Summer ideas

Hi dear all!
The summer is near, and that's great, isn't it? However, "4 months without English" is not such a great idea...
I'd like to give you some tips so that you can practice a little bit of English these months. Don't start the next course feeling lost!

I firstly recommend you to read this post: "Cómo aprender inglés sin dinero para cursos". The teacher here suggests interesting things for a linguistic immersion. For example, she talks about language exchanges. Why not start one now? We can do that on the Internet, without having to travel! She and her readers suggest the following (I know this is not the first time we talk about this):
- Shared Talk
- My Language Exchange
- Language Exchanges
There you can practice your the 4 skills!

I do agree with her opinion on Listening everyday. If you try and listen at least 5 minutes, you'll get used to the sounds of English and it'll become easier and easier. My recommendation here is for you to download i-Tunes (it's free!) and subscribe to podcasts (that you can later transfer to your MP3 player!). All you have to do is (once you get the program) click on i-Tunes Store, later on Podcasts and then browse according to your interests: you can select the language, the channel or the topic you are interested in. Then you subscribe to the podcasts that you like: their updates will be downloaded immediately everytime you connect to i-Tunes again. Isn't it wonderful?

More ideas on Writing: apart from checking the websites checklisted in this blog, you could also start a journal in English or even a blog yourself! (Try blogger) If you write on a regular basis, you'll need to use a dictionary and thus will learn new things everyday.

Finally, what about Reading? Are you thinking of taking some English book to the beach with you? Good idea. Why not visit the library downstairs? You can borrow books for the whole summer now. Otherwise, you can buy them online; Amazon is quite fast with deliveries and they also offer you the possibility of buying second-hand books for really reasonable prices!

Short of ideas? Here you are some suggestions (light and fun reads, I think):
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
- Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes
- Completely Unexpected Tales by Roald Dahl
- Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson
- Changing Places by David Lodge
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Have fun, then. See you around this week.


Some more practice on Reading and Listening

We're near the end of the course and maybe you might like to get some more practice on reading and listening before the exam on Monday.

Here is the website I talked to you about: it's called Voa News and it allows you to read and listen to current news at the same time. Fantastic, isn't it?

I'm also exploring a little bit about podcasts and how to subscribe to them, but I'm afraid there's no time for that this year. See you next year (maybe?) and talk about it.

Have a nice weekend everyone.


Learn English with videos and improve your pronunciation

Hi there!

Are you having a nice weekend? Me too, thank you very much. Just a couple of suggestions to keep you busy for a few minutes:

- Do you enjoy watching videos in English but miss the transcription (AND the translation, why not?) of the words in them? Then this is your site: yappr, a great source of videos made just for you. You can browse them either by categories or levels. There is a huge variety of videos (TV ads, music, movie extracts, sports...) and they're updated daily.

- Tired of trying to pronounce English correctly? Why don't you go and visit YAKIToMe? It's a great site to improve your pronunciation. An explanation of how it works here. Hope you try it and tell me if it worked for you. Don't get disappointed by the fact that you need to register, because it's worth it!


News on Crime

Do you feel you need to read (a little bit more) about crime on the news? I'll take the liberty to remind you a wonderful resource: Here is the perfect site!

A great place with authentic, updated news + different types of exercises:

- vocabulary exercises
- word selection exercises
- multiple choice exercises
- sequencing
- general comprehension

PLUS audio and visual aids!

The news are classified by topics (access the crime-related stories here) and channels.

Great way to train for your tests!
(and also to learn English, by the way)



Looking for a job

Long time no write and all that!

Here we are again, this time to look at how to find a job in an English-speaking environment.

I already gave you some websites where to look for jobs. Here you are some websites that help you write a cover letter + design your CV + prepare for your interview:

- Cover Letter Etiquette
- CareerBuilder
- Jobsearch.about
- Videos about news on the jobs world

Plus the videos you were expecting:

- how to apply
- general tips for the job interview
- how to handle the questions during the interview itself

Good luck!


Do you speak English?

Hi there!
Hope this doesn't happen to you when you travel abroad:


Preparing your monologues

Hi everyone!

I just found this wonderful site to help you with your monologues: it's called Splendid Speaking and it "supports advanced learners of English who want to develop their top-level speaking skills and communication strategies."

Each week, they tackle a specific issue on how to talk better English. Take, for example, this lesson about "how to captivate your audience with memorable introductions".

They also offer you the possibility of subscribing here! "For immediate access to transcripts for current and previous Splendid Speaking podcasts, and to be alerted to new materials on the website, sign up now for our weekly newsletter."

You can also access their blog from here.



New Writing Exercise!

Do you remember Essay Punch? The website that helped us write a paragraph about who you'd take to Hawaii? Did you find it useful and/or enjoyable?

I've just found out that they have a new (and free!) exercise available for you. This time the instruction is the following:

"One of your friends knows all about dolphins. Another can sing all the songs Michael Jackson ever wrote. Almost everyone has an interest, talent, or hobby that makes him or her an "expert" in some area. Describe an activity or area about which you are especially knowledgeable."

Would you like to try writing a new paragraph with them? Remember: you just have to go to the home page, select "Start Writing Now" (which is on the left, at the beginning of the list), and follow the instructions.

When you think that your paragraph is ready, just send it over to me and I'll have a look.

Good luck!


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The big Irish party is taking place TODAY, 17th March. It's St. Patrick's, the day of the patron saint of Ireland. All around the world people feast this event. Are you in for any party tonight?

To read some info on St. Patrick, click here.

Irish are everywhere! Would you like to see how the party is celebrated in Chicago? Access this site then. They even dye the river green!
Here is how they celebrate it in Dublin. Have a look at a slideshow of this year's parade in New York too.

To watch a video about the history of the event, click here. It's only 3:33 minutes long, but you have more videos on the same site (just select them on the right).

The Simpsons go green too! Click here to watch the clip.

Finally, to take a quiz on "All things Irish", click here.

Just one more thing to say: Slainte! ("Cheers" in Irish)


Why Men don't Listen and Women can't read maps

Remember Ted Talks? I wrote a post about them not long ago. Well, there's something pretty similar in a different site called FORA.tv.

Here's a description of the website:

"There are brilliant ideas, expressed everyday in public discussions and events, all over the world. Don't miss them. FORA.tv delivers discourse, discussions and debates on the world's most interesting political, social and cultural issues, and enables viewers to join the conversation. It provides deep, unfiltered content, tools for self-expression and a place for the interactive community to gather online."

And this is where I found three mini-videos about the topic we saw last week in class- Dr. John Gray talks about several issues from his book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus:

- Listening Techniques for Men (5:09 min)
- How Women cope differently with Stress (4:17 min)
- Why Mars and Venus Collide (0:50)

Enjoy these and other topics. See you tomorrow!


Writing Week (II)

Here we go again. I found some "jewels" to keep on working in this "writing week". Let's see some of them:

If you want to remember what we did the last day, there is a website for children where you can watch this video about how to write a paragraph. Then you can take a quiz, why not? To test whether you got the idea. Here is an
"easy" one and here you are a "hard" one.

Choosing one or another word has a direct effect on the text you're writing. We'll work on it in class, but here I collected a series of tales that were written "in a different way". They're the "Politically Correct Bedtime Stories", by James Finn Garner. The words in these tales are carefully chosen! Some examples:
- Politically Correct Three Little Pigs
- Politically Correct Little Red Riding Hood

- Reading lots and lots.
- Doing specific exercises. More exercises here. You need a lifetime to do them all!
- Going to specific websites. Examples:
*how to record vocabulary
*how to improve your vocabulary
*dictionary entries
*finding new ways to say something

You can have a look at a very useful site you might already know: click here for a thorough explanation of the comma, the period, the colon, etc.

More explanations and exercises on commas here.

Easy exercise: capital letters and full stops. Another one on commas. REALLY NICE!
Medium difficulty exercise: apostrophes and commas.
Hard exercise: look at a text with and without punctuation.
Punctuation games by the British Council: punctuate different texts correctly.
Exercises on commas.

After having overcome your "commaitis", you can try to write longer sentences here.



Hello everyone! I know you can't wait for "the Writing Week". This week we'll be looking at:

- Brainstorming and drafting techniques
- Basic paragraph writing techniques and exercises (select "Start Writing now")
- Revision and error analysis strategies
- Punctuation basics
- Vocabulary improvement

Finally, I do believe that one of the best ways to improve your writing is WRITING. Especially writing to English-speaking people. So a very good idea is to find a penpal that's learning your language, and collaborate to unite efforts in your learning process. Therefore we'll also have a look at:

- Social Networks to learn English, namely:
Language Exchange Community
Friends Abroad

Never before has it been so easy to practice a language! Hope you make the most of it.

Spain seen by the British

Would you like to find out how Spanish elections are seen from the outside?

Click here for an interesting article on them.

Here for a video on the "Muñecos del Guiñol" that have been made of our politicians.

Here to read an "election guide" for foreigners.

Here to read about the current allocation of seats in the parliament.

Not interested in politics? Still interested in how we're seen from the outside? Then this is your site. A list of articles on other subjects by the Financial Times.

Not interested in serious reports? Ok then. Then visit this page to discover what most strikes British people about the Spanish character. It's good fun!


Speech to the Troops at Tilbury

Delivered by Elizabeth to the land forces assembled at Tilbury
(Essex) to repel the anticipated invasion of the Spanish Armada.

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general2 shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Video link here. The speech starts at minute 3, approx.


Pieces and sounds of British history

We're about to finish unit 3c. Did you find it interesting? Some of you might want to read a bit more on British history. Why not?

I recommend you to visit this website on the Norman Conquest. It's highly interactive and even includes samples of "how English would have sounded" back in 1066.
(Explorer is required, don't try with Mozilla since it doesn't work)

Wierd, isn't it? The way it used to sound. Historians divide the different stages of the language into:

- Old English (from the 5th-to the 11th century)
- Middle English (11th-15th)
- Early Modern English (15th-17th)
- Modern English (up to today)

Would you like to listen to more examples of earlier versions of English?

Click here for some Old English samples. Scroll down the page and look for the heading "Poems". Then click on one of the poems and finally on the yellow letter that the poem starts with.

Click here for some Middle English poems by Chaucer. It still sounds incomprehensible to our ears, doesn't it?



Improving your reading

How can we improve our reading skills?

1- Reading "more". More often, more texts, more variety.... What can we read?
a. Online newspapers (website including newspapers from all over the world. Select the continent, the country and the paper you're interested in).
b. Wacky and interesting (real) stories: Ananova and Digg it (Menéame version in English)
c. Literature excerpts (with audio)
d. Penguin's dossiers, sorted by topic. Audio included.
e. Blogs

2- Doing "Reading" exercises:
a. Miscellaneous advanced exercises
b. Wonderful site with texts, audio and different sorts of exercises (multiple choice, vocabulary, etc)
c. Reading resources: texts, audio and exercises of different levels.

3- Skills: Read general advice on how to improve your reading skills. Here too.

I hope you enjoy these sites.


US Presidential Elections 2008

Hi there! I can imagine that you're all looking forward to coming back to class next week. And yes, I've got some good news for you: the next unit deals with history and politics! Exciting, isn't it? I know you can't wait.

I prepared a series of links for you to catch up on the most popular event of the year: the US Presidential Elections! (Remember: All you have to do is click on the underlined words to access the websites).

WHO IS WHO in the Elections:
- The main contenders described in BBC.
- No time to waste? Then your best option is to speed-date the candidates! Hillary, Obama, McCain... them all.

Republican National Committee videos here.
Youtube Republican Channel.
Who is John McCain, from a British perspective. Video included.

No doubt about the most interesting controversy these days: Obama Vs. Hillary. So let's concentrate on them:

Two Stanford University students set up a Channel in Youtube, called Youbama. They claim to have no connection with the campaign, but they have managed to collect hundreds of videos in favour of the candidate. Examples:
Popular Song-hymn for Obama these days. Listen also to "Obama Vs. Hillary" cartoon song. Finally, look for humour in My Junk, song about Hillary, based on the popular "My Humps" by Black-Eyed Peas.
Celebrities talk:
Several well-known people back Obama openly, as we can see in the following videos:
Oprah Winfrey , Robert de Niro and George Clooney.

Hillary speaks to Nashville voters.
Hillary's supporters interviewed for TV.
Hillary's got "the experience to make the kind of changes that American people are looking for".
First, you have Hillary's official website here.
Second, "using comedy as a serious political strategy, Hillary Clinton for president supporters announced this morning the launch of Bill-for-First-Lady.com, a campaign Web site featuring live-action comedy videos of a cross-dressing Bill Clinton wearing a pink skirt, matching high heels and a pink purse."

About Obama, Hillary and McCain.

Feel like playing? Why not check up these sites then?
Kung-fu fighting.

What is Super Tuesday? Find it out here.
Click here for Super Tuesday Results.

Be informed with yahoo, msn , the BBC , America.gov. or the Telegraph.

"How did Republicans pick the elephant, and Democrats the donkey, to represent their parties?" Click here to find out the answer.

Fancy a tour round the White House? As easy as clicking here.
Prefer the British Parliament? Why not? Access the different chambers, corridors and halls from here.


A different approach to the news

Would you like to know about current events in English? Are you tired of reading the news on the paper? Don't you have satellite TV?

If you have answered YES to at least one of the questions, why not try this different approach, then?

Instead of reading the news, you can try and watch mini-videos about them.

1. One wonderful website is Yahoo News. If you click here, you'll have access to lots of 30-second videos of the latest news. The clips are taken from different TV channels (ABC, BBC News, FOX, CBS, etc) and they are also classified into different categories and topics: Sports, Technology, Entertainment... You even have a section of Odd News!

2. Another very interesting resource is the Audio Slideshow Gallery at the Reuters site. You'll have access to "the pictures of the week", which are shown AND explained at the same time. The audio clip takes about 2 minutes and the photographs are amazing! Do give it a go.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.

PS: some other day I'll give you links of newspapers where you can actually READ the news. Why not?


Editing your written texts

Dear students,

Here I am, on this grey Saturday, busy with your compositions. I'd like to share my thoughts with you... What am I feeling? What am I worried about? Let me put this briefly: I am thinking it would be a good idea if we came back to "the very beginning" and started looking at basic tips to improve our writing. Mmmm... Let's see.

A wonderful website to start with would be this one; but specifically, I'd recommend you to go straight to the Editing section, which is really helpful to revise (or to learn) essential basics on the Writing Skill.

So, my dear students... I think my weekend experience with your compositions might change our schedule for next week. We'll talk on Monday about it.


Happy New Year gift

Happy New Year everybody! Hope you had a lovely Christmas break. Are you ready to come back to class? Me too!

To start the year, I'd like to share with you this wonderful website I've just come across:

"TED Talks", where you have access to lots of videos on different subjects. They are rated under different categories (most emailed, funniest, most fascinating, unmissable...) and you can choose whatever calls your attention most.

What is TED?

"TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. Almost 150 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. (...)

Our mission: Spreading ideas."

See you in two days!