Thursday, 1 February 2018

Weaving language and tapestry making

Hi everyone!

I'm very sorry I have been absent for such a long time! But if you know me, you know that this is my usual pattern.

The visit to an exhibition on William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement has inspired me to look for videos that show the beauty of craftmanship. This one, apart from being extraordinarily informative as well as wonderfully produced, is intended to remind you of the metaphors we saw in class not long ago.

The "warp and woof", meaning the foundation of something, is a typical example of a metaphor that alludes to the art of weaving (although the technical terms preferred nowadays are warp and weft), but the most interesting idioms we could see were those in which the background metaphor was "storytelling is weaving": the thread of discourse, the loom of language, to weave a story; as well as those where we understand the metaphor "storytelling is lying": to fabricate, the fabric/tissue of lies, to pull the wool over somebody's eyes, to make up of whole cloth, to spin a yarn. Weaving and language thus become intricately interwoven (see what I did there?) through an underlying metaphor: the storyteller and poet as a weaver of language.

With this in mind, it was only natural that the first video about arts and crafts that I wanted to present to you had to do with weaving: here you have the art of tapestry making at the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins in Paris.

The activities I propose for this video are fairly open questions, because I don't want to detract from the enjoyment of watching the art that these women (only women in the video!) bring to life. The explanations are so clear that I also wanted you to focus on the accuracy of language in the voiceover without thinking much about exercises.

So, share with us in the comments: which of the jobs carried out at the Gobelins do you think is the hardest, and why? Which one would you rather do if you could work there, and why? Try to use the specific language you can hear in the video.

Optional: note down all instances of the passive voice.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Social / Unsocial networks

Hi everyone!

After an involuntary break, I'm back with this video about (un)social networks. Discussing the way social networks and technology affects our personal relationships must go further than the question "does technology unite us or divide us?" The implications it has in the way we construct our relationships and the way we relate to ourselves, to our insecurities and aspirations, is also worthy of analysis.

Here are some comprehension questions for a TED Talk on this matter. Before you listen, you may want to check the meaning of "Gallup" and "it drives me nuts".

1. How does the speaker interpret seeing people on their phones while on a date or a dinner? ("What it says to me is...")

2. How do pagers and answer machines compare to technology nowadays?

3. When she was talking to teenagers, what did the bargaining consist in? How did she respond?

4. What do we present on Facebook? Give three collocations.

5. What does she refer to with "emotional turmoil"?

6. How are we "our own personal relations firms"?

The key here (but give us your answers in the comments section).

And you? Which social networks do you use? Do you think they have altered the way you relate to yourself or to others? Tell us in the comments.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Movember History

Hi everyone!

This is Movember! I like to send you a Movember video each year since I had a student who took part in it. He told me that he liked being asked about his new moustache, as it gave him the chance to talk about the reason behind it.

I won't tell you much about Movember, because the video explains what this grass roots movement is in great detail. The comprehension questions are easy enough (some collocations and an open question), but... the accent is Australian. Hehe. The open question is right at the end, so that you have time to get used to the accent before transcribing.

Before listening: there is a collocation that you must know, as it is key to comprehension, so check that you know it or look it up in the dictionary. What two things can you raise for a good cause?

Some collocations to complete while listening:

1. The month ________ known as November.
2. Everything comes back _____ _________.
3. The party ended with the _________ ________ bring back moustaches.
4. Becoming a Mo Sista is definitely a way to meet guys. Asking a guy about his moustache is the ultimate ____________ ___________.
5. _________ __________ November 2010... (this discourse marker is borrowed from cinema/TV jargon)

What's the firm belief he expresses at the end of the video?

Enjoy! Share your answers and thoughts in the comments section. Have you every participated in Movember? Would you consider doing so?

Thursday, 9 November 2017


Hi there!

It's been a long time since I've featured a news video here. It used to be a staple (2nd meaning) in this blog, so I'll try to include one from time to time.

The one for today is a video that I have chosen for two reasons: one is the topic, rumours and the buzzword of the moment, fake news. The other reason is the use of an informal construction of the passive voice: the passive with "get".

So, one comprehension activity for each one of these elements:

1. Complete two sentences with the verb based on...

2. Find at least two examples of the passive voice with get

The video is in American English, so remember that the verb "get" will be get, got, gotten.

Some context:

During a press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer is asked to give an example of a "fake news" story. He gives one example from the G7 meeting, and an argument with the reporters ensues.


Oh... and no, the key is not here yet... I'll wait to see some of your answers in the comments!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Learning Through Art

Hi everyone!

Back here! Finally! The hiatus was worth it, though, now I have a PhD under my arm, and a desire to make this blog active again with lots of comprehension challenges!

This first video has been watched by most of you through the mailing list, so I'm including it here for you to check your answers and to have a permanent link to it. Even if you've replied to it by email, you can still make comments, you know I love to see the comment section alive!

This is an introduction to the learning programme of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. I'm fascinated by the way in which cultural institutions develop or adapt curricula to encourage hands-on learning processes.  These are the comprehension questions I propose:

Watch the first minute of the video and reply to these questions:

1. What is the main question they want to investigate with the Learning Through Art Programme?

2. What does a student have to do to succeed in today's global society?

3. What skills need to be developed for this purpose?

Now watch the rest of the video and complete these sentences:

1. Habits of mind are the _____________ between the classroom and the museum.

2. Students are motivated by _____________  and learn best by _____________ .

3. The abilities strengthened by learning through original works of art are the application of knowledge in a real-world setting, a deeper understanding of content, and the ability to _____________ complex ideas.

4. To implement these ideas in your classroom, all you need is a _____________  rather than a background in Art History.

Key here, as usual, and please share your answers or any ideas in the comment section. What do you think of these educational programmes in museums?

Learning Through Art: Introduction from Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on Vimeo.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Behind the Painting

Hi there everyone!

Again, sorry for the long absences. As some of you already know, I'm working on a PhD and this is the most absorbing thing I've ever done, bar none. Well, maybe except having a newborn baby! But yesterday I was feeling kind of lazy so I looked for a nice video for you all.

This is from a series of videos provided by the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, which give you a certain background on highlights of their collection. This one is about a very famous painting there, which has been dubbed "the best-loved painting in Ireland": The Meeting on the Turret Stairs. The story behind the scene in the painting is also really moving, if you want to take a look at it. It was inspired by a Danish ballad about an ill-fated love.

So, time for some work! Here I leave you activities in three steps:

1. Check pronunciation and meaning of this art-related vocabulary before you listen:

miniature (portraits)
narrative genre scene
oil painting
a gilt frame

... and non-art-related vocabulary:

he started off as
it was highly regarded
it was snapped up by a dealer
to mistake sth for sth else
to make a pilgrimage

2. Complete these phrases with a maximum of three words.

He was ___________ of his career
He ___________  to copyright
Vulnerable to ___________ 
A balance over ___________  and ___________ 
This is the flexible approach that we've tried to ___________ 

3. Answer these questions:

What did writer George Eliot say about the theme of the painting? And about the knight?
What happened once Burton became director of the National Gallery in London?
Why is it important to protect this painting from light?

This time, I'm going to leave three days before I publish the key. Make sure you leave some comments! I'd love to kear from you and about your answers or doubts!

Enjoy the video and the Irish accent!

Wednesday, 14 December 2016


Hi everyone!

Finding, choosing, or even stumbling upon a career path that turns out to be fulfilling is entirely different for each one of us. For some, it's a very natural thing: we have a vocation, a "calling" if you wish. And we still doubt very often. For others, it is the product of very careful reasoning and a journey of self-discovery. It is nothing less than a crisis, a turning point ("point" being quite an inaccurate term here, as it takes considerably longer than a moment). And the search for fulfilment can happen at any age, bringing with it different concerns about our finances or our family, relocation or housing.

Not easy, and yet, fascinating (at least to me, like everything that involves self-search). This is one video that I have found while reading and I want to share it with you... along with some questions, of course, and a wealth of interesting vocabulary, presented here in the form of lexical chunks (ready-to-use vocabulary, if you will).

You can use both the context and a dictionary for these. Check pronunciation. Apart from helping you identify the's beautiful in many cases, particularly for unusual words.

to a greater or lesser extent
the quest for...
there are estimated to be..
we end up making no choice at all
fear is entirely normal
have a calling
a perilous position
puts us at the mercy of
catch a glimpse of
what we have to do is...
unwittingly chosen
to surmise
to give it a go
feudalism (do check pronunciation to be able to catch this one!)

And some questions:

1. Where does "paralysis of choice" stem from?
2. Why is it important to park any concerns for money for some time?
3. What do you have to write down?
4. Why is it important to do something as well as thinking?

Language. Find examples of:

a) emphatic "do"
b) double negatives

I hope you like this one as much as I do, and I expect some comments and opinions in the comments section. Ask me any questions you may need, and don't forget to disable the CC (closed captions) on the video... Don't cheat!