LAST POSTS

18 Dec 2014

A useful tip to convert between miles and kilometres!

Hi there! 

Today I'm going to give you a very useful tip to convert between kilometres and miles! It is specially useful for those who like languages but also have a certain mind for Maths! But even if you don't like Maths, read through the end and see how easy it is!

Have you ever heard of the Fibonacci Sequence? I'm sure you have! For those who don't know, the sequence is as follows:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144...

How does it work? Well, each number results from adding up the two neighbouring numbers:


Now, one interesting aspect of these numbers is that their ratios (divisiones) all approach being what is called the golden ratio: 1,618. So, for example,

  • 3 divided by 2 is 1,5;
  • 5 divided by 3 is 1,666;
  • 8 divided by 5 is 1,6;
  • 13 divided by 8 is 1,625;
  • 21 divided by 13 is 1,615, etc.

And... what does this have to do with kilometres and miles? Well, curiously enough, the ratio of km to miles is 1,609 to 1. Since 1,609 is so close to the golden ratio, you can use the Fibonacci numbers to convert between kilometres and miles!!

  • 5 km is quite close to 3 miles
  • 8 km is almost exactly 5 miles
  • 13 km is 8 miles
  • 21 km is 13 miles, etc.!


Now you won't have any problem with distances when you travel to the United Kingdom! :)
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15 Dec 2014

Learn the rules for silent letters!

Good morning everyone!

Last week I published an entry introducing silent letters. Remember that they are letters that are written, but not pronounced. Today, and as promised, I post a few rules that will help you spot them!

At the end of the entry you can find some practice to see how much you can remember!
LETTER <B>
  • B is not pronounced after <m> at the end of a word: lamb, climb, plumber, thumb, tomb, limb, dumb, bomb.
  • B is not pronounced before <t>, usually at the end of the word: debt, doubt, subtle, doubtful.
LETTER <C>
  • C is not pronounced in some cases where it is combined with <s> and <sc>: scene, scissors, scent, science, scenery, sci-fi, sceptermuscle.
But be careful because normally this combination is pronounced <sk>, as in scorpion, scar, scope.
LETTER <D> 
  • D is not pronounced in the following common words: handkerchief, Wednesday, handsome.
  • D is not pronounced in the combination <dg>: pledge, grudge, hedge, dodge.
LETTER <E> 
  • E is not pronounced at the end of words, and usually elongates / lengthens the sound of the vowel (check the entry on the magic E)!: hope, drive, gave, write, site, grave, bite, hide.
  • E can be silent in the middle of words: baseball, somewhere, someone, somebody, somehow, grateful, graceful, useful, useless.
LETTER <G>
  • G is often not pronounced when it comes before <n>: foreign, sign, feign, design, align

Exceptions: magnet, cognitive.
LETTERS <GH>

  • GH is not pronounced when it comes after a vowel: thought, drought, through, thorough, borough, daughter, light, might, sigh, right, fight, weigh, weight

Exceptions: GH is sometimes pronounced /f/: rough, tough, laugh, enough, cough, clough, draught.

LETTER <H>
  • H is not pronounced at the beginning of 4 words of French origin: hour, honest, honor, heir, and words deriving from them: hourly, honorable.
  • H is sometimes not pronounced in the combination <ch>. In the majority of cases, this combination has the sound in chocolate, but in some cases the <h> is silent and it is pronounced /k/: school, character, chaos, orchestra, choir, ache, stomach, anchor,, mechanic, architect, chemist's, monarchy, melancholy.
LETTER <K>
  • K is not pronounced when it comes before <n> at the beginning of a word: knife, knee, know, knock, knowledge, knead.
LETTER <L>
  • L is not pronounced in some very important words after the vowels <a>, <o>, <u>: calm, half, talk, walk, would, should, could, calf, salmon, yolk, chalk.
Exceptions: halo, bulk, sulk, hold, sold
LETTER <N>
  • N is not pronounced when it comes after <m> at the end of a word: autumn, hun, column.
LETTER <P>
  • P is not pronounced at the beginning of many words using the prefixes psych- and pneu-: psychiatrist, pneumonia, pneumatic, psychotherapy, psychotic, psychologist.
  • P is also silent in receipt.
LETTER <S>
  • S is not pronounced before <l> in the following words: island, isle, aisle, précis, depris.
LETTER <T>
  • T is not pronounced in these everyday words: castle, Christmas, fasten, listen, often, whistle, thistle, bustle, hasten, soften.
LETTER <U>
  • U is not pronounced when it comes between a <g> and a vowel: guess, guidance, guitar, guest, guild, guard.
LETTER <W>
  • W is not pronounced at the beginning of a word when it is before the letter <r>: wrap, write, wrong, wring, wreck, wrestle, wrap, wrist.
  • W is not pronounced in the following words: who, whose, whom, whole, whoever.

Now that you know all these rules, why don't you try and read these short fragments?? Underline the silent letters and then try to write your own paragraph!

Texts taken from bbc.co.uk
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12 Dec 2014

Stop phubbing! But... what is that??

Has it ever happened to you that you're with somebody who just can't stop looking at his/her mobile?? How annoying can that be? Well, apparently you're not the only one who gets annoyed!!

In English a new word has even been invented to describe this phenomenon, and it's "PHUBBING":


This kind of situations has become "trending topic" in the last years, and it's just that people don't seem capable of disconnecting from the virtual world!! An entire website (extremely funny, by the way!!) has opened: www.stopphubbing.com. They include data, figures, interesting facts and even a letter you can send to your friends to make them stop phubbing!!




Some of the facts they publish are certainly thought-provoking... See for yourself!




According to this, what will communication be like in a few years? Are you scared of what can happen?

Many people prefer to take it humorously and denounce the situation making videos as funny as this one, by "The Britishes"!:



Funny, huh? :P

Now, if you want to take it a bit more seriously, below I include probably the most watched YouTube video on this topic. It's very straightforward, but composed beautifully in the form of a poem. Its rhythm, careful choice of words and the story behind certainly manages to touch the viewer.

"Look Up", by Gary Turk (click for full text):


Well, after all this I do hope we manage to change our attitude towards smartphones and learn how to enjoy life minute by minute! :)
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10 Dec 2014

"If" or "whether": what's the difference?


Whether or ifHi there!

Today I post a grammar lesson on the difference between if and whether. These two words normally pose problems for English students, since the translation into Spanish is the same in both cases (si). Here I'll post an explanation on when to use each. Hope it helps!

In very general terms, we use if in conditional sentences and whether to show that two alternatives are possible. In the cases where both are possible, whether is understood as more formal.

That said, let us look at both conjunctions in some deeper detail:

If and whether are interchangeable in the following contexts:

  • IN REPORTED OR INDIRECT YES/NO QUESTIONS:
She asked if / whether I'd be attending the party.
Do you know if / whether dinner will be ready soon?
I don't know if / whether she's coming or not.
  • "WHETHER / IF ... OR ... " CONSTRUCTIONS
I'd really like to know whether / if he's lying or telling the truth.


Use ONLY whether in the following contexts:

  • TO PRESENT TWO ALTERNATIVES:
Let the principal know whether you'll attend the meeting
(there are two alternatives: you'll attend the meeting or you won't. You have to inform the principal in either case).

Let the principal know if you'll attend the meeting
(this sentence is grammatically correct, but the meaning is different. In this example, the principal is only be told if you'll attend the meeting. Therefore, if you'll attend the meeting is a condition, it doesn't present two alternatives).
  • AFTER PREPOSITIONS:
My final decision depends on whether you agree (on if)
I would like to talk to you about whether you'll continue working here (about if)
  • BEFORE INFINITIVES:
I've been thinking whether to quit my job (if to quit)
She can't make up her mind whether to marry him (if to marry him).
  • DIRECTLY BEFORE OR NOT:
Please, tell me whether or not you agree (if or not)

(Note that or not can be placed at the end of the sentence. In that case, if is possible: Please, tell me if you agree or not).
  • WHEN WHETHER STARTS A CLAUSE:
Whether she liked the present, I don't know.
Whether he comes or not is nor my concern.
I don't care whether you study or waste your time.

(If we use if in these contexts it would be understood as a condition)
  • WHEN WHETHER EXPLAINS SOMETHING THAT COMES BEFORE:
You have to answer my question, whether I can count on you (that is my question).


Use ONLY if in the following contexts:

  • TO INTRODUCE A CONDITION:

If I had the chance I would travel all around the world.
If it hadn't been for my family, I wouldn't have got so far.

YOUR TURN! :)

Now check how much you can remember with the following exercises!


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8 Dec 2014

Silent letters: why do they exist and where can I find them?

Hi!

Today we are going to focus on silent letters, those so common letters that are written but not pronounced, as in the <t> in castle, or the <l> in walk.

You may think they are not all that important if they're not pronounced, but actually they make a huge difference to the meaning of words and can even change their pronunciation (sit vs. site)!

But why do silent letters exist??

Well, you'd be surprised to know that English used to be 100% phonemic, that is, a few centuries ago words sounded exactly as they were written, as in Spanish! However, this began to change around the 15th century because of the influence of Latin and French.

Pronunciation started to evolve and continued doing so for centuries, but the old spelling was preserved by the printing press. Some authors defended that spelling should represent the sound of words, but the writers that came afterwards saw the futility of making spelling phonetic, since they realized that the pronunciation of words constantly evolved. Therefore, the basis for spelling was not pronunciation, but rather custom of usage.

This way, nowadays English is only 40% phonemic, and around 60% of words contain silent letters! See how important they are!

Where can I find them?

It would be impossible to list all the words that contain silent letters, but below I post a picture of the most common ones. You can also check the rules for silent letters to know how to spot them:



If you want to go a bit further, go to Silent Letter Words for another complete list of silent letters. You can listen to the words by clicking on them!
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5 Dec 2014

Speechyard.com: learn English from film extracts

Hi again!
English with films
Today I'm going to show you a fantastic website to learn English with film extracts: www.speechyard.com. It is brand new and it has tremendous functionalities! Without a doubt, one of the best websites for English learning I've seen in a long time!

You can select extracts from different films, and check the new vocabulary instantly from the subtitles. You can also add the new words to your own library / glossary!

Let me show you better!

1. Enter the website

2. Choose a video from the "Content" page:


2. Click on a word or a group of words to translate it/them:



3. Click on "+" to add a word to your library (= glossary):



4. Learn new words and expression on the "Learning" page:

5. You can practise with other users at the "Community" page:

Check all this on this video tutorial:





I'm sure you'll love it!!
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3 Dec 2014

There is no failure, only feedback!

In all types of learning, and language learning is no difference, our attitude towards mistakes is crucial. There are people for whom a mistake is a push forward (un empujón hacia delante), but for others their whole world seem to crumble (venirse abajo)...!

Truth is that mistakes simply show that we are learning, that we are advancing, that we are in the middle of a process that will eventually lead to our mastery of the language. This is the attitude that we must have, and perceive mistakes as a step further in our learning, and one that will give us the push to keep going.
There is a story about Thomas Edison that goes something like this: When someone commented to Edison that he had failed 1,999 times before he eventually managed to invent the light bulb, he replied: 'Nonsense, it was a 2,000 step process!'
If you look around, you'll see hundreds of examples of people who failed before achieving their goal. That failure was simply part of their learning, and the one that made them strong enough to keep going.

Below you have a few examples of such failures:


So... what is your attitude going to be the next time you make a mistake?? :))
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1 Dec 2014

When do I use capital letters?

The rules for using capital letters are different between languages, so here you have the rules for English!


Would you like to practise a little bit? Try this exercise on capital letters. If you want something a bit more difficult, try this exercise to revise the rules for capitalization!
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28 Nov 2014

Exam Practice A2 level (I)

Hi!

The exams are coming closer and I wanted to give you some exam practice to get ready!

These exams are all taken from the Key English Test from Cambridge, which roughly corresponds to a level A2:

READING

LISTENING

Good luck! :)
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Exam Practice B1 level (I)

Hi!

The exams are coming closer and I wanted to give you some exam practice to get ready!

These exams are all taken from the Preliminary English Test from Cambridge, which roughly corresponds to a level B1:

READING

LISTENING

Good luck! :)
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Exam practice C1 level (I)

Hi!

The exams are coming closer and I wanted to give you some exam practice to get ready!

These exams are all taken from the Cambridge Advanced Certificate in English, which roughly corresponds to a level C1:

READING

USE OF ENGLISH

LISTENING

Good luck! :)
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Exam practice B2 level (I)

Hi!
Level B2

The exams are coming closer and I wanted to give you some exam practice to get ready!

These exams are all taken from the First Certificate in English Exam from Cambridge, which roughly corresponds to a level B2:

READING

USE OF ENGLISH

LISTENING

Good luck! :)
Read more...

26 Nov 2014

I want a non-native teacher! (or a qualified native one!)

Native or non-native
A few days ago I came across a newspaper article defending why a Spanish can be a better English teacher than a 'native'. This can be a highly controversial topic, but it's one that badly needs clarification, and, in my opinion, an urgent re-evaluation of 'non-native' teachers.

There has always been the idea that ‘native speakers’ of English are the best teachers of English. Indeed, in hiring practices ‘native speakers’ are very often given preference, and some language schools even take the liberty to charge more if their teachers are ‘native’.

This disadvantage in the job market, besides the social pressure of having to imitate a ‘native’ model, has had a truly harmful effect on ‘non-native’ language teachers, many of whom have lost confidence in their lessons, especially as regards the teaching of pronunciation. As Canagarajah puts it, "their predominant concern is in effect “How can I lose my accent?” rather than “How can I be a successful teacher?” (1999: 84-85).

The reality today is that 80% of teachers of English in the world are not native. Be that as it may, the difference should not really reside in the dichotomy ‘native’/‘non-native’, but rather in the opposition ‘qualified’/’non-qualified’. In other words, qualified teachers, be they ‘native’ or ‘non-native’, are superior to ‘native speakers’ who have not undergone training (Pavón Vázquez, 2010).

By all mens, 'native' teachers have the advantage of having a flawless command of the language. Still, there is now growing agreement that ‘non-native’ teachers have a number of advantages worth mentioning:
  • Only ‘non-native’ teachers can serve as imitable models of the successful learner of English.
  • Their previous status of learners of the language allows them to provide students with more information about the English language.
  • They are endowed with the priviledge of bilingualism, which allows them to have a better understanding of the learning situation.
  • They can teach learning strategies more effectively.
  • They can anticipate areas of potential problems.
  • They can benefit from sharing the students’ mother-tongue and culture.
  • They are trained in methodological issues.
Paradoxically, all these advantages stem from the fact that they have undergone a process of learning that ‘native speakers’ have not. These advantages, combined with the fact that the vast majority of them present an adequate level of language competence to perform their task, can certainly place ‘non-native’ teachers in a superior position over ‘native speakers'.

So the next time an academy sells their lessons saying that their teachers are native, ask if they are qualified, since that is what really matters.
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24 Nov 2014

Learn how to be more descriptive!

Hi there!

I'm sure you've all heard your teachers asking you to use more complex vocabulary, and avoid using words like nice, good, say, ask, etc. Indeed, as we advance in our language learning, we have to be more specific and avoid 'empty words' like the ones I mentioned before.

How can we do that? A very good idea is to compile a list of synonym words and include some linguistic variation when we talk/write. Here I post an example: 

My suggestion is that, for every word, you choose two or three synonyms that you've never used before. Circle/underline them and make an effort to use them in the next few weeks. That way you'll enrich your vocabulary little by little!

Let me know how it goes! :)
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21 Nov 2014

The Christmas Truce - The story behind Sainsbury's Christmas Ad

Hi everyone!

Christmas is coming closer; the days are ticking away...! We can tell from the sweets and cakes already sold at the supermarket, and especially from the adverts shown on television. Last week the commercial for the National Lottery came out - every year we are nervously waiting for it! Our high expectations were certainly met and the advert left nobody impassible.

I believe you would agree that the National Lottery advert is probably the most important Christmas advert in Spain, but would you guess which has been considered the best Christmas advert in the world?


It's the Christmas commercial from the British chain supermarket Sainsbury's:


The video is certainly touching, but what is even more touching is to know that it is entirely based on a true story...

By December 1914 World War I had already gone on for around 5 months, and claimed nearly one million lives. However, the weapons fell silent on Christmas Eve... A Captain from the Allies made contact with two German officers at dawn, starting a truce in which soldiers started to leave their trenches and met in hundreds exchanging greetings and gifts.

The true story behind the ad:


All the details of what really happened we cannot know for sure, but there was certainly a truce along the front line. Even at the toughest of times, in the heat of war and in the most dreadful occasions, there can be great humanity...

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20 Nov 2014

Films in original version at www.cuevana2.tv


Hello there!



These days we've been talking about films and you've asked me for websites to watch films (or series) in original version. There are lots and lots of sites you can visit, but today I'm going to recommend www.cuevana2.tv.

There you have all the films and tv series you can think of in original version. The website is very updated: sometimes you can even watch films that haven't been released in Spain!

Most of the films are original version with Spanish subtitles, but you can navigate through the different options for each film/episode if you want other languages or subtitles.

Now, is it better to watch the film with or without subtitles? And should the subtitles be in English or Spanish? Well, first of all, forget the idea that watching films with subtitles is "bad", because it is not. Quite on the contrary, it is very good practice because you associate spelling and pronunciation which, as you know, does not always coincide in English. Therefore, the ideal thing would be to watch films in English with English subtitles until your level is high enough to eliminate subtitles completely.

Finally, very important: choose something that you like. This way, you will focus on what is happening and forget that the film/episode is in English! This favours unconscious learning, which is the one that lasts longer in our memories.

So... what film are you going to watch this weekend? :)
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19 Nov 2014

Improve your conversations in English!

Hi everyone!
Oral interaction

Today we're going to focus on speaking and, more specifically, on interaction!

As you know, a language is, above all, a vehicle to communicate with other people. That means that we need to know phrases to express our opinion and ask for theirs, agree or disagree with what they say, ask them to repeat, show interest, etc.

Knowing how to interact is an essential part of our speaking skills in a foreign language. Responding to what other people say and being able to engage them in conversation is of paramount importance. However, explicit training on this issue is sometimes overlooked (pasado por alto) in our language classrooms...

For this reason I have done a compilation of useful phrases that you can use at different levels. Start using them in your conversations in class and you'll see how little by little your communication becomes a lot more natural and fluent!

If you find this useful, please feel to share on your social networks!

Basic Levels 1 and 2




Intermediate Level



Advanced Levels 1 and 2



C1


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17 Nov 2014

"Bed and breakfast", "fish and chips" and other binomial expressions

A binomial is a combination of two words, normally linked by a conjunction (and or or). Their order is almost always fixed, that is, they are irreversible.

English is extremely fond of binomials, and when I say "extremely", I do mean "extremely"!  If you want to check for yourselves, have a look at this list of binomials, with their corresponding meanings. You'll be surprised!

Do these ones ring a bell??



Some other common ones include:




If you want to know a few more, check the video below: "10 common binomial expressions in English". She speaks rather slowly, but her explanations and examples are very accurate!





Finally, for more advanced learners, here I post a handout with some more complex ones. See if you can complete the exercises! (The answers are at the end, as usual!)




Now, the best way to remember binomials, as every other item of vocabulary, is to place them in context. Choose your favourite ones and post a few examples in the comments below!
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Stereotypes; Lonely Planet Guide

Hi everyone!

The entry today is about "stereotypes". I'm sure all of you have heard the word before, and have a vague idea of what they are, but could you think of a definition??

Now, that is a bit more difficult...

In general, stereotypes are characteristics or qualities assigned to groups of people that share nationality, race, gender, to name but a few. However, these characteristics or qualities tend to be oversimplifications, and they are overgeneralized. In other words, those features are applied to all the individuals in the group disregarding their personal differences.

Now, have a look at this postcard. What do you think of it? Do you agree with the stereotypes associated to the different European nationalities?

There are stereotypes all around us. Below you have a funny (but very insightful) video about what the United States and Europe think of each other. I'm sure you'll feel identified more than once!



How wrong stereotypes can be is usually clearer when we talk about our own culture. Below I post a video about how Madrid is described in the Lonely Planet guide. Do you agree with the image given of the Spanish capital city? 



The best way to overcome stereotypes is to check for yourself! That is, meet people from different parts of the world, travel as much as you can, and read! That way you'll have a more accurate vision of the different nationalities!
Read more...