Archive | May 2016

WEP 280416 – Boy meets girl. Boy mows lawn. World goes bananas.

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WEP280416 Cover

He just wanted to buy his girlfriend a pizza. Then the internet went and spoiled it all.

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

mow (v): to cut grass, such as the lawn of a garden or park

go bananas (exp): to be very excited, angry or silly

spoil (v): to diminish or destroy the quality of something

seeing (v): dating, going out with somebody, go on a romantic date

Pandora´s box (n): a process that once begun generates many complicated problems

escort (v): accompany someone somewhere, show them to the table

as hell: used to emphasise a description of an unpleasant characteristic

complimentary (adj): given free of charge

footage (n): part of a cinema or television film that records a particular event

unearth (v): to find or discover something


A 14-year-old boy goes door-to-door asking people if they want their lawn mowed for the very competitive price of $5. Cody wasn’t having much luck though with this time-honoured way for teens to earn some money.

As he walked dejectedly away from yet another house, the homeowner, Ryan Cox, called him back .He asked Cody what he so badly needed the money for.

Cody replied that he had been seeing this girl for the last six months. But they hadn’t been on a real date yet. The reason he was going around people’s houses offering to cut their lawn was to make enough money to bring his girlfriend out on a “real” date – to an actual pizza restaurant.

Cox was impressed by Cody’s work ethic and good intentions: he hired the 14-year-old to mow his lawn. He took a picture of him while he was working and posted it and Cody’s romantic story on Facebook. Little did Cox know he had just opened Pandora’s box.

Cody made a very commendable $45 from mowing lawns that day and true to his word, the next day he excitedly brought his girlfriend, Audrey, out to lunch.

When they arrived at the pizza restaurant, the manager was waiting for them. The couple were escorted to a table which was draped in a tablecloth.

Despite it being lunchtime, the manager had lit candles. As a 14-year-old on his first real date, Cody was “embarrassed as hell”.

The restaurant had heard about the Facebook post so the food was complimentary.

So had everyone else: the tale of the 14-year-old mowing people’s lawns so he could bring his girlfriend out on a real date “melted the heart of the internet”.

The media were also waiting at the restaurant. A still photograph of the table where Cody and Audrey ate their pizza appeared in the newspapers.

The young couple were interviewed by news crews and were utterly bemused by all the attention. Cody told reporters that he was going to save up to buy a truck so he could start his own lawn-mowing business.

As the pictures and video footage of the first date went up online, messages of love and support came in from thousands of people in places as diverse as Switzerland and Vietnam.

Because Cody became a media story, there was “additional research” carried out on him which “unearthed” three Instagram accounts under his name and profile picture.

On these accounts there were pictures of him smoking marijuana, one captioned with the phrase: “Boring weekend, gotta buy me some weed”.

Cody, in the presence of his mother, later admitted that these were in fact his accounts. When asked by a journalist if he was using the money he earned from mowing lawns to buy drugs, he stated that he got the marijuana he smoked for free. However, he refused to disclose where he got it from.

“Let’s chat about that!

  • Do you think Ryan Cox did the right thing by posting Coby’s story on Facebook? 
  • Do you believe Coby really wanted to earn money to bring his girlfriend on a nice date? Why/not?
  • Do you think the man should pay on a first date? Give reasons for your answer
  • Should Cody’s story have been made public?
  • How did you feel when you read that Coby smoked marijuana? Did it change your opinion of him?
  • What do you believe his mother thinks of all this public attention?
  • What comment would you post after reading this article?

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 210416 – Lost Sunflowers

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WEP210416 Cover

When ECP coach John Hird lived in London in the 1980s, he often visited the National Gallery and was always drawn to the magnificent Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

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

flaming (adj): of a bright orange or red colour

outstanding (adj): exceptionally good

to be down (exp):  to feel depressed or unhappy

awe (adj): referencial respect and wonder

obliterated (v): to completely destroy. Wipe-out

raging(adj):with great force and intensity

cumbersome (adj): large and difficult to carry

unmitigated (adj): absolute, total


I would stand in front of the painting and admire the flaming beauty of this outstanding work of art. When I was down it would pick me up and on happier days it would make my heart soar. Vincent only sold one painting when he was alive (the Red Vineyard) and suffered greatly for his art, yet a hundred years later I was able to stand in awe just a metre away from one of his great and priceless works.

Vincent was excited by his series of Sunflowers paintings. He intended to decorate his friend and fellow artist Gauguin’s room with these paintings in the Yellow House that he rented in Arles in the South of France. He and Gauguin worked there together between October and December 1888.

Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in August 1888: “I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillaise eating bouillabaisse (a local fish soup), which won’t surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers. If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly. I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers … it gives a singular effect.”

There are in fact seven different versions of the paintings of sunflowers in a vase. One, unseen in public since 1948, is in the private collection of an unknown millionaire, revealed only to his closest friends. Five others are in museums — in Philadelphia, Amsterdam, Munich, Tokyo (bought for a world-record £25 million in 1987) and of course ‘my’ Sunflowers in the National Gallery in London.

Unfortunately the seventh (pictured left in a book) was destroyed during World War II during a bombing raid on Japan.  The painting, called ‘Six Sunflowers’, was painted in August 1888. It had been in the collection of wealthy collector Koyata Yamamoto, who lived on the Japanese coast, when his town was hit by an American bomb on August 6, 1945 — coincidentally, the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.

The painting, hanging over the sofa in Yamamoto’s sitting room, was obliterated. Yamamoto managed to escape the raging firestorm, but his prized picture — with its heavy frame — was too cumbersome to carry.

Art historian Martin Bailey found a photo of the destroyed masterpiece while researching a book on the Sunflower series so at least we now know what the painting looked like.

When Vincent painted Sunflowers he was aged 35 and was less than two years from death. His career was an unmitigated failure and his excitement at painting was mingled with disappointment, sadness and self-destructive mania.

Before turning to painting, he had been an art dealer and teacher in England — in Brixton, Ramsgate and Isleworth — a bookseller in Holland, and a missionary in Belgium. Those around him despaired of his prospects almost as much as he despaired of himself.

Nor were his violent mood swings helped by a poor diet, rich only in absinthe and tobacco. In February 1888, he moved to Arles in Provence, seeking refuge from his misery and hoping the fresh air would alleviate his chronic smoker’s cough.

From such great suffering came such wonderful art,  which is now loved and appreciated by millions . Vincent achieved what all artists aspire to. As he said himself: “Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. “ However, he never knew for sure during his life that he had indeed put ‘poetry on paper’. That was his tragedy.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • How does ‘Sunflowers’ make you feel?
  • Can you name other Van Gogh paintings?
  • Have you ever seen an original Van Gogh?
  • Does an artist need to suffer to create great art?
  • Who are your favourite artists?
  • Do you paint? If not, would you like to?

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 140416 – 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare

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WEP140416 Cover

Considered the greatest English-speaking writer in history and known as England’s national poet, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) has had more theatrical works performed than any other playwright

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

bard: poet (archaic)

handful: small number

hastily: fast, in a hurry

twins: two siblings (brothers/sisters) born on the same day

encompass: to contain, include, surround

playwright: someone who writes plays (for the theatre)

bulk: majority, largest part

bear: to carry, show

ward off: to scare someone (so that they go) away

curse: an expression to give another person bad luck

keen: enthusiastic


“The Bard of Avon”, as he was known, wrote at least 37 plays and a collection of sonnets, established the legendary Globe theatre and helped transform the English language.

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a bustling market town 100 miles northwest of London, and baptized there on 26th April, 1564. His birthday is traditionally celebrated on 23rd April, which was the date of his death in 1616 and is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England.

Sources from William Shakespeare’s lifetime spell his last name in more than 80 different ways, ranging from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.” In the handful of signatures that have survived, he himself never spelled his name as we do now, but in fact used variations such as “Willm Shakspere” and “William Shakspeare” instead.

At 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (1556-1616), a woman eight years his senior, in a ceremony thought to have been hastily arranged due to her pregnancy. A daughter, Susanna, was born less than seven months later in May 1583. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed in February 1585. Susanna and Judith would live to old age, while Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died at 11. As for William and Anne, it is believed that the couple lived apart for most of the year while Will pursued his writing and theatre career in London. It was not until the end of his life that Shakespeare moved back in with Anne in their Stratford home.

Shakespeare’s first plays, believed to have been written before or around 1592, encompass tragedy, comedy and history. Shakespeare was likely affiliated with several different theatre companies when these early works debuted on the London stage. In 1594 he began writing and acting for a troupe known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, ultimately becoming its house playwright and partnering with other members to establish the legendary Globe theatre in  1599.

Shakespeare died aged 52 of unknown causes on  23rd April, 1616, leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughter Susanna. Anne Hathaway, who outlived her husband by seven years, famously received his “second-best bed.” The slabstone over Shakespeare’s tomb, located inside a Stratford church, bears an epitaph—written, some say, by the bard himself—warding off grave robbers with a curse: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” His remains have yet to be disturbed, despite requests by archaeologists keen to reveal what killed him.

Something to chat about

  • Have you read anything by Shakespeare?
  • Why do you think people study him at school?
  • How do you think he contributed to English?
  • How do you think Shakespeare’s life was different from yours or mine? Why?
  • Have you ever visited the Globe theatre?
  • Can you tell the story of Romeo and Juliet?
  • What do you think made his plays so popular?
  • Who is considered the greatest Spanish-speaking writer?
  • How important is literature to you?

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 🙂


This story was adapted from:


WEP 070416 – comes to Vitoria with ‘TEDx AlmendraMedieval’

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WEP070416 Cover

After the success of last year’s event in the Casa del Cordón, this year will see a mix of local, national and international experts bring their visions and ideas to the revamped Palacio Europa

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

to take place: to occur, to happen

held (to hold): to arrange, to organise

to blend: to mix, to combine

growth: increase, expansion 

to revamp: to give a new and improved image or structure

to feature: an important or significant aspect of something

world-renowned: to be famous internationally

to overcome: to resolve a difficult situation or problem

goals: objectives, ambitions, desires, aims

own: personal


Have you ever heard of It’s a great website for watching short videos of great presentations made by experts from all over the world on a wide variety of fascinating topics. It’s free and you can watch the videos in English with English subtitles (other languages are available). You can even download them to watch later.

TEDx events are locally-organised events that take place all over the world and on April 16th there will be one here in Vitoria-Gasteiz – TEDx AlmendraMedieval. This is the second consecutive year that Vitoria has held a TEDx event and this year the title is “Shake it, Mix it!” which reflects the organisers desire to show us how mixing, blending and being open to new ideas can bring innovation, transformation and growth to all aspects of life.

This year’s event will be at the newly revamped Palacio Europa and features 12 talks as well as 3 performances. One of the performances will be by a very special trio composed of comedian Jose Mota, comedy writer, actor and motivational speaker Mago More and Eduardo Anitua, the world-renowned surgeon and researcher whose biotechnology firm BTI is based in Vitoria. Together they will bring a mix of science and humour to the proceedings. Another will be by the Auzodanza and Koldo Mitxelena dance groups, also from Gasteiz.

TED talks are no longer than 18 minutes and describe a very specific subject in an interesting and entertaining manner. Those who attend the TEDx AlmendraMedieval event this year will hear about such diverse topics as nanotechnology, internet activism, exhuming common graves from the Spanish Civil War, our personal responsibility for the environment, addictions, bullying, the future of education and the digital transformation of newspapers. There will also be personal stories of overcoming obstacles to achieve our goals.

Speakers will come from all over the world to be at the Palacio Europa but perhaps the most emotional presentations will come from local people. Local chef Asier Urbina will talk about how competing in triathlons has helped him overcome health problems. Double world rhythmic gymnastics champion Tania Lamarca will show us how sporting values can help us in both our personal lives and in business through her own experiences as a successful international athlete.

Four of the 12 talks will be in English so the event is a great way to practice your listening skills 😉

Find out more information and how to get tickets at the TEDx AlmendraMedieval website, on Facebook or on Twitter. And click here for images of previous events.


“Let’s chat about that!

  • Have you ever used the website to watch videos in English?
  • If you have: What did you watch? Was it interesting? Do you think the website is useful?
  • Do you think Vitoria (or your city) benefits from events like this? If so, in what way?
  • Some of the speakers and performers are from Vitoria. What do you know about Tania Lamarca, Asier Urbina, Eduardo Anitua and Auzodanza?
  • Do you think you could give a talk about your own personal experiences that would help or inspire other people? Don’t be shy!
  • Think about what people have helped or inspired you during your life. Describe them briefly and explain how they influenced you.

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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