Archive | December 2016

WEP 241116 The ‘phone walk’

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Walking while using a phone changes the way your legs move. This new gait isn’t the only way handsets are making us less mobile

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

treadmill: an exercise machine used for running or walking

gait: the way a person walks

ailments: an illness, normally a minor one

to blink: to shut and open your eyes quickly

to slouch: to stand, move or sit in a lazy way

cramp(ing): painful, involuntary contraction of muscles

to angle: to move or direct s.t. differently to its horizontal or vertical position

tilt: an inclined position or movement

to harbour (context): to carry the germs of a disease


You know the smartphone walk: you either do it or find people who do it really annoying. Head down, eyes glued to screen, finger scrolling down feeds, applying Instagram filters to photos of autumn leaves, filling one’s overstimulated head with the never-ending forward march of bad news. All while walking down an actual street. Without falling over. Or noticing all the people giving you dirty looks.

It turns out that walking while using our phones is also changing the way we move. Scientists at the University of Delaware asked volunteers to dial numbers on their mobiles while walking on a treadmill and found their gait became more exaggerated to reduce the chance of falling over. So, not only is it silly to walk and use your phone at the same time, it also makes you do a silly walk. Here are some other ailments associated with intensive mobile phone usage. Note to online reader: sit down. Don’t forget to blink. And no slouching!

Text claw

It may sound like an evolutionary advance perfect for playing Pokémon Go, but it is, in fact, soreness and cramping in the fingers, wrist and forearm resulting in repetitive motor activity. One survey found that 26 million Britons suffer thumb pain from gadget use.

Text neck

Also known as iPosture, which ironically makes it sound like an app to make you more bendy, text neck is the pain sustained from looking down at your devices. Our heads weigh 5 to 6kgs and angling them forward for long periods puts strain on the spine: a 15-degree tilt, for example, raises the weight on your neck to 13kgs. According to a 2014 report, text neck is becoming an epidemic and could lead to permanent damage.


Opticians have warned that smartphone overuse may lead to long-term eye damage as the blue light is potentially hazardous to the back of the eyes. Dry eyes, headaches and an increase in myopia (short-sightedness) have all been linked to sustained periods spent on handheld devices and computers.

Phantom vibration syndrome

No, that’s not your phone vibrating or ringing. It’s your brain! Research conducted by Indiana University found that 89% of undergraduates experienced phantom vibrations when their phones were silent. Thought to be a result of anticipatory anxiety, the syndrome may affect as many as seven in 10 mobile-phone users.


A  2011 study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that 16% of phones harboured E coli, which means one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal matter. Now wash your hands, and wipe, rather than swipe, your phone 😉

adapted from:

“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 🙂

  • Do you walk while using your phone?
  • If not, do you find this annoying?
  • If so, have you ever had an accident?
  • Have you ever suffered from any of the ailments described in the article?
  • Have you played Pokémon Go? Why/Why not?
  • Have you ever had a virus on/from your phone, literally or figuratively?
  • Could you “live” without your mobile phone for a day…a week…a month…or a year?




WEP 171116 ‘Gay cake’ appeal: Christian bakers Ashers lose appeal

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The Christian owners of a Northern Ireland bakery have lost their appeal against a ruling that their refusal to make a “gay cake” was discriminatory.

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

appeal: request for a judge’s decision to be changed

refuse: to say “no”

ice: to decorate a cake with a sugary topping

deeply held religious views: strong opinion, beliefs

ruling: a decision made by a judge

court: the place where justice is administered

object to sth: to strongly disagree with sth


Two years ago, the family-run firm refused to make a cake iced with the slogan: “Support Gay Marriage”. The order was placed at its Belfast shop by gay rights activist Gareth Lee.

Appeal court judges said that, under law, the bakers were not allowed to provide a service only to people who agreed with their religious beliefs.

The firm argued that the cake’s message was against the bakers’ religious views.

At that time, the judge said she accepted that Ashers bakery had genuine and deeply held religious views, but said the business was not above the law.

In reaction to the ruling, Daniel McArthur from Ashers said he was extremely disappointed,  adding that it undermined democratic freedom, religious freedom and free speech. “If equality law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people’s causes then equality law needs to change,” he said.

They had served Mr Lee before and  said they would be happy to serve him again. “We have always said it’s not about the customer, it’s about the message.”

In court the following week, three judges said it did not follow that icing a message meant you supported that message.

In their ruling, they clarified that the fact that a baker provides a cake for a particular football team or portrays witches on a Halloween cake does not indicate any support for either.

The judges also said that Ashers would not have objected to a cake carrying the message: “Support Heterosexual Marriage” or indeed “Support Marriage”.

They understood that it was the use of the word ‘gay’ in the context of the message which prevented the order from being fulfilled. As such, the reason that the order was cancelled was that the bakery would not provide a cake with a message supporting a right to marry for those of a particular sexual orientation.

“This was a case of association with the gay and bisexual community and the protected personal characteristic was the sexual orientation of that community. As such, this was direct discrimination.”

The family’s appeal was heard in May, but the judgement was reserved.

Adapted from

“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 🙂

  • Why didn’t the bakery want to make the “gay” cake?
  • How would you feel if a bakery refused to make a cake for you?
  • Do you think the court’s decision was fair? Why (not)?
  • What advice would you give the bakery the next time this situation arises?
  • Have you ever been to a same-sex wedding?

WEP 101116 Could our digital records disappear in a disaster or an attack?

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A solar storm or deliberate hostile actions could severely disrupt our internet-based civilisation

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

record: a permanent account of a past event

clay: earth that is moulded when wet and then dried to create products such as bricks and ceramics

to unearth: discover something by digging in the ground

to benefit: to receive an advantage or profit

to wipe out: to eliminate or erase something

at their fingertips: have something easily available

broadcasts: radio or television transmissions

to trigger: to cause an event to happen

to tamper: to make unauthorised alterations to something


The clay tablets left by the ancient Sumerians around 5,000 years ago in the modern day deserts of Iraq provide the earliest written record of a long dead people.

Although it took decades for archaeologists to decipher the mysterious language preserved on them, they have given us an idea of what life was like at the dawn of civilisation.

Similar tablets and carved stones have been unearthed at the sites of other mighty cultures that have long since vanished – from the hieroglyphics of the Ancient Egyptians to the inscriptions of the Maya of Mesoamerica. The stories and details they contain have survived millennia to be discovered and deciphered by modern historians.

But there are fears that future archaeologists may not benefit from the same sort of long-lasting record when they search for evidence of our own civilisation. In the 21st century we live in a digital world where information is stored as lists of tiny electronic ones and zeros that can be edited or even wiped out by a few accidental gestures.

The advent of the internet means people have more information at their fingertips than at any previous point in human history. Yet this knowledge we have built up is perilously vulnerable. What is easy to access is also easy to destroy. Many scientific papers are now solely published online. Entire catalogues of news broadcasts, television programmes and films are stored digitally. Official documents and government papers reside in digital libraries.

A recent conference of space weather scientists, together with officials from Nasa, warned of the fragile nature of all this digital information. Charged particles thrown out by the sun in a powerful solar storm could trigger electromagnetic surges (see picture on left) that could make our electronic devices useless and erase data stored on memory drives. Severe solar storms like these appear to happen every 100 years. The last major event to hit the Earth was in 1859 and disrupted telegraph systems all over the world. In the age of the internet, such an event would be catastrophic.

But there are other threats too – malicious hackers or even careless officials could tamper with these digital records or delete them altogether. And what if we simply lose the ability to read this information? Technology is changing so fast that media formats are soon obsolete. Minidiscs, VHS and the floppy disk have all become outdated within decades and any information stored on one of these formats could become indecipherable in the near future.

Perhaps we need a new type of long-lasting tablet like the Sumerians used. Scientists are already working on the idea but there are two essential questions that need answering: what information do we store and where do we store it?

Adapted from:

“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 digital information have you lost? Photos, music, documents? Work/personal?
  • What type of obsolete technology do you have at home or at work?
  • How much of your life is online?
  • If the internet was severely disrupted tomorrow how would it affect your life?
  • What information would you make safe for future generations and what not?

WEP 031116 The waste mountain of coffee cups

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Every day hundreds of thousands of Britons put their coffee cup into a recycling bin. They’re wrong – those cups aren’t recyclable, and the UK throws away 2.5bn of them a year

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

to appeal: a quality that causes people to like someone or something

dodgy: in bad condition – causing a lack of trust or confidence – false or dishonest

to clutch: to hold onto (someone or something) tightly with your hand

pointless: having no meaning, purpose, or effect

stock-in-trade: the equipment, merchandise, or materials necessary to or used in a trade or business

hefty: very large


One chilly morning last March – exactly the sort of morning when a warming cafe latte could seem appealing – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (a celebrity chef) took to the streets of London in a double-decker bus adorned with 10,000 empty takeaway coffee cups.

It might have looked like a piece of dodgy conceptual art, but it was actually designed to illustrate the vast volume of takeout cups thrown away daily in the UK.

The bus didn’t represent all of them, though – 10,000 is the number of cups the UK gets through in just two minutes.

The British – like the Americans and Italians – are a nation of caffeine addicts. Walk down any busy street and you’ll see people clutching coffee-filled cardboard vessels.

That adds up to a huge number of used cups – more than seven million a day, or 2.5 billion a year. The sorry truth is, next to none of them are recycled – and the even sorrier fact is that no-one’s taking responsibility for that, least of all the big coffee retailers who have created this takeout trash mountain.

Most consumers wrongly assume that paper cups are a “green” choice. It’s an assumption coffee companies are happy not to challenge. They know differently, but they’re keeping that to themselves. They’re not going to tell conscientious consumers that putting a used coffee cup in a recycling bin is pointless. But it is.

The takeout cups that are the stock-in-trade of High Street coffee giants such as Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Costa are currently almost impossible to recycle.

To make these cups waterproof, the card is fused with polyethylene, a material that cannot be separated out again in a standard recycling mill.

What’s more, the cups are not even made from recycled material in the first place – the way they are designed means one thin seam of card inside the cup comes into contact with the hot drink, so they have to be made from virgin paper pulp.

And of course, they have very brief lives – just the time it takes to down a macchiato. The millions of coffee cups we use every day are, in effect, virgin materials with a single use, thrown almost immediately into the bin – a horrendous waste, with a hefty carbon footprint.

These poly-lined cups are, technically, capable of being recycled – a fact that enables coffee companies to describe them as “recyclable”.

However, the reality is this is only possible in a highly specialised recycling facility – of which there are only two in the UK. One of these sites has never actually dealt with a single paper cup – the other has processed a very tiny number.

In every meaningful sense, conventional paper coffee cups are not recyclable in Britain.

adapted from:

“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 🙂

  • Why is the bus covered in coffee cups?
  • Why are coffee cups not being recycled?
  • Is takeaway coffee fashionable in your country? Why/not?
  • What in your opinion, is the future of the takeaway coffee cup? 
  • Having read the article, are you less likely to get a takeaway coffee from Starbucks or from one of the other High Street coffee giants?

WEP 271016 My culinary travels

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ECP coach John has lived in a few countries. Here is a description of some of the wonderful dishes he has enjoyed and learned to cook on his travels

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

curry:  generic name for spicy Indian food. Now the UK’s most popular dish

aubergine: a large egg-shaped vegetable with black purplish skin and a whitish inside

avocado: pear-shaped, leathery, green-skinned vegetable with smooth oily green flesh

crash course: short intense course

the jury is out: When a final decision is delayed

flaky pastry: thin covering for dishes made from flour & water

stuffed vine leaves:  A fruit or vegetable, especially a grape leaf or cabbage leaf, cooked with a filling of ground meat, herbs, or rice


Cooking is a big part of my life. I cook lunch and dinner every day and actually enjoy the challenge of inventing dishes and doing something different and exciting to keep the family interested in what they eat.

I started cooking when I was quite young. My mother and father both had to work in factories and were not able to get home for lunch. I was in charge of getting my sister’s lunch. Looking back, I am not sure curries were appropriate for a seven year old girl but she seemed to enjoy them!

I left home at eighteen and had to fend for myself in the kitchen. I continued with my improvised curries but I really did  not know how to cook. My first real education in the culinary arts came when I moved to London at 23. London: the cosmopolitan melting pot of many cultures and strange flavours. I first saw melons, aubergines and avocados in Green Street in the East End of London where I lived and they looked wonderful. Problem was, I had no idea what to do with them!

I lived with a strict vegetarian and unfortunately she was a terrible cook, so I took responsibility in the kitchen. I bought the latest vegetarian cookbooks and did a crash course in meatless cookery. From those days, I remember with fondness many a ratatouille, roasted aubergines, stuffed peppers and my nut pasta was a particular favourite.

I came to the Basque Country in the early 1990s and discovered many new dishes in a whole new culinary culture. In my early classes, I used to ask students about food. The question “where is the best food in the world?” was invariably answered with one word: “here”. Students usually meant if not Alava, then actually in their mother’s house!

In my opinion, the greatest innovation of Basque cooking is the pintxo. Usually delicious but always  surprising and inventive. While there are other wonderful dishes in the Basque Country and Spain, such as potatoes, beans and chorizo, hake in parsley sauce with clams and the simple but classic Spanish omelette, the jury is still out on whether it is “the best food in the world”.

On my travels, I next ended up in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia where I really appreciated the cuisine of different peoples thrown together through great historical events. Bosnian food is influenced by a mixture of Slavic, Turkish and Austrian cultures. There is not enough space to list all the wonderful Bosnian dishes but my favourites are  ćevapi, a sort of Bosnian kebab, and pita, which is a flaky pastry covering meat, potatoes, cheese and spinach.

In Saudi Arabia, I discovered what was probably the forerunner of paella.  A simple rice dish with chicken or goat, cooked in a big pan over a fire in the desert. Arab cuisine also has wonderfully intricate salads. My mouth still waters when I remember the stuffed vine leaves.

Time to get in the kitchen to get cooking, I think!

“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 🙂

  • Can you cook? How well? If not, why not?
  • Do you cook every day?
  • What are your speciality dishes?
  • What are your favourite Basque and Spanish dishes? And ‘foreign’ dishes?
  • Who is the best cook you know?
  • What are some of the advantages of cooking your meals at home? How about the disadvantages?
  • If you had your own personal chef, what meal would you ask for most?

WEP 201016 Spanish woman gives birth to ‘miracle’ baby at age of 62

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“I’m the happiest woman in the world” said the 62-year-old Spanish doctor, who gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Monday becoming one of the oldest mothers in the world.

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

to spark (a debate): to provide the stimulus for something

IVF treatment: in vitro fertilisation

to conceive: to become pregnant

a womb: a female organ where children are conceived

to undergo (treatment): to be subjected to (something. difficult or unpleasant, e.g. an operation)

to turn (somebody) away: to refuse to allow someone something

widespread: distributed over a large area or number of people


Lina Álvarez, from Lugo in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, made headlines when it emerged she was pregnant at such an advanced age, sparking a national debate on whether IVF treatment should carry an age limit.

On Monday, her baby girl, who she also named Lina, was born by Caesarean section, weighing in at a healthy 2.38 kilos. It is the third child for Álvarez, who began her menopause 20 years ago.  She already had a naturally conceived son, Exiquio, now aged 28, who suffers from cerebral palsy after being injured in the womb during a routine medical test.

She also has a ten-year-old son, Samuel, born when Álvarez was 52, after undergoing IVF treatment. But Álvarez was determined to have a third child, even after being turned away by numerous fertility clinics on account of her age.

“But one gynaecologist in Madrid – who I won’t name as I haven’t checked if he agrees – said I should take some tests, and that if I passed, we would try with an implanted embryo,” she told La Voz de Galicia in an interview during her pregnancy.

“There was only a six per cent chance, but I got pregnant, with a girl. And I feel fine and lead a normal life,” said Álvarez, calling it her “miracle”.

Responding to widespread criticism of her decision to become a mother again so late in life, she argued: “When she is 30, I’ll be 90. She’ll have been raised and life expectancy for women is growing all the time.

“I’m the happiest woman in the world”, she told local media on Monday after news of the birth emerged.

Although one of the oldest women in Spain to have given birth, she is a full eight years younger than the world’s oldest mother, Daljinder Kaur, who at the age of 72, gave birth to a baby boy earlier this year in India.

Kaur gave birth to a son, Arman, on 19th April, after nearly five decades of marriage and two unsuccessful IVF tries. Mohinder Singh Gill, her 79-year-old husband was the sperm donor.

Kaur stated her age as 70 at the time of birth, but the clinic where she had IVF treatments stated she was in fact 72 years old.

adapted from:

“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 🙂

  • Do you want children? Why/Why not?
  • How old is “old”? How old is “too old”?
  • What is your opinion on IVF treatment?
  • What is your opinion on contraception? 
  • What is your opinion on abortion?
  • Are your opinions based on religion, or ethics (or both)?
  • Should there be a limit on how many children you can have in a family? Why/why not?
  • Have you seen any films or read any novels about societies controlling populations?

WEP 131016 Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational

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Experiments on more than 300 people from the U.S. and Korea found that thinking in a second language reduces biases that influence how risks and benefits are perceived

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

bias: preconceptions; partiality.

to assume: to conclude something without thinking much.

regardless: without taking into account.

to be plausible: to be considered possible.

demand: what is needed.

hasty: in a hurry; too fast. 

to be framed: to be presented (in a certain context). 

scenario: situation.

gut-level: instinctive.

given that: as / since.

far-reaching: affecting many people or things.

“You may assume that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. We discovered, however, that the opposite is true: Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases,” wrote Keysar’s team.

Psychologists say human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that’s systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that’s fast, unconscious and emotionally charged. In light of this, it’s plausible that the cognitive demands of thinking in a non-native, non-automatic language would use up a lot of  mental energy, ultimately leading them to make hasty decisions.

Equally plausible, however, is that communicating in a second language forces people to be deliberate, reducing the role of “instinct”. Research also shows that immediate emotional reactions to emotively charged words are switched off in non-native languages, allowing the thinker to be rational.

To investigate these possibilities, Keysar’s team developed several tests based on scenarios originally proposed by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who in 2002 won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work on prospect theory, which describes how people intuitively perceive risk.

In one famous example, Kahneman showed that, given the hypothetical option of saving 200 out of 600 lives, or taking a chance that would either save all 600 lives or none at all, people prefer to save the 200 — yet when the problem is framed in terms of losing lives, many more people prefer the all-or-nothing chance rather than accept a guaranteed loss of 400 lives.

People instinctively avoid risks when considering gain, and take risks when considering loss, even when the essential decision is the same. It’s a gut-level human predisposition.

The researchers believe a second language provides a useful cognitive distance from automatic processes, promoting analytical thought and reducing unthinking, emotional reaction.

Given that more and more people use a foreign language on a daily basis, our discovery could have far-reaching implications,” they wrote, suggesting that people who speak a second language might use it when considering financial decisions.

Adapted from:

“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 🙂

Give reasons for your answers

  • Can you think of some examples of important decisions?
  • What decisions do you usually make in English?
  • What emotionally charged words do you think affect how you make decisions?
  • Will you consider making decisions in English after reading this article?
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