Vocabulary: Common English idioms

B1, B2, C1

Do you know what these common English idioms mean? Which one do you think is represented in the illustration?

- see eye to eye  
- break the ice
- full of hot air
- hit the roof 
- easier said than done
- meet halfway
- play it by ear
- word of mouth
- a piece of cake               
- go with the flow
- that rings a bell
- down the drain

You are going to learn the meaning of the expressions from the VOA (Voice of America) idiom dictionary. You will then do a short exercise to test your understanding. Activity time; 15 to 45 minutes

Task: 1 Go to the idioms dictionary and use the alphabetical menu to find the different expressions. Click on each one and you will read and hear a definition, a description of how it's used, and an example dialogue.

2 Now complete each sentence below with one of the expressions.

a   I finished the exam 30 minutes early - it was _________
b   I don't mind where we go this evening. I'll just  _______
c   $200 for a pullover! That's just money _________
d   He thinks he knows everything, but he's _______
e   A: Do you remember we met here ten years ago?  B: Yes, _____
f   We get most of our business through ________.
g   No time to prepare this meeting. Let's just _________
h   Left and right never _______ on political issues.
i    When she hears I've crashed the car again, she'll _______ !
j    A joke at the beginning of a presentation can _____.
k   A: You just need to be patient.  B: ______
l    If they want to find an agreement, they'll have to ______

Go to the idioms dictionary here.
Check your answers here.

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Expressions: Business Email workout

B1, B2, C1

Here are some exercises from the OUP site to give you more practice in writing emails. They cover the following subjects:
  • introducing yourself to a new contact
  • saying sorry for a mistake
  • thanking and requesting
  • giving feedback on somebody's work
  • making a complaint
Activity time: 10 to 30 minutes.

If you don't know the most common expressions for writing emails, perhaps you would like to look first at our Business emails post. 

Task  Go to the activity page. Select one of units 35-39. Choose the best answers and press "Score" at the end to see if you were correct.

Go to the activity here.
See our original Business emails post here.

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Video: How technology could change cities

(B1), B2, C1, C2

Kent Larson is an American architect involved in different projects to solve contemporary problems in the home, the workplace and the city. In this presentation from TED , he gives his vision of how technology can improve living conditions in cities. He also suggests what lessons we can learn from the past in planning the cities of the future. Video time:  16 minutes and 42 seconds. Activity time: 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Task:  Watch the video and answer the questions below  (NB if you would like sub-titles, just move your cursor over the video window to see the sub-title menu)

1   What are the characteristics of (a) pre-industrial settlements (b) industrial era cities?
2   Explain these figures: 300-400 million / 15 years / 90% / 80% / 75% 
3   What are the new trends in cities (a) for work  (b) for the home? 
4   How could Paris be a model for the city of the future?

5   Explain these terms:  a compact urban cell, a mesh network, a mobility parkway
6   What’s special about Copenhagen?
7   Explain the diagram below.

8   Why might cars need eyes?
9   How can you “democratize access to bike lanes”?
10 What is a possible solution to the problem of affordable housing ?
11 Explain these figures: 14/28    $ 70,000 /$ 10,000
12 Why might you need wireless sensors in your furniture?
13  How can you create “personalized sunlight”?

To check your understanding, go to the "show transcript' menu under the video window, and select "English" (or your own language, if you prefer).

Go to the video here

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Audio: youth employment

B1, B2, (C1)

The  BBC Learning English site has a regular feature called "6 minute English"  The two presenters focus on extracts from BBC news reports and they help you to understand the vocabulary. In this activity , you will hear about the problem of young people trying to find work.

You will then do a short exercise to practise words which often combine with the word "job" . Audio time: 6 minutes. Activity time: 15 to 40 minutes.

Task:  1 Go to the activity page and read the introduction. Press the "Listen" button to hear the programme. What are the consequences of youth unemployment in the long-term, according to the BBC report?

2 Listen again if necessary, with or without the audioscript

3 Here are some words that often go with the word "job". Do they usually come before or after? (e.g. job creation or creation job? )

creation - permanent - unskilled - market - opportunity - part-time - satisfaction - nine to five - skills - temping

4  Now complete these sentences with the correct word from 3

a  You don't need special training or qualifications to do ________ jobs.
b  Someone's leaving my firm, so there's a new job __________ there.
c  My work is well-paid but boring: I don't really get any job _________.
d  It's a _________ job - just 20 hours a week.
e  I'm registered with an agency, so I'm doing _________ jobs 
f   The government is reducing employment charges to encourage job _________.
g  My hours are very long and irregular. it would be nice just  to have a _________ job.
h  He's not the right person for the post - he doesn't have the right job _______.
i   Her last contract was just for one year, but this is a _______ job.
j   Our local factory has closed, so now there are 300 more people on the job _______.

Go to the activity here.
Read the complete audioscript here.
Check your answers to Exercises 1 and 4 here.

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Pronunciation: contrastive stress

(A2), B1, B2, (C1)

In spoken English, we often put an extra accent or stress on the most important word in a sentence. Look at this sentence: "He offered me thirteen percent but I wanted fourteen."
Here we are contrasting the incorrect word, "thirteen", with the correct one, "fourteen" Note that we sometimes also need to know which part of the word to stress ("fourteen", not "fourteen")
You are going to watch a short video where you will hear and practise some more examples of contrastive stress. Then you will do a short exercise to identify the most important words in a conversation. Video time: 1 min 55 secs. Activity time: 10 - 30 minutes.
Task: 1  Watch the video and follow the instructions. 

2  Here is a conversation between two people on the last day of a conference. In each sentence spoken by B, identify the word or part of the word which has the most stress.The first one is done for you as an example.

A: Did you go to the conference today? 
B: Not the morning session. But I went this afternoon.
A: Did you go to all three talks? 
B: No, I only went to one of them.
A  Were the other two full, then? 
B: No, in fact the rooms looked quite empty. But I only wanted to see one talk.
A: The one on time management? 
B: That one didn't interest me. It's the stress management one I wanted to see. 
A: Ah yes, Alice went to that one 
B:  I didn't think it was very good. How did she find it?
A: Well, she thought it was interesting. 
B: Maybe, but it wasn't very original.
A: So who's going to the final party tonight? 
B: I'm not, because I've got a plane to catch. Are you going? 

Go to the video here
Check your answers to Ex. 2 here.

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Video: Confusing words 1

A2, B1, B2

Do you know the difference between check and control ?  Between remember and remind ?  Or between raise and rise ? These three pairs of verbs are often confused.
To understand the differences, you are going to watch three short videos from the Simple English Videos site  You will then do an exercise to check your understanding. Video time: 3 x 1 minute. Activity time: 10 to 25 minutes.

Task: 1  Watch the three videos without looking at the videoscript. Watch again and use the script (under the video window) if necessary.  

2 Now complete these sentences with one of the six verbs. NB You have to use each verb twice. 


1   Competition is very hard, so we can't really _______ our prices.
2   Can you ______ my English in this email  before I send it?
3   This car is difficult to _______ because it's so big and heavy.
4   I can't ________ what time they told us to come. Was it 8 or 8.30?
5   When the temperature  ______s above 80° C, the warning light comes on.
6   She _______s  me of somebody, but I can't think who.
7   Did you ________ to post that letter for me?
8   I'll just _______ there are enough chairs in the room for the meeting.
9  The government hopes the reforms will ________ educational standards in primary schools.
10  _______ me to close the window upstairs before we leave this morning.
11  You're always angry. Try and ________ your emotions a little better. 
12  Our tax bill has ______n  by 1,500 euros this year.

For check and control, go to the video here.
For remember and remind, the video is here.
For raise and rise, go here.

Check your answers to Exercise 2 here.

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Video: how video games affect behaviour

B1, B2, (C1)

In this activity from the eslvideo website, you will hear a specialist on media and child health talk about the positive and negative effects of video games. Video time: 6 minutes 9 seconds. Activity time; 10 - 20 minutes.

Task:  Go to the activity page and look at the 7 questions on the right of the screen. Try and predict the answers, then watch the video to compare your answers. Click on the "See how you did" button at the bottom of the exercise to check you answers.

Go to the activity here.   

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Vocabulary: British and American English

A2, B1, B2, (C1)

There are many differences between British and American English words, You are going to learn some of the most common ones. Activity time: 15 minutes to 1 hour

Task:  Look at the 12 pictures on the right.

1  Can you name the different things in the pictures? Do you know if your word is American or British English? 

2  Go to the interactive wordlist and check your answers. NB You have two search options - British to American or American to British.

3 If you want to learn some more British and American English differences, do the quiz. If you're not sure of the answer, the interactive wordlist can help you. 

Go to the interactive wordlist here.
Go to the quiz here.
Check your answers to 1 and 2 here

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