Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Make Love Not War: The Zero Article Explained.

When don't we use the article in English? Italian and French use articles most of the time. For example, in English we say, "Let's make love, not war." But if you translated literally from, say, Italian - "Facciamo l'amore, non la guerra", it would come out as , "Let's make the love, not the war." This sounds very strange in English.

So one of the rules is: no article when talking about grand concepts such as love and war. But there are other rules: for instance, zero article in indefinite plurals. "People are saying that winters are getting warmer", not "The people are saying that the winters are getting warmer."

To find out more, go to the BBC's Learning English site on Zero Articles. Watch the 90-second presentation by Dan, then do the activity.

In the activity, you are shown five sentences. If a sentence is right, drag it into the "Correct" box; if wrong, drag it into the "Not correct" box.

When you've finished, post a comment on the Tag Board or the Comments box. Say if you found it easy or difficult, or if you learned anything new. I hope for wide participation!

Another post very soon!
Have a nice day,

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy New Year!

OK so it's 13 January today, but it's not too late for a New Year greeting.

First, business. I promised you answers to the quiz questions. As usual, Filomena has done some great work. She and Andrea also told us what they would do if they won the lottery.

Here, then, are the answers to the Christmas quiz questions:

1. Saturnalia was a time of innocence, sport and conviviality.
2. Ancient festivals are about merrymaking, charity and misrule. "Misrule" refers to the reversal of roles in society.
3. Jesus could be regarded as a subversive figure, one who upset the powers.
4. Examples of misrule and reversal of roles were "the boy bishop" (still celebrated in Hereford Cathedral in the West of England) as well as "the feast of fools", office parties and kissing under the mistletoe. Mistletoe is a parasitic bush which grows on many trees.
5. The Norse god Odin (after whom Wednesday is named) is said to have "ridden through the winter darkness with his retinue", or companions.

That's it! I urge you all to return to BBC Radio Four In Four, as there are many interesting interview clips, and they are all short - four minutes or under. We will listen to some of them in class.

Now for some Shakespeare. It's four hundred years since William Shakespeare died. But he is still very much alive and we feel his influence daily. To understand the man better, here are two sites to visit:

"Shakespeare Lives" - on the British Council Italy website, in Italian.
"Exploring English: Shakespeare". This site helps you to "Improve your English language skills by looking at the life and works of William Shakespeare and his enduring popularity."

I advise you to go for it! Sign up and do the course. For level B1 and upwards.

On that note: many thanks for reading this, and more soon!

Best wishes for 2016

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Listening Quizzes

Hello everyone!

Many thanks to those of you who have taken part in our recent Quizzes. I am thinking especially of Andrea, Merima and Filomena. But many of you visit this blog - without leaving any messages! This is sad because we want to make this Blog interactive and thus create a community of learners.

So here are two more opportunities. First, this one from the BBC's 'Learning English', on the five uses of "would". It's a highly useful and flexible word, so have a look here, and post a comment on how to use "would". For example, tell us what you would do if you won the lottery.

Now over to the BBC Radio. On Radio 4 we can listen to short clips of under four minutes - "Radio 4 in 4". Why not try this one about Christmas traditions?

First, here are a few questions:

1. What was "Saturnalia"? A time of "___", "___" and "_____" .
2. What do we learn about ancient festivals? They're about "m____", "c___" and "m____" (I give you the first letter of each expression.)
3. Jesus could be regarded as a "s______" figure, one who came to upset the "p_____".
4. Can you give some examples of "misrule" and the "reversal of roles" in winter festivals?
5. What did the Norse god Odin do in the winter?

Click here to listen.
Then post your answers and comments on the Tag Board or in a Comment.

Finally, have a very happy Christmas and New Year, and see you again soon!

Very best wishes

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why work doesn't get done in the office

Hello everyone. Here's another link to a talk on TED: Technology, Entertainment and Design.

It will especially appeal to people who work in offices, but there are important messages for everyone here.

Read this list of very simple questions first.

1. Why, according to the speaker, is it very difficult to do serious work in an office?
2. What three remedies to this difficulty does he suggest?

Before you listen, write down a short list of possible answers to the two questions above.

Now listen to this talk on TED.

Were you right?

As always, please please please post your answers on the Tag Board or in a Comment!

Many thanks for reading this ... and have a nice day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Six Minute English on the BBC: A Hundred Women

'Afternoon all. This week's Six Minute English is about women's rights. The BBC is starting a worldwide debate on this topic.

Today's is a vocabulary exercise, with one comprehension question. Here are the questions:

1. Official quiz question:
How many female heads of state or government do we have now, in 2015? Is it:
a) 9: b) 19 : c) 29

2. Can you complete this sentence from the programme:
"Women's magazines are mainly interested in beauty tips, fashion and ___ ___ ___ ___ ___". [Five words].

3. Vocabulary: Can you find words in the programme which mean:

(a) talked about
(b) without children
(c) unjust treatment
(d) what you are expected or not expected to do, according to your status or position in society
(e) methods of broadcasting or disseminating information
(f) at the centre of

Now listen to the programme. Then, please do send your answers to the questions above to the tag Board, or post them in a comment.

And if you want to follow the debate about women globally, go to this BBC website:

I look forward to loads of people doing this quiz and posting their answers!

More soon
All the best,

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Is Someone Listening to You?

Do I sound paranoid? Am I like the singer Rockwell, in his well-known song, "Somebody's Watching Me"?

Possibly. In the light of recent events, here are two TED talks you will find interesting:

1) Talk by Christopher Soghoian:  "The History of Wiretapping and How To Avoid It" (6 minutes 16 seconds)

What is Mr Soghoian's basic message? Write your answer in a comment or post in on the Tag Board.

2) Talk by Malte Spritz: "Your Phone Company Is Watching" (10 minutes 03 seconds). Mr Spritz's English is slightly less easy to understand than that of Mr Soghoian but is not too difficult.

What are the implications of 'data retention' according to Mr Spritz? Do you agree, or disagree, with the idea that people's mobile communications can be tracked? In what circumstances can surveillance be justified?

Again, post your ideas in a Comment or on the Tag Board. Let's have as many readers as possible participate by actively expressing their views here.

Many thanks in advance.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TED - good for listening practice

Dear all,

Coming soon - a fresh Listening Quiz. Meanwhile, here is a well known site where you can listen to people speaking in public on all sorts of topics.

It's called TED. This stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Its subtitle is "Ideas Worth Spreading" - or challenging.

Check it out here at

Current topics, as seen this morning, include: tales of two migrant survivors of a sea passage; LGBT life around the world; and "The Moral Bias Behind Your Search Results." I will have listen to that myself.

You're bound at the very least to learn something new. The talks come with transcripts for easier listening.

Have a go - and please do post your reactions in a Comment or on the Tag Board.

More soon,
Best wishes,