A drug to slow down Alzheimer’s relentless attack on the brain could be available in five years, experts said last night. Read more >>
VOCABULARY The noun wonder is sometimes used, as here, as a modifier, meaning 'exciting by virtue of spectacular results achieved, feats performed, etc'. E.g., 'a wonder horse'. See here for more on noun modifiers.
BACKGROUND Today is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is a marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving in the United States. The term "Cyber Monday" was created by marketing companies to persuade people to shop online. The term made its debut on November 28, 2005 in a Shop.org press release entitled "'Cyber Monday Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year". Cyber Monday has become an international marketing term used by online retailers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, Chile, Colombia, Ireland, Japan, and China.
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express shows Santa Claus standing in the snow outside his workshop. He tells two of his elves, "Could be a quiet year — everybody's buying presents online."
EXPLANATION Santa won't be very busy making and delivering presents this year because more and more people are buying from internet retailers such as Amazon. However, you could argue that since people don't buy presents from Santa either, it shouldn't make much difference. Perhaps that's the joke?
GRAMMAR Note that 'everybody' takes a singular verb. • Is everybody ready?
VOCABULARY The little bird with the red breast just to the left of Santa is a robin. And can you spot the fox's tail?
BACKGROUND U.K. house prices surged in November and mortgage lending hit a five-year high in October, two separate surveys found Friday, a day after the Bank of England cut its support for home loans in the U.K. amid anxiety over a surge in prices. Home sales and prices and have risen sharply for much of 2013, supported by government programs encouraging banks to lend and the construction of new homes. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Matt from the Sunday Telegraph connects the soaring house prices to soaring energy bills (17% on average in 2102). A couple are sitting in armchairs in their living room. The man is reading a newspaper and tells his wife, who is knitting (a warm jumper?), "Do you realise that if we sold our house we could afford to heat it."
VOCABULARY 1. If the value, amount or level of something soars, it rises very quickly. • Unemployment has soared to 18%. 2. If you can afford to do something, you have enough money to be able to do it. • We can't afford to go abroad this summer.
GRAMMAR The cartoon features a nice example of the second conditional, which is used to talk about impossible or unlikely events or situations. Note that we use the past tense (here 'sold') to talk about the unlikely future event. For more on the second conditional, see here, here, and here.
Today Saturday November 30th 2013 is Buy Nothing Day, the global holiday from consumerism. It's a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from shopping — and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!
Buy Nothing Day was founded in Vancouver by artist Ted Dave in 1992 and subsequently promoted by Adbusters magazine, based in Canada. Here's one of their early ads.
TRANSCRIPT The average North American consumes five times more than a Mexican. Ten times more than a Chinese person. And thirty times more than a person from India. We are the most voracious consumers in the world — a world that could die because of the way we North Americans live. Give it rest. November 26 is Buy Nothing Day.
LANGUAGE Note that while you can say 'a North American' or 'a Mexican', most people would say 'a Chinese person' rather than 'a Chinese'. The same goes for Japanese. And although they say 'a person from India' in the ad, they could have said 'an Indian'. So when can you use the adjective of nationality as a noun, and when do you have to use another expression? Unfortunately, there are no rules, you just have to learn the list.
Test your knowledge of irregular verbs in English with this crossword. Click here to download a PDF version with solution, and here to access an interactive web version that will work on phones and tablets.
Hundreds of people all around the world take part in world record attempts for the ninth annual Guinness World Records Day. Tara Cleary reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: This could make a person seriously dizzy. Texan Tim Wade breaking the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive handsprings - a total of 46. TIM WADE: "I hit the wall at 35 and from then on I, you kinda can't see very much and you're just kind of going what your body feels, with your kinaesthetic awareness." REPORTER: Thousands of people worldwide tried to break records in the ninth annual Guinness World Records Day. Joe Alexander from Hamburg, Germany walked … very carefully … across 60 upright bottles ... and he can catch 16 flying darts with his hand in one minute. In London a group of 10 women called 'Marawa's Majorettes' simultaneously spun 264 hula hoops. And there was also a lesson in this year's record day. Don't shoot hoops with this guy - Harlem Globetrotters Corey "Thunder" Law sinks the bucket from over 109 feet ... that's more than 33 meters.
COMMENT A great video for teaching about superlatives - the most, the best, the fastest, etc.
India has successfully launched a spacecraft to Mars - with the aim of becoming the fourth space agency to reach the Red Planet. The spacecraft is set to travel for 300 days, reaching Mars orbit in 2014.
If the satellite orbits the Red Planet, India's space agency will become the fourth in the world after those of the US, Russia and Europe to undertake a successful Mars mission. Full story >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Peter Brookes from The Times shows the Indian rocket shooting off into space while down below hundreds of Indians are clinging precariously to a train. One of them asks the rhetorical question, "Is there a life down here?" (i.e. a life worth living).
COMMENTARY The cartoonist uses a line from a well-known David Bowie song to question the utility of a 'poor' country like India, which has serious infrastructure and public health problems (to name but two), spending $74m on a mission to Mars and roughly $1 billion a year on its overall space programme.
GRAMMAR Note the way in which the word 'life' is used in both an uncountable and countable form. In the phrase, "Is there life on Mars?" the word 'life' is uncountable because we are talking about living things in general. • Is there intelligent life on other planets? However, in the phrase "Is there a life down here?", the man is referring to the activities that form a particular part of a person's life. • He has had a good life. See here for more on the usage and meanings of 'life'.
Couple overcomes vertical challenges and tie the knot in Turkey. Sharon Reich reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: This couple are head over heels in love. The world's tallest man, Sultan Kosen, has finally found his match. The 8 foot 3 groom stood next to his bride who is just 5 foot 8 and barely reaches reaches his waist. SULTAN KOSEN: "I have found the woman of my life after a long search. I am truly happy for that." REPORTER: The Turkish farmer also holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest hands and feet.
IDIOMS 1. If you get hitched or tie the knot, you get married (see here and here for the origin of these expressions). 2. To be head over heels in love means to be deeply in love (see here for the origin of this expression).
GRAMMAR You may be wondering why the reporter says 'eight foot three' and not 'eight feet three' (which is also correct). See here for an explanation.
COMMENT This would be a good video for teaching about superlatives.
The world's best skateboarding goat, the globe's largest moving mechanical dragon and the smallest roadworthy car are among the latest records set and included in the Guinness World Records 2014 book. Tara Cleary reports.
TRANSCRIPT REPORTER: Dwarfing the German landscape and the two men trying to conquer it, it's the world's largest walking robot. The dragon is just one of a vast array of international record-breakers in the 2014 edition of the Guinness World Records book. Like the ridiculously small … and the alarmingly big. From the animal kingdom comes Happie the skateboarding goat, which rolled into the record books with the farthest distance skateboarded by a goat. Happie's owner Melody Cooke says success has turned her usually calm and sociable pet into a bit of a diva. MELODY COOKE, OWNER OF HAPPIE THE SKATEBOARDING GOAT: "She's still very friendly and stuff, but sometimes she has this attitude or this look in her eye, she's like, 'look at me, I'm a diva'." REPORTER: Fancy a cup of tea? Contortionist Leilani Franco holds three new back-breaking records, including the fastest backbend walk. LEILANI FRANCO, WORLD RECORD OWNER: "Whenever I'm at a party, my friends are always like 'Leilani do a trick, show people what you can do' and I say 'ok' and then I do something really weird and everybody gets really shocked." REPORTER: So whether it's the fastest 100m in high heels or the world's smallest dog, Guinness World Records is jam-packed with top achievements - even if it means tolerating a spaced-out reading partner.
COMMENT A great video for teaching about superlatives. See here and here for more on this grammar topic.
BACKGROUND Security is being reviewed at Buckingham Palace after last Monday's suspected break-in, in which an intruder was able to scale a fence and get inside the palace. Police said a man was arrested inside the palace on suspicion of burglary, trespass and criminal damage. The royal family were not in residence at the time. Full story >>
The cartoon, by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express, shows the Queen coming face to face with a burglar in Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty asks the intruder, "And what do you do?"
EXPLANATION There are two jokes here. Firstly, it's obvious what the burglar does (for a living) since he's represents the burglar stereotype: unshaven, wearing a mask, gloves, and striped jersey, and carrying a bag marked "SWAG". The second joke is less obvious. In fact, "And what do you do?" is the question the Queen traditionally asks when she meets members of the public (see here and here).
GRAMMAR "What do you do?" means "What's your job?". Not to be confused with "What are you doing?", which relates to what the other person is doing at this particular moment (and which would have been a more logical question in the circumstances!).
VOCABULARY 1. A burglar is a person who enters a building illegally in order to steal. • Burglars broke into the gallery and stole dozens of priceless paintings. 2. Swag is an old-fashioned informal word for goods that have been stolen.
Britain will be hotter than Africa today with the second summer heatwave likely to rage through August. The extreme weather is down to hot air from the Continent. Experts also said the surge will drag in air from Africa, pushing UK temperatures higher than Morocco, currently 84F. Full story >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express shows a family of elephants on the African plains (do you recognize the mountain in the background? - answer at end). The daddy elephants tells his son, "Stop complaining, son — it's much hotter than this in Britain ..."
GRAMMAR 1. Note the construction "stop doing something". • You should stop smoking — it's bad for your health. 2. Much can be used to intensify a comparative statement. • The exam was much more difficult than I expected.
Earlier in the week I posted a review of iStudyEnglishOnline, a new free website for learners of English. I was particularly impressed by the site's clean design and overall appearance. The site was created by Sançar Sahin, and he kindly agreed to answer my questions ...
ENGLISH BLOG: Can you tell us a bit about your background? You're from the UK originally. How did you end up in Spain?
SANCAR SAHIN: I was born and raised in Oxford, but have grown up with a mixture of cultures, as I'm half-Turkish (from my father's side). However, living all my life in England and having an English mother, my English side is definitely the prominent one. As English as I consider myself, ever since I was young I've always been clear that I want to live somewhere palm trees can grow. The Mediterranean lifestyle has always appealed to me and Spain, more specifically Barcelona where I am now, seemed (and still seems) like the perfect place. The move also gave me the opportunity to learn Spanish, a language that has fascinated me for some time now.
SANCAR SAHIN: Working as an English teacher, I was often asked by students to recommend a good resource website for learning English. There are some good ones out there, but the majority are old-fashioned, complicated to navigate and, quite frankly, a bit haphazard. As I'm also a professional online marketer, I wanted to draw upon my experience to bring both user experience and good-quality, educational content together. Educators aren't exactly famous for embracing new technologies and clean, user-friendly designs (just look at any major university website) and this is a trend I wanted to buck.
ENGLISH BLOG: When did you launch the site, and what sort of reaction have you had from students or teachers?
SANCAR SAHIN: The site was launched in early 2013. However, it's changed somewhat from its original form and has gradually expanded into new areas of the English language (we started with just vocabulary worksheets). The reaction from students and teachers has been fantastic and we have been very encouraged by some of the positive feedback we have received.
ENGLISH BLOG: How many visitors do you get?
SANCAR SAHIN: We're still quite new and have yet to become established. We see a couple of thousand visitors each month but we're growing everyday and have a high percentage of return visitors, which tells us we're doing something right.
ENGLISH BLOG: Do you plan to develop the site further?
SANCAR SAHIN: Absolutely! One of our objectives is to publish posts in our English language blog more often. More importantly, we want to make sure we are writing about the things people care about and that we are tackling real questions asked by real students. On top of this we will be constantly adding to our idioms database and verb conjugator.
ENGLISH BLOG: The site must have cost quite a bit to create, but it's free, and you don't have any ads. Do you have any plans to monetize the site?
SANCAR SAHIN: As well as being an English teacher, I also work in web marketing. This has given me the skills needed to create the site from the comfort of my own home, which has been good as I have been able to make it exactly how I want it. We don't think that students should have to pay for access to good-quality learning resources, but we may add a few non-invasive adverts in the future, to keep the bailiffs from the door.
ENGLISH BLOG: Have you got any other projects in the pipeline?
SANCAR SAHIN: We're always thinking of ways we can help students to learn English in new, innovative ways. The company's co-founder, Andrew Cox, and myself have recently launched an iOS (soon to be available on Android) application for learning English, specifically concentrating on the comprehension of the many, diverse British accents. Additionally, we also run an English vocabulary YouTube channel.
ENGLISH BLOG: Thanks Sançar, and good luck with all your projects.
It's been a while since I featured a new English learning site on The English Blog. There was a time (a few years ago) when new sites seemed to be appearing every week, but my Top English Learning Sites list (see left-hand sidebar) has remained unchanged for I don't know how long. Why is this? Perhaps there's not much money to be made in creating super-duper sites for English learners. But I think another possible reason is that everyone is into mobile learning and apps these days. The heyday of the English learning website seems to have passed.
Having lamented the decline of the online English learning site, I now have to backtrack slightly because I did come across a rather good one recently. iStudyEnglishOnline was created by Sançar Sahin, an English teacher based in Barcelona. According to Sançar, "The site has been created to provide a clean and easy-to-use free resource for students learning English", and I have to say that I was very impressed by the overall look and design.
The site has four main sections: Vocabulary, Grammar, Expressions & Idioms, and Verb Conjugations. I liked the Vocabulary section best, which is organized by theme (Clothes, Kitchen, Food, etc.), and features attractive pictures with English and American pronunciations. I particularly liked the video quiz, which tests your knowledge of the vocabulary.
There's nothing earth-shatteringly new here, but it's all very nicely done and would be a good resource for lower-level to intermediate learners. Sançar and his team have also created the iOS application iUnderstandEnglish, which features 12 different native speakers, each with a regional British accent, talking about real-life situations (find out more here). The app is currently free, so you should definitely download it today (if you have an iOS device, of course).
BACKGROUND Doctors have angrily rejected as “a folly” government plans for hospitals to carry out routine work seven days a week - saying the NHS is not Tesco. Full story >>
The cartoon by Mac from The Daily Mail shows what we assume to be a doctor pushing a shopping trolley into a Tesco supermarket. A sign reads, "Sorry. Tesco will no longer be serving doctors at weekends."
VOCABULARY 1. NHS is an abbreviation for National Health Service, England's publicly funded healthcare system. 2. A shopping trolley is a large metal basket on wheels which is provided by shops such as supermarkets for customers to use while they are in the shop. In American English, they say shopping cart.
GRAMMAR The future progressive tense is used for an on-going action that will occur in the future. •The Moscow State Circus will be performing in Cheltenham for the next 3 weeks. You can also have a negative version. • The Moscow State Circus will not be performing in Cheltenham for the next 3 weeks.
Read more at www.grammar-monster.com.
BACKGROUND Today, about 2,000 people will attend a service at Westminster Abbey later to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation.
Some who participated in the 1953 service will be in the congregation.
The Queen will be accompanied by more than 20 members of her family, including the Duke of Edinburgh. The heavy, solid gold St Edward's Crown will be on display. The Queen, whose reign began in 1952, practised wearing the crown around Buckingham Palace in the weeks before her coronation, including at her children's bath time. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Paul Thomas from The Daily Express shows the Queen in the Tower of London, where the crown is kept. She is wearing her coronation robes and pointing at the crown, which is covered in cobwebs. She tells the two beefeaters (the name for the guards at the Tower of London), "You could've dusted it!"
NOTE One of the beefeaters is holding a raven, a nod to the ravens of the Tower of London, a group of captive Common Ravens which live in the Tower. The presence of the ravens is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower; a superstition holds that "If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it." [Source: Wikipedia]
GRAMMAR "Could have" is used in English to indicate your annoyance or displeasure when someone hasn't done something you think they should have. • You could have told me you were going to be late.
VOCABULARY 1. A cobweb is the net which a spider makes for catching insects. 2. If you dust something, you remove the dust or dirt from it.