Vocabulary: ‘Post-truth’ – word of the year

Vocabulary: ‘Post-truth’ – word of the year
Intermediate to advanced level (B2-A2)

Oxford Dictionaries word of the year is ‘post-truth’. You can see it used in the phrases ‘post-truth politics’ and ‘post-truth world’. It refers to situations where public opinion is shaped less by ‘objective truth’ than by beliefs and opinions.  Continue reading

Reading: Who goes to Oxford University?

Reading: Who goes to Oxford University?
Intermediate to advanced level (B1-C2)

This year just over 40% of undergraduate places at Oxford University went to UK students who attended independent schools. In 2005, the figure was 48% and in 1995 it was almost 52%, and if you go back to 1961, it was a little over 65%. Continue reading

Reading: Getting close to the EU referendum

Reading: the EU referendum
Intermediate to lower advanced level (B1-C1)

On 23 June this year, a referendum will take place in the UK. The question to be voted on is: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Continue reading

IELTS Life Skills by Skype

IELTS: Life Skills by Skype exam preparation 
New English test at A1 and B1 level

Since April 2015 there have been two new IELTS tests. The A1 IELTS Life Skills test is designed for people who need a ‘Family of a Settled Person’ visa. The B1 test is suitable for people applying for ‘indefinite leave to remain (to settle) or citizenship’. You can prepare for IELTS Life Skills by Skype. Continue reading

Reading: The General Election

Reading: the General Election
Intermediate Level (B1/B2)

On Thursday May 7th there will be a General (national) Election in the UK. Nowadays this takes place every five years. The electorate can vote for one candidate in their constituency (local parliamentary area). The winner in each constituency will become the local MP (Member of Parliament). Continue reading

Vocabulary: Shakespeare’s 450th birthday

ShakespeareVocabulary and culture: 10 useful expressions from Shakespeare
Advanced level (C1-C2)

This week we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday (historians disagree about the exact day) with 10 Shakespearean sayings or sayings that Shakespeare made better known. Continue reading

Reading: Margaret Thatcher

Very advanced level (C2)

Yesterday Margaret Thatcher died. Some people were sad but others celebrated her death by opening bottles of Champagne and dancing in the street. However most would probably agree that she was one of the most formidable politicians of the 20th century who changed the economic and political face of Britain. Continue reading

Reading: British weather

Elementary to Intermediate (A2-B2)

Britain doesn’t have the best reputation for weather. In some ways this is unfair because people sometimes think London is frequently foggy when in fact London is very rarely like this. Of course 70 years ago people burned a lot of coal to keep themselves warm and this produced some terrible smogs in the big cities. Continue reading

Reading and video: Special double-decker bus

Reading and video: exercising double-decker bus
Intermediate level (B1-B2)

A Czech artist has taken a classic British double-decker bus and made it do press-ups (you can also say ‘push-ups’) in time for the Olympics! Using hydraulics, huge red arms can lift up the bus. Continue reading

Reading: What did the Olympic opening ceremony mean to you?

Reading: London Olympics
Advanced level (C1-C2)

If you were one of the hundreds of millions watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I wonder what you made of it. Most British people I spoke to found something that impressed them but of course if you watched it on TV you could only see what was broadcast and imagine the atmosphere. Continue reading

Reading: England football managers

Intermediate to higher level (B1-C1)

There has been an interesting range of England managers over the years. Now, during the Euros we have Roy Hodgson. He wasn’t everyone’s first choice and he certainly doesn’t have the media-friendly personality of say a Mourinho but he is regarded as reliable, genuine and all-round nice bloke. We shall see in the coming days if his qualities are enough to get the England team through to the final stages of the competition. Continue reading

Reading: 10 miles south of Oxford

It takes about 20 minutes to drive from Oxford to a village called Little Wittenham. It’s a popular place for walking because you get great views from the top of the nearby hills (Round Hill and Castle Hill). The hills, which are usually known as the Clumps, have wild flowers on their slopes and beech trees at their tops. You can see birds such as skylarks, buzzards and red kites.

From the top of Round Hill you can see the river Thames as it meanders by the pretty village of Dorchester (you can see Dorchester Abbey in the photo). If you have time, it’s a good place to have a picnic before walking down the hills and exploring the woods below.

In Little Wittenham there is an organisation called Earth Trust which seeks to encourage sustainable living. At the moment Earth Trust has 1,200 acres of woodland, research plantation, meadow, wetland and farmland.

Reading: Queen Elizabeth – who and what is she?

Reading: Politics
Upper intermediate to advanced (B2-C2)

She is certainly well-known, or at least her image is. Her face is on stamps and the UK currency but most of the time she is only seen at royal visits or ceremonies. At the opening of Parliament the Queen reads a speech but this is written by the government. At Christmas she reads a message to the country but this is very formal and usually just a summary of some of the things that have happened in the year. Continue reading

Cycling in Oxford

There are lots of cyclists in Oxford and usually they have to battle with the buses and cars that also use the streets. However today some of the country’s top cyclists came to Oxford to race.

St Giles in the city centre was closed to normal traffic and converted into a race track as you can see in the photograph.

Pronunciation: Syllable stress practice

Pronunciation: syllable stress
Pre-intermediate to advanced level (A2-C2)

The highest mountain in Britain is Ben Nevis in Scotland. However I think the real mountains are in the language! Some students speak English with a flat accent but this makes their pronunciation very difficult to understand.  Continue reading

Pronunciation: Linking English words – a Mini story

Pronunciation and listening: Word linking
Intermediate and higher level (B1-C2)

In normal conversation it is common for many words to be linked together. This can make listening to English a little difficult at the beginning. You can learn how to link words together. Practising linking English words will improve your listening and speaking.   Continue reading

Reading: Air show

Yesterday I went to an air show near the town of Abingdon (8 miles south of Oxford). It’s a fun thing to do in the summer months.

There were aircraft on the ground and flying displays in the air. As well as the planes there were vintage cars, crafts and dancing. Near the end of the show we saw the Breitling Wingwalkers. Two biplanes gave us a 15-minute show with a woman doing acrobatics on the wings of each plane. Very impressive! You can see them in the first photograph.

Each year the Abingdon Air and Country Show raises money for charity. This year they are raising money for the local air ambulance (a helicopter).

Listen Air show

Reading and listening: London marathon & F1

Reading and listening: London marathon and F1
Intermediate level (B1-B2) 

Today it’s the London Marathon. Thousands of ordinary people will run past the famous sights of the capital such as the Cutty Sark, St Katharine Docks, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament. Many will be raising money for their chosen charity in a carnival atmosphere. Also today is the Bahrain Grand Prix: exclusive, expensive and controversial. Quite a contrast!

Listen Two races

Listening and reading: Titanic and today

Listening and reading: passenger ships
Intermediate level (B1/B2)

It’s a 100 years since the Titanic disaster. At the time people said it couldn’t be sunk. In January this year 32 people died when the Costa Concordia hit rocks off the Italian coast. When I see the size of the latest cruise ships, I wonder if an even worse disaster is just around the corner.

Listen Titanic arrogance

About the Titanic:

  • There were 2,224 passengers
  • It was built in Northern Ireland
  • The life boats were designed to ferry passengers to another ship (and go back again to pick up more people)
  • 176 men had to fuel the steam engines with coal
  • At the beginning of the voyage at Southampton, Titanic very nearly hit another ship. It missed by only about 1 metre!
  • 97% of women travelling first class survived but 54% of women travelling third class died!
  • If necessary Titanic could convert sea water into drinking water
  • There was an on-board telephone system for the passengers
  • It took 26 months to build
  • Titanic was only about half full. Many people who planned to go on Titanic’s first (maiden) voyage decided to postpone their journey because there had been a coal strike and shipping schedules had been disrupted.

Here is a link to a website for all things Titanic

Reading and listening: The boat race

Reading and listening
Intermediate level (B1-B2)

The annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race had to be stopped after an Australian protester swam in front of the boats. The race was restarted and Cambridge went on to win. What I don’t understand is why he needed to get so close to the boats and risk his life.

Listen Boat race

This famous university boat race started in 1829 after a challenge between 2 school friends. It takes place on the River Thames in West London every year. The course is 4.2 miles long – about 6.8 km. So far Cambridge have won 81 races and Oxford have only won 77. In 1877 it was a draw!

In its history there have been striking crew members and boats sinking so this years incident is just one of many.

Spring is here

This time of year (early Spring in southern England) is one of my favourite times. All the plants are coming to life with colour breaking out everywhere you look!