Archive | July 2016

WEP 300616 – Traveller T-Shirt With 40 Icons Lets You Communicate In Any Country


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Why learn English when you can buy a T-shirt like this? Travel writer and blogger Danius tells us about this useful item of clothing

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

rations: small portions of food.

be treated to : to be given the luxury of.

had I: if I had.

be overcome: to be defeated, solved.

dirt: mud, sand or dust covering the floor. 

point to/at sth: to gesture at sth with your finger. 

notepad: a pile of sheets of paper glued together.

venture: risky task or course of action.

the likes of: things like.

first aid: immediate help after an accident/injury.


I wish I’d had this shirt when I was in Afghanistan. In 2009, we were situated in a little Observation Post somewhere in Kandahar for a week or two at a time, with nothing but rations to fill our bellies. After many days and much elaborate drawing, I finally managed to communicate to a local Afghan National Army soldier that we were interested in real food. For the rest of our stay, and for just a few dollars per week, we were treated to hot meals twice per day. But had I had this IconSpeak shirt, weeks of eating cold rations could have been avoided.

IconSpeak is a useful T-shirt printed with 40 universal icons, perfect for those occasions when you don’t speak the local language and have forgotten how to sign “I think there’s a problem with my carburettor.” The shirt was thought up by three Swiss writers over numerous drinks and after an adventure with a broken-down motorcycle, somewhere in Vietnam. Read a little bit of their story below:

“On several occasions, we were confronted with a language barrier that was only to be overcome by drawing signs, symbols or icons on a piece of paper, map, or into the dirt,” explain George, Steven, and Florian. “We thought it would be great to have an essential set of icons with you, permanently, so that you could just point to whatever you need – and people would understand. Soon the notepad was pulled out again and we started listing more or less essential icons that would have been of great help during not just ours, but basically anyone’s trip.”

“In the discussion and selection process we came across some icons that were on the long list. We thought, ‘Don’t make something unless its both necessary, and useful, but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful’.”

“We decided to really make the world edition essential. Imagine if you had to choose several animal icons – where would you stop? We aim to develop an icon language that can be used and understood all over the world. To see now that this is really happening is a big pleasure.”

“We invite individuals and institutions from all over the world to participate in this venture.”

The Iconspeak T-shirt is targeted at worldly travellers and is printed with nearly 40 icons of common discussion points.

Its symbols cover the likes of hotels, banks, telephones and first aid, allowing the wearer to simply point at what they are looking to find.

“Let’s chat about that!”

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 🙂

  • What is the purpose of the icon T-shirt?
  • Who is the target audience of this product?
  • In what situations do people need to communicate on holiday?
  • Have you ever had difficulty communicating while abroad?
  • Which countries have you travelled to?
  • Who do you usually travel with and why?
  • Which 5 symbols do you think might be the most frequently used? Why?
  • Would you consider buying one of these T-shirts for you or a friend?
  • Can you think of any other situations besides travelling where this icon T-shirt could be useful?

Adapted from and



WEP 220616 – What is the Depressed Cake Shop?

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One in four people will suffer from, or be touched by, a mental health issue at some point in their lives

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

platform (n): space where a cause can be promoted.

pop-ups (n): temporary shops which suddenly appear.

toolkit (n): set of tools needed for a job or task.

charities (n): bodies which collect & distribute money to those in need.

conspirator (n): a person who participates in a conspiracy. 

donate (v): to give money or goods to a good cause.                                                                                       marshmallows (n): a spongy sweet confection.


The Depressed Cake Shop is a unique (and delicious) platform designed to raise awareness of these challenges.  With the help of its co-conspirators, it hosts pop-ups worldwide that sell highly customised baked goods as a way to get people talking about mental illness.

The organisation provides a safe place for conversation and a unique toolkit that enables interested bakers and organisers to raise funds for mental health charities through locally organised pop-ups.

What is the origin of the Depressed Cake Shop?

In the summer of 2013, Emma Thomas, a creative director and P.R. specialist in the United Kingdom, conceived a project called the Depressed Cake Shop. One in four people will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives. The Depressed Cake Shop was created as a unique (and delicious) platform to raise awareness and discuss these issues while raising money for local mental health charities.

Emma’s brief was very specific — the cakes had to be grey, but could have a spot of colour to symbolise hope. Her astute intuition was that this would ensure that the concept stood out from the countless charity fundraisers that take place each year.

It was very successful and received attention throughout the United Kingdom. It also created an active community of bakers and organisers who joined a Facebook group and were inspired to create pop-ups of their own.

Then, something magical happened. The concept did not end with that first pop-up, the bakers and organisers kept going. Shops popped up in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Glasgow, Houston, Seattle, Kuala Lumpur, Atlanta, Australia and India (just to name a few).

Many of the cakes were designed and donated by bakers who had personal experience with depression, and they used their creations to express their struggles with and experiences of their illnesses. Others were compelled to join because they had seen friends and family members suffering and wanted to be part of a solution. The committed co-conspirators who have kept the Depressed Cake Shop movement alive are continually looking for new opportunities to change the conversation around mental health one grey cake at a time.

What does involvement entail?

When a baker becomes involved with the Depressed Cake Shop there is only one requirement, that the baked goods you donate have an element of grey to signify the grey cloud that can descend over a beautiful world when someone is struggling with mental health issues.

The Depressed Cake Shop welcomes any type of donated baked good, and its shops have become a wonderful and curated collection ranging from professional bakers with store fronts, to licensed home bakers, to people who bake as a hobby and just want to be involved.

The organisation asks that contributors avoid using nuts as so many people are seriously allergic to them. Other than that, volunteers can make a cake to be sold in its entirety or by the slice, cake pops, cupcakes, or cookies. Some people have made custom marshmallows, ‘misfortune cookies,’ pies, chocolate covered Oreos. The only limit is the contributors’ imagination.

A list of ingredients should be provided, as well as the type and flavour of the item. A fun name is great too. Vegan and gluten free items are also welcome as customers often request them.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • What is the Depressed Cake Shop?
  • How did it get started?
  • What happens to the money collected?
  • How can making cakes help with depression?
  • Could it catch on here?
  • If you are feeling down do you eat (or do) something special?

Adapted from Depressed Cake Shop


WEP 160616 – Living on the ISS can seriously damage your health!

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Floating in micro-gravity for six months can make walking, seeing and speaking problematic when you get back to Earth

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

to dock: to connect a spaceship to a space station

fellow: to have the same position, activity or quality

crew: the group of people who work on a ship or aircraft

treadmill: a device used for running indoors

to plummet: to fall at a high speed

to sweat: to exude liquid when exercising or from exertion

dizzy: to feel unbalanced or confused

weightless: when no gravity acts on your body

to struggle: to have difficulty doing an action

limbs: arms and legs

to hinder: to make it difficult for someone to do something


This week, British astronaut Tim Peake will return to Earth after spending 186 days on the International Space Station (ISS). On Saturday 18th June he will enter the Soyuz capsule docked at the ISS and will make the descent to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with fellow crew members Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra. The journey will take a few hours and touchdown is scheduled at 10:12 BST (British Summer Time).

The three astronauts originally left Earth on 15th December 2015, and docked with the ISS after a six and half hour flight. During his time in space, Peake has contributed to dozens of science experiments, performed a spacewalk to repair the space station, run the London marathon on a treadmill and reached more than a million schoolchildren with educational activities. The ISS is a unique scientific research facility, which has allowed  the former British Army helicopter pilot and his crew mates to work on experiments that cannot be done anywhere on Earth.

Peake’s next challenge is to readjust to life on Earth after floating in micro-gravity for the last six months. In fact, he’ll start suffering the moment he leaves the ISS as he is likely to get Entry Motion Sickness (EMS) as he plummets back to his home planet, with symptoms including headache, sweating, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

The time it takes to get used to Earth’s gravity again can be between six weeks and three years as the body slowly returns to pre-flight normality. Here are some of the difficulties astronauts face:

  • In space the brain gets used to receiving less data from the vestibular system, which controls motion, equilibrium, orientation and gravity. After landing, the brain suddenly gets overloaded with information as it tries to relearn the difference between up and down and this results in dizziness and vertigo.
  • The lips and tongue also become used to speaking in weightlessness, so astronauts struggle to speak when they land.
  • As fluids begin to flow from the head and upper body back to the lower body,   their limbs feel much heavier.
  • Low blood pressure hinders their ability to do everyday things, like walking or driving a car, and some astronauts faint after space flights. For that reason, astronauts are banned from driving for 21 days after landing.
  • Astronauts lose up to 1.5 per cent of their bone mass for each month spent in space. The greatest loss is in the thighs and pelvis which can take 12 months to recover for a six month spaceflight. They can also lose up to 40 per cent of their muscle mass which requires lengthy rehabilitation.
  • They often require glasses or contact lenses. A study by Nasa found that near and distance vision became worse for 48 per cent of astronauts who had brief missions.  Vision eventually gets better but some astronauts are left with permanent blurred vision.

In a recent press conference Major Peake surprised journalists when he explained that the thing he most missed from Earth was the feeling of rain on his face.”Perhaps that’s because I haven’t had a shower for six months,” he laughed. Or perhaps it’s because he’s from Britain. Let’s hope it’s raining in Baikonur on Saturday 😉

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Do you agree with spending public money on missions in space? Why/why not?
  • Would you like to travel into orbit? Or to the moon or another planet?
  • Do you think humans will ever live in colonies in space/on the moon/another planet?
  • Have you ever had any of the symptoms described in the article?
  • If you had to spend a long period of time in space what would you miss?
  • Who would you like to send on a one-way mission into space? 😉
  • Look at the quotes below and chat about them with your colleagues and coach

Adapted from:


WEP 090616 – Deportivo Alavés: The return of the forgotten Basques

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The return of Deportivo Alavés to Spanish football’s top division, the prestigious La Liga, was confirmed after a 10 year absence

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

to plummet: to fall or drop straight down at high speed

to hammer (inf): to completely defeat in a game or contest

to flounder: to be in serious difficulty

overhaul (n/vb): a thorough examination of a system and the changes made to it

to hinge on: to totally depend on

miserly: (context) unwilling to give or share

murmurs: the quiet expression of feeling by a group of people

rising stock: increasing reputation or popularity


On 29th May, the return of Deportivo Alavés to Spanish football’s top division, the prestigious La Liga, was confirmed after a 10 year absence. This recovery is even more dramatic following their relegation to the third tier of Spanish football in 2009.

Alavés may be remembered most vividly outside of Spain by Liverpool fans, whose club defeated Alavés in the 2001 UEFA Cup final. The Basque club were 2-0 down, before a spectacular comeback sent the game to the “golden goal”. Liverpool were four minutes from being taken to penalties by the Spaniards, appearing in their first European final, before an agonising Delfi Geli own goal crowned Liverpool champions in one of the greatest ever UEFA Cup finals. But what went wrong for Alavés? How did the UEFA Cup finalists plummet so dramatically into Spanish football obscurity?

That season, they finished 10th in La Liga, despite being hammered 5-0 by Real Madrid just days after their loss at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. Furthermore, they finished seventh in La Liga the following year, despite losing their top scorer of the previous season, Javi Moreno, to AC Milan.

However, they were relegated to the Segunda Division in 2003, finishing 19th in La Liga having won only eight league games all season, with seven of the 11 starting finalists from 2001 having already left for pastures new. The free scoring Alavés were left floundering without fluency, following a massive overhaul.

The club briefly returned to La Liga in 2005, but pain followed jubilation as they immediately, as with too many promoted sides, were afflicted with immediate relegation. Relegation from the Segunda followed three years later.

Alavés found themselves playing in front of small crowds, minuscule in fact relative to their cult following in 2001. It took them four years to escape the regional third division, by which time many had abandoned Alavés, particularly given the relative successes of the other Basque clubs.

Three years after returning to Segunda however, they are back in La Liga and ready to return to facing the likes of Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Last Saturday, following their 1-1 draw with Gimnastic, they secured the Segunda title having battled with Leganés for the top spot since the season’s halfway point.

Their success was largely hinged on miserly defensive performances, with only Girona and Leganés conceding fewer than Alavés. Indeed, seven other clubs scored more goals than El Glorioso, and amongst Alavés fans there are murmurs of scepticism as to how their club will be able to re-adapt to La Liga without a prolific goalscorer like Javi Moreno, who scored 22 league goals for the Basque club in the 2000/2001 campaign.

Their return brings with it an interesting sub-plot as there will be four teams from the Basque country competing in La Liga, hence further elevating the already rising stock of Basque football. This follows the rise to prominence of Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, who finished fifth and ninth respectively this season, and the success of Eibar who, having risen to La Liga for the first time in 2014, will compete in their third season in the first division in 2016/17.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Do you care about Alavés’ promotion? If not, why not? Is it important for the city?
  • Did you watch Alavés play the UEFA Cup final?
  • The 4 rooms in ECP are named after football stadia. Can you name the teams?
  • This month EURO 2016 starts. Which national team will you support? Would you support a national team of the Basque Country ?

Adapted from:


WEP 020616 – Spanish festival aggravates Nigeria’s ‘tomato emergency’

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While the tomato harvest fails in the African state, tonnes will be wasted during La Tomatina festival in Buñol, Valencia

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

gooey: sticky, soft, and often sweet

crop: a cultivated plant that is grown on a large scale

jabs: critical comments

culprit: the cause of something bad happening

punnet:a small container like a basket, in which fruit such as strawberries are sold

gather: if people gather, they come together in one place to see or do something

mucking about: behaving in a silly way that wastes time

tongue-in-cheek: intended to be humorous and not meant to be serious

see red: to become very angry


The streets of the eastern Spanish town of Buñol turn red and gooey every year on the last Wednesday of August, as tens of thousands of people gather to celebrate La Tomatina. It’s not an event that has caused much of a stir on social media outside the country, but in the past few days Nigerians have been distracting themselves from their own tomato crop crisis by making good-humoured jabs aimed at the European festival.

The topic of tomatoes – a staple of the Nigerian diet – is currently not a laughing matter outside the digital realm in Nigeria. A state of emergency has been declared in the tomato sector in Kaduna state, in the north of the country and farmers are said to have lost up to 80% of their tomato crop.

The culprit is a moth called Tuta Absoluta. The agriculture commissioner in Kaduna state said the price of a punnet has risen from $1.20USD to more than $40. Some reports said that in three local government areas, about 200 farmers lost $5.1 million worth of their tomatoes.

Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development told local media that his office had commissioned experts to look at the issue as “ordinary pesticides cannot tackle the disease because the tomato moth multiplies so fast. The situation is so bad that it was dubbed ‘Tomato Ebola’.

But what’s all this got to do with Spain and La Tomatina? Well, if you’ve not heard of the festival, tens of thousands of people from all over the world gather in Spain to take part in an enormous tomato fight. Some estimates say that more than 100 tonnes of tomatoes are thrown during the event. And this has not been lost on Nigerian social media.

One Nigerian news site even posted an article entitled “Five tomato photos that will make Nigerians cry” which featured shots of revellers mucking about in the red gold at La Tomatina.

But what does Buñol think of this reaction? The town’s mayor told BBC Trending that the festival “should not be blamed” for Nigeria’s tomato crop crisis and that he is “open to (see) how we can help, but the problem is very big and we are very small.”

Rafa Pérez Gil said that he was aware that Nigerians had taken to Twitter and Instagram recently to lament (albeit in a very tongue-in-cheek manner) the waste of tomatoes in La Tomatina, but he wanted to assure them that most of the tomatoes used in the August food fight were past their sell-by-date and on the verge of rotting.

“Their problem would exist whether our festival happened or not,” the mayor said. He added that he would be open to talking about the issue with Nigerians but was unsure what they as a town could do about it. He conceded that food wastage was an issue that merited a wider discussion. “If you look at the garbage bins in Spain, there is more waste thrown away every day than tomatoes used at La Tomatina.”

No-one knows whether this information will comfort Nigerians or make more of them see red.

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers in an email and send them to your ECP coach! Give reasons for your answers.

  1. Are the Nigerians right to criticise the Spanish fiesta? Give reasons for your answer.
  2. Would you like a giant food fight in your home town? why/not?
  3. Should the fiesta in Buñol be banned? 
  4. Do you think Mr Gil’s response is likely to add fuel to the fire?
  5. What do you like and dislike about the fiestas in your home town?

Adapted from:


WEP 260516 – Forced to wear high heels at work?

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

to call for sth: to publicly request/demand it

to trigger: to cause, to provoke

overwhelming: great, huge, powerful.

to outsource: to employ through another company

dress: the clothes people wear

to scrap sth: to throw it away, to eliminate it

statement: an affirmation or public comment

hospitality: the industry involving hotels, restaurants, etc.


More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for a ban on company dress codes that force women to wear heels at work. That means British lawmakers will now debate the issue.

The petition was started by Nicola Thorp, who said she was sent home from her job without pay for refusing to wear high heels.

Thorp was hired by employment agency Portico to work as a receptionist for PwC in London last December. She turned up for work in smart black flat shoes, but was told she should be wearing shoes with heels between two and four inches high.

“I was told by my supervisor, who was a woman, that I could either go and buy high-heeled shoes or go home,” Thorp said. She pointed out that her male colleagues were wearing smart flat shoes, but was only laughed at.

Portico shared its dress code —stating that women should wear plain shoes with heels— with Thorp when she signed up with them over two years ago. She says she wore flat shoes when working for several other Portico clients and had never been sent home before.

She started a parliamentary petition on Tuesday to make the practice illegal. By Thursday, it had 100,000 signatures —the number needed to trigger a debate.

“It’s overwhelming,” Thorp said. “It’s such a small issue… but if we can change these small issues, we can do something about the bigger problems women face.”

PwC has outsourced its reception services to Portico. The global professional services firm said it had asked Portico to review its uniform guidelines.

Portico said it expects “high standards of professional dress” but would scrap its previous recommendation that female staff wear heels.

“With immediate effect, all our female colleagues can wear plain flat shoes or plain high-heeled shoes as they prefer,” said Simon Pratt, Portico’s managing director, in a statement this week.

Women working in hospitality, catering, air travel and other sectors are often required to wear heels as part of their uniform. But such dress codes have already been criticised by health experts.

The British Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists says wearing high heels can cause long-term foot problems, as well as serious knee and back pain. The American Osteopathic Association said one in ten women wear high heels at least three days a week and a third have fallen while wearing them.

Thorp doesn’t object to dress codes in principle, just those that treat women differently to men.

High heels are designed to make women look more attractive, not necessarily more professional,” Thorp said. “I believe that by expecting women to wear high heels… these dress code policies are less favorable to women. They discriminate against women.”

“Let’s chat about that!”

Write your answers in an email and send them to your ECP coach! Give reasons for your answers

  • Do you think high heels are comfortable?
  • Do you agree with the statements in bold?
  • Do you sympathise with Nicola Thorp?
  • Do you think women look better in heels?
  • Why do so few men wear high heels?
  • In what situations do women sometimes feel obliged to wear high heels?
  • Do you agree with mothers who train their daughters to wear high heels so that they find them more comfortable in adulthood?

Adapted from:


WEP 190516 – Do children really need teachers?

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Sugata Mitra is a professor at Newcastle University and is the man who inspired the movie Slumdog Millionaire with an educational theory and amazing project 

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

be struck (by): to be inspired, surprised or impressed

drag (v): to pull something along forcefully

pretty much (exp): synonym for ‘almost’

slum (n): overcrowded area of housing occupied by poor people

prior (adj): existing or coming before in time

barely (adv): only just, almost not

be left to your own devices (exp): to not have direct supervision,  to be free to decide what to do

epicentre (n): the central point of something

prompt (v): to encourage, elicit, push, provoke

 findings (n): conclusions based on research


When Sugata Mitra, a professor at Newcastle University, won the $1m TED prize in 2013, he set himself a not unambitious aim: to re-design the future of learning.

Prof. Mitra was struck by a radical idea to drag education into the 21st century, both in the Western world and developing world. The idea that children can teach themselves pretty much anything, from playing games to particle physics, is one that Prof Mitra has been convinced of for decades.

But it was in 1999, working for a Delhi software company that he saw his chance, installing a “hole-in-the-wall” computer in a slum. He placed a freely accessible computer in this hole and found that groups of Indian street children, with no prior experience or knowledge of English, could teach themselves how to use the computer.

The children didn’t speak English, barely went to school, but they taught themselves to use the computer. And then they taught their friends.

It made headlines across India, and his idea went viral, inspiring Vikras Swarup, the author of the book Q&A which would become the film Slumdog Millionaire.

The success of that project  led Prof. Mitra to explore the idea that children can often learn best when left to their own devices.

Since then, Prof. Mitra has become more ambitious, using his TED award in 2013 to build seven “schools in the cloud”, where children from across the planet can teach themselves anything, and then teach what they know to their friends. There are now five cloud classrooms in India and two schools in the North East of England.

With Area Zero, Prof. Mitra is providing an epicentre to further test, evolve and share his method of self-organised learning. Area Zero will accommodate up to 48 children at any one time on 12-15 computers. It is the largest self-organised learning environment (SOLE), and was created specifically for learning in which children are prompted to teach themselves.

“I am incredibly excited to see this vision come to life,” said Prof. Mitra. “Area Zero is the first facility of its kind, and I’m proud to bring it home to India.”

“My objective for the flagship centre is for children to learn and engage – while also examining and documenting the advantage of self organised learning environments.”

“Here, children will be able to engage with teachers from around the world who can prompt them with big questions that encourage the exploration of a vast array of subjects.”

After the hole-in-the-wall experiment, Prof. Mitra, who joined Newcastle University in 2006, expanded on his findings and created a ‘Granny Cloud’ of online e-mediators (largely retired school teachers) who could Skype into learning centres and encourage children with questions and assignments.

As a leading proponent of self-organised learning, Prof. Mitra developed the concept of SOLEs, where teachers spark curiosity by asking children to explore a ‘Big Question’ using the Internet and working together in small groups.

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Have you seen the film Slumdog Millionaire?
  • What is Professor Mitra’s theory?
  • How did he test his theory?
  • What are ‘Schools in the Cloud’ and SOLE?
  • Do you agree with Professor Mitra’s theory?
  • What implications are there for learning languages and the future of education?
  • Would you like your children to learn in a place like Area Zero?

Adapted from an article published in Newcastle Journal


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