A sheer pleasure to have YOU as a reader of my blog. At present my main teaching area is English so you will find that most of my posts are in English -my second language of communication. I promise to publish posts related to Spanish eventually; in the meantime, those of you interested in Spanish will find some interesting links regarding my native language. Truly hope you will visit my blog now and then; will try not to disappoint you!


Mi foto
GÄVLE, Sweden
I am an English/Spanish language trainer who thinks communication is a key issue in human interaction. Good sensible communication is needed whatever the language. On the personal side I strive for happiness by keeping love, respect and honesty as main ingredients. Last but not least, my smile is my trademark :O)

29 de diciembre de 2011

Singing to friendship: COUNT ON ME by Bruno Mars

Here's a song to say goodbye to 2011 and welcome 2012. 
We need to take care of our friends for good friends always take care of us.

28 de diciembre de 2011

Economics, politics and the idiom ¨mad as a hatter¨

The field of economics has taken the front line as a daily topic in worldwide newspapers, whatever the language.  Obviously, we all know the reason so I will skip any further comment. What's more, due to this fact, many economic terms wander freely in my mind at least in the form of passive vocabulary. I have had to get used to absorbing obscure terms such as ¨subprimes, hedge funds, GDP, bonds¨ -to name but a few-, and yet, I cannot say I do understand the world of economics. To be honest, reading about it hasn't deepened my knowledge in this field; I am still (and guess I will always be) in shallow waters, although I must say the reading has become lighter somehow.

One of the authors I like to read most is the Nobel Prize for Economics Paul Krugman; for a layman like me I find his writing didactic and it makes quite some good sense. Yesterday reading his article Springtime for toxics, published in the International Herald Tribune, my interest in the content was immediately diverted to a piece of language he used as a way to illustrate the toxicity and harmful effects of mercury on the population. Basically, in his article, Krugman welcomes the good news of the EPA's new regulating standards, which also has some economic benefits. He goes on to link this decision to American politics, the second theme he wanted to discuss.

However, my featuring his article on this post has mostly to do with that ¨language diversion¨ and which I quote next:
...As far as I can tell, even opponents of environmental regulation admit that mercury is nasty stuff. It’s a potent neurotoxicant: the expression “mad as a hatter” emerged in the 19th century because hat makers of the time treated fur with mercury compounds, and often suffered nerve and mental damage as a result. ...
Being a teacher and so interested in languages, it simply fascinates me to learn the origin of idioms we have acquired as part of our vocabulary. I knew this idiom but not its origin and, of course, it now makes so much sense. Furthermore, it proves my belief that when you are a teacher, whatever your field or rank, the pedagogue in you emerges constantly in your writing as it is the case of Paul Krugman.

13 de noviembre de 2011

ELEVATOR PITCH: pitch, one of those ¨tricky¨ words to learn.

A few weeks ago, when doing an activity with my advanced students pitch, the word that has triggered this post, came up in the form of a crossword clue:
Money in brief followed by an irritation of the skin has very black results.
The answer was given straight away in the dialogue where such definition was inserted -pitch-,  but it took me a while to come up with the explanation which would associate both parties. Actually, it came right away when discussing the activity with the students. 

  • Money in brief........p(ence)
  • An irritation of the skin......itch
  • Has very black results........pitch black 
A follow-up question was what does pitch mean exactly? It's certainly one of these words that may trap a teacher in a winding explanation and still leave the student at a loss as there's nothing they like best but a straight equivalent to copy down in their notebooks. 

You're probably aware of what I mean by now if you have clicked on the word pitch and read the different answers provided by wordreference.com, both in the English definition entry and the English-Spanish one.

Pitch is one of these chamaleonlike words that has sneaked in different theme-areas of life so it gets complicated for a student of English who is constantly seeking for a straight-forward answer to their vocabulary queries.

To mention but a few, the word pitch appears in sports, a football pitch, in linguistics Pitch accent and in sales the elevator pitch

As my students hadn't heard of the elevator pitch term before and the class was about to end I encouraged them to do some research themselves. I also promised I'd come back to it in the near future. Not so sure myself how I'd introduce this in another class I thought I might as well write a post that would feature not only the latter, but also the word pitch itself. Furthermore, I find it really self-encouraging to link both my blog and my teaching.

I've selected an article from Bloomberg Business Week
The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch by Aileen Pincus 
And this YouTube video which rides you up in the hope of your grasping its basic idea:

29 de octubre de 2011


Whether we like it or not, the Anglosaxon world has pervaded Spanish society and is here to stay. 
The term "Anglo-Saxon" can be used in a variety of contexts, often to identify the English-speaking world's distinctive language, culture, technology, wealth, markets, economy, and legal systems.
One of the many examples is the festivity of Halloween, which Spanish children are so eager to celebrate at school. My daughter starts to talk about it well before it's due and her main concern is what she will wear on that day. 

Halloween or All Hallows' Eve is celebrated on 31st October and is considered a pagan festivity by the Catholic world. Spain being a country of so much Catholic tradition began to frown upon this festivity as soon as it made its appearance in our society; something which children, so attracted to anything that means fun and festivity, don't give it much thought. Finding the right disguise so that they can impress their friends is what keeps them occupied the previous weeks. The phrase Trick or treat is constantly uttered on that day. We can now say that Halloween is here to stay and forms part of our festivity calendar. 

This festivity has its origins in the Celt world, a people whose culture spread across Europe more than 2000 years ago. The Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the Celtic New Year on the night of October, 31st.  This time was considered to be a liminal zone in which both the living and the death could merge. To prevent the ghosts from invading the living world, they lit bonfires to drive away the evil spirits. The growing power of the Catholic Church eventually turned it into what we know here in Spain as All Saints' Date (Día de Todos los Santos) or Hallowmas. Hallow meaning holy and mas referring to mass. The night before was All Hallows' Eve whose phonetics turned into the well-known Halloween. The festivity was soon exported to the United States by the Irish immigrants driven away from their homeland during the Irish Potato Famine during the 1840s. Not only did they bring the holiday but the customs that went with it. One of the best-known artifacts is the jack-o'-lantern, a carved pumpkin which is lit inside. 

I encourage you to further your knowledge about this Halloween emblem on the highlighted wikipedia entry; tradition and folklore mix. 

Last but not least, here is a website full of links related to Halloween for all levels and tastes: http://www.esolcourses.com/topics/halloween.html

18 de octubre de 2011

Some more music: THE BLOWER'S DAUGHTER by Damien Rice

Many students say that their best way to learn English is by listening to music. Actually, most teenagers show a real interest in English when they need to understand the lyrics of their favourite songs. When you have started studying English in your adulthood, it is a pleasure to be able to understand the lyrics of that song which you simply loved at the time because of its tune. What's more, you may have read the lyrics and felt disappointed as they are not so transcendental as the music conveyed. 

Anyway, thanks to YouTube and many passionate people who want to share their passion it is very likely that your favourite song has already been uploaded with subtitles. Yesterday I uploaded a song I had listened to many times but I hadn't seen the singer play it. I thought it would make a nice musical post as well as offer something else to my readers. It is true that you will have to accept my own tastes in music but since you're visiting my blog it is very likely -hopefully, at least!- that you like what I post about. 

The Blower's Daughter is a beautiful song and so is the film Closer, though I don't recall associating the song to the film, or viceversa, when I saw it at the cinema. Today I had the chance to listen to this song again and on came the YouTube version and the film. As you can see below, I have posted three versions of the song. The official trailer for the film (with both Spanish subtitles and the original version itself) and a third one with the lyrics. It seems Damien Rice, the songwriter, dedicated this song to his clarinet's teacher's daughter with whom he was smitten. Enchanting!

12 de octubre de 2011


Yesterday evening when ending the last class, one of my students asked me if I could enlighten him about his confusion when having to use specially and especiallyThis type of questions are asked by students now and then and I thought I should start a thread of posts under the name Words easily confused by Spanish-speaking learners of English in the hope that I will help them eradicate some common mistakes. 

Well, it seems my first choice has proved to be rather awkward. After browsing different websites I have come to the conclusion that what I thought to be ¨an easy piece of cake¨, i.e. explaining the difference in a simple way, seems not to be that simple. May I risk to say that due to the fact that both words are spelt similarly, speakers of English tend even to confuse their usage so no wonder we, non-native speakers, should get more confused.

The best explanation I've found is provided by the BBC Learning English website and it's the one I've chosen as a hyper-link to the sub-heading specially vs. especially

When looking up both words in Wordreference the translation given in Spanish is rather similar: especialmente, particularmente for especially and especialmente, expresamente for specially. One of the examples given by the Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary (OUP) is actually the same in both: Why did you choose that one especially? Why did you choose that one specially? 

So my advice is that you use specially when you mean expresamente o en particular:
These shoes are specially designed for toddlers. 
Estos zapatos están expresamente diseñados para bebés que empiezan a caminar.
We use especially when we mean sobre todo, excepcionalmente:
The dinner that evening was especially planned for the occasion.  
La cena esa noche fue excepcionalmente planeada para la ocasión.

English plus also provides an easy explanation for this pair:

Going analogical now I will write down the definitions given by the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English of the adjectives

especial (adj) particular; exceptional: a question of especial importance; for our especial benefit. in especial, above all. especially (adv) to an exceptional degree; in particular: She likes the country, especially in spring.

special (adj) of a particular or certain sort; not common, usual or general; of or for a certain person, thing or purpose: He did it for her as a special favour. What are your special interests? Newspapers send special correspondents to places where important events take place. On holidays the railways put on special trains. Specially (adv) particulary: I came here specially (on purpose) to see you.

11 de octubre de 2011


Listen&write is a great website to practise both your listening and writing skills. What's more: it's free of charge!!! 

You have a wide choice of levels so I'm sure you will find a suitable one to start with and from there start building up your confidence in understanding English. The fact that you can see the spoken words in written form will certainly help you consolidate their spelling via an old technique as it is dictation. 

There are three modes you can choose from:
  1. Full Mode: you need to type in the full word itself and if you spell it correctly it is shown on the screen directly.
  2. Quick Mode: only by typing in the first letter you get the full word on the screen.
  3. Blank Mode: the text is shown with blank spaces, you need to type in the correct word in the blank.
If you find the listening too difficult I suggest you should use the Blank Mode. You will be able to read the text and work out those missing words in the gap. Then, once you've done this, you can select the Full Mode and give it another try. I find the Quick Mode a bit confusing as it's far too quick! You type in the first letter and it immediately gets it shown on the screen but because you are so engrossed in understanding the next word or words you hardly have time to set in what's being done.

Anyway, you're free to find your own mood! Just give it a try & have fun with English! :O)

9 de octubre de 2011


English and Spanish are two very different languages and we -Spanish speakers-  instantly perceive that when beginning to learn our first English words; for instance, personal pronouns I, you, he, she, etc., which differ so much in form from yo, tú, él, ella, etc. Together with this realization comes the attempt to pronounce such words and the verb forms am, is, are and feel at ease with ourselves when we hear the outcome. To spice up the task, we are told that both pronoun and verb form are usually contracted in daily speech, so as well as trying to produce the correct sound we feel visually alienated by an apostrophe, which many times teachers fail to explain why it is there.

English pronunciation is not easy for a Spanish-speaker, certainly not, and the older we are the harder it becomes. Our speech organs have been trained to produce certain sounds (those featured in Spanish) so the production of new sounds is many times a matter of our natural ability to make new sounds. This is the first hurdle a Spanish-speaking learner of English must overcome and it can become an ordeal if we, teachers, treat all our adult students as standard students who will make it as soon as our instructions are set in; see my previous post When English becomes an ordeal. I would also like to direct you to a very encouraging post by Scott Thornbury, B is for a Bad language learner, in which he shuns those that mock other people's attempts to speak a second language even if they sound ¨funny¨ to the ¨experts¨. 
So, a plea on behalf of the bad language learner: never, never, never mock a second language speaker – even if it’s someone (like George Bush or José María  Aznar) whose politics you disagree with. It’s a cheap shot. And, if you are a language teacher, it ill becomes you.  It’s your job to encourage second language use, however non-target-like. What’s more, ridicule is counterproductive.  There is nothing more de-motivating than being laughed at. (Scott Thornbury's blog)
Both Indo-european languages belong to different families: English is a Germanic language whereas Spanish is a Latin language. The intonation is certainly different, Spanish is a syllabic language, so each syllable has roughly the same duration regardless of the stress. English, on the contrary, uses word stress and the duration of syllables is not the same. Many times I've heard students ¨complain¨ that English speakers don't seem to make an effort to understand them. They illustrate their statement by saying that they produce a grammatically correct question and, yet, they still get either a puzzled look or a ¨I'm sorry but I don't understand.¨ There's a simple answer to this: they're using the wrong stresses, so their utterance sounds flat and meaningless for the English speaker.

That's why I believe phonetics is such a useful tool for Spanish-speakers learning English. It provides them with a visual image of the sounds so that they feel they are getting there. I know many teachers find phonetics cumbersome and they try to keep their students away from it as much as they keep their own selves. I disagree. Teachers should use phonetics in their teaching in a light key so that their students can use images as a good way to improve sounds. The same way as deaf people can be taught to speak, we must facilitate our learners of English a way to improve their speaking skills. The goal is not for our students to memorize the phonetic alphabet, we would simply add up more learning and frustration in that sense. We should encourage them to see English phonetics as a tool to help them ¨visualize¨ the pronunciation of an English word, or a phrase. The aim is to get familiarized with the symbols so that they can identify the sound. Besides, all dictionaries provide the phonetic transcription of that new word we have just looked up. Knowing the symbols will help us tackle its pronunciation even if we haven't heard this new word before. 

When starting to teach new groups (as it was last week) I find teaching phonetics a good way to introduce them into English. A good reason is that it's very likely that they haven't been ¨exposed¨ to phonetics before. It also allows me to ¨expose¨ them to my teaching. I try to be very careful when doing so as I do understand new symbols may simply put them off. I try to make English sounds visual to them and I use Spanish sounds as a model to check on either similarities or differences. A speaker of a second language tends to assimilate those new sounds that are similar to their own language by producing them in the same way as their native language, and this is where we should make them notice those slight differences that, otherwise, will be dragged along their learning. New sounds, on the contrary, are most likely to be imitated as they should be pronounced.

I also teach my students something basic as the physiological mechanics of speech production. We actually produce sounds by voicing the air we expel from our lungs. This air that goes through the windpipe or traquea, encounters a first feature which amplifies the number of sounds we can produce:  the vocal cords found in the larynx or vocal tract. They vibrate or not depending on the sound we produce. Thus, we make voiced or unvoiced sounds. All vowel sounds and dipthongs are voiced; consonant sounds can be voiced or unvoiced. You will be able to check both voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds by clicking on consonants and more consonants

The speech organs consist of lips, teeth, tongue, alveolar ridge, hard palate, velum (soft palate), uvula, glottis and nasal cavity, and they all play a role either actively or passively to articulate different sounds. This is a diagram of the different parts:

Links to practise English sounds and get familiarize with phonetics:
  1. New English File Pronunciation by Oxford University Press
  2. Pronunciation Tips from bbclearningenglish.com
  3. Word stress in English by EnglishClub.com
  4. English vs. Spanish pronunciation: some tips
  5. The phonetic chart
  6. Teaching English - Phonemic Chart

15 de septiembre de 2011


If I had been given a dime every time a fellow countryman/woman said to me ¨I'm hopeless at English¨, or any other similar phrase, I'm sure I would have a plump piggybank by now. I'm not saying I'd be rich, let's face it, but I would certainly have enough money to enjoy something extraordinary I'd fancy.

I have been an English teacher for adults for a long time and, one of the remarks that boosts my pride as a teacher is when they say that they enjoy learning English with me, that they don't feel stupid when having to articulate an English phrase in front of me. On the contrary, it is disheartening to hear: ¨I can't, Begoña; I will never be able to learn English¨, and they mean it. 

These days I'm teaching a friend English and the task is becoming Mt Everest climb somehow for him. I am using resources that go beyond the usual methods and approaches, since I understand that his impotence to break through is fully related to having no confidence at all in a likely success. 

Of course, one's ability to learn another language counts dearly in the progress being made but the total lack of confidence simply weakens the chances from scratch. I never found myself in such an extreme situation, and I'm racking my brains on how to instill some confidence so that he doesn't quit. Mind you! I'm talking about someone who is a pro in his work; a very intelligent person whose experience and knowledge is so valuable in his profession. This is my second (I should say our second) attempt to tackle the task. I've driven myself away from any textbook or the standard steps usually followed when teaching beginners; no way to use total immersion in English (that was my first attempt and it ¨scared him to death¨); no way to say ¨you must study by yourself¨, a key factor in the learning process, because he hardly has time off as his profession takes up most of it. 

How to proceed then?

Well, I've decided to be the one riding the bike for the time being while I'm having him sitting behind. I hope that by doing this he will stop thinking that he will fall off the bike. I'm using both English and Spanish, introducing questions (and encouraging answers) which are related to our surroundings, and explaining grammar-bits depending on the needs for those questions/answers. Regarding the emotional factor, I'm constantly appeasing him, persuading him that we can get there, -yes, we can-, not letting him build up in his mind the disheartening ¨I will never make it; I will never be able to learn English.¨ I'm not even using the verb speak here for I think he has convinced himself over the years that he's hopeless at learning English, and will never be able to speak it. His convinction is right now a solid wall against which he is constantly bumping himself. Therefore, I think it's better to focus on the learning process itself, not the goal.

Furthermore, this hopelessness has resulted in his belief that something must be wrong with him.

And we are simply talking about learning English!

Many Spaniards who were taught French at school in the 70s and 80s find themselves cheated somehow nowadays. The world revolves around the English language and they feel excluded. To make matters worse, English is being used as a key factor to shortlist candidates for a job, disregarding the real need of the language for that specific post, which increases their despair due to the scarcity of work and the fierce competition. Parents are set into repairing this error in their children's education by sending them to bilingual schools, by having them introduced into the English language at the earliest age, in the belief that their kids' inability to speak English will never mar their future. They hope to prevent their children from feeling dismal as my friend is feeling now. Unfortunately, when it comes to repairing their own incompetence a great number feel that the last English train departed a long time ago.  

I disagree. 

What's my point in sharing this present teaching experience with my readers, be it teachers or learners?

To the teachers I would point out that we cannot standardize our students with reference to their learning process. In essence, we, as teachers, have our own method or approach to teaching and we try to create a rapport with them in the hope that progress will be quicker rather than slower. We tend to think that if a student doesn't succeed the blame falls mainly on ourselves; however, I see the binomy teaching-learning as a give&take game we play with our students and there should be an agreement regarding the rules between both parties so that goals are reached. The ongoing trust between teacher-student must be a fact. There can be as many different approaches as students and we need to reassess our own in the teaching process. It is true that teaching one-to-one lets you adapt yourself to your student's pace more easily than teaching a group, but the group cannot be treated as a block, as one single mind. There are different styles of learning and we must find a balance in the classroom so that we can prevent dropouts or disappointments. We need to make each student feel that we are teaching one-to-one within the group. 

To the adult learner I would say that a language can be learnt at any age by anybody. What's needed is to be realistic when setting our goals. We need our own needs' analysis and visualize both time and space. Our time of dedication to the task and our own space (our background and surroundings) and depending on these two variables we should adapt our goals and proceed with our learning. We need the teacher to help us find the right track if we feel we can't see it ourselves, after all the teacher is the expert. We need constant encouragement; learning a language is not like learning how to cook a recipe or how to use some new software for our computer. Once we start learning a language we make this task a life companion, somehow. Thus, we need to reset goals now and then so as to avoid frustration. Realistic goals will make us see that we have achieved something, that we are riding the bike ourselves, even if we still need some guidance, or some support so as not to fall off.

3 de abril de 2011

STORYTELLING IN PRESENTATIONS. Ms Huffingtton delivers a short but effective one.

Following the topic I began with in my previous post on Presentations, I would like to invite you to watch this second Ted Talk by Arianna Huffington. Her talk is called HOW TO SUCCEED? GET MORE SLEEP

You may have heard about her a couple of months ago when her widely-read online paper THE HUFFINGTON POST was bought by AOL Inc, and she became President and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group.

Well, my post is not to talk about AOL and/or Ms Huffington herself, but to show you the effectiveness of a sound content-message, in which words have been carefully chosen.

How to succeed? Get more sleep. Certainly the title itself is catchy. When reading it, one wonders how it is possible to be successful in life by having enough sleep. We are usually told that successful people have devoted themselves to working hard and giving up leisure or family time. If you want to be on the top, you must work up the ladder and it won't be easy. A visible instance of this is top-politicians; when they get into power their faces eventually start looking haggard with rings under their eyes, a certain sign of lack of sleep.

Ms Huffington delivers a brief talk (a bit over 4 minutes) that goes right into our inner feelings. She deliberately addresses the female audience with an interesting feminist message that goes away from the hackneyed discourse ¨we, women, are the same as men, therefore we have the same rights¨. Actually, she says the opposite: because we are different, we are better.

What's more, she does not use visuals, no ppt to enhance the content of her talk. The content of her talk uses the power of words and intonation to make it effective. She does this with the best technique: storytelling.

Her story has a personal drama, some research so you will become better, other characters humourously presented, not to forget the villains, there's also a time line with a past, a present and a future, and there's some learning to do in the hope that we will improve as human beings.

Her storytelling is imbued with simplicity and, yet, it is not simplistic.

Let's look at the use of adjectives, starting by the first sentence:

My big idea is a very, very small idea that can unlock billions of big ideas that are at the moment dormant inside us. And my little idea that will do that is sleep.

big / small / dormant / little / sleep
(simple opposing adjectives & the issue of sleep)

A pause, to let the audience take in what she has just said with the hope that it will raise their expectations to what she is about to say yet.

This is a room of type-A women... good address to the audience by praising them. Next she tells them a personal story to show her empathy with these great sleep-deprived women. Her personal story depicts pain, I broke my cheek bone bone, I got five stitches on my right eye,ouch! we only seem to learn the tough way. Then she backs up the story with some follow-up research. So, this happened to me, but it made me go beyond, illustrating myself with sound research so I now feel authorized to tell you why a good sleep is sound advice. A good bunch of positive adjectives the audience will surely like to feel as the definition of their lives, sort of the background music used in films to show the good moments:

And I'm here to tell you that the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep.


She certainly delivers her message: a new feminist revolution so that we women will lead the way.

We are literally going to sleep our way to the top, literally.

We are set in a time line, with a past story, that of the Titanic, which is used as a metaphor to illustrate the recent present and its catastrophic consequences. Some of the characters have been named, Lehman Brothers. Men who brag their lack-of-sleep virility. Men who have led us to colliding into a crisis of unprecendented magnitude. Those men are the villains in our story. And we must learn out of this so that it will never happen again.

So I urge you to shut your eyes and discover the great ideas that lie inside us,
to shut your engine and discover the power of sleep.

2 de abril de 2011

TED Talk: DON'T INSIST ON ENGLISH & a good example on how to begin & end an interesting talk.

I've been teaching a course on Presentations for the past two weeks and TED Ideas worth spreading together with Presentation Zen are two useful and enriching sources on the web to learn and illustrate any key issue regarding this skill.

There is a previous entry on my blog called Delivering a presentation where I explain the main parts of a standard presentation, so I invite you to click your way there if you would like to read more about it.

The aim of this entry is actually to draw your attention to the beginning and end of a presentation. How we should start and end our presentation cannot be neglected during the preparation stage. However interesting our talk may be, we cannot expect our audience to walk out of the room remembering all we have said. Therefore, our message needs to be clear and simple (and by ¨simple¨ I don't mean ¨simplistic¨); we must make sure that they walk out of the room with the right message and not, say, with the lovely slides we have chosen to enlighten our talk, or an anecdote we have given them and whose purpose is simply to entertain.

There are different techniques we can use to make our start. A personal anecdote, an outstanding fact, a quotation, a catchy question, a joke; these are some of the ways experienced presenters use to start off, with the hope that the audience will immediately feel they are about to listen to something well worth their time.

Likewise, we need to think of a good ending so that our audience will walk out of the room with a fulfilled feeling; the sound bite.

Patricia Ryan, an experienced English teacher in Arabic countries, delivers a remarkable talk with interesting food for thought. Her talk is called DON'T INSIST ON ENGLISH and you can watch it with subtitles in different languages apart from English. This is another good feature of Ted Talks, the talks that have been uploaded to their site can be watched with subtitles in different languages eventually.

I would like to draw your attention to the humourous way in which Ms Ryan begins her talk. She actually turns what could seem a disadvantage at first hand into an advantage. She makes fun of her age and her looks to distract the audience from a potential preconception regarding her own appearance, and she certainly succeeds. Just watch her do it!

I will not discuss the content of her talk in this entry but there is certainly a lot to say about it. Nor will I discuss her choice of slides or body language. There is no other reason that my desire to stick myself to the aim of this post.

Finally, and with regard to the way she ends her talk I will end my post by eliciting her sound bite: MIND YOUR OWN LANGUAGE, USE IT TO SPREAD GREAT IDEAS!

30 de enero de 2011


Once I read a curious column titled ¨Miércoles¨ in the newspaper El País; now and then it comes to my mind, especially when I get my students to practise the pronunciation of the days of the week. Yes, I admit Miércoles has no sound connotation with Wednesday, but this is a tricky word for Spanish speakers to pronounce with ease.

In his column (I do remember it was a male writer but unfortunately I can't recall his name), the author aimed to restore some credibility to a day that falls in the middle of our weekdays and which seems to be generally overlooked by most of us; or at least, we tend to skip over it in our discourse when making any remarks regarding our weekly life.

This is roughly the essence of his column: we tend to talk gloomily about Monday when Sunday is nearing to its end; once we have managed to walk onto Tuesday we seem to be relieved that Monday has gone by without much distress and, unconciously, we move forward onto Thursday as we start visualizing the weekend, ¨thank god, it's Thursday, one more day before the weekend is here¨....Friday's knowledge that we will soon shake off our working constraints brightens the day up despite a likely feeling of exhaustion; Saturday and Sunday are back and we're in command of our lives again!

So, what about Wednesday?! Nothing much to be said about Wednesday!!!

I wanted to find some music related to Wednesday, ...even if the lyrics don't match my post Simon&Garfunkel are always worth listening to.

Have a good Sunday :O)!

27 de enero de 2011


The other day when teaching the present tenses (present simple vs. present continuous) to my new students I approached this subject from a different perspective. I avoided focusing on the usual way, i.e. explaining form and uses, then do some practice through exercises, and aimed to widen my students' scope in the understanding of verb tenses. I focused on building up a communicative frame in their minds which would help them use the present tenses in a more effective way when communicating.

So, instead of starting by explaining form and uses I drew up a timeline on the board and tried to place them into the three time slots -if I may call them like this-: PAST, PRESENT= NOW , FUTURE. I went on saying that time isn't conveyed simply by a verb tense but that there are other words that can convey time. Here are a few examples to illustrate what I'm saying:

I can go with you tomorrow.
John isn't coming to the party on Friday.
I'll send it to you now.
If I *were you I wouldn't do it.

In the first two sentences above we have a time expression -tomorrow, on Friday- to express future but both verbs are present tenses; the verb in the third sentence is a future tense but we're referring to ¨right away¨, or just immediately after I've uttered this statement. Finally, the last example expresses a hypothesis by means of a past verb tense.

* Regarding this example, I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that the use of the past tense in English places ourselves in the unreal time. The English verb system lacks subjunctive so there are other ways to express this mode. But this is ¨food¨ for a future entry.

Then, after explaining the uses of both verb tenses in English, I started giving them some situations so that they could respond in a pseudo-communicative way by using the right verb tense. I also introduced the use of the future will for some instances in order to expand their understanding and to avoid restricting to one or another

I went round the class addressing different students with situations like the following:
  • The door bell rings and you're sitting in the living-room with your mum. Offer to open the door. I'll open the door.
  • You need to know what time the next train is. What do you say to the booking clerk? What time does the next train leave?
  • Tell your friend about your plans this weekend. I'm having a haircut on Saturday morning.

Therefore, when we teach verb tenses to our students it's important to draw up this connection between verb form and real time. We can't encapsule a language into pills (let's say ¨labelled formulas¨) and expect that students alone will manage to draw up the connections. We must provide those connections, or a means for them, so that they manage to build up an internal system, which hopefully and gradually, will render accuracy in their fluency.

22 de enero de 2011


Although the primary aim of this blog was to address those of you interested in the English language, you may have been aware by now that I have been gradually introducing stuff related to my own native language, Spanish.

Today, reading El País, one of my favourite writers in Spanish, Antonio Muñoz Molina, has published an enriching, honest article that, in my opinion, renders 20 good brief lessons for us -keen readers- to enrich our own eagerness. His article is called 20 años, 20 lecciones and is found in the Saturday literary supplement: Babelia.

I discovered Antonio Muñoz Molina long ago when I read one of his best novels El Jinete Polaco, in which I delighted myself in reading one of the most beautiful descriptions of the physical communication that two people in love with each other may convey.

The features I admire most in his prose are the richness of the language, the use of adjectives, and the melodic rhythm that flows as you read. There is a slight drawback, I must admit: his recurrent theme. He tends to evoke his childhood much too often in many of the novels I have read; but all the same, this doesn't diminish my admiration for him. If you want to know more about him, his Self-portrait is a good start.