing with different personalities. And I really gained an appreciation for all types of sports. And for me it was really interesting, because I really learned to love fishing and camping. So now it has become one of my interests just because it is something that I picked up while I was there.

Extract 3 Hilda Solis
My very first job was as a recreational aid at my community center back home in Los Angeles County. I remember leading student activities and even delivering free lunches for kids in poor neighborhoods. I also worked in the school library; stacking and cataloging books, and helping my classmates select which ones to read. I remember feeling very important. Looking back, those were really my first steps in public service.

Extract 4 Julie Rodriguez
My first job was actually when I was 13 years old, and it was, I was technically a volunteer but I did get a pay check of five dollars a week that made me really proud and just gave me a sense of kind of responsibility at a good age. I worked with my cousin. And we were actually responsible for answering phone calls for people that were interested in more information about the impact that pesticides was having on farm workers and farm worker children.
And so we would send them out a little information video and for me it was again the sense of responsibility, but also I think I got a little excited and felt like I was in charge. And would try to boss my cousin around all of the time which she didn't really like since we were the same age, but she was much taller than me. And so everyone thought that she was obviously older than I was.

Extract 5 Rosye Cloud
My first job was actually in my freshman year of high school. I started working in a doctor's office on weekends managing weekend patient flow. And I remember it perfectly because I remember it taught me how to be organized, make sure things ran on time, make sure records were maintained. It also really taught me a lot about how to deal with people -- people that were in pain, people that were nervous and suffering, and it gave me an appreciation of how important that first contact was. And so, I remember that that was a very important experience for me. And it's something that I've remembered since then.
It also taught me how to manage strong egos --doctors have very strong personalities and are definitely out to make sure they take care of the patients, so wanting to manage and understand their needs and working together in a collaborative space that sometimes could be very stressful. So I remember that very, very well.

Extract 6 Cris Comerford
My very first job, you might want to know, is that, you know, back in Chicago, when my family moved here from Manila in 1983, my first job was a salad bar girl. And at that time when I was working it wasn't one of those glamorous job or anything that, you know, you might really aspire for, but being a culinary laureate now and looking black I've learn so many things from that very first job.
I've learned how to organize myself. I've learned how to work with other people and I've learned to really love what I do. So even though like you know at the time being it might not seem very important, every job is important.
You know, like as a chef right now I rely on this salad bar girl, really take care of my needs, take care of everything that I need to have to ensure that, you know, an event that I have or a menu that I have worked very nicely. So you know, looking back it was a very great experience for me.

1H 2A 3G 4D 5B 6 C