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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 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 170316 – St Patrick’s Day Is My Fiesta

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WEP170316 Cover

Having lived nearly half his life abroad, Irish ECP coach Darren Lynch explains what will be going through his mind today, Saint Patrick’s Day.

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

spuds (n): potatoes

crave (v): to have an intense desire for

pier (n): a platform projecting from the shore into the sea

peckish (adj): somewhat hungry

unwind (v): to become relaxed

hurling (n): a traditional Irish game resembling hockey and lacrosse, played with sticks and a ball between two teams of 15 players each

knockout (n): a competition in which competitors are eliminated progressively


We Irish are famous for our love of Guinness, whiskey and spuds. No doubt we love the pub too and just like Spanish fiestas, St Patrick’s Day is a great excuse to party. Not that we really need one.

However, as much as I’d love to be at home celebrating St. Patricks Day with my friends and family, other things will also be going through my head today. I’ll be thinking about things I really enjoy doing when I’m at home in my native County Clare.

First up, to start the day, is an Irish breakfast. During the year I crave, especially on Saturday mornings, a fry up. I long for bacon, sausages, fried eggs, grilled tomato, black pudding, white pudding and sautéed potatoes. So, when I’m in Ireland I tend to take full advantage and happily wash it all down with a cup of tea.

Then I’ll begin to imagine the coast line. One of my favourite places to spend a couple of hours is a place called Ballyvaughan.  It’s a tiny village situated in the northwest corner of the Burren. I imagine the smell of the sea as I walk down the old pier overlooking Galway Bay.

When I’m feeling peckish, I go to the Tea Rooms where I always order the same thing. Smoked salmon on Irish brown soda bread and a pot of tea. Heaven. There is no better place to unwind than to sit in the Tea Rooms looking out at the unique Burren landscape while in the company of my family.

Then I’ll drive down the coast, maybe stopping off at the Cliffs of Moher for a quick look. Lets be honest, they are too good to pass by. Up to a million people visit the cliffs every year. Standing at 214 meters at their highest point they stretch for 8 kilometres along the Atlantic coast and are truly spectacular.

As I have not been to a hurling match for many years, this summer I’m hoping to get to see my county team play a game. Hurling is the most popular sport in Ireland but the most important competition in the sport is on a knockout basis. Therefore, the team needs to keep winning if I have any chance of seeing them play when I get home on holiday.

A guaranteed good night out is to go and watch my local rugby team play in Thomand Park. My friends and I meet up for dinner before going to the game. Sitting in the stadium on a cold December night usually calls for a hot whiskey to warm us up. Then, hopefully after a good win, it’s time to hit the bars. I’ll worry about the sore head in the morning.

Anyway, back to reality. Happy Paddy’s Day everyone!

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • If you lived abroad, what things would you miss about your country?
  • Do you believe homesickness is a common problem? Why/Why not?
  • What are the greatest problems people face when they move abroad?
  • In your opinion, would you say the pros outweigh the cons when living abroad? Give reasons for your answer.

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 250216 – Watching films in Spain: to dub or not to dub?

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Around 70% of films shown in Spanish cinemas are made in Hollywood. 100% of them are dubbed into Spanish. What are the consequences of this policy? (asks ECP coach John)

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

dub (v): to put different voices to actors in films – usually a different language

brownie (n): an American biscuit

notorious (adj): something that is well known for typically negative reasons

have a go at someone (v): to criticise someone strongly

censorship (n): the practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc

tantamount (adj): equal to something in value, meaning, effect


Once in one of my English classes we were talking about films and favourite actors and a student commented about what a great actress Julia Roberts was.

I laughed and mentioned the scene in Notting Hill in which Roberts, playing an actress who falls in love with an ‘ordinary English guy’ tries to win the last brownie at a dinner party by telling a sad story about herself. She says the line: “One day they will discover I can’t really act.”

It is as if the script writer was having a go an Robert’s notoriously wooden acting style and limited range.

However, the student was adamant that Roberts was a great actor until I asked: “How do you know? You’ve never seen or heard her act!”

For over fifty years since the time of the Franco dictatorship, Spanish cinema audiences have merely listened to interpretations of Hollywood actors’ performances.

Dubbing actors such as Constantino Romero (who dubbed Clint Eastwood, Darth Vader and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator) and Óscar Muñoz have achieved great fame.

Spain became a dubbing country due to economic, political, cultural and ideological factors. Censorship offices – the Junta Superior de Censura – were established in Seville and Salamanca in 1937, and later in 1941 obligatory dubbing made the showing of original versions of foreign films illegal unless they were first dubbed in Spanish studios.

Franco’s regime claimed they wanted to ‘protect Spanish’ but in reality it was a form of censorship in that they wanted to prevent the importation of ‘foreign’ ideas through movies.

However, the prohibition had the opposite effect and thousands of Hollywood films were imported, acting as an impulse to the dubbing industry in Spain, which today is one of the biggest in the world.

Dubbing as censorship had some amusing and ironic side effects. In the John Ford classic  Mogambo the change of a lovers’ relationship between an unmarried man and a married woman to a relationship between brother and sister, meant the censors appeared to prefer incest to adultery!

Nowadays, the dubbing industry is still strong but more people are watching VO. Perhaps new technologies like e-mail, and mobile phone texting are getting people used to reading short messages. Also, DVD and TDT makes it possible to see films in both dubbed and subtitled versions.

I would never watch an Almodóvar dubbed into English which in my opinion would be tantamount to a cultural crime! Would the comedy ‘Ocho Apellidos Vascos’ be as funny in English?

So why oh why do we watch all those dubbed Hollywood films and series?

A Spanish Affair 

When Spanish film-makers exhibit their films in international festivals they need to create subtitles in English so that the audience understands. You can download these typically excellent subtitles and use them to study English vocabulary and expressions. 

Here is one ECP coach Rob has prepared with ‘A Spanish Affair’ (8 Apellidos Vascos)

“Let’s chat about that!”

  • Would you be prepared to pay to watch subtitled films in the cinema?
  • Do you regularly watch series and films at home in VO?
  • Do you feel you are ‘missing something’ by watching dubbed films?
  • What is the future for dubbing?

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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