Friday, December 24, 2010

Audio: checking in /polite questions

B1, B2,  C1

In this audio activity from the Business English pod site, you will learn some vocabulary associated with air travel and some other expressions for making requests. Audio time: 16 minutes. Activity time: 25 to 45 minutes

Task: 1 Match the words and expressions in A with those in B
A  to check in..     baggage..     a tight..     to check..     to be..     a carry-on..     a boarding..     window or..     immigration..
B  ..aisle seat     ..connection     ..and customs     ..over the limit     ..pass     ..bag     ..allowance     ..for a flight     ..your baggage  

2 Listen to the introduction, then to the dialogue in the airport. Stop the audio and check your answers to 1.

3 Listen to the dialogue again. Which of these expressions do you hear?
Can I have....?   Could you tell me....?   Would you mind -ing...?  Could you please...?  Please be sure to.... Do you mind if I.....?  I'd be grateful if you could.... 

4 Listen to the rest of the audio to hear more explanations of the vocabulary and expressions in 1 and 2. 

Go to the activity here.
Check your answers here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reading: Great Britain Quiz

B1, B2, C1

How much do you know about Great Britain? In this quiz from the OUP site you will answer 30 questions to test your general knowledge. Activity time: 5 to 20 minutes

Task: Select answers from the menus for each question. Then click on "Score" at the bottom of the page, or "See answers" for the correction.

 Go the activity here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Video: Business emails - making a request

B1, B2, C1

In this Youtube video posted by BusinessEnglishPod, you will look at a business email from a customer to a supplier which contains a number of mistakes. Step by step, you will discover how to
  • correct the language errors
  • change the organisation for more clarity
  • improve the style.
Video time: 9 minutes. Activity time: 30 mins - 1 hour.


Task: 1 Look at the original email on this page. Can you see any language mistakes? Is it clear? How could you change the style or organisation?
2 Watch the video and listen to the commentary. 
3 Re-write the original email including all the changes suggested in the video. Watch the video again to check your answers.


Go to the video here .

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Audio: Interactive pronunciation - the sounds of English

A2, B1, B2, C1, (C2)



Written English isn't phonetic. For this reason, it is often difficult to know the pronunciation of a word from its spelling. The diagram to the right shows the phonetic transcription of the main sounds in English. If you learn them, it will help you to (a) memorize the pronunciation of individual words (b) pronounce individual sounds more easily - especially those that don't exist in your own language.

In this activity you will hear each sound and example words that contain the sound. Activity time: 10 to 30 minutes.  


Task: If you don't have much time, click only on the symbols in yellow. These represent the sounds that pose particular problems for French speakers. 
1 Click on each symbol.  Listen to the sound and the three words which contain the sound. Listen again and repeat. 
2 Come back to the activity a week or two later. Say aloud  the words under each symbol to test yourself. Then listen again to check.


Go to the activity here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Logic Puzzle/verbs with "turn" and "switch"

A2, B1,  B2

Test your logic skills with this puzzle.  Then check your understanding of the verbs "switch" and  "turn".  Activity time: 5 to 20 minutes.

Task: 1  There are three light switches downstairs. Each corresponds to one of the three light bulbs in the attic. You can turn the switches on and off and leave them in any position.  How can you identify which switch corresponds to which light bulb, if you can only go upstairs once?

Check your answers here.

2  What other things can we turn or switch on (or off) ?
What can we turn down or up ?

Check your answers here.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Video: Michael Moore on the French Social Security System

(B1), B2, C1, C2

In these two videos from Youtube , you will see an extract from Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko". In this film, he compares the healthcare system in the USA with other countries around the world. Here, he visits Paris to report on the French Social Security system.  Video times: 8 mins and 6 mins.


Task: Watch the two videos. If you want to try watching without the subtitles, cover the bottom of the screen with a post-it (but watching with French subtitles is also a good exercise in understanding pronunciation).

Michael Moore is often accused of painting a false or exaggerated picture in his films. Do you think this is true for these two extracts? 

Go to the first video here.
Go to the second video here.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Audio: Ice cream, banking and Margaret Thatcher

B1, B2, C1, (C2)

This audio talk from the British Council site is about the changing attitudes to money and debt in Great Britain. You will learn or revise some common expressions related to money, and you will also discover the link between Margaret Thatcher and soft ice cream!  Audio time: 4 mins 53 secs. Total activity time: 10 - 45 mins.


Task: Go to the activity page and
  1. Do the "Preparation" task to help you with vocabulary.
  2. Listen and do the "Task". If you find it difficult, click on "Transcript" and read and listen at the same time. Then do "Task 2"
  3. For pronunciation practice, listen and read aloud at the same time. Can you finish at the same time as the speaker?
Go to the activity here.


 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Video: William KamKwamba builds a windmill

B1, B2, C1, C2

In 2007, William Kamkwamba was invited to give a talk at TED about the electricity-generating windmill he had built near his home in Tanzania. He was very nervous and didn't speak very much. Two years later, he came back to talk more about his project.

You are going to watch these two talks from the TED site. As you will see, they are a wonderful example of personal initiative and perseverance. NB You may need to use the subtitle option, as William's English is a little basic, especially on the first video.


Task: 
1 Watch the videos in order.
2 The Sunday Nation newspaper in Kenya recognizes the need for "real and simple solutions to everyday problems" in Africa. How do these videos illustrate that idea?  (William is mentioned in the same Sunday Nation article. If you would like to read it, click on the link at the bottom).

First watch the 2007 video - click here.

Then watch the 2009 video - click here.

To read the article from the Sunday Nation, click here.

Phrasal verbs: pick up/drop off

A2, B1, B2

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and one or more prepositions. They are often difficult to understand because there isn't always a logical relation between the verb, the preposition and the meaning(s). In Help Yourself To English, we want to show you the most common phrasal verbs and the contexts in which we use them.
In all cases, they are the verbs that English speakers most often use in those contexts.

Today's phrasal verbs: pick up, drop off .  Activity time: 5 - 20 minutes

Task: The photo shows a pick up and drop off point for a new airport terminal.
  1. What do you think the verbs pick up and drop off mean?  If you need help, read the first three paragraphs of a page from the Fedex website - here.
  2. Where would you pick up/drop off:
  • your children?
  • a visitor?
  • a suit?
  • a car?
  • some food?
3. Which sentence is not correct?
    I picked him up.                          I picked up him.   
    I picked up my daughter.             I picked my daughter up.

4  In an average week, what people or things do you pick up or drop off?


Check your answers here.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Game: noun/adjective + preposition

A2, B1, B2

Play "Fling the teacher". If you can answer 15 questions correctly, you will have the chance to "fling"  (= throw) the teacher, using the equipment in the illustration. The language practised is prepositions - for/at/of/in etc. The activity is for children - of all ages! - but the language used is for adults. Activity time: 5 - 20 minutes. 


Task: Go to the site, press "Continue" and answer the questions.  

Go to the activity here.

Audio: Paris offers its first fizzy water fountain

A2, B1, B2, C1

In this activity from the BBC World Service Learning English site, you will hear an audio report from the "Words in the News" section. This part of the site allows you to listen to BBC News reports at normal speed, learn new vocabulary and practise your pronunciation.  Audio time: 1.5 minutes. Activity time: 5 to 25 minutes.
Task: Go to the page and
  1. Listen without reading the "Summary" or the "Report". How much can you understand? If necessary, read the "Summary", then listen again.
  2. Read the "Report" and listen again at the same time
  3. Go down the page to the "Vocabulary' section. Listen to the words and repeat them.  
  4. Listen to the complete report again and read aloud at the same time. Can you speak at the same speed as the newsreader? 
Go to the activity here.


Grammar: Make your own test

A2, B1, B2, C1

The "Test Builder" from the OUP site allows you to make your own test from a list of grammatical structures  NB the vocabulary used here is professional or business English.  Activity time: 5 to 60 minutes, depending on the number of structures you choose.
 
Task: Go the site and click on "Essential Business Grammar and Practice" for easier exercises or "Business Grammar and Practice" for more complex structures. Select the grammar points you want to practise and click on "Make my test".


Go to the activity here.






Thursday, November 11, 2010

Video: Men's brains, women's brains

B1, B2, C1, C2

How are women's brains different from men's?  You probably have your own ideas, based on your experience of the opposite sex!  In this video from Youtube , American comedian Mark Gungor gives a very amusing presentation of the differences. Video time: 5 mins and 23 secs. Total activity time: 6 to 30 minutes.  (NB If you would like to see a longer 10-minute version of this sketch, see the link at the bottom.)





Task: Watch the video. Which phrases below refer to (a) a woman's brain  (b) a man's brain?

  • consists of little boxes
  • consists of a big ball of wire
  • is like the Internet superhighway
  • is driven by emotion
  • has boxes which don't touch
  • has a "nothing box"
  • has lots of interconnections 


Go to the video
 here.
Check your answers here.

For a longer 10-minute version of the video, go here.

Expressions: Suggesting and recommending

A2, B1, B2


How can you make and respond to suggestions? You are going to do two activities from the OUP site. Activity time: 10 to 20 minutes. 






 Task: Before going to the site, look at these five sentences. One is not correct. Which one?

  1. Let's make a decision.
  2. Why don't we try it?
  3. I suggest to stop now.
  4. I recommend that he call them.
  5. He suggested coming next week
First check your answers here.
Now go to the activity here and do the exercises for Units 2 and 3.




Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Video: Photos that changed the world

(B1), B2, C1, C2

Do photos have the power to change the world? Can you think of famous photos that have had an impact on public opinion? Listen to this talk from ted.com by Jonathan Klein of Getty Images. Video time: 6 minutes. Total activity time: 10 to 45 minutes.  NB You have the possibility of subtitles in English or your language.


Task:
Watch the video and decide if these sentences are true or false.

Images.....
  • .. can change the world
  • .. can provoke people to act on crucial issues
  • .. maybe provoked the birth of the environmental movement
  • .. have shown the destructive power of man
  • .. have shown the destructive power of nature
  • .. have caused international outrage
  • .. have caused governments to change their policies
  • .. can help to overcome suspicion and ignorance
  • .. can question our core beliefs and our responsibilities to each other
  • .. of war have to be graphic (= shocking) to be effective.

Go to the video here.
Check your answers here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Phrasal verb: to run out of

(A2), B1, B2, C1, (C2)

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and one or more prepositions. They are often difficult to understand because there isn't always a logical relation between the verb, the preposition and the meaning(s). In Help Yourself To English, we want to show you the most common phrasal verbs and the contexts in which we use them.
In all cases, they are the verbs that English speakers most often use in those contexts.

Today's phrasal verb: run out of .  Activity time: 5 - 20 minutes


Task: The man in the illustration is walking to the garage because he has run out of petrol. Answer the questions.

  1. What do you think the expression  has run out of means?  Google the words "run out of - definition" to check your answers, if necessary.
  2. What other things can you run out of?  Google the words "run out of" and see how many examples you can find.
  3. What's the difference between we're running out of petrol and we've run out of petrol ?

Check your answers here.


Video: the past simple tense

A2, B1, B2

In this video from the Real English site, you will hear different people talking about what they did yesterday.
You will get useful practice in understanding and using verbs in the past simple. Video time: 3 mins 14 secs. Total activity time: 15 - 45 minutes.




Task: Go the video site. The instructions ask you to "do the Exercises first", but you may prefer to watch the complete video first to see how much you understand without help. Then do the exercises. 

Go to the video here.


Audio: Making a call - the first 60 seconds

A2, B1, B2

In these two activities from the BBC World Service Learning English site, you will practise the expressions you need for the beginning of a phone call in a more formal or work situation. 
  • Activity 1:  Learn what to say to be connected to your correspondent (or to connect the caller if you are receiving the call).  
  • Activity 2: Learn how to leave (or take) a message when the person asked for isn't there.
Time: 10 - 30 minutes per activity.
Task: Each activity has four steps:
  • "Think".....about what language you know already and see some typical phrases.
  • "Listen".....to conversation and note what phrases you hear.
  • "Check understanding": read transcript and listen again
  • "Practise"....with a quiz
Go to Activity 1 here.
Go to Activity 2 here.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Audio: childhood obesity in the USA

A2, B1, B2

Obesity is a growing problem in the western world, especially among children. In this audio programme from the VOA Special English site, you will hear what measures Michelle Obama has taken in the USA to combat this problem. The programme is written in simplified American English and the presenters speak slowly to help you with comprehension. American accents.  Audio time: 16 minutes. Total activity time: 20 to 45 minutes.



Task: Listen to the programme without reading the transcript and answer these questions:
  • Why does the problem exist?
  • What measures are the government taking? 
Then read the transcript and check your answers.
If you have problems understanding, listen with the transcript. Then cover the transcript, listen again and answer the questions.

Go to the activity here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Prounciation: the schwa - the most common sound in English

A2, B1, B2, C1

What is the schwa?  It's represented by the symbol to the right and it's the most common sound in the English language. When you understand how the schwa works in spoken English, it can help improve your pronunciation and your listening comprehension .. This video gives you an introduction to the schwa.  Video time: 4 mins and 8 secs. Total activity time: 10 to 30 minutes.



Task: Watch the video. Then decide how many schwas there are in this sentence?
         
"When you know that the schwa exists, words are easier to pronounce"

Go to the video here.

Check your answers here.

Vocabulary: hotels and airports

A2 , B1


Do you know your travel vocabulary? In this activity from the OUP site, you will read a text about a new chain of hotels, then make 25%, 50% or all the words disappear. You will then rebuild the text. Activity time: 10 to 30 minutes.


Task: Go to the activity page, select the text for "Unit 7", and click "Next". After reading the text, decide how many words you want to take out, then rebuild the text.  

Go to the activity here.






Thursday, October 28, 2010

Audio: How to reduce stress

B1, B2, C1, C2

Emily is from Hong Kong, where life can be very stressful. Listen to this audio talk from the British Council site, where she talks about ways of beating stress. Audio time: 4 mins 30 secs. Total activity time: 10 - 45 mins.



Task: Go to the activity page and
  1. Do the "Preparation" task to help you with vocabulary.
  2. Listen and do the "Task". If you find it difficult, click on "Transcript" and read and listen at the same time. 
  3. For pronunciation practice, listen and read aloud at the same time. Can you speak at the same speed as Emily?

Go to the activity here.

Video: Solving the problem of population growth

(A2), B1, B2, C1, (C2)

The world's population will grow to 9 billion over the next 50 years. What can we do to stop it? Listen to this talk from ted.com by Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and researcher. Video time: 10 minutes. Total activity time: 20 minutes to 1 hour. NB You have the possibility of subtitles in English or your language.



Task:
Practise your tenses by answering the questions below. You can use the interactive transcript to the right of the video to check your answers.
  • What was the situation in 1960?  (past simple)
  • What has changed since 1960?  (present perfect)
  • What will happen in 2050?  (future with "will")
Go to the video here.







Sunday, October 24, 2010

Logic Puzzle/Questions with "how.."

A2 , B1

Test your logic skills with this puzzle, then see if you know how to make questions with "How". Activity time: 5 to 30 minutes.

Task: Farmer Giles is walking home at 5 km per hour with his dog, Rex. When he is 20 km from home, he lets Rex off his lead and the dog runs back home at an average of 15 km per hour. He then runs back to the farmer, back to the house, and so on and doesn't stop running until the farmer gets home. How far does Rex run in that time? 





Not too difficult? So now try this little challenge: How many different questions can you think of that begin with the word "How...?"  There was one in the puzzle and one in the last sentence. Can you write down at least 12 others?

Check your answers here.