Wednesday, January 11, 2017

USING THE PHONE IN ENGLISH - A Workshop by Bruce Warburton

Bruce has a background in English for business and exams. Here, he takes a look at how to make impactful, effective phone calls in English.

And he will be presenting his ideas tomorrow, 12 January 2017, at the British Council Rome in rooms Keats and Shelley. All students currently enrolled on a course are welcome.

Most learners of English find using the telephone to be very difficult. This is mainly because there is no visual information and you have to rely entirely on the language. It is surprising how much we depend on visual information when we communicate face to face.
Here are some of the ‘tips’ mentioned in the workshop:

 When possible or necessary, plan your call and predict possible responses. Even if you get an unexpected response, you will have a greater chance of understanding it if you have done this. 
When receiving calls, make sure you have all the necessary information. Ask clarification questions and don’t try to guess.
Make sure you are good at spelling. Native speakers use spelling all the time as the pronunciation of a name or place does not necessarily give any idea of how it is spelt. You can also ask for the spelling to give yourself time.
Speak slowly. If you speak slowly, the other person will also probably slow down.
Practise with friends. Most of the difficulty people have with the telephone is due to not getting enough practice.
Learn standard telephone expressions. 
Buy a book so you can practise at home. Here are some examples:
Telephone English by John Hughes, published by Macmillan.
Telephoning in English by  Naterop & Revell, published by Cambridge University Press.
English for Telephoning  by David Gordon Smith published by Oxford University Press.

Remember, using the phone in English is like anything else. It’s just a matter of practice.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Six Minute English: Cycling!

The regular BBC Learning English Six Minute English quizzes return this week with a programme on Cycling. This means of  transport is becoming more popular in Rome. It's an obvious answer to high costs, disruption by strikes and traffic congestion.

First, read the questions. Here's the official question:-

1. Who invented the first pneumatic – or air-filled – bicycle tyre in 1888?  Was it …

a) John Boyd Dunlop? b) Charles Goodyear? c) Harvey Samuel Firestone? 
(a) John Boyd Dunlop

You'll hear the answer at the end of the programme.

2. Who likes cycling: Neil or Sophie? Neil.

3. What was the 'boneshaker'? A bicycle with iron tyres which was very uncomfortable.

4. When bikes were first invented, what sort of people used them? The wealthy middle classes.

5. For the first time in history, people could travel [where] they wanted, [when] they wanted. (Heh! - I made the mistake of leaving the words in, when I should have replaced them with dots!)

6. How did cycling change women's clothing? They wore "rational dress" - a close-fitting jacket and pantaloon-type trousers. Some traditionalists were offended by this.

7. How did cycling affect 19th century society? It meant that people could travel further, meet new people and marry outside their relatively closed societies.

Now, listen to the programme.

When you have finished, please do post your answers on the Tag Board on the right. You can also post your answer in a Comment.

Don't forget that tomorrow, Friday 25 November, is the last Friday of the month, when traditionally there is a cyclists' rally called "Critical Mass". You can find it on Facebook.

Coming soon: Mike's Bike Blog, "Backroads by Bike". Watch this space.

Happy listening - and On Your Bike!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How To Speak Effectively. By Bruce Warburton

Improving your speaking skills

As we have seen, learning a language is very similar to learning a sport. If you want to become an athlete, you need to do a lot of training. Most athletes do training every day as part of their daily routine.

Naturally, the best way to improve your English speaking ability is to spend as much time talking with native English speakers as possible.

However, most people don’t have many opportunities to speak with native English speakers. So here are a few suggestions for improving your spoken English.

  • When you learn new vocabulary or grammar, learn examples that you can use in everyday life.
  • Learn fixed and semi fixed expressions that can be used in everyday situations.
  • During lessons notice how your teacher says things not just what he or she says.
  • When you do speaking activities in class, consider why you are doing it. Don’t just try to finish it as quickly as possible.
  • Make sure you have learnt the sounds and not just the sequence of words. Remember, a large part of speaking is physical.
  • When you read English underline and learn useful expressions.
  • Read out loud.
  •  In ‘dead time’ (waiting for a bus, walking along the street) hold imaginary conversations in your head.
  • Write dialogues related to situations you could find yourself in.
  • Remember that speaking skills are a combination of fluency and accuracy. You need to find the right balance. If you are too focussed on accuracy, your speaking will be blocked. If you are too focussed on fluency, people might not understand you.
  • Remember ‘ACTOR’: accuracy, confidence, training techniques, making it ordinary, and rhythm.

Most of all, don’t worry.  Learning a language takes time and effort. If you are too anxious, it will take longer.
Good luck!

Useful websites and apps:

Remember this website is interactive. Describe your experiences  practising speaking on the Tag Board - to the right of this post - or in a Comment.

More listening practice coming soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How To Listen Effectively

My learned colleague Bruce Warburton is an expert on the above. And this Blog specialises in Listening Practice and what we can do to make it more effective. 

Bruce's Workshops take place in the British Council every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 18:00 in rooms Keats and Shelley. 

To find out more, read below:


 When listening to English spoken by a native speaker, remember PALS.

Why are you listening? Remember the context. Use your knowledge of the subject and its vocabulary to guess the meaning of anything you don’t understand.

Accents and stress
Focus on the stressed syllables (the stressed syllables are the ones the speaker wants you to understand the most). Remember that all English accents stress the key words.

Don’t worry about words you don’t understand. Keep listening. It will usually become clearer later. Don’t focus on what you have missed, but on what is coming next.

You need learning strategies in order to improve your listening skills. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Buy a ‘reader’ (a graded novel) with a CD. Listening and following the text simultaneously will help you make the connection between spoken and written English. It will also improve your pronunciation.
  2. Watch DVDs or download films. Choose a film that you would like to see in Italian. If you are not interested in the content, it will be much harder to understand. You can also watch the Italian version first so that when you watch the English version you can focus more on the language.
  3. Record the news, or watch it on internet. Watch it the first time without any sound and predict the vocabulary you will hear. Play it again with the sound to see if you were right.
  4. The British Council website,, has lots of interesting material. For example  . There is also the apps page on
  5. Download podcasts from the internet. Listen to them on your MP3 player when you are going to work. For example, or
  6. Register on an on-line course on a subject you want or need to study. Look at MOOC sites like or
  7. Don’t forget that has something on almost every subject from all over the world.
  8. Learn vocabulary in ‘blocks’. Practise saying them to learn the rhythm. This way you will understand them more easily.
  9. Make listening to English part of your daily routine. Remember, learning a language is like doing a sport. The more you train, the better you get.
 Relax. If you are anxious or pessimistic when listening to English, you will understand less.

 Good Luck!

Try to get to Bruce's workshop. If you can't, there is plenty of help available on this Blog.
Have a nice day!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

From Bruce: Learning Vocabulary

This lesson from Bruce Warburton is about how to learn and retain vocabulary. It's one thing to remember a word, but another thing altogether to remember it for future use. Happily, Bruce has got plenty of ideas. Here's one below:

Learning Vocabulary

A large part of learning a language is learning a lot of words and expressions. This takes time and effort. In order to learn vocabulary effectively you need to:
·        make decisions about which vocabulary is most important.
·        have some understanding about how your memory works.
·        have a learning strategy.

Whenever you learn vocabulary make sure you really know it. Use the vocabulary checklist.
1.                What does it mean?
2.                How useful or important is it?
3.                How is it pronounced?
4.                How can I use it?
5.                How can I remember it?

The way you keep your notes can have an enormous impact on how effective your learning is. Learning vocabulary isn’t just learning lists of words. Here are some ways of storing vocabulary.


Some more examples:


a nice day
a day off
a wonderful time

 a car
a house

a meal
a cup of coffee

There are many more ways

The memory can be stimulated by association, repetition & emotional impact.

There are lots of websites related to language learning strategies, here are some to try.

 Experiment with different methods, find what is best for you. The more time and effort you invest in learning, the more you will remember.

Now, you try Bruce's ideas. How did you go? Leave your ideas in a Comment or on the Tag Board.
All the best,

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Good day everyone. This post is connected with upcoming workshops here in our Teaching Centre by my learned colleague Bruce Warburton.

First, here is a rapid Learning Quiz: how do you learn things? By answering the questions you will help Bruce design future workshops.

Please respond either by using the Tag Board or by using the 'Comment' facility. There's a link to it at the bottom of this page. 

Style Inventory

To better understand how you prefer to learn and process information, place a check in the appropriate space after each statement below, then use the scoring directions at the bottom of the page to evaluate your responses. Use what you learn from your scores to better develop learning strategies that are best suited to your particular learning style. This 24- item survey is not timed. Respond to each statement as honestly as you can.

Often Sometimes Seldom

For each question, write, in a comment (preferable to the Tag Board for this exercise) the number of the question and then, next to the number, your answer - "often", "sometimes" or "seldom".

1. I can remember best about a subject by listening
to a lecture that includes information, explanations
and discussions.

2. I prefer to see information written on a
chalkboard and supplemented by visual aids and
assigned readings.

3. I like to write things down or to take notes for
visual review.

4. I prefer to use posters, models, or actual practice
and other activities in class.

5. I require explanations of diagrams, graphs, or
visual directions.

6. I enjoy working with my hands or making

7. I am skillful with and enjoy developing and
making graphs and charts.

8. I can tell if sounds match when presented with
pairs of sounds.

9. I can remember best by writing things down.

10. I can easily understand and follow directions
on a map.

11. I do best in academic subjects by listening to
lectures and tapes.

12. I play with coins or keys in my pocket.

13. I learn to spell better by repeating words out
loud than by writing the words on paper.

14. I can understand a news article better by
reading about it in a newspaper than by listening to
a report about it on the radio.

15. I chew gum, smoke or snack while studying.

16. I think the best way to remember something is
to picture it in your head.

17. I learn the spelling of words by “finger
spelling” them.

18. I would rather listen to a good lecture or
speech than read about the same material in a

19. I am good at working and solving jigsaw
puzzles and mazes.

20. I grip objects in my hands during learning

21. I prefer listening to the news on the radio
rather than reading the paper.

22. I prefer obtaining information about an
interesting subject by reading about it.

23. I feel very comfortable touching others,
hugging, handshaking, etc.

24. I follow oral directions better than written

How To Interpret Your Score:

Each answer has a value:-
Often - 5; Sometimes - 3: Seldom - 1.

Below is a list of learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Tactile. Next to each list are the associated question numbers  When you write your comment, put the score next to each question number.

VISUAL: Questions 2, 3, 7, 10, 14, 16, 19, 22.
AUDITORY  Questions 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, 18, 21, 24.
TACTILE: Questions 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 17, 20, 23.

Now calculate the total scores for each style: 
VPS = Visual Preference APS = Audio Preference TPS = Tactile Preference

Note that Bruce's objective is to get a general idea of the commonest learning styles. This general idea is obtained from data provided by many individuals. 

You as an individual will not come in for any attention, welcome or otherwise. I want to reassure you on this point. If you wish, you can use the "anonymous" option when posting your Comment.

I hope this helps; if you have any questions just ask me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

This Interactive Blog!

Hello everyone. To my shame, almost a month has gone by since my last post to you. It's down to September and the beginning of October being exceptionally busy periods here in our teaching centre.

However, I am very happy to see that you, the readers, have not been idle. In particular, I would like to thank Ciro, Maria C., Giulia, Topazia, Giovanna and Angelo for leaving their messages on the Tag Board describing the English-language web sites they have visited.

This kind of interactivity is the essence of our blog. I created this Blog in far-off 2004 as a guide to the Internet for students of English. I intended it also to be a channel of communication between us. Unfortunately, this feature of the blog has so far been under-used. The recent Tag Board activity shows that this may be changing.

As for the wider Internet, in the 12 years since I started this Blog, the Net has changed and expanded enormously. There are now vast resources for you to choose from, and I encourage you to take full advantage of them.

Now, on another topic: imminently, I will post some advance notices on workshops here in our teaching centre, given by my learned colleague Bruce Warburton. You are strongly urged to go to these: there's always something new to learn.

And, also coming up: another Listening Quiz from the BBC's "Learning English" site.

Have a very good week!