Thursday, 29 December 2011

Great Expectations

My students complain that I always choose very old books to read. I understand it is hard to think in a world in which noone watched TV, use mobile phones or computers, people travelled in carriages pulled by horses and social institutions were much different than they are now. Well.., I think the finest pieces of Literature were written at that time. Also, if we think of it, we usually choose to read contemporary novels and even if would be interested in reading as many books as possible, we would not read Great Expectations, unless one of our teachers obliges us to do so.

As a child, Dickens himself was a poor boy. He had to struggle very hard in life and make his own living since he was very young. This is so, one of the main topics all through his literature. The book tells the story of a very young boy who was born in a poor and uneducated country family. After some lucky events, his life changes until he becomes a city gentleman. In the end, he discovers he had not been so lucky after all, and he might have been very happy with his family and friends if noone had ever spoken to him about class, money or education differences. 

The book conveys very important educational values which I also thought important: hard work is over idle life, family and friendship are more important than money and love is definetely the most relevant topic in the book.

I just read there are at least 250 theatrical or TV versions of the book. I found an old black and white film version of it on youtube which I think is very helpful if you want to imagine what was the time and place background like.

The book we chose for our Bachillerato students is a graded reading by OUP publishers in Spain. In the one hand, I suppose the will not have to stop their reading that often to use a dictionary or would not find too many old fashioned words and, in the other hand, the book repeats several structures and words, so that the students can learn them at their own pace.

I found a couple interesting vocabulary topics in the book: Some misleading verbs like realize and notice and the difference between the verbs Lay, lie, lie. You can  also have some extra preactise in these two links: link 1 and link 2.

I hope that all my students have a great time reading the book with me. We will be listening to the the CD version enclosed chapter by chapter and they will be delivering a project and probably taking an exam. I will comment about the results when we have finished.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Changing Places

Just before my 40th birthday, I had the feeling (all men have, I suppose) that I might have missed something out as I was going through the path of life. 

The book I am going to post about has been in three different shelves for the last fifteen years. The pages are yellow and the cover is worn out by the pass of time. I read only 40 or 50 pages when my teachers asked me to read it in 1994, but my nostalgia has made me read it in the whole now. I think it was not my chance that characters in the book are around my age.

Two university professors, Mr. Phillip Swallow (the British one), coming from the imaginary city of Rummidge (probably Birmingham), and Mr. Morris Zapp (the American one), coming from Euphoria State (probably California), decide to swap their positions for six months in 1968. Literature is their field and, one way or the other, they both seem to be obsessed with Jane Austen. Once they arrive, they get involved into different universes and universities, where surprising coincidencies, misunderstandings and ridiculous situations give the story an humorous tone that keep you amused and entertained for the time you spend reading it. Thus, the author, David Lodge, portraits his own personal experience as Literature professor in both places.

Secondary characters are particularly important and influencial in the lives of both as they make them follow alternative paths in their life experience. In the one hand, Swallow is bored with his family life, routines and duties are suffocating him. He has got the feeling he hasn't made any progress in life and is not attracted by his wife any more. In the other hand, Morris is in the process of getting divorced and going to another country is a childish behaviour to get away from his daily problems.

Some other characters like Charles Boon, a radio station host who was formerly one of Swallow's students or Wily Smith, a civil rights activist and well known rioter, make the humorous point in the story.

At some point each of them get to know people who were previously on their respective social circles. They even have sexual relations with each other's couples or daughters (Swallow sleeps with Melanie, Zapp's daughter).

The book is divided into six sections: The first one tells us about their experiences as they both fly to their destinations. The second section describes in detail the people and places they know. The third section is made of letters that each character sends or receives from people (mostly family). The fourth section is made out of newspapers articles in which they are represented one way or the other. The fifth section talks about their decision (or not) to go back home, and to end up with, in the last section, they decide how and when they are coming back home...(or not).

The places and timing are also central to the story: civil rights, the hippy movement, Vietnam war protesters, twentieth Century modern industrial societies (previous to ICT technologies) are clear examples for this. Academic life in particular is also analized in detail all through the book.

Fifteen or seventeen years later, I really had a good time reading this book. It has also given me the opportunity to watch Mr. Lodge in several videos in Internet. I hope not to have ruined anyone's reading.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Rick Astley

Do you know this guy in the photo? The question is who did not at the end of the 1980's. They'd thought you were an alien if you didn't. I still have a couple of his LPs or tapes! somewhere.

If I ask any of my teenage students who he is, I swear none of them would know. My father always said that music is never out of fashion. I didn' belive him. When I was sixteen, it was a matter of life or death to know Rick Astley's song lyrics off by heart.

There weren't computers or mobile phones around us at that time. This guy's life changed as he became famous and mine also did, as I grew older. I forgot about him and music in general and became a fan of computers instead. A few days ago, only by chance, I found out that his Never gonna give you up song video was linked to millions of internauts as part of an All Fool's Day joke in 2008. As a consequence of that, he is becoming famous again! Well, that's great, I'm not that old anymore.

To switch to the topic I wanted to talk about from the beginning of this post, when I bring songs to class. I mean, when I'm back to future and get an MP3 copy of my favourite songs and read the lyrics with them (once I have previously found them in Internet), they stare at me as though they did not know what I am talking about. I have to make a very thorough and extensive introduction if I want to play something by The Police or Genesis. Not so If I'm dealing with Madonna or Michael Jackson (R.I.P.) as, one reason or the other, they are still on newspares headlines, TV shows or the Internet.

We all know, or we reach this conclusion as we grow older, that music is a business as any other. It has its own advertising process and music producers look for a target audience. All in all, song themes, situations, places and words are endlessly
repeated by different artists at different times.

I think the right thing to do is a combination of both: old (did I say old?) songs as they are part of our western culture and history and brand new songs by Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Jessie J or Adele (Wow, they are all women!). I confess it's going to be hard to forget about pieces of paper with gaps or errors on them; the typical hand out you keep in a filthy cardboard folder and switch to computers as (to begin with) we'll be contributing to save the environment.

I hope I'll be still alive in ten years from now. What will my students think of my favourite songs? They'll probably think to themselves: "Where's this man come out from? His music is ancient!" I'll be making history and,.....What about MP3 players? Will they still be of any use? At least I hope I can keep my blog or otherwise, I am wasting my time.

I have a little surprise for you. Here is an exercises to practice your English.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Defender of the Faith

Philip Milton Roth served the US army for two years and he used his experience there to write his first novel: Goodbye, Columbus, published in 1959. The book is divided into a short novel and five short sotories. Defender of the Faith is the one I decided to read.

As Marcus Cunliffe points out in his Literature of the United States: "In the early twentieth century the general or WASP tradition did appear to control the nation's cultural life", but later, in the same chapter he states: "By the 1950s Jewishness became a big theme in American culture. Gentile prejudice was one sub-topic. Jewish self-dislike, real or alleged was also analysed".

So, the subject matter of this story in particular is Jewishness and the relationship between Jewish soldiers and the army during II World War. Hypocritical religious convictions are under analysis as well as disicipline and social relations within the army. From the psychological point of view, rank status and shared religious feelings are an excellent excuse to launch a personal struggle between segeant Marx and private Sheldon, who plays the guilt trip on the former and tries to bring him round on doing what he wants.

If we explain some of the story plot, the comments above made will be better understood: Just before the end of II WW, sergeant Marx is sent to a traning camp in Missouri. Once there, he meets private Sheldon. They are both Jewish and Sheldon tries to take advantage of this situation to get special favours or even confidential information. Emotional blackmail is Sheldon's main strategy and, even though Marx is an experienced soldier, he ends up doing what Sheldon wishes.

The story follows a very straightforward chronological order; from May 1945 and covers - approximately - three months afterwards. The story is written in the first person singular and sergeant Marx is both narrator and main character. From the beginning, the reader gets the impression that he/she is in front of a personal diary, except because there are many dialogical structures. The action is a mixture of personal thoughts and reflections as well as a set of dialogues in military settings: the chow line, the headquarter's office, the parade yard or the shooting or range line.

Even though we are in a military context, the language used is quite informal, full of idioms, phrasal verbs and ordinary people's language.

In my opinion, the author is trying to show the conflict between religious duties and patriotic feelings; the clash between self-indulgence and sacrifice. In other words, he is denouncing the attitude of some American people towards the war in Europe.

There is another topic I think is worth making a comment on: the author makes is quite clear that even in a free democratical society, politicians take advantage of certain situations in order to get electoral profit. The letter that Sheldon writes to a congressman and its consequences are a clear example of that.

The reading of this story was interesting. It makes the reader think about different cultures and religions, world social and political order and the power of words.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Courter

It was a few years ago that I heard on TV that a Mr. Salman Rushdie had written such a controversial book, that a death threaten had been issued to him. I was quite young and naïve, so that I wondered what on earth could a person write to deserve such a severe punishment.

I knew nothing else about him, as at that time his books were not included in my curricular design. It was then fifteen days ago or so that I came accross one of his short stories.

The Courter is a short story included in his work  East, West, which was published in 1994. The story tells about the daily and trivial adventures of an Indian immigrant teenager whose familiy settles in London for some time.

The excuse to bring up the story plot lies in a letter received by the author himself. The letter is fom an old acquintance of him and tells an anectote about a governess who used to live and look after him as well as of his brothers and sisters. The old Indian lady has a very peculiar romance with the house porter and, as she is having difficulties with her English, she says: "courter" instead of "porter".

I found the story both interesting and amusing and I got some more understanding about the difficuclties of immigrant people: language, race discrimination, customs, social status, etc. Even though most situations are shown in a quite humorous style, the real background is one of a deep sadness and homesickness. As a reference for this, at some point in the story, the governess character estates: "God knows for what-all we came over to this country".

Language is one of the main topics in the story, not only because some of the characters are foreigners and they have a peculiar use of language itself, but also because the author analyses the consequences of poor fluency on a man who suffered a stroke and this makes a social outcast of himself.

The whole story is built up in an attempt to establish a chronilogical order as the main character grows up, but in my opinion, he deliberately fails in doing this because there is a great deal of personal feelings and emotions with a mixture of intermigled characters that seem to appear with no logical order as in a puzzle that, as a reader, you have to reorganise.

I strongly recommend everybody to ready the story. It was fun.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The rich boy & The curious case of Benjamin Button

I remember to have found particularly easy to read Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, so that I thought that If I read something by some other writer belinging the so called lost generation, it would turn out to be the same easy.

That was not the case; I found it hard to read those two Fitzgerald's stories, I think due to the amount of vocabulary he uses - sometimes only suitable for the time and places he is talking about - and mostly because of the American cultural conventions he constantly and deliberately falls back on.

I confess I haven't watched the whole movie starred by Brad Pitt and based on Benjamin Button's story, but as far as I remember, in order to feature the just born old man, the film director decided to give him an ordinary baby's size, except for the wrikles in his face. I was shocked when I found out that Fitzgerald really meant a just born man with "ancient teeth" and long beard who speaks just after being born.

In my opinion, the story is a narrative experiment that provides the author with the opportunity to set up humorous situations and play with the hypothetical situation of an human being living backwards in time.

Benjamin Button's story is similar to Poncela's "Cuatro corazones con freno y marcha atrás". Let's not forget that both authors worked as Hollywood script writers for some time.

The rich boy mirrors the main topic in The Great Gatsby. Central to the story is its main character, who as a young man, runs a dissipated, lazy and - at some point - immoral life. He fails in settling down his own life and misses the opportinity of getting married a worthy woman. Later, in a very selfish and arrogant manner, he thinks of himself as capable of giving advice to others. In the end, he feels all alone; forgotten by all his friends and relatives. In spite of his failures, he insists in behaving the same way he used to.

The rich boy is also interesting from the historical point of view as we become priviledged observers of the very rich NY society; those belonging to the very reduced set of people who became rich before the 1860s.

I had the impression that the author himself gets involved in the story as he identifies as a close friend of the main character. Everything is then, told in the third person narrative style.

I strongly recommend you to read some of Fitzgeral's Literature, but be prepared to use your dictionary and your wikipaedia quite a lot.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

To room 19

This is another short story I read recently and I summarize it as follows:
When you start reading it, you come accross a young, wealthy and well established couple, who own a big house and have four children. Apparently, everything should be all right, but the wife feels all alone and desperate. She had to do without her professional life and that - among other reasons - makes her feel down.

As the author goes deeper into the main character's psychological status, we discover that she really needs to have her own private time and space. Eventually, she decides to rent a room in a dingy hotel in London, where she spends a few hours each day.
Whatever happens next, you have to read by yourself.
The author of the story is Doris Lessing. She got the Nobel Prize not long ago.

Monday, 25 July 2011


All that I knew about Toni Morrison is that when at college one of my teachers insisted - or otherwise we'd fail - that we had to read Beloved and The Bluest Eye. At that time, I could not understand much of what I was reading, but I searched for some summaries that helped me answer the questions on my test and deliver a very modest piece of writing.

A few years have passed since then and early in July, I decided I had to take up some more reading in English just to catch up with the years I had spent reading only very easy samples of English taken from grammar books or English learning methods.

Even though I have to devote most of my time to keep an eye on my child, we drove together to a nice book shop in town and I came accross a new collection of short stories that include translations of the hard words at the bottom of the page. In a nutshell, I was determined to read some good stuff and my choice was Recitatif.

It is a sweet story about two women who spend a period of time together in a shelter when they were children. They do not meet each other for years and they have five different encounters as time goes by. The author tries to show how racial, social and psychological changes play a particular role in people's lives and how they understand and interpret their own recollections of the past the their relationship with others.

There's not much much more I would like to say about the story, I just want to recommend people to read it. Follow this link if you really want to go deeper into it.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Computers Today

In the past, people used to switch on their computers to look for information; mainly specialized websites or wikipedia. Now, we are facing a new situation; the Internet's consumer profile is different. People still look up their emails, but they have other means of personal information exchange: Facebook, Twiter, Tuenti..., as well as knowledge and information sharing sites such as Delicious, Blogger or Wordpress. In other words, what we call web 2.0 consists of an active participation of internauts in an infinite number of live and endless conversations, rather than simply seeking for information.

In average terms. How much time do you think people waste aswering stupid massages without a profit? Not to mention the amount of time we lose while our computers or laptops are switched on and off and they eventually start being operative. What about smuggling, illegal actions such as minors abuse on the web, credit card theft, etc? Well..., that's the bad thing about computers, I think.

But what would I do without looking up at my emails on daily basis? Probably read a fairy tale to my son.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

An awful day

It was Friday morning. Apparently, the beginning of a fantastic, bright and delightful weekend..., but everything went wrong that day. First, when I tried to start my car, I realised that it had a flat tyre, so I had to walk to work. When I got there, my boss had something to tell me: I got a reduction on my salary because I had been on strike the previous year. It was very disappointing. I was angry for the rest of the morning. When I came back, my wife and my son had a bad cold. That was all that I needed. It was such an awful day that I'd rather not to think about it.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

SMS Language

I explained some of my students this morning what SMS language is -even though I didn't write this sort of messages myself when I was a teenager- and asked them to write a short message as classroom task.

Hi teacher, DW, 2mro I won't go2 the sk8 park, so I'll do my homework,k?
By Miriam

I c a gr8 film 4u. It's "No country 4 old men". Btw I c u in u house.
By Alejandro

Hi, teacher. Do u can change exam of 2morrow? I can't study this afternoon :)

By Salome

HI teacher, could u change 2mro's exam? It's 'cause we havw 2 do some other exams and I won't have time 4 studying 10q

By Álvaro

Hi, teacher, 2moro I will go to classes more l8 10q teacher :)

By Miriam

For further information:


Tuesday, 17 May 2011


About five years ago, I was travelling to France for a vacation. First, we travelled to Calais and we got the underground train to France. It was cold, we were in our car! Then, when we got to France, we travelled for miles into the countryside. We were trying to find the cottage..., well, mu grandad's cottage. We stopped and looked at the map; then my dad reversed the car into a ditch. We were stuck, but luckily, we were outside a farmer's house and they got their tractor and pulled us out and then they made us a coffee. It was the best coffee we ever tasted! Then they showed us to the cottage and finally we got there and it was about five in the morning. Next morning was a great day! We played table tennis all day and we had a BBQ. Next day we went into the village. It was so beautiful!...,but quiet. Then we went back and I forgot to close the house gate and my dog ran away and I was behind, running in my bare-feet and we stopped in front of some French people and I tried to say: "get my dog", but they didn't know English and I didn't French. But I finally caught him in a field, barking at some cows, it was quite funny!
Finally, we went home and I rested.


By Holly

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Something terrible happened. A body appeared in the river last night. The dead body hasn't got any blood on it and it has got two little holes on its neck. It is as though a vampire attacked him. Apparently all happened by the river Thames last night in the East End, very close to one of the river quays. The victim is a caucasian middle age man. Short, fair hair; no glasses, clean teeth; athletic complexion.
When I first saw his body I thought he had fallen by accident. But then I understood that someone killed him.
I don't believe in vampires, but someone has been reading about them lately.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

An Amazing Journey!

Dear Claudia,

Sylvia and
I had a nice time in Istanbul. We stayed in a nice hotel. It was not new, but the rooms had recently been redecorated.

Very early in the morning, we heard the prays from the high minarets and we were overwhelmed by the religious feeling around us.

We had a boat trip through the Bosphorus Strait and we were taken from the old to the moder side of this huge city. It was sunny and bright. Food was fantastic; it was strange to have olives and boiled eggs for breakfast. Fish was delicious but they don't eat any pork at all.

We went by tram to the main city market a couple of days earlier. We could buy different kinds of tea and spicies. The shop windows were full of shining and finely made pieces of gold. Turkish people are experts in making soft silk carpets and cloths.

The most traditional street is called Taksim. There was a tram going to and from; up and down the street. It was crowded with people.

I asked an old shop owner the price of cheese. He said: “one million”. I discovered later that it was only a silvered coin what I needed to pay for the cheese.

One day, as we walked accross a bridge , after going up the Galata tower, we decided to walk back to our hotel. Very soon, we realized it was too far to walk. Sylvia stopped and said she'd like to have a Turkish bath. She was given a towel and two nice women got in with her. I waited for her in the hall. Two kind men started to talk to me in English and Spanish and they gave me a glass of tea.

Did you know that Sultans (Attoman Emperors) had their own shower when noone in Europe had?

We also visited an old palace, a Roman cave with old columns and Saint Sophia's old Cathedral, which is now a mosque and a museum.

I strongly recommend you to visit Turkey and Istanbul.


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Making a movie

To make a movie it's necessary a good story; attractive actors and pretty actresses and a producer with a lot of money.
First, the scriptwriters write dialogues for actors and when the script is ready it is given to the actors. If the actors agree, they sign a contract with the producer.

Sometimes, some actors don't want to make a scene because they don't like it.
After that, they begin to film the movie. The movie is filmed in different places of the world: for example, some scenes of Harry Potter were filmed in England and some other in Portugal.
Normally, it takes a long time to make a movie.
Finally, the movie is shown in the cinemas and it it is very good it will be awarded in the Oscars ceremony.


Thursday, 17 February 2011

What would you do if you won the lottery?

To begin with, I would like to say that I almost never play lottery games, so the possibility that I win is very small. But I have planned t be rich when I get older..

I know we don’t get happier if we have more money, but it makes many things so much easier! And I'd really like to travel around the world and see new things, and that isn't cheap....

But if I won the lottery or if I had a lot of money, first thing, I would draw some money in the bank, so that I can buy my own an apartment in Denmark and then, when I'm eighteen I can study at university!

After that I would use some of the money to go for a vacation, I would go to a place where I have never been before, like Australia or Thailand

then I'd like to take the driving licence test and of course buy my own "peugeot cabriolet" !

I would also give some money for charity.

And If I had are more money left...,I would buy some clothes :)

Mie 4º-D

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

If I won the lotterty or I had a lot of money

I don't think I'll ever have a lot of money for two major reasons: first one because I don't play lottery games and second, because I'm not a greedy or competitive guy.
I can make an effort though, and imagine I had. So If I had much money, for sure I'd live in the countryside because I don't like the smoke of cars.
Some people think that money doesn't bring you happiness and so do I. That's why I wouldn't buy anything in particular, but I'd try to devote as much time as possible to my family.
I'd lend some to my brother for him to pay off his debts and I'd let him refund me when he wanted to.
If I won the lottery..., well, then I think I'd
really know who are my friends.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Acronyms or Backronyms?

It was mid morning and one of my mates teachers was talking about computers and learning new things and stuff like that, and then she said to me:
- For sure you know what "wiki" means, because you are the English teacher, are you?
- "No,..... I don't know" I answerd circumspectively
- Well.. It's the acronym of "what I know is.....", she explained.
I was a bit annoyed because, some time ago I wrote an article on my blog about acronyms,and I did not know this one. I didn't think of it much longer, but I was a bit concerned.
Next day she came back to me and said:
- "I discovered that "wiki" is a false acronym."
- Come on! This was even worse! I never heard of "false acronyms".
Eventually, I found out that there are a certain number of acronyms that are called backronyms because they come from people's misunderstandings or urban legends. Among them is "wiki", which actually comes from the Hawaiian langauge and it meant "quick, quick"

Thanks to the "Ecology" teacher I have learned more things about English.