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!

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!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Your sign, your personality?

Good day everyone. Today I want to draw your attention to an important resource: "Real English" by the well-known American teacher of English, Michael Marzio.

You are probably familiar with his spontaneous street interviews with passers-by, who answer questions on their nationality, phone numbers, what the Americans/British/Italians/Germans are like, and similar. Right now I'd like to look at the Zodiac.

It's often said that our personalities are influenced by our Zodiac sign. For instance, a Libran like me is supposed to be well-balanced. But is this true for every Libran?

So navigate or surf over to "Real English" Lesson 7 - "What's Your Astrological Sign?"

As you watch, make a note of the signs and the personality traits associated with each one. Then, when you've finished, watch the video again, with subtitles. Same or different? Did you learn any surprising facts?

Tip: - Click on the video title at the top of the video window, so as to open the video in YouTube and enable Full Screen. 

Question: What language is used, in English, to refer to Zodiac signs?

Write your answers to all these questions - signs and characteristics, and the language of the Zodiac - on the Tag Board or in a Comment.

P.S. You'll also find Michael Marzio's "Real English" in the list of useful sites, on the right below the Tag Board.

I look forward to reading your answers!
Have a nice day,

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Back at the ranch

Hello everyone. It's that time again: new year, new students, new horizons. and new posts to this Blog, "Rome English".

It's been a long summer holiday, and I apologise for the lack of new posts.

Soonest, I'll resume with Listening Quizzes. But for now, I'd like to welcome a new Pre-Intermediate class of students.

They are a small class, and are into Mechanics, Fashion, Physiotherapy and general culture. However it is early to present them with BBC Radio listening comprehension. I'd like instead to draw their, and your, attention to a few simple aids to practising English:

1. Our class magazine, "English, Actually". It's the place to go if you want to learn about us, and practise writing. That way, you join our community.

2. The British Council's "Learn English" site. Excellent for grammar and vocabulary research, and a wide range of listening exercises. I particularly recommend "Learn English Teens" even if you are not a teenager. There is a lot of lively material.

3. "Real English", by Michael Marzio. Watch the video interviews, do the exercises and test your listening skills. Try the phone numbers lesson: write down the phone numbers, then watch again using the subtitled version.

There are, of course, links to all these sites in the column opposite, on the right. I urge you to explore this column and checkout as many websites as you can.

That's all for today. Do write a comment or a message on the Tag Board, just to introduce yourself.

More very soon!
Michael Ivy

Monday, June 20, 2016

News review - vocabulary for you.

Dear all,

Sorry for my absence since the last post on 7 June. Now I'm back, with a very useful website for Upper-Intermediate students and above.

It's the BBC's "Learning English" and it's called "News Review". Here, two people in the studio discuss useful vocabulary to help you understand the news better.

The topic is the tragic, much-discussed shooting incident at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Have a look at the site, watch the video and note the vocabulary - words such as "vigil" and "moving". Then do the short quiz activity.

Extra activity: when you have finished, look through the various news articles on the BBC website. What words and expressions, specific to news reporting, occur most often? Post your answers in a Comment or on the Tag Board.

Do revisit the BBC's "Learning English" site. There are so many useful features here. Try "Lingohack". It's organised by date, with each date displaying three news headlines. Take your pick. Then give us your reactions, again, in a comment or on the tag board.

Always remember: it's vitally important to maintain your contact with English, especially now when courses may have finished.

I'll have more for you very soon! Watch this space.

Kind regards,
Michael Ivy

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Is the Latin Lover Dead?: The Answers

Hello all! I am sorry to have been away for so long. But now I can reveal the answers to the latest Six Minute English Quiz: "Is the Latin Lover Dead?"

Those questions and answers:
1. This weeks's official question: Who wrote the novel Don Quixote, about a 50-year old man travelling Spain in search of knightly adventures in rusty armour and a cardboard helmet? Was it…

a) Miguel de Cervantes: b) Leo Tolstoy: c) William Shakespeare?

2. What does Alice ask Neil to do at the beginning of the programme? [Give her his comfortable chair because hers is uncomfortable.]

3. Chivalry was all about [honour] and [courage] in battle. Later it was about being [polite] to [ladies].

4. In Poland they have battle [re-enactments] every weekend.

5. Jousting is a contest between two people on [horseback].

6. Professor Laura Ash of Oxford University says that [love] makes you a better [knight].

So what's the situation in your country? Is chivalry alive or dead? We'd all love to read your answers from round the world. Simply write then in a Comment or on the Tag Board opposite.

The next Six Minute English Quiz is coming soon.

Good bye for now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Is the Latin Lover Dead?

G'day all. The above question, I have asked my students in Rome many times. Most people, especially the ladies, emphatically reply "No".

And Six Minute English asks "Is Chivalry Dead?

Let's listen and see. Please, however, try not to look at the transcript until you have finished the exercise.

So - Six Questions for Six Minutes:

1. This weeks's official question: Who wrote the novel Don Quixote, about a 50-year old man travelling Spain in search of knightly adventures in rusty armour and a cardboard helmet? Was it…

a) Miguel de Cervantes: b) Leo Tolstoy: c) William Shakespeare?

2. What does Alice ask Neil to do at the beginning of the programme? (Write a short reply)

3. Chivalry was all about [______] and [______] in [______]. Later it was about being [______] to [______]. (One word for each space.)

4. In Poland they have battle [______] every weekend.

5. Jousting is a contest between two people on [______].

6. Professor Laura Ashe of Oxford University says that in medieval times,  [______] made you a better [______].

Post your answers to the Tag Board or write them in a Comment. The first person to post the right answers will get an Honourable Mention and an apero in the nearby Vineria on Via della Croce.

I look forward to maximum participation. Come numerous, to translate directly.

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Migrants: The Answers

Hello everyone. I was very pleased to find loyal student Filomena's answers to the latest Quiz. Let's see whether she got them all right:

1. became a volunteer after going on a sailing excursion (The Optician, Carmine)
2. became a volunteer after her mother died (The Chef, Maria-Grazia)
3. doesn't understand why no one in their own countries helps migrants (The Chef, Maria-Grazia)
4. feels the presence of the migrants in the material he uses for his work (The Carpenter, Francesco Tuccio)
5. finds some aspects of his job "sad" (The Gravedigger, Giuseppe Giardino)
6. gets his material from wrecked migrants' boats (The Carpenter, Francesco Tuccio)
7. has had to find three hundred extra beds for migrants (The Hospital Director, Mr Giuffreda)
8. saved forty-seven migrants (The Optician, Carmine)
9. says "tiredness is not in our contract" (The Hospital Director, Mr Giuffreda)
10. says helping migrants is a blessing (The Hospital Director, Mr Giuffreda)
11. says that Italy and Europe are not doing enough to help migrants (The Gravedigger, Giuseppe Giardino)
12. says that until two years ago the media never talked about migrants (The Carpenter, Francesco Tuccio)
13. says there are many more children and teenagers than in the past (The Chef, Maria-Grazia)
14. sells his work all over Europe (The Carpenter, Francesco Tuccio)
15. took some Eritrean survivors out to sea to revisit the area where they were rescued (The Optician, Carmine)

Yes, she did!
What a pity, however, that she was the only person to take part. :-(

I encourage anyone who is studying English to spend a few minutes every day, if they can, on listening practice. It's the real key to making a substantial improvement.

Look no further than the right-hand column of this blog for a guide to useful websites.

Elementary to Intermediate students will find "Real English" a great help. Advanced students should venture onto the radio. The BBC's Radio 4 and World Service are good for news. As a step up, try listening to interviews. The Radio 4 Today programme is a good place to look; see also "Radio 4 in 4", which has clips lasting under 5 minutes.

A very good opportunity to listen to authentic English is offered by the British Council's "Learn English" site. "Learn English Teens", whether you are a teenager or not, has some very useful materials.

All the links can be found on the right-hand column. If you need help, just write to me in a comment or a message on the Tag Board.

Now watch this space for the next listening quiz!

Happy listening.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Migrants: A Listening Quiz

Once more, migrants are sadly in the news after four hundred died recently on a crossing from Egypt to Italy.

On the BBC, you can hear the stories of five ordinary Sicilians who have had extensive contact with migrants. Some are on the island of Lampedusa, the first landfall for many migrants. Others are on the mainland. 

On the linked page here, listen to their stories and match a statement with a profession: the Chef, the Optician, the Hospital Director, the Gravedigger or the Carpenter.

Which person...

1. became a volunteer after going on a sailing excursion 
2. became a volunteer after her mother died
3. doesn't understand why no one in their own countries helps migrants 
4. feels the presence of the migrants in the material he uses for his work 
5. finds some aspects of his job "sad"
6. gets his material from wrecked migrants' boats 
7. has had to find three hundred extra beds for migrants 
8. saved forty-seven migrants 
9. says "tiredness is not in our contract"
10. says helping migrants is a blessing 
11. says that Italy and Europe are not doing enough to help migrants 
12. says that until two years ago the media never talked about migrants 
13. says there are many more children and teenagers than in the past
14. sells his work all over Europe
15. took some Eritrean survivors out to sea to revisit the area where they were rescued 
Post your answers preferably in a Comment. You could use the Tag Board, but you are limited to 200 characters per message.

I look forward to as many participants as possible!!

More soon,

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

6 Minute English: The Commute and Answers

Dear all,
Sorry to have taken this long to get back to you. It's 5 April and the latest 5 Minute English Quiz was posted on Arch 11, nearly a month ago. It's too long of course, but my excuse is that the Easter holidays intervened. But now I can reveal the answers.

1) The official question: What did the word 'commuter' originally describe? Was it someone who…
a) travelled with other people? b) paid a reduced fare to travel? c) travelled by train to work?

The correct answer was (b). It comes from the Latin "commutare" which means "to change". In this context, the change related to the reduced train fare that passengers paid if they often travelled the same route.

There is a legalistic usage of "commute", in which the word means to change or reduce the severity of a punishment, usually known as a "sentence". For example, a person sentenced to death may have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

2. What counts as unusual behaviour on the Tube? When people start talking to each other!

3. Why do you need to be "alert" in Nairobi? In case someone runs away with your belongings. You need to expect the unexpected!

4. What is "trip-chaining"? To make one or more stops along your route.

5. What are the dangers of longer commutes according to the American researcher? Putting on weight and suffering from high blood pressure.

That's all for today. I'll be back very soon with another quiz. Meanwhile, do continue with your listening practice. We can do some in class, but you must do as much as you can privately. I suggest ten minutes every other day.

Here's an example: "The ordinary Italians facing the migrant crisis" In this programme, the BBC's Emma-Jane Kirby talks to Italians who have been in contact with migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Listen to as many as you can and choose the best clip (programme extract). Say why you like it. Was it easy or difficult? Did you learn any new words? Write your comments in a Comment (preferred method) or on the Tag Board.

Good listening - and more soon!
Have a good day,

Friday, March 11, 2016

Six Minute English: The Commute

Hello. I'm back again with another Six Minute English Quiz.

You'll notice a word in the title: "commute". What does it mean and how do you say it in Italian, or another language that you speak? Write your answer in a comment or on the tag board.

Listen to Alice and Neil. Why is cycling good for you? Why can travelling by train be bad for you? Again, please do post your answers in a comment or on the tag board.

To start with, here's this week's official question

1. What did the word 'commuter' originally describe? Was it someone who…

a) travelled with other people? b) paid a reduced fare to travel? c) travelled by train to work?

You will hear the answer at the end of the programme.

Some more questions:

2. What counts as unusual behaviour on the Tube?
3. Why do you need to be "alert" in Nairobi?
4. What is "trip-chaining"?
5. What are the dangers of longer commutes according to the American researcher?

Very important: try not to read the transcript before you do this exercise. Read the questions, listen to the programme, and please do post your answers on this Blog.

Then use the transcript to check your answers. How many did you get right?

Write the answers to all these questions on our blog. That way, we are all in a real community of English language learners.

Official answers coming up very soon.

Enjoy the Quiz!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

You Listen: Maria Sharapova

Good day everyone. This week I bring you another opportunity to listen and understand, and it's from the BBC World Service Learning English site.

Today's exercise is about the tennis player Maria Sharapova, She failed a drug test apparently because she had not realised that the drug in question had recently been added to a list of proscribed substances. It sounds like the kind of mistake anyone could make. But there have been consequences for the tennis star.

To find out more, navigate to the BBC Learning English site and News Review Activity 1. You'll find yourself in Session 2. Scroll down the screen to Activity 1 and read the introduction. Then click on the video clip. It is just over eight minutes long.

In the clip, Neil and Finn introduce you to some new expressions. They include words commonly encountered in news reports. There are also some phrasal verbs.

Watch the clip. Then scroll down to the News Review Quiz and answer the three questions.

Then tell us all what new expressions you learned. If you can, give us both the verb and noun forms of the related expressions. Also, give us the phrasal verbs.

"Telling us" is easy: put your answers on the Tag Board (on the right) or in a Comment.

And let's have the maximum number of readers participating. Remember, this is not a long operation - the whole exercise should take no more than twenty minutes.

One last reminder. On the News Review site, there are various things that can help you. Under Session Grammar, check out the Full Grammar Reference. Under Session Vocabulary, look at the Full Vocabulary Reference.

And at the bottom of the page, look at "Downloads" - click on the word "more" Then there is "More" - just click on the expression "BBC News". I say this because the links are not in a contrasting colour, as they should be.

Good luck - and let's get more participants involved! Last time round, we only saw the ever-loyal and stalwart Filomena!

Another post very soon indeed!
Take care,

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Listen up!

Hello all.
As I often say, to get better at listening to English, you need to practise. It's like sport or music. A little, every day.

Serious musicians spend, in fact, several hours a day practising. For listening to English, I always suggest at least ten minutes a day.

Below, I set out two ideas for this week. First, the famous American "Technology, Entertainment and Design" website - TED to you. A quick visit today revealed these topics:

Erin McKean: The joy of lexicography - all about dictionaries, how they are made and why we use them.

Thomas Peschak, Ocean Photographer. Great talk and wonderful images and footage. Don't miss seeing Thomas swimming with the sharks!

These talks are for more advanced students, but you can download the transcripts to help you. Just click the "Download" button to the right of the window.
After watching these talks, leave your reactions and opinions in a Comment or on the Tag Board.

Next, on the BBC's Learning English: Being polite by using the passive. In English, to talk about delicate subjects, or ask embarrassing questions, we use the passive rather than the active voice. The principle here is to use less direct language. 

Check here to find out more. What are the rules and suggestions? Do the exercises and then post your answers on the Tag Board or in a Comment. 

I look forward to everybody's participation in all the ideas I have mentioned. Don't be shy - go straight to the Tag Board or to Comments as soon as you have finished a task.

Finally, here's a deal. Towards the end of this month, I'm going to Spain. I used to speak Spanish quite well, but it's now quite rusty. So as often as I can, I'll go online and listen to the news on Radio Nacional de Espana, or Radio Exterior de Espana. I'll let you know how I progress.

Have a nice day,