Archive | December 2015

WEP 171215 – Muhammad Ali defends Muslims after Trump’s immigrant ban plan

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WEP171215 Cover


“The Greatest” is still renowned today for his epochal victories in the boxing ring and his principled stances on religious freedom and racial justice

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

ban/bar: to forbid (someone) from doing or being part of something

statement: something that you say or write in a formal or official way 

ruthless: having no pity, cruel or merciless

stand up to: to defend against attack or criticism

issued: printed for people to read

thinly veiled swipe: (swipe) to hit at someone or something. (thinly veiled – does not try to avoid talking about the topic in public)

the wake of: if something happens in the wake of something else, it happens after and often because of it

perverted – to pervert: to change (something) from what is normal or right.

clout: influence

hikers: people who travel on foot for pleasure or exercise

renowned: famous

epochal: highly significant or important; momentous

Muhammad Ali hit out against Islamic extremists and Donald Trump’s plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States on Wednesday.

“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” the three-time world heavyweight champion said in a statement. “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”

The Louisville-born boxer, who converted to Sunni Islam in 1975, called on Muslims to “stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda”.

He added: “They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.”

The 132-word statement, issued under the headline ‘Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States’, also took a thinly veiled swipe at Trump’s sweeping proposal for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”, made on Monday in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting.

“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” Ali said.

Even with advanced Parkinson’s disease having severely limited his speech and mobility, the 73-year-old icon continues to lend his global clout to a number of humanitarian causes.

In March, the Olympic gold medallist called on the Iranian government to release an imprisoned Washington Post journalist, calling the detained Jason Rezaian a “man of peace and great faith” who used his “gift of writing and intimate knowledge of the country to share the stories of the people and culture of Iran to the world”.

In 2011, Ali headed a group of prominent US Muslims in calling on Iranian leaders to release a pair of American hikers who had been detained near the Iran-Iraq border two years prior.

Known simply as The Greatest, he is renowned today as much for his principled stances on religious freedom and racial justice as his epochal victories over Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.


“Let’s chat about that!”

  • What is Donald Trump’s plan?
  • What is Muhammad Ali’s response?
  • Do you think Donald Trump will receive support in The USA for his comment? Why/not?
  • What did Mohammed Ali do in March?
  • What happened to the US hikers?

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂


Adapted from:



WEP 101215 – Extreme ironing

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WEP101215 Cover

Extreme ironing is an extreme sport and performance art in which people take ironing boards to remote locations and iron items of clothing

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

pressed: ironed

tongue-in-cheek: not to be taken seriously; a joke

recall: remember

nickname: a name your friends or fans give you

branch off: divide into new variations

bungee: jumping from a high place using an elastic rope

side-story: a related but less important story

rivalry: competition, battle

breakaway: separatist, different from the group

at once: at the same time

broadcast: shown

following: after

amid: surrounded by

According to the Extreme Ironing Bureau (EIB), extreme ironing is “the latest danger sport that combines the excitement of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

Part of the attraction and interest the media has shown towards extreme ironing seems to centre on the issue of whether it is really a sport or not. It is widely considered to be tongue-in-cheek.

Here are just a few locations where people are said to have done the sport:

in a canoe         under water

              while skiing         while parachuting

              in a forest         in the middle of a motorway

The performances have been conducted solo or by groups.

Purists of the sport claim that it was started in 1997 in Leicester, England, by resident Phil Shaw in his back garden. Shaw came home from what he recalls as a hard day in a Leicester knitwear factory. Preferring the idea of an evening out rock climbing, he decided to combine the two activities into a new extreme sport. In June 1999, Shaw, who uses the nickname ‘Steam’, went on an international tour to promote the activity, visiting the United States, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. An encounter with German tourists in New Zealand led to the formation of a group called ‘Extreme Ironing International’, and the German Extreme Ironing Section.

As extreme ironing has branched off, the conditions, too, can become more extreme. Bungee ironing, for instance, is what some would call the ultimate thrill in extreme ironing.

The sport gained international attention after a documentary entitled Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory was produced for Britain’s Channel 4. The program followed the British team’s success in the 1st Extreme Ironing World Championships in Germany. A side-story looked at the rivalry between the EIB and a breakaway group called Urban Housework who were trying to establish their own extreme sport based around vacuum-cleaning. The film was broadcast on the National Geographic Channel.

In March 2011, a team of 173 divers simultaneously ironing under water set a new world record for number of people ironing under water at once.

On 18th April 2011, a tenor called Jason Blair was filmed ironing on the M1 motorway in London, UK, a section of which had been closed following a fire.

In March 2012, Extreme Ironing founder ‘Steam’ ran the Hastings Half Marathon wearing an ironing board, pressing garments on the way. In May, the mayor of Whitchurch (in Hampshire) ironed a ribbon before cutting it to open a newly built bridge over the railway line.

Extreme Ironing has inspired other forms of unusual extreme activity, such as Extreme Cello Playing.


“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Would you like to try extreme ironing? 
  • Do you believe it should be considered a real sport? Why (not)?
  • What would make ironing difficult in each of the locations mentioned?
  • Why does Shaw call himself ‘Steam’?
  • Have you heard of any other unusual sports or activities?
  • What are your thoughts on world records?

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂


Adapted from:


WEP 031215 – Why does everybody need to speed? (including me)

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WEP031215 Cover

ECP coach Rob Hextall carried out an experiment last month in the streets of Gasteiz

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

to speed (v): to drive faster than the established legal limit

to honk (v): to use your car horn (klaxon)

to hold something up (v): to delay/block the movement of something

to overtake (v): to pass a slower vehicle

to look something up (v): to search for and find a piece of information in a book or database

to browse (v): to quickly look through a book or text

a fine (n): a financial penalty

For one week last month, nobody seemed to like me in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Everywhere I drove around town, people honked at me, flashed me, gestured aggressively at me or simply accelerated past me in anger as if I was holding them up on their way to an important, live-saving mission.

I refused to honk back and I ignored their gestures. And I never put my foot down to overtake in anger or frustration. I couldn’t. Why not? Firstly, it would have been illegal for me to do so. But primarily, it was because for 5 days last month I conducted an experiment on the roads of Gasteiz. I called it the ‘Speed Limit Only Week’ or ‘SLOW’ for short. I was refusing to break the speed limit.

It seems that there is a general misunderstanding about the most common road sign in town, the one that is a red circle on a white background with a number inside it. That number can vary but it’s generally between 30 and 50. It can even be as low as 20 especially if it’s inside a white circle painted on the road surface itself. Many drivers in town appear to believe that these signs are informing them of the minimum required speeds in these zones. You know, “Please don’t go any slower than the indicated speed or you will disrupt the flow of traffic.” I was sure it meant something else so I decided to look it up.

It didn’t take long. In minutes, I had downloaded an official guide from the website of the Spanish Department of Traffic, and after a quick browse through the index I found what I was looking for. On page 62, there was a nice little picture of that ubiquitous red circle with the following description: “The maximum speed at which a vehicle is legally permitted to travel within a specific area, on a certain road or under given conditions.”

I was right then, what a relief! So the next step in my plan was to carry out the experiment I had been thinking of doing for a while. I had bought a new car in September and one of its many features is the ability to set a maximum speed which the driver can’t go over (unless he or she presses down the accelerator really hard!). Designed to avoid fines, I resolved to use this feature to stop me speeding as I drove to and from work (I was fined recently for not slowing down quickly enough between a 100 and 60 km/h zone). However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the visceral reaction of Vitoria’s drivers.

According to the Spanish Department of Traffic, 475 people lost their lives in accidents caused by speeding in 2012. Fifty-nine of those were killed in the Basque Country. The message is clear: if we speed less, less people* will die. If we learn to control our impulses and drive within the rules and regulations, less people* will suffer the traumatic loss of family and friends.

So, what were the conclusions of my SLOW experiment? Put simply, if I obey the law, people hate me. Something is obviously wrong. And not only around town. On a trip to Bilbao, I set my car to not exceed the 120 km/h limit. My passengers counted how many cars we overtook and how many overtook us. On parking near San Mamés, the final score was 183-4. I’ll let you guess what each number represents.

* The grammatically correct form here is ‘fewer people’ but ‘less people’ is common in spoken English. Use ‘fewer’ in exams.


“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Do you drive? If you don’t, what is your opinion of car drivers where you live?
  • If you drive, how fast do you go in areas limited to 50 km/h? And 80/100/120 km/h?
  • Why don’t drivers keep to the speed limit?
  • Discuss: To reduce accidents, all traffic restrictions should be removed.

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂


WEP 261115 – Top 5 lists (or 10, 20…)

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WEP261115 Cover

Top 5 lists (or 10, 20…)

Daily, we receive Facebook requests to publish our ‘Top Lists’ of favourite songs, films and books. We love it, don’t  we? After all everyone has an ‘inner nerd.’ 

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

lovelorn  (adj): unloved, without love.

nerd (n): introverted socially awkward intellectual.

cameo (n): A single very brief appearance, especially by a prominent celebrity in a movie or song.

vinyl junkie (n): Record collector who cannot get enough vinyl. Obsessive.

Twenty years ago, the British author Nick Hornby published the novel High Fidelity, in which the main character, lovelorn record-store owner and all round nerd Rob Gordon and his staff compulsively make  ‘Top 5’ lists.

The book was made into a movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black with a cameo role by Bruce Springsteen.

Rob is a vinyl junkie who is more  interested in his record collection than his relationships.

Nick Hornby pre-empted the craze for ‘Top Lists’ on social media today as the book was written in 1995 when the Internet was in its infancy.

Here is my tribute to the book and film with my nerdy lists of “Top 5’s”

John’s Top 5 Movies

  1. Land and Freedom
  2. Casablanca
  3. Groundhog Day
  4. Tess
  5. Goodfellas

John’s Top 5 Books

  1. Germinal – Emile Zola
  2. My Life – Leon Trotsky
  3. Confessions of an Irish Rebel – Brendan Behan
  4. The Good Soldier Švejk -Jaroslav Hašek
  5. Out of the Night – Jan Valtin

John’s Top 5 Vegetables

  1. Onions
  2. Turnips
  3. Rhubarb
  4. Leeks
  5. Chilli peppers

John’s Top 5 Live Concerts

  1. Frank Sinatra
  2. The Clash
  3. The Pogues
  4. The Smiths
  5. Thin Lizzy

John’s Top 5 English Words

  1. Serendipity
  2. Dialectical
  3. Revolution
  4. Harbinger
  5. Efflorescence

John’s Top 5 Places He Has Lived

  1. Liverpool
  2. Glasgow
  3. Sarajevo
  4. Al Khobar (Saudi Arabia)
  5. Vitoria-Gasteiz

I could go on…..

Why are we obsessed with lists and ranking? Psychologists theorise that humans have a need to make order out of the chaos they find in society.

It is said that Picasso had a long hand written list of what made ‘good’ art.

Nowadays, lists are omnipresent, the Internet is after all like a long list of stuff! If you are interested here is a list of 127 Reasons Why We’re Fascinated By Lists.

There is no hope!

Look at page 2 for some list-based conversation starters

WEP 191115 – Does champagne stop dementia?

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WEP191115 Cover

Does champagne stop dementia?

A study found that it improved spatial awareness, so it might make it easier to find the way home from the pub.

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

crack open (vb): to open a bottle, often in celebration

rodents (n): group of mammals incl. rats, mice and squirrels

quaff (vb): to drink (an alcoholic beverage) heartily

fizzy (adj): (of a drink) containing bubbles of gas

maze (n): a complex network of paths and passages

disease (n): another word for illness

stroke (n): (this context) interruption in brain blood flow

flute (n): (this context) a tall, narrow wine glass

berry (n): a small, round juicy fruit without a stone

grains (n): (this context) cultivated cereal used as food

boxing (n): sport that uses gloved hands to fight

Three glasses of champagne a day can prevent dementia, claimed news stories last week. Enough to make anyone crack open the Cristal. The reports were based on a study from the University of Reading that was carried out three years ago but resurfaced last week via social media. The researchers found that drinking champagne improved spatial memory – the ability to navigate to wherever you want to go (for example, getting home after the pub). Champagne contains chardonnay mixed with pinot noir and pinot meunier, two black grapes that contain phenolic acids, which are thought to reduce inflammation and may protect brain cells.


So far so good but, unless you are a rodent, there is no evidence that quaffing champagne will preserve your cognitive function. The study was done not on humans but on 24 mature rats. The rats were divided into groups of eight and either champagne, another fizzy alcoholic drink or a carbonated soft drink was mixed into their feed. Over six weeks, researchers measured the rats’ ability to get through a maze to locate a treat and found that the champagne drinkers were significantly better at the task.

When the rats’ brains were examined under a microscope, those who had drunk champagne showed increased amounts of proteins that stimulate the formation of nerve-cell networks and are involved in memory and learning. In particular, these rats had more of a protein called dystrophin in the hippocampus region of the brain, which may protect against loss of reasoning and spatial memory.

However different rats are from humans, the laboratory rodent has been widely used as a model for human disease, especially for research into stroke, heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer. So are there implications in this study for humans? Disappointing news for champagne lovers – the rats were given just 1.78ml per kilo of body weight – the human equivalent would be one and a half flutes a week.

If you eat fruit and vegetables, you will already be getting enough phenolic acid anyway – especially if you go for mangoes, berries, apples and citrus fruits. There is some evidence, more relevant for humans than this rat study, that regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, not smoking, having a normal blood pressure and avoiding boxing (or at least getting regularly punched in the head) may all reduce your risk of both loss of memory and reasoning. If you really want to justify a glass of champagne on health grounds, you can always quote physicians of the 19th century, who swore it could dissolve kidney stones, cure anaemia and keep you healthy.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Do you like drinking champagne?
  • Is it any better than other similar drinks (Cava, Prosecco etc.)?
  • What are the health risks of drinking too much alcohol?
  • Imagine life without alcohol. What would the advantages and disadvantages be?
  • How do you think we can live as long and as healthily as possible?
  • Should governments interfere in our freedom of choice with regards to what we eat and drink?

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

WEP 121115 – ‘Dead’ Spanish doctor found alive in Italian forest after 19 years

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WEP121115 Cover

‘Dead’ Spanish doctor found alive in Italian forest after 19 years

A Spanish doctor, declared legally dead in 2010, has been found living in a tent deep in the forest of Tuscany by two Italian mushroom pickers

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

bout (n): a short period of intense activity of a specified kind

claim (v): state or assert that something is the case, typically without providing evidence or proof

stumble across (p.verb): to find someone or something, usually by accident

foragers (n): a person who looks for food and provisions

eager (adj): someone who is very enthusiastic

greet (v): to say hello, to welcome somebody

battered (adj):damaged by age and repeated use

faded (adj): something that has lost its original colour

snap (v): to take a quick photo (in this context)

search (v): to look for something

Carlos Sánchez, now 47, disappeared from his home in Seville province in 1996 during a bout of severe depression.

After nothing was seen or heard of the man originally from Bilbao for 14 years he was legally declared dead by the Spanish authorities.

But two weeks ago a man claiming to be Carlos was found by two mushroom pickers, who stumbled across his camp in on a thickly wooded hillside outside Scalino, a town in Tuscany. The two foragers had been eager to find some mushrooms in the woods after a weekend of heavy rainfall, but after having no luck, the pair decided to venture off the footpath to try and turn their fortunes around.

But instead of finding mushrooms, they found a trail of plastic bottles and dirty plastic water canisters which they followed until they stumbled across the camp of the man, who reportedly had “a dirty face and large beard”.

Terrified, the two men ran back towards the footpath but returned a few hours later with the head forest ranger. After reaching the camp, the man came out to greet them.

“I’m Spanish, my name is Carlos and I’ve been living here since 1997,” he said. “I don’t want to live among people: now that you have found me I need to get out of here.”

But before Carlos packed up his camp the group asked him to prove his story, at which the hermit pulled out a battered, faded and long-expired passport bearing the name Carlos Sánchez. Before leaving, the group managed to snap a photo of his passport with their smartphones.

Using the photos the foragers were able to notify the authorities about the man’s presence in the woods as well as the missing persons’ association. The authorities quickly tracked down his family, who arrived in Italy on Friday.

On Saturday morning his parents joined a search party but there was no sign of him and although his parents will search on, he may never be found again.

It is not known how he managed to survive in the wood for so long – some theories suggest he found a way to cultivate food, while others suggest he has survived thanks to midnight raids on dustbins at the edge of nearby towns such as Scarlino.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Why did Carlos go missing?
  • How did the mushroom pickers come across him?
  • How did Carlos react to being found?
  • How do you think his parents feel?
  • How will the story unfold?
  • Do you know a story about a missing person?

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂


Adapted from:

WEP 051115 – Alternative Sleep Cycles

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WEP051115 Cover

Alternative Sleep Cycles

Perhaps you don’t really need to get 8 hours’ sleep a night. Jordan Lejuwaan explains why

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

monophasic: having only one phase

polyphasic: having several phases

naps: short sleeps (siestas)

into: after starting

not all that: not very

highly: very

upon: at the moment of

reverted: went back to

skipping: missing, omitting

replenish: fill again, restore

A.K.A. also known as

Most people think that there is only one way to sleep: Go to sleep at night for 6-8 hours, wake up in the morning, stay awake for 16-18 hours and then repeat.

That is called a monophasic sleep cycle, which is actually only 1 of 5 major sleep cycles that have been used successfully throughout history. The other 4 are known as polyphasic sleep cycles as they require multiple naps each day.

The most important of stage of every sleep cycle is Stage 4 REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which has been shown to provide the greatest benefits of sleep for the brain. When changing over to a polyphasic cycle, the lack of sleep tricks the body into entering REM sleep immediately instead of 45 to 75 minutes into sleep like in monophasic sleep.

The popular Siesta Cycle is basically that of every university student you know, consisting of sleeping for 4-4.5 hours at night, and then taking a 90 minute nap around noon. While not all that different, this cycle is still considered to be a tiny bit more efficient than monophasic sleep. But what about the other three?

The Uberman Cycle:

20 to 30 minute naps every 4 hours, resulting in 6 naps each day. The Uberman cycle is highly efficient, and usually results in feeling healthy,  feeling refreshed upon waking and extremely vivid dreams. However, the rigid schedule makes it almost impossible to miss naps without feeling horribly tired. Blogger Steve Pavlina tried the cycle for 5.5 months and had amazingly positive results. He only reverted to monophasic sleep so that he could be on the same cycle as his wife and children.

The Everyman Cycle:

One longer “core” nap that is supplemented with several 20-30 minute naps. The most successful variations that I have read about are either one 3-hour nap and three 20-minute naps or one 1.5-hour nap with 4-5 20-minute naps, all of which have equal amounts of time in between. This cycle is much easier to adjust to than the Uberman and allows for more flexibity in nap times and in skipping naps when necessary. It is also extremely efficient compared with the monophasic cycle, with only 3-4 hours of sleep per day. Many bloggers have tried out this cycle and reported no negative effects on their health.

The Dymaxion Cycle:

Bucky Fuller invented the cycle based on his belief that we have two energy tanks. The first is easy to replenish, whereas the second tank (A.K.A. second wind) is much harder to replenish. So Bucky began sleeping for 30 minutes every 6 hours. That’s 2 hours of sleep a day! He reported feeling, “the most vigorous and alert condition I have ever enjoyed.” Doctors examined him after several years of using the cycle and pronounced him perfectly healthy. In fact, Fuller only stopped the cycle because his colleagues were still stuck on monophasic cycles. This is by far the most extreme of the four, but also the most efficient.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • How much sleep do you get per day?
  • What do you think of the alternative sleep cycles in the article on page 1?
  • Would you like to change your sleeping habits? How and why?
  • What’s the best way to nap?
  • Do you know of any techniques that help people fall  asleep? What helps you?
  • Do you feel better after a productive day or a day of rest?

Write your answers and send them by email to your ECP coach. Why not record your voice too? Listen to yourself speak and identify what you have to improve on 🙂

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