Sunday, October 30, 2011

How To Make Your House out of Plastic Bottles.

An Argentine man, Alfredo Santa Cruz, has made his entire house, and much of the furniture, out of old plastic bottles.

See his story here on the BBC.

To help you focus your attention, here are three comprehension questions:

1. How did Mr Santa Cruz get his idea of making a house out of old bottles?

2. What special technique has he invented?

3. How many people has he taught to make bottle houses?

Write your answers on the Tag Board.

This follows the story of October 3, about the Manila residents who make roof skylights out of plastic bottles filled with water.

More next week.

And I wish all our readers a very entertaining Hallowe'en!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making The Most of the Internet

For those readers who are also students at the British Council Rome, my colleague Bruce Warburton will be giving a talk on this very subject. “Making the most of the web – using the internet for self study”, presented by Bruce from 19.30-20.30 on Thursday 3rd November.

Meanwhile, this Blog also helps you make the most of the Net. Although the links on this Blog connect to all manner of web sites to help you practise your English, there is some emphasis on Listening. Today, we will look at Michael Marzio's "Real English" site.

Michael Marzio is an American teacher of English near Paris. He has created a series of video comprehension exercises at various levels. His team interviews ordinary people in the street, asking questions that range from the basic to the quite complex. We'll now have a look at Lesson 1. When you click this link, a new window will open in your browser. In this way, you can easily switch between Real English and this Blog.

Lesson 1 is ideal for students at levels A1 to A2, or levels 1 to 2 at the British Council. It is very simple: "What's your name?" In the first video you'll see, lasting 59 seconds, people in the street are asked their names. Although their names are shown on the screen, the dialogues are not.

Michael Marzio recommends that you do the exercise before you watch the videos. So click on the link marked, "Lesson 1 Exercises begin here." You will be shown the individual words making up the dialogues. You can listen to the teacher pronouncing the words. Then you can record your own voice, reading the same words. Play back your recording and compare your pronunciation with that of the teacher.

Now click on "Exercise 2a" at the top of the page. Here, you will see a very short extract from the video. Below the video you are asked to choose the expression you hear. Go on to exercise 2b.

Exercise 2b contains two parts. In the first part, you watch the video and click on the expression you hear. Then, click the 'back' button on your browser to return to the first part of exercise 2b. You can now click on the loudspeaker icon, listen to the short speech, and then record yourself saying the same words. Play back your recording to check your pronunciation and sentence stress.

In exercise 2c, you click on the video and listen to the common expression used when people greet each other.

In exercise 2d you will hear a different greeting expression. How is it different? Exercise 2d contains a link to a special explanation of this expression. It's on "The Daily English Show" video, and I suggest you watch the top version with extra subtitles. When you have finished, click the 'back' button on your browser to resume the exercises in "Real English".

Continue with the rest of the exercises. They go on to exercise 6. The whole of Real English Lesson 1 should take you about twenty minutes.

At the end, you may find it helpful to read the dialogues at the same time as you watch and listen. To do this, watch the second video on the screen. You'll see the same sequence again, with subtitles.

When you have finished, here is a very important task: take five minutes off to leave your comment, wither on the Tag Board or in the Comments section just below this post. In your comment, tell us how you found the exercises. Were they easy or difficult? Were they helpful? After doing the video exercises, did you feel that it was easier to understand people speaking?

It's important for all of us that you leave a comment, as this Blog is interactive. One of its objectives is to create a community of learners of English, no matter who or where you are.

That's all for now. Coming up: a listening comprehension exercise from the BBC's 'Learning English' site.

More soon!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Ingenious Idea: The Answers.

Good day to all our readers. I can now provide you with the answers to the last Six Minute English Quiz, which centred on an ingenious idea being applied by people living in the poorer parts of Manila, Philippines.

In these poorer areas, the houses are placed very close together, and this prevents light from reaching them. The inhabitants' idea was to set  bottles filled with water into the roofs of their houses. The effect is to diffuse the sunlight that falls on the bottles, resulting in much better lighting in the house.

So here are the answers to the questions:

1. This week's official question: 
How many islands make up the Philippines?

c) 7107

2. ‘Slums’ are areas of a city where the houses are of very bad quality. How many people live in slums in the
Philippines? Twenty million people, a tenth of them in the capital, Manila.

3. What is one of the biggest problems of living in a
Manila slum? It’s very dark and it is too expensive for most slum inhabitants to use electricity to light their houses.

4. Electricity in the
Philippines is the most expensive in Asia.

5. What does the invention consist of?
A plastic bottle, filled with water. It is placed in the roof of a house, The sunlight shines on the roof and is refracted through the bottles inserted in it. The light can then be diffused all over an otherwise dark house.

6. In terms of electrical power in Watts, how much light is produced by each plastic bottle? Fifty to sixty watts – more than many electric light bulbs.

Many thanks to British Council Rome student Giovanni for posting his answers on the Tag Board. And I know a few people have visited the Blog, listened to the exercise - but not left a comment, either on the Tag Board or in the Comments section.

In these days of heightened concern for privacy, it is understandable if people are reluctant to post to a web site. But please be reassured that your e-mail address or other personal details are not at risk unless you fill in the 'e-mail / URL window on the Tag Board. I would advise you to leave this window blank. But do write your first name in the 'Name' window, as this makes the Rome English site more genuinely  interactive.

I must apologise for taking 15 days to produce the answers to the Quiz. The start of the teaching year is often very busy, not to say 'frantic'. I will be posting something later this week, first on Michael Marzio's highly useful "Real English", followed by another "6-Minute English" quiz.

Finally, a word to the occasional Spammers whom I encounter on the Tag Board. Leaving a message in a language other than English will lead to your message being deleted as well as  reported to the Tag Board site administrator.
More later this week.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Six Minute English: An Ingenious Idea

Hello everyone. There's a famous proverb which says, "Necessity is the mother of invention." This week’s Six Minute English is about how this proverb works in the Philippines. Many Filipinos live and work in Italy. Back home, many people are very poor. But some of them use a simple device, based on an equally simple scientific principle, to light their homes without spending any money. We are about to discover what this ingenious device is. Read the questions first and then listen to the programme.

1. This week's official question:

How many islands make up the Philippines? Is it:

a) 107

b) 707

c) 7107

Listen out for the answer at the end of the programme!

2. ‘Slums’ are areas of a city where the houses are of very bad quality. How many people live in slums in the Philippines?

3. What is one of the biggest problems of living in a Manila slum?

4. Electricity in the Philippines is __________ __________ __________ in Asia.

5. What does the invention consist of?

6. In terms of electrical power in Watts, how much light is produced by each plastic bottle?

Now listen to the programme. Except for question 4, the answers will consist of a long sentence, or even more than one sentence. So I suggest writing them in a Comment. To write a Comment, click on the 'Comments' link at the end of this post.

For further listening practice, explore the British Council's Learn English site. There is a large store of materials here, and more materials are being added all the time. One of the best resources consists of the Elementary Podcasts. In each podcast you'll hear a conversation between two or three people. They talk about such things as money problems, football hooliganism and even about people's favourite times of day.

You can download each podcast to your i-Pod or MP3 player for repeated listening practice. You can also download the transcript of a conversation and a Support Pack. The Support Pack consists of paper versions of the exercises that you can do on your computer.

Why not try Series 3 Episode 4? You'll hear people talking about getting a job to solve money problems, and about the weather in different countries. Listen and do the exercises. Then tell us about your experience on the Tag Board or in a Comment. Did you find the Podcast useful, or not, and why?

If you want to participate on the Learn English site, you have to register. I encourage you to do this. You will then be able to leave comments, make suggestions and ask questions about English, such as about any grammar and vocabulary you are not sure that you have understood.

Registration involves inventing a user name and password for yourself, giving your e-mail address and then a very few elements of personal information, none of which is made public. This is a safe site.

More very soon! I urge you all, wherever you are, to listen to Six Minute English and send in your answers. I also urge you explore 'Learn English' and share your experiences of it on the Tag Board.

Next week: how to use Michael Marzio's 'Real English' for listening practice.