Saturday, December 26, 2009

Purse snatchers beware!

Patrolling in high heels, wigs and designer bags, Japanese black-belt policemen have been cross-dressing in a bid to beat off bag-snatchers, a report said Wednesday.The all-male squad has been deployed since last month on night patrols in central Aichi prefecture wearing skirts and stockings and carrying eye-catching handbags as bait for potential thieves, the Asahi daily reported.

So far the unit has failed to nab any muggers, the Asahi said, and Aichi police declined to comment to AFP on the report. To qualify for the special squad, police have to be young, slim and hold the top rank of a black belt in a martial art such as karate or judo, the report said.


  1. How are the Japanese police trying to catch purse-snatchers?
  2. Do you think this is an effective strategy?
  3. If you were a policeman, would you like to participate?
  4. Wouldn't it be easier to train women police?
  5. Find in the text synonyms for (1) catch (2) team (3) attempt

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Well-kept secret survives 175 years.

This small lead chest was extracted from the pedestal of a statue of Miguel de Cervantes in the Plaza de las Cortes just a few days ago. Officials of the Culture Ministry have disclosed that the chest will be opened to officially reveal its contents. What do you think is inside?
OK, OK, you probably already know what's inside - it was all over the news. But anyway, who do you think was responsible for placing this time capsule in the pedestal of the Cervantes statue? Do you think there may be more such time capsules out there in pedestals of other statues? Should we tear all the statues down to find out? (dumb question, sorry) Do you think the original Don Quixote manuscript is out there somewhere?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas magic

This is a truly moving story. Watch this video and answer the questions that follow:

  1. When did the "Christmas truce" take place and during what war? What does truce mean?
  2. How did the soldiers celebrate Christmas Eve?
  3. What did the soldiers do on Christmas Day?
  4. Where did this extraordinary event take place?
  5. How is this event commemorated today and by whom?
  6. Did this event repeat itself during the war?
  7. Who won the original match? What does the reporter say about losers?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spooky Christmas

If you didn't know better, you might think that the Italians got Christmas mixed up with Halloween. If you're ever lucky enough to spend the Epiphany in Italy, don't be surprised if you see a witch giving out presents to the bambini. The Italian equivalent of Santa Claus is Babo Natale, but the true giver of gifts in Italy is La Befana, an old crone who looks just like a witch from your childhood nightmares. La Befana is derived from Epifania, the Italian for Epiphany. In the distant past the people of Italy thought La Befana was evil. They rang clay bells and made noise to keep her away. Now she is viewed as a gentle spirit that will give gifts to the children of Italy. Would you accept sweets from La Befana?

It seems some Christmas holiday traditions may have their roots in pre-Christian or pagan pastimes. I discovered there really are a lot of strange Christmas customs out there, especially in Great Britain. Take Wales, for example. They have one involving a dead horse’s head. I kid you not (maybe Francis Ford Coppola can make a movie about it). It’s called the Mari Lwyd, and it involves carrying around a horse’s head on a stick dressed in a sheet. Sort of like caroling. Only with a horse’s head. Do you know of any peculiar or spooky Christmas traditions? Were you afraid of the Wise Men or Santa Claus as a child?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Here's a funny-sounding word

Here's another one of those weird videos. I looked through several of them and discovered they all feature sprightly young ladies, all of whom seem to be under 25 and have perfect teeth. Is there something just slightly sexist about these videos? Anyway, the vocabulary is useful for proficiency. This word is used quite often in written English. In spoken English we might use more often "spoil" or "ruin."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who's to blame?

Watch this short video and answer the following questions in your notepad:
  1. What kind of gambler is Jenny Kephart? (first letter "c")
  2. What is she suing the casino for?
  3. How much did she lose in a single night?
  4. Who sued who first? Why did the casino sue Kephart?
  5. What did the casino do to keep her coming, according to Kephart's attorney?
  6. What two synonyms for "attract" are used in the video?
And now, post a comment giving your opinion: who's to blame? Should casinos be banned? Would you feel guilty if you worked in a casino? Is it possible to consistently win money in a casino or does everyone eventually lose in the long run?

Monday, December 7, 2009

What's a sporran?

Well, now we all should know what a sporran is, thanks to Veronica's informative presentation on Scotland. But in case you forgot, the picture should give you a little hint.

And here's a more difficult one to remember: what's a sgian dubh?

Giant transatlantic tunnel between London and NYC

Before you watch this video answer this question:
Do you think there might actually be a giant tunnel connecting London and NYC? Or do you have to be really gullible to believe a thing like that?
OK, now watch the short video and answer the questions below in your notepads:

1. So, is it a real tunnel or not?
2. Whose idea was it? What was the inspiration for the idea? (What synonym for "idea" does the reporter use?)
3. Who provided the technology to make the idea possible?
4. What games do people play across the tunnel?
5. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not?
6. If you could introduce this idea in Madrid, what city would like to connect with?
7. What joke did the people in England play on the people in NYC?
8. What is the name of the news service that presents this report? Have you ever heard of them? Do they sound like native speakers?


What do you think of this video? I find it a bit bizarre, myself. Watching it too many times might be a bit of an "ordeal," actually. But anyway, at least we've learned a new word. Have you been through any ordeals lately? Exams at university, for instance? Post a comment. And yes, any native speaker would know this word, so go on and put it in a sentence.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

November entries

Just a note for you newbies to blogging: I didn't erase the November entries! All you have to do is click on "November" and they will reappear. BTW, there are two November entries since last Friday's class - be sure to check them out.

Haircut in London

Ever been to London? Not this London, I bet. Watch this video, in which the actor Stephen Fry visits a barber shop in London. Answer the following questions in your notepads, and feel free to post a comment. Did you recognize the American southern accent? How would you describe it?
  1. Where is this London, exactly?
  2. What season of the year do you think it is? Why?
  3. Why does Stephen Fry decide to go to London?
  4. What does Fry mean by "tidy up my act?"
  5. Has the barber ever been to London, UK?
  6. What's this a picture of?

  7. What worldwide festival takes place in London,KY?
  8. Whose hair did the barber's co-worker used to cut?
  9. Does Fry like the smell of KFC?
  10. According to Fry, what do Americans like to dress up as? Why do you think he says this?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Biotechnology: a farmer's perspective.

As a follow-up to the "Doomsday Vault" activity, I thought we could discuss the issue of genetically modified seeds. This little interview with an American farmer is a good starting point, I think. Listen to the short video, and answer the following questions in your notepads:
  1. Why is Terry Waznek so pleased about "biotech" and what is meant by the term?
  2. According to Waznek, are farmers concerned with the environment? Why?
  3. What verbs are used to describe what farmers do with the land?
  4. Waznek says he would like to rephrase the question, "What are the risks of biotechnology?" How would he like to rephrase it?
  5. Waznek compares fighting biotech to what?
    And now your opinion:
  6. Do you think genetically modified seeds are good for farmers and consumers?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Polar Bear Alert!

Hello there, student-bloggers! Regretfully, I had to miss our session yesterday (doctor's orders), which was a shame, as I was looking forward to our discussion on the "Doomsday Vault" on the island of Svalbard in Norway. Incidentally, this frigid island is the northernmost (good proficiency word) inhabited piece of land on Earth. As you may or may not know, my mother is Norwegian, and my first cousin, Sigbjorn (most Norwegians have unpronounceable names) did his military service on this austere outpost in the middle of the Arctic Sea. He told me that on occasion alarms would sound, which didn't mean they were under attack (well, sort-of), but rather that there was a polar bear roaming around the premises and they were to remain indoors until the problem could be sorted out. What he didn't tell me is how this problem was sorted out. How would you deal with a polar bear walking down your street?
Would you consider living in Svalbard for a couple of years if you were offered a good job? Why or why not? Post your answers in a comment.

And here's a corny joke for you:
What did the polar bear eat after the dentist fixed his tooth? If you know, let us know in a comment.

Did Stone Age children play with dinosaurs?

Did our ancestors keep dinosaurs as pets? Does it require more faith to believe Darwin's theory of evolution than to believe the Bible's Book of Genesis? Is science compatible with the biblical account of the Great Flood?
Well, some people with deep pockets have invested $27 million dollars in a museum which seeks to provide answers to these questions, albeit very controversial ones. Listen to the video and answer the questions below Afterwards, feel free to post a comment (that's a subtle form of pressure).
  1. According to the BBC reporter, what is the goal of the museum?
  2. How would you describe the reporter's tone in the beginning of the video?
  3. What claim that the museum makes is so controversial?
  4. What does the woman say about faith and the theory of evolution?
  5. According to co-founder Mark Loy, was the Grand Canyon formed over millions of years?
  6. Does Mr. Loy think children may have kept dinosaurs as pets? Why?
  7. What groups of people are upset about the opening of this museum? Why?
  8. According to Professor Gene Kritsky, what is the only thing missing from the museum?
  9. What are the reporter's concluding remarks? Do you agree?
  10. Do you think this type of museum would be a success in Spain? Why or why not?
check out website:

Monday, November 23, 2009

The not-so-touristy carnival

I'd like to thank Daniel (obrigado!) for his colourful and and informative presentation on Brazil, the country where he grew up (and where his football allegiances still lie - does anyone recognize the coat-of-arms?)
We now know, thanks to Daniel, that the carnival in Rio is characterized by a large presence of tourists and skimpily dressed celebrities, whereas the one in Olinda is much more traditional an uncontaminated by tourist hype. Above we have a picture of a frevo dancer, delighting onlookers in Olinda with his sprightly footwork.
Did you enjoy Daniel's presentation as much as I did? Feel free to post a comment.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vocab review Nov. 20th

OK, here it goes! The first one of you to answer all these vocab questions correctly and post them in a comment will get a wonderful prize next Friday:

  1. another way to say get an injection
  2. what babies get to prevent catching illnesses like hepatitis, tetanus, polio, etc. (look up!)
  3. to make a lot of money (esp. quickly and via morally questionably means)
  4. synonym for protest or demonstrate beginning with "r"
  5. mental faculties - hint: first letter "w" and a short word
  6. when authorities do not allow certain stories to be published
  7. translation of "viene bien" (having an answer key, for instance)
  8. two words for a person without a home who wanders from place to place and lives a precarious existence (not homeless, which is an adjective)
  9. a substance extracted from plants used for colouring (remember Daniel's explanation of the origin of "Brazil") - hint: first letter "d" and very small word
  10. a synonym for fauna beginning with "w"

Over my head!

It is said that one of the last things one masters when learning a foreign language are its jokes. I know this feeling very well myself, because there are still times - even after nearly 20 years of living in Spain - when Spanish jokes go "over my head." This may be due, at times, to cultural references, or simply to a particular sense of humour, which, if not cultivated from an early age, is never fully acquired (a bit like accents, actually).

So, what I'm trying to say is don't despair if some of the references and corny jokes I make in class go "over your head." The expression is often used, as well, for subject matter that is too complex or difficult for the ordinary person to comprehend. For a nice definition of the expression, click here.
Do you "get" English jokes, or do they often go over your head? Feel free to add your comments below. ("Feel free" is a subtle way of saying, "C'mon everybody, participate!!).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Doomsday vault

With 2012 just around the corner, there's been plenty of hullabaloo about doomsday (click here for a definition), and Hollywood has been quick to capitalize on the occasion to rake in the bucks with box office hits of dubious quality, such as the recently released "2012" by director Roland Emmerich.
But is there anything behind all the fuss? Well, the world's governments seem to think so, as they have collaborated en masse in the creation of the "doomsday vault" project, about which you will know more after watching this video (scroll down). Answer the following questions in your notepad after watching:
  1. What exactly is the "doomsday vault" and where is it located?
  2. What four catastrophes is the vault secure against, and how does it guarantee this security?
  3. Why have they chosen such a cold location? Does it require refrigeration?
  4. How many seeds will be stored there and by which countries?
  5. Are there other seed banks in the world? What makes the Svalbard site different?
  6. Who owns the vault and the seeds?
  7. Where are the individual samples stored?
  8. Who is Kerry Fowler and what is his warning to mankind?
  9. What three modern developments does the reporter cite as justifications for the Svalbard project?
  10. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not?

"Perfect pitch" kid or hoax?

Remember the term perfect pitch? Watch this video (click here) and answer these questions in your notepad (you might need to turn the volume up a bit to hear the kid):
  1. Do you think this kid really has perfect pitch or is this is actually just another youtube hoax?
  2. Are musical notes given the same names in English and in Spanish?
  3. What do the terms "flat" and "sharp" mean (in the video)?
  4. Do you think this kid was trained to recognize the notes, or is it an innate skill?
  5. What advantages do people with perfect pitch have over the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get vaccinated or get fired

Hello again, my faithful pupils! The following topic is a very controversial one. Listen to this video, and answer the following questions in your notepads (also, feel free to post a comment below):
  1. What are health care workers in NYS (New York State) so upset about?
  2. What would you do if you were a NYS health care worker in this position?
  3. What are Paula Small's concerns regarding the vaccine? (What adjectives does she use to describe it?). What happened in 1976?
  4. What does Frank Mannino mean when he says "This is still America"?
  5. Do you think this will happen in Spain? Why or why not?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ban smoking everywhere?

By C. J. HUGHES for the New York Times

Hello students! With new anti-smoking legislation imminent in Spain, I thought this article would be appropriate. Please read and add your comments below, answering the following questions:
  1. Do you share the opinions of Bryan Marx, or do you agree more with Dale Smith, and why?
  2. Do you sympathize with Brian Massotti, or do you think he is better off now and will be grateful in the long run?
  3. Do you feel anti-smoking legislation is necessary because otherwise smokers will always abuse the rights of non-smokers, or do you think the opposite is true?
The movement to ban smoking in New York City has grown so quickly that no place seems immune — certainly not restaurants or bars, and public beaches and parks may not be far behind. Now the efforts are rapidly expanding into the living room.

More landlords are moving to prohibit smoking in their apartment buildings, telling prospective tenants they can be evicted if they light up in them. This month, the Related Companies will ban smoking at some of its downtown apartment buildings because of health concerns about secondhand smoke, according to company officials.

Smokers who already live in any of these buildings will not be affected, according to Jeff Brodsky, a president of Related, which is a national developer with 17 buildings in Manhattan.
But any new renters must promise not to smoke at home, even if they continue to elsewhere.

Kenbar Management, a local developer, is going a step further. When its new project, 1510 Lexington Avenue, opens in December, smoking will be banned in all 298 units, in addition to private and shared terraces.

And the typical smoker’s refuge — directly outside the building — is also off limits; tenants must agree not to smoke on any of the sidewalks that wrap around the building, which takes up most of a block in East Harlem, according to Kinne Yon, a Kenbar principal.

The trend has predictably divided smokers and nonsmokers in New York. “I think it’s absolutely absurd,” said Bryan Marx, 53, a cabinetmaker who has lived at Tribeca Park, a Related building on Chambers Street, since 1999. He smokes hand-rolled cigarettes in his apartment, but said that he cut back on a cigar habit a few years ago to appease a neighbor.

Opinions among NYC residents are divided. “How about a little tolerance?” Mr. Marx added. “Smokers have become the whipping boys for everything that’s unhealthy about living in New York City.”
“I think it’s a bloody good thing,” said Dale Smith, 41, a Broadway producer who formerly worked in the health care industry. A resident of Tribeca Green for nearly three years, Mr. Smith, who does not smoke, said he had complained to his landlord about secondhand smoke in his apartment.

Yet some smokers seemed resigned to their fate. Brian Mossotti, 28, a day trader, moved into the Pan Am-run building on 23rd Street 14 months ago, after the developer’s ban had taken effect. After receiving three warnings from management about fumes in the hallway, including a stern letter in September, Mr. Mossotti finally agreed to take his two-a-day cigarette habit to the sidewalk, he said. “You can’t smoke in bars because of the whole secondhand smoke thing, so it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “But it is irritating.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Would you like one or two humps?

Yes, another poor attempt at humor, sorry (lumps, being terrones of sugar, as you will recall). We do have the word "dromedary" in English, after all. Interesting little article for y'all here:


Let's see how well you do on this little quiz, based on the HO you received for HW:

1. CIA agent: Now remember, Mr. President, this UFO file is confidential. We don't want the press to get wind of it.
Barack: Don't worry, Agent Starling. My ___________________________.

2. I think it's time I got rid of my Renault 5. It's on ____________________________________.

3. When I saw her for the first time, she took ________________________________________ (i.e., her beauty overwhelmed me).

4. Oh no! Here comes my gossipy neighbour. She's always asking me if I know the latest gossip about so-and-so. What a ____________________________________!

5. I was overcome by the emotion of the moment; I felt a __________________________________.

What's a lump?

So, I don't think I did a very good job of explaining what a lump is the other day. And I have a good excuse, as the word refers to something amorphous, in other words, without definite shape. So, only natural that I couldn't pin down its meaning. Do you buy my excuse? Anyway, for you bloggers:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 13th - Blade Runner

1.Rachel: Do you like our __________________?

2.Deckard: It’s _____________________?

3.Rachel: Of course, it is.

4.Deckard: It must be ___________________________.

5.Rachel: ____________. I’m Rachel.

6.Deckard: Deckard.

7.Rachel: It seems you feel our work is not a _________________________________

8.Deckard: Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a ________________. If they’re a benefit, __________________________________________.

9.Rachel: May I ask you a personal question?

10.Deckard: ______________.

11.Rachel: Have you ever ______________ a human ______________________?

12.Deckard: No.

13.Rachel: But in your position that is _________________________.

1.What does Deckard mean in line 4?
2.In line 11, what is Rachel referring to? What is Deckard’s job?
3.What do you think Rachel’s job is? Who does she work for?
4.Can you envision a future in which androids are indistinguishable (at first glance) from human beings?
5.Are we machines, in any sense of the word?
6.How old is Harrison Ford in this film? Is this one of his more well-known roles?
7.Are you intrigued about this film? Would you like to see the rest? Why or why not? (If you’ve already seen the film discuss your impressions with your classmates).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Class Notes - vocab from Nov 6

Hello there! Have you all decided to stay home on Friday night and study some English? What could possibly be more exciting, right?
Well, let's get straight to the point, shall we?
  1. First of all, customize does indeed have two possible spellings:
  2. What do you do with a Van Gogh painting (if you just happen to have one)? You can take it to Sotheby's and ______________ it for millions!!
  3. You will all recall the word hoax, which is used to describe an elaborate fraud carried out with premeditation to deceive a large quantity of people. We were wondering if the little snake show on the Greek island of Kefallonia was actually a hoax.
    On a smaller scale, as when a poker player uses a loaded deck, we prefer to use the word con, which is particularly common in the passive, eg. I've been conned. A person who makes a living out of conning people is called a con artist.
  4. Finally, for your writing assignments, you might want to employ the linker "Arguably,..." which is equivalent to saying "It can be argued that..."
  5. What's a synonym for weird, strange, or singular?
  6. Winning the Euromillions lottery: a blessing or a ____________?
  7. Mozart, who was a musical genius, apparently had perfect _________________.
That's all folks!...

Homework Friday Nov 6

Hello students!
So, here's the homework assignment I promised you. Simply listen to the video and answer the questions below in your notebooks.

  1. What great inventions has Germany given the world? (name three).
  2. The BBC reporter thinks none of the above inventions are as ____________ as this latest one.
  3. Each seat in the restaurant is _______________ and ________________.
  4. The chip card keeps a ________ of your order.
  5. They haven't found a way to ______________________ the chef yet!
  6. The spokesperson for the restaurant thinks it's a great way to save ____________________________
  7. The Germans think they have _____________________ a revolution in the restaurant industry.

Word of the Day

I am a subscriber to "Word of the Day," in which a new and interesting English word is sent to my email address every day. In case anyone is interested, here's the link for new subscribers:

"Moon" movie

Here's the movie trailer to "Moon" which we saw in class (I have extra worksheets if you need one):