Archive | July 2015

WEP 250615 – 10 websites for the summer

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It’s summer at last! That also means that this is the last Weekly English Practice of the ‘English Learning’ year. So instead of giving you an article to read and listen to as normal, we have decided to  give you links to websites where you can practice your reading and listening skills during the summer.

Don’t take a break from English this summer, take a break from work, download the PDF and use your free time to explore the online world of English websites and apps. See you again in September!



WEP 180615 – WB Yeats: The 20th Century’s greatest poet?

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Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

Bar (n): Law

well-to-do (adj): prosperous, rich

verse (n): a poem or piece of poetry

to stuggle (v): to contend with an adversary or opposing force, to find something difficult

to imbue  (v): to inspire, as with feelings or opinions

occult (n): beyond the range of ordinary knowledge or understanding; mysterious

beloved (adj): greatly loved; dear to the heart

stamina (n): strength of physical constitution; power to endure disease and fatigue

overstate (v): exaggerate


His influence on today’s writers may be as great as Shakespeare’s. A century and a half after his birth, he still shapes the English language.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Dublin on June 13, 1865. His father studied for the bar, practiced law briefly, and turned to art as his life-long profession.  He took up residence in London as a painter, but never succeeded in making enough money to fully support his family.  William’s mother came from a well-to-do family in Sligo.  William spent many childhood days at Sligo and loved the natural countryside beauty.  William was undoubtedly influenced by his father to pursue his artistic talents above all else, even family and economic concerns. William was a writer of verse since his teenage years. He lived, thought, and worked as a poet all his life.  Unlike his father who struggled to establish himself as a professional painter, William succeeded in fame and fortune as a poet.

Yeats’ early poems are imbued with images from the legends of Celtic mythology. The poetry of his middle years were influenced by his unrequited love for the revolutionary Maude Gonne and his involvement in the Irish Nationalist movement. The poems of his later years are more bleak and heavily influenced by the symbolism of the occult.

He founded Ireland’s first national theatre in 1901 in Dublin, before Ireland even became an independent nation. He wrote several plays that were performed there.  He became a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922 and he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Yeats died in France in 1939.  In 1948 his remains were moved to Drum-cliff, near his beloved Sligo.

Brendan Kennelly, in his introduction to The Penguin Book of Irish Verse, explains why Yeats ranks as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century:

‘It is clear then that in nineteenth-century Ireland there was tremendous poetic energy.  Yet there was something lacking: a 

centralising force, a unifying spirit.  W.B. Yeats, himself an important part of nineteenth-century poetry, was such a spirit.  He had more solid stamina than Ferguson, more fierce intensity than Mangan.  He had a vision for Ireland unequalled in her tradition, as well as the intelligence and energy to turn that vision into reality.  Carrying his experience of the nineteenth century and its mythology in his heart and head, he stepped into twentieth-century Ireland, a great poet with a great poet’s ideals.  Never did a country so badly need a poet.  Never did a poet work so tirelessly for his country.’

It’s hard to overstate just how pivotal a figure in English literature William Butler Yeats was – and remains.

Something to chat about

  • Name an influential Spanish poet
  • Give a short description of their early life
  • Summarise one of their poems.
  • Do you like the poem? why/not.
  • Read one of WB Yeat’s poems (see links on p2)
  • What is the poem about?


From the websites:


WEP 110615 – 11 facts about global poverty

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Global poverty is getting worse in the 21st century. According to statistics the gap between rich and poor has never been wider in human history. Here are 11 facts on the subject.

1)  Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.

2)  1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

3)  805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat.

4)  More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. Diarrhoea caused by inadequate drinking water, sanitation, and hand hygiene kills an estimated 842,000 people every year globally, or approximately 2,300 people per day.

5)  In 2011, 165 million children under the age 5 were stunted (reduced rate of growth and development) due to chronic malnutrition.

6)  Preventable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia take the lives of 2 million children a year who are too poor to afford proper treatment.

7)  As of 2013, 21.8 million children under 1 year of age worldwide had not received the three recommended doses of vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

8)  1/4 of all humans live without electricity — approximately 1.6 billion people.

9)  80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.

10)  Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion annually to end extreme global poverty–that’s less than 1/4 the income of the top 100 richest billionaires.

11)  The World Food Programme says, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.” Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

From the website:

Hasmik is a 29 year old woman from Yeghegis village, Armenia.

Any food is OK for me. I like khash (cow’s feet stew), dolmas (stuffed vine leaves) and barbecued meat. I’ve only had those things once though – at a party in my childhood, when my brother came back from the army …. there’s lots I’d like to cook but I don’t have the ingredients.I just think about how to feed my children. I wish I could wake up not worrying about how to find food to cook for them. Only one of my children has ever eaten a banana. 

Rosemary is a  60 year old woman from Mkwezalamba village in Malawi

When I was young the wild mushrooms used to grow everywhere, great big ones. We would wash them and cook them with salt and pounded groundnuts to make a dish called bowa wotendera. But now we can’t make that because we don’t find those mushrooms anymore. 

My husband catches field mice and we boil them with water and salt. You need about 5 for each person to make a good meal.

I once visited another area where they cook the mice and add groundnut flour to the recipe. That doesn’t make sense, I don’t know why they would do that.

Something to chat about

  • Have you ever visited an area of a country that suffers from extreme poverty?
  • Do you ever give money to charities or organisations that help poor areas?
  • Have you, or anyone in your family, ever suffered from hunger? Is there poverty in your town?
  • What can we do to reduce poverty and hunger?


From the website:



WEP 040615 – Why you should study English pronunciation

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Pronunciation is definitely the biggest thing that people notice when you are speaking English. Tomas tells us a personal anecdote about this.

Michal and I once went to a conversation class taught by Americans. Before the class started, the teacher said to us: “So, do you speak good English?” I replied “We think so”, and the guy said “It sure sounds like you do”.

Notice that I just said three words, and the teacher could already tell if my English was good or bad. Why did he think my English was good? It wasn’t because I used difficult words or advanced grammar structures. It was the way I pronounced English words.

When you talk to a person in real life, they may not notice your limited vocabulary or grammar mistakes. But they will notice right away if your pronunciation is good or bad. If your pronunciation is poor, they will think about you as the guy/girl who speaks bad English, and good grammar and vocabulary won’t help you!

Good pronunciation should be one of the first things that you learn in English. You can live without advanced vocabulary — you can use simple words to say what you want to say. You can live without advanced grammar — you can use simple grammar structures instead. But there is no such thing as “simple pronunciation”. If you don’t have good pronunciation, you have bad pronunciation.

The consequences of bad pronunciation are tragic. Even if you use correct grammar, people may simply not understand what you want to say. In my opinion, you should know how to say English sounds like the ee in sleep or the o in ghost, before you even learn words like sleep and ghost.

After coming back from a holiday in the United States, a friend of mine said: Whenever I spoke to a person in America, they kept asking me “What? What?” I would repeat my sentence again and again. Finally they would say “Ah-ha!” and then repeat my sentence, using exactly my words! It was very humiliating. I knew my words and grammar were good, but nobody would understand me, just because of my pronunciation. I am very motivated to learn English now.

Almost all English learners say “I don’t need to study pronunciation. I just want to communicate in English.” Many of them think that they can communicate in English because they can communicate with their teacher and other students.

Do not make this mistake! You have to remember that:

Your teacher has been listening to bad English for years. He or she can understand it much more easily than the average person. Other students are usually from the same country as you. Therefore, they speak English like you and they make the same mistakes. So it is easy for them to understand you.

The only true test is: Go to America or Britain and try to talk to “normal people” — a cashier at a supermarket, a bus driver, etc. If they can understand you, then you can say that you can communicate in English. Unfortunately, many learners ignore pronunciation. They can communicate in class, so they think that they are good enough. After a few years they go to England or the USA and… nobody understands what they are saying. Remember my friend who went on holiday to America and couldn’t communicate? He was the best student in his English class.

If you can communicate in English with people from other countries, congratulations! It’s a big achievement. Now you should ask yourself two questions: Is my English easy to understand? Is my English pleasant to listen to? Some people communicate successfully in English, but have a strong foreign accent. Although you can understand what they are saying, it is not easy. You have to listen to them really carefully, which takes effort. If you speak English with a strong foreign accent, you are making things difficult for people who listen to you. If understanding your English takes effort or your accent is unpleasant, people will avoid talking to you if they have the choice.  On the other hand, if you have a clear, pleasant accent, people will simply enjoy talking to you. They will want to spend time with you.

Here are some tips to help you improve your English pronunciation

First of all, don’t worry about not having a native English accent. It’s important to be able to speak clearly, so that people can understand you.

There are many things that you can do to improve your pronunciation and your speaking skills.

1. Listen to spoken English as often as possible.

Listen to how speakers pronounce various words and phrases and “model” your pronunciation on what you hear.

2. Learn the phonetic alphabet.

Use the phonetic alphabet page (in most good dictionaries) as a guide to pronouncing new words.

3. Don’t forget to learn the word stress of a new word.

Every English word has its own stress, or intonation. Word stress is important. In fact, it is more likely that someone misunderstands you because of wrong word stress than because of the wrong pronunciation of a sound.

4. Work out which sounds cause you most problems in English.

Depending on what your first language is, you may have problems with certain sounds. For example, French speakers have difficulties with “th”; speakers of Mandarin have difficulties with “r” and “l”, and Spanish speakers have difficulties with “c” and “th”.

5. Be aware of intonation and sentence stress.

Not all words in a sentence have equal stress, and generally only the “information” words (nouns and verbs) are stressed.

‘Where’s the ‘red and ‘blue ‘jumper I ‘gave you ‘yesterday?

The unstressed words (such as “the”, “I”, “you” and “and”) don’t carry as much “weight” as the stressed words. They become much smaller in length, and are almost abbreviated. For example, “and” becomes “n”.

Sentence stress isn’t “fixed” like word stress. In fact, you can stress words that are normally unstressed in order to highlight different meanings.

There are a couple of easy to remember rules about intonation. Usually our voices go up at the end of the sentence to show a question, and down at the end to show a statement.

6. Learn to recognise spelling patterns.

For example, “-tion/-cian“ on the end of a word is pronounced “shn”, while “sion” can be pronounced “zhn”. There are often many ways to pronounce a particular spelling pattern, but it certainly helps to know what the variations are. For example, the pattern “-ough-“ can be pronounced “uff” as in “enough” and “tough”, or “or” as in “ought” and “bought” or “oh” as in “although” and “dough”.

7. Don’t rush.

If you speak too fast, the danger is that you could skip over some words, fail to pronounce them completely, or mix them up. If you speak too slowly, you might end up sounding unnatural. But it’s better to speak slowly and clearly than too quickly.


This was adapted from:


WEP 280515 – The real meaning of numbers

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Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

census: an official count or survey, especially of population

payroll: a list of a company’s employees and their salaries

goalkeeper: a player who stays in goal

top flight: the top division

crossbar: the horizontal bar of a goal



This is a number from a census of elementary education in Mexico at the beginning of 2014 – and it represents the number of teachers who were being paid a salary, but were unknown by schools and pupils. Nobody knew who these people were, even though they were receiving a monthly salary from those schools.

Before the census was carried out, The National Institute of Statistics contacted the Ministry of Education and one of the things they received was the payroll, which lists teachers who receive a pay cheque in each of the schools. The Institute went through the list systematically and there were 39,222 teachers who nobody could identify. It is a lot of people, although as a proportion of all teachers it’s just 1.5%.

Theoretically, in a rational world, the Ministry for Education would have adjusted the payroll and stopped paying these salaries, thus saving a large amount of cash that could be re-invested into Mexico’s public education system. However, nobody has been able to confirm if this has actually happened.

6 ft 3½ in (191.8cm)

This is the average height of an English Premier League goalkeeper at the moment.

Forty years ago the average height of a top flight goalkeeper was only 6 feet 0 inches (182.9cm). Football can only hope that this increase in height doesn’t continue, because it would cause severe problems.

The average goalkeeper by the end of this century would be 6 feet 10 inches (208.3cm) tall and by the year 2251 the average keeper would be 8 feet 0 inches (243.8cm) tall which is the height of the crossbar so they’d be at risk of bumping their head on it.

7.3 billion euros

This is the amount that the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that prostitution contributed to the economy in 2012, following a decision by the EU that prostitution and illegal drugs should be counted as part of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (Producto Interior Bruto).

The ONS estimates that:

• about 61,000 people work in prostitution in the UK

• the average cost per visit is about £67

• each prostitute sees about 23 clients per week,working 52 weeks a year – in total about 1,200

Multiply those figures and you get €7.3bn.

This number has been questioned by people close to the profession. They say it is far too high and have tried to explain why:

• The estimate of 61,000 people working in prostitution probably isn’t too bad

• The average cost of £67 doesn’t seem unrealistic either.

But the crucial thing is the assumption that each person working is seeing 1,200 clients a year. This seems very high indeed. It would mean, for example, that everybody working in prostitution was actually earning about £100,000 a year and that doesn’t seem plausible. It would also mean that there are 75 million visits to prostitutes every year in the UK – about 1.5 million a week.

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) – says that roughly 4% of men aged between 18-65 report paying for sex in the last five years, and over the last year it’s probably about half a million people. To get to 1.5 million visits per week each of those men would have to be pay for sex three times per week. Again, too high a number.

The ONS is looking into these figures and is expected to make them lower. Good news for Britain, as this means it would pay less money to the EU each year (EU contributions depend on each country’s GDP).

Something to chat about

  • What problem was discovered in elementary schools in Mexico?
  • Do you think a similar problem exists in Spain?
  • If you were the Minister of Education in Mexico, what would you do?
  • Do you think goalkeepers will continue to get taller and taller?
  • Are people getting taller where you live?
  • Do you think that prostitution and illegal drugs should be included in the calculation of the size of a country’s economy?
  • Do you think prostitution and some drugs should be made legal?

Read the full article

WEP 210515 – Woofs and wifi: Is San Anton the world’s coolest church?

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Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article:

nestle (v): be situated in a half-hidden or sheltered position

roll out (phrasal verb): the introduction of a new product, service, or policy to the public

strike (v): to make an impression on the mind, senses, etc., as something seen or heard

beam (v): to smile radiantly or happily

parishioner (n): one of the community or inhabitants of a parish

parish (n): an ecclesiastical district having its own church and member of the clergy

ventures (n): a business enterprise or speculation in which something is risked in the hope of profit; a commercial or other speculation


Nestled among the trendy cafes and shops of Madrid’s Chueca neighbourhood is a church like no other, where you can browse the internet, confess via your iPad and bring along your pet poodle. Is San Anton the coolest church in the world?

San Anton is a 21st century church, excitedly embracing modern technology to make itself as welcoming as possible, to parishioners both of the human and animal variety.

It has recently rolled out a range of new technological measures, including free wifi, live-streams on huge wide screen televisions and a special confession App. Not content with pushing tech boundaries, the church is also unique in welcoming animals, encouraging visitors to bring their four-legged friends along to mass.

The first thing that strikes you on entering the Catholic church are the signs proclaiming “free wifi”, more at home in one of the barrio’s coffee shops than in a place of worship.

One of the church’s tech highlights is an iPad app to help the deaf and hard of hearing go to confession. People can type out their confession and receive a typed answer from the priest, eliminating any embarrassment that could arise from having to shout.

“The changes are part of a new attitude of openness, of welcoming people,” said Brother Marco, a Franciscan monk affiliated with the church. “We want people to feel welcome,” he beamed. “When you enter most churches you are met with signs telling you not do things: ‘silence’, ‘no pets’, for example, whereas here, our signs are much more welcoming,” he added.

“We are trying to take a different attitude towards pets; they are more than simply animals, they are one of the family.”

Despite embracing modern technology, the church still offers simple comforts alongside its apps and big screens. A little table is set up near the entrance with free tea and coffee, for anyone who would like a warm drink. Visitors are welcome to stay for as long as they like, at any time of day.

And what about the locals; are older Spaniards less inclined to embrace San Anton’s more modern outlook?  “It’s fantastic,” said Rosa, a middle-aged parishioner using one of the newly installed machines that allows people to make donations, “if the church can help those that are really in need, it’s stupendous.” Users put five euros in the machines and receive a box telling them they have just donated five kilos of rice to the poor, in yet another of San Anton’s new tech ventures.

As part of its determination to welcome everyone, San Anton is thinking about offering a mass on a Sunday in English for tourists and residents in Madrid.

Perhaps such measures will help reverse the dramatic loss of faith in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation. In a recent survey more than half of Spaniards admitted that they were “not religious” with one in five insisting that they were “confirmed atheists”.

Something to chat about

  • What is different about the church in the article?
  • What method can parishioners now use for confessions?
  • According to the text, are people welcome to bring their pets? Why?
  • How do the locals feel about San Anton’s new outlook?
  • What is motivating about the newly installed donation machines?
  • What other ideas does San Anton have for the future and with what purpose in mind?


Adapted from:


WEP 140515 – Ben Folds: “Sometimes you sit on the song toilet and nothing comes out”

Click on the image to download the pdf Cover WEP140515 Vocabulary. Read and check you understand this before you read and listen to the article: workshop: a discussion/study group guidance: help and direction, advice swap: to change one thing for another, to exchange remove: to take away, to delete adhere to: to follow, to stick to fancy terminology: impressive or special technical words concerned: related, connected inner: internal, on the inside struggle: fight, battle chuckle: to laugh as for: regarding, with respect to pretend: to make others believe, to give a false impression

How does a songwriter know when a song is finished? How do you write a good song?

What is a good song? How does an impulsive idea become a melodious reality that can elicit emotions in others (and generate a new Twitter follower)? For the North Carolina musician Ben Folds, there is no easy answer, but he does have some suggestions. “A three-minute song takes three minutes to compose,” says Folds, who was recently at a workshop with students at Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy of Music. He adds, though, that the decisions made around that three minutes can take up to 15 years, which is how long it has taken him to finish one song. Folds, who is best-known for his band Ben Folds Five, was in Dublin at the invitation of the US ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, under the Creative Minds series, in which visiting American creatives impart their knowledge to inquisitive young Irish people. Folds, most famous for his ‘nerd rock’ band ‘Ben Folds Five’ – visited music colleges in Dublin – the British Irish Modern Music Institute and the Royal Irish Academy of Music – to offer guidance. His practical advice to students includes methods he employs himself, such as swapping the first and second verse to get away from a “once upon a time” narrative or removing two beats before the first chorus to bring an element of surprise (“because life is full of surprises”). Songwriting is an elusive and creative art. There are rules, guidelines, standards and best practices to adhere to (or break). While great songwriters may know lots of fancy terminology like “dominant” and “crescendo”, it’s the human input that gives music feeling. The majority of Folds’s thoughts on songwriting are concerned with that human element: dealing with the inner monologue of a writer, putting your truths into the songs and finding an authentic way to express that. Folds says he hates writing songs because the “inner editor” is hard to ignore, and this struggle isn’t always fruitful. “Sometimes you sit on the song toilet and nothing comes out,” says Folds, chuckling. As for lyrics, “find moments in your own life to explore”, he says. “Life is about small moments.” “Yes, you can even write a song about a bus,” Hannon interjects, referring to his 1999 hit with The Divine Comedy, National Express. The most pertinent thing for songwriters that Folds talks about is finding your own voice. It might sound like something you hear on ‘X Factor’, but it’s true. Every artist – from Adele to Dylan – had to find what makes them unique, mainly by imitating their heroes. “The truth is that most artists would not want you to see the evolution of their voice. It would be very embarrassing.” he says. “We all like to pretend we came out special and it all just magically happened.”

Something to chat about

  • If you were going to write a song today, what would the process be like?
  • What “little moments” in your life could you write about?
  • What is your favourite song? Why do you like it?
  • Do you pay more attention to the music or lyrics when you listen to a song? Why?
  • What is the difference between a good song and a bag song in your opinion? 
  • What do you remember about Ben Folds from the text?
  • What advice would Ben Folds give to new songwriters?

This story was adapted from:

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