Friday, March 26, 2010

Are You A Liar? Seven Questions for Six Minutes!

Hello everyone! It's the first truly warm day here in The Eternal City.

Okay, so in today's Six Minute English we are going to explore an aspect of dishonesty, specifically, Lying. Some categories of people, particularly lawyers (liars?) and politicians, have a reputation for lying, or, in the famous words of one British government official, being "economical with the truth." But what is the truth about lying? You are about to find out.

Now read the questions below:
1. (Official question): Which profession admits to lying the most?
(a) Teachers; (b) Doctors; (c) Politicians.
(You'll hear the answer at the end of the programme.)

2. According to research, how many lies do most people tell every day?
3. "Lying is a(n) ___________ part of human nature." Listen and insert one word into the gap.
4. How can you tell if someone is lying? Listen to the psychiatrist Sharon Leal and briefly describe the three factors that she mentions.
5. How does a "lie detector" work? It measures your ________, your ___________ and your ________ .
6. What is a "control question"?
7. What is the definition of a "white" lie? What example does the speaker give?

Now listen to the programme. Then write your answers on the Tag Board or in the Comment below this posting.

That's all for now. I will be on holiday until 7 April. Have a very Good Easter holiday, and as they say where I'm going, iyi yolculuklar!
- Mike

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Turning of the Year

Hello everyone! It's now been officially Spring since 21 March. Rome has definitely warmed up. Bad luck for skiers, of course: on the nearby slopes of Campo Felice or Ovindoli it's downhill all the way in more senses than one. The quality of the snow will now be deteriorating.

Here on the Blog, I would like to congratulate Pasquale Alabastro on his splendid photo of the Colosseum. Pasquale is studying photography in Rome as well as English, and there are more of his pictures in the pipeline.

Before I go on holiday, I plan another listening comprehension exercise from the BBC's Six Minute English. Meanwhile, I would like to thank Leonardo and Gian Piero, of Level Four, for recording themselves reading "Words In The News". I have given them some individual feedback. I would generally say that the problems mainly arise from wrongly-placed stress, whether within a word or within a sentence. Wrongly-placed stress can render your speech incomprehensible. So I encourage you to try it for yourself.

Simply surf over to Words In The News. Choose a piece of news - I recommend the interesting piece on the Latvian marijuana haul. Listen to the official reader first. Pay close attention to the stressed words and other pronunciation features. You could even print out the text, listen and underline the stressed words and syllables. Or you could copy the text to "Word" and use the highlighter tool. Then record yourself and save the resulting file. After converting the file to MP3 format, send it to me. Do not worry if you get a message saying that the British Council has blocked your message. I can take care of it from this end. I will listen to your recording, and contact you with corrections and suggestions.

For something slightly different, navigate over to the British Council's English Online site. This piece on Extra-Sensory Perception will be particularly interesting to students in our Level 4A, since we have been looking at Psychics, Astrologers and Palmists. Listen to the reader and read the text at the same time.

Your question for this topic: what are the four distinct types of ESP?

That's it for the moment. Keep watching this space.
 - Mike

Friday, March 19, 2010

Prison Restaurant: The Answers

Hello everyone! There's a definite feeling that spring is just around the corner here in Rome. What are you all doing this weekend? If it's nice on Sunday, I might to round Lago di Bracciano on my bicycle.

But now for business. Many thanks to all those who answered the latest Six Minute English quiz on the prison restaurant. They include Giovanni, Paolo, Corrado, Olimpia, Bruno, Chiara and Savina.

This is a good number of respondents. But there are many more of you out there. I have 143 current and former students this academic year. I do urge as many of you as possible to participate in the Blog and leave messages on the Tag Board. Otherwise, I have no idea who is visiting the Blog.

Most of you got most of the answers right, so congratulations! However, I will now post the official answers.

(1) Nine million people around the world are officially in prison.
(2) Callum hasn't eaten anywhere particularly strange, except on top of a mountain or on a beach.
(3) The restaurant is called 'The Clink', which is also slang for 'prison'.
(4) The restaurant is run by the prisoners, who grow some of the ingredients in the prison itself, or obtain them locally. The prisoners receive training in cooking and hospitality.
(5) "The Clink" isn't open to the public. You have to be invited.
(6) The restaurant can help to reduce crime by giving prisoners valuable skills which will help them to find jobs when they are released.
(7) The USA, Russia and China hold half of all the world's prisoners.
(8) Men are more likely to spend time in prison than women.
(9) And men are eight times more likely to find themselves in prison than women.
In the next few days, possibly even this weekend, I'll post a further Six Minute English quiz on this Blog. Meanwhile, I encourage you to explore the right-hand column of the Blog for further opportunities for practising your English. Here are just a few examples:

British Council English Online.This is intended for students in China. But you can see an English version, and there is a lot of useful material. Try, in no particular order: "Word Of The Day", "You're Hired" - guide to getting a job - and "Big City Small World".

Mark Appleby's "The Link" in Porto, Portugal. Mark is a teacher at the British Council in Porto. He has created "The Link" in order to encourage students to conduct debates in English. The debates are on topics of current interest. One whcih has attracted a lot of exchanges is: "Why Being Good Sucks". (sucks = is terrible, awful) Is it better to be good or bad?

Go4English. This is another British Council site, this time aimed at students from Arab countries. But do not worry: when you click the link you will be taken to the English version. This area is also full of materials. Click the "New from the British Council" area. I tried "Get That Job!" If I had continued, I would have learned how to speak about my personal skills, how to speak about my professional skills, and how to talk about the kind of job I wanted. You might also check out the "Phrasals for Fun" area.

More recommendations coming up soon! And another Six Minute English quiz.
Watch this space!
 - Mike

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Prison Restaurant: Nine Questions for Six Minutes

Gooooooood morning everyone! It's a lovely, if slightly cool, Friday morning here in The Eternal City, and the weekend is beckoning!

And as promised, here is a listening comprehension exercise based on the BBC's "Six Minute English" web site. This week's subject is rather interesting: it's about a restaurant that has just opened in a London prison.

Look through the questions before you listen. Try to anticipate the kind of information you will need to listen for when answering.

1. (official question from the site): How many people worldwide are currently serving prison sentences?

a) 9 million; b) 15 million; c) 22 million
You'll hear the answer towards the end of the episode.

2. Where are the strangest places that Callum has eaten?

3. What is the name of the restaurant, and what is the significance of this name?

4. How is the restaurant organised? Include details of who works there and where the ingredients for the dishes come from.

5. Is this restaurant open to the public? Give a reason for your answer.

6. How, according to the prison governor (director) can this restaurant reduce crime?

7. Which three countries hold half of all the world's prisoners?

8. Which category, men or women, are most likely to go to prison?

9. And how many more times are they likely to spend time in prison?

Now listen to the episode. Post your answers on the Tag Board or in the Comments section just below this post.

Three more things:

I've corrected the erroneous URL (Web address) for the New English File Upper-Intermediate web site. And I have added the site for New English File Advanced, even though we are not yet using this book. There is certain to be something of interest for you. See the section entitled "Web Sites for New English File" down the right-hand column, after "Dictionaries".

And I encourage you to continue practising your reading and pronunciation by recording yourselves reading "Words In The News". See my post of Friday 5 March. And do send me the MP3 files of your recordings.

Finally: the word "get". We have seen how many meanings this simple verb can have. So try this short test from the BBC's "Learning English" site and tell everyone, on the Tag Board, how many meanings you identified.

All for now, and more very soon. Have a good weekend!
- Mike

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recording Yourselves

Hello everyone. Just a short message about recording yourselves reading "Words In The News" and sending me the sound files.

Many thanks are due to Leonardo and Gian Piero of the Monday course. They have both sent me MP3 files of their recordings. I'll be giving them individual feedback.

However, when you send me your recording you may receive an Alert Notification from the British Council saying that your e-mail has been blocked.

Do not worry about this. The next step is that the British Council e-mail administrator contacts me to warn me about the blocked e-mail. I then reply saying that it is a work-related e-mail with an MP3 audio file. The e-mail is then immediately released for me to read.

Obviously, the British Council needs to exercise control over the potentially vast number of multimedia files floating through its system. These files can be very big and cause delays.

However, do follow Gian Piero and Leonardo's example, record yourselves and send me the sound files. It may soon be possible to add such files to this Blog, or to the Rome Students' Forum.

Watch this space!
Many thanks and more soon,
- Mike

Monday, March 08, 2010

Recording Yourselves

Hello. And a very good Monday morning to you. I hope you enjoy International Women's Day. I'd like to add an image of some minosa, but I am not sure if I can right now.

I am glad to see that some people are following my suggestion and recording themselves reading something from 'Words In The News'. Anybody is welcome to send me the resulting sound file, and I will gladly listen to it.

You can send me your sound file as an attachment, but please try to convert it to MP3 format first. "Sound Recorder" saves files in WAV format and the files are therefore rather large. There are free converter programs that will convert your WAV file to MP3, of which the files are much smaller. I use "Total Recorder" for which I paid, as it is also a sound editor capable of capturing streaming audio.

As this week progresses, I will review the listening and video sites I have listed. But it would be immensely helpful if you visit them too and tell us all what you think of them - either on the Tag Board or in a Comment below this post.

Later on, too, I will produce another comprehension exercise from Six Minute English.

Finally, you will have noticed the new look of this Blog. I think it is much better as it separates the various areas and makes everything much easier to read. I would appreciate your ideas on this subject. Eventually I will replace the photo at the top. If you have your own photo you would like to see at the top of this Blog, just let me know.

That's all for now. Watch this space for further developments.
And have a nice day.
- Mike

Friday, March 05, 2010

Practise your Listening and Pronunciation

Hello everyone. As promised, here is an idea to help you practise pronunciation. I have mentioned this in class already.


Ensure that you have a set of headphones with a microphone incorporated.
Ensure, too, that your computer is set up for you to record sound through your microphone.

The site

On Internet, go to the BBC's "Learning English" site and select "Words In The News".

Read and Listen

Choose an episode of "Words In The News". Here's an entertaining one: "Pensioners accused of kidnapping".
Look at the text, and listen to the newsreader reading it.

Record yourself

When the newsreader has finished, run the "Sound Recorder" program on your computer. How? On a PC, "Sound Recorder" or "Registrare Suono" is usually to be found under "All Progams"/ "Accessories"/ "Entertainment".
Click the red "Record" button and read the text yourself. Make sure you save the sound file you have created.


Listen to the official newsreader again.
Now listen to yourself - you should be able to open your saved sound file using Windows Media Player or Real Player. Or i-Tunes if you have it.
Can you hear any differences between yourself and the official newsreader? Make a note of them. Concentrate on pronunciation, stress, rhythm and intonation.

Record again

Now activate "Sound Recorder" again and read the text aloud. Save the file.

Listen again

Finally, listen to your second recording. Was it closer to the 'official' version than your first recording? If you have saved both versions, you can listen to both of them again. Have you eliminated any of your mistakes?

Share your experience

You can send me your sound file as an attachment if you like. But please convert the file into MP3 format first. "Sound Recorder" produces WAV files which are rather big. There are various free sound format conversion programs available on the Internet.


I recommend following this procedure at least once a week. It need not take long. A 250-word article such as "Pensioners accused of kidnapping" should take you about two minutes to read aloud. Add the time it takes to listen to the official newsreader twice (a total of three minutes), and a further two minutes for your second recording, and we get a total time of seven minutes. Add a further five minutes for repeat listenings and checking, and the time taken rises to twelve minutes. Say fifteen minutes in all to be realistic. Surely you can spare fifteen minutes a week?

And there's an added bonus: each "Words In The News" episode has a glossary of new words that you may not know, with explanations. So this is a great way to add to your vocabulary.

Tell everyone about it

As always, please do leave a message describing your speech practice experience. Leave it on the Tag Board, or, for a longer message, use the Comment facility just below this post.

More soon! If I have time today, I'll add another "Six Minute English" exercise; if not, it will be early next week.

- Mike

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Plastic Pollution: The Answers

Good afternoon everyone.
Very many thanks go to Olimpia, Sergio, Antonella, Giovanni, Savina and Bruno for supplying answers to the most recent Six Minute English exercise. But where were all the other students??

Now here are the answers:
1. (c) forty-six thousand pieces of plastic to each average square kilometre of ocean. (United Nations figures)
2. Every year, plastic pollution kills over a million seabirds and a hundred thousand mammals.
3. Examples of the litter found in seabirds' stomachs include bottles, toys, fishing nets and ropes.
4. Eighty per cent of plastic found in the ocean is litter that has been thrown away on land.
5. One hundred million tonnes of plastic products are made each year.
6. Forty per cent of this is used for packaging.
7. The three 'Rs' are:
  • Reduce the amount of packaging;
  • Reuse packages more than once;
  • Recycle the materials used.
Very many thanks for your participation! But I would like to encourage as many people as possible to join this blog.

Would you like to listen to the exercise again?

In my next post: How to use the BBC's 'Words In The News' as a model for pronunciation. Watch this space!
 - Mike