book reviews

Politics & Literature: Orwell’s 1984

Today I heard on the radio sales of 1984 and Arendt‘s essay on totalitarism are soaring in the USA after Trump’s election. No wonder.

I hope that with this last post everybody finds some material to use their English and complement the other uses you are giving your English!

The key is on page 2, so don’t peep! It’s hard, but try to work things out (read out loud the sentences, think about language) using the Onion Layer Approach! 😀

readingorwell_cloze (2 word pages)

Have a wonderful bilingual weekend! ❤

Diary for Mon Jan 13 & Tips on Reading & Listening

I was predicting people were not doing much listening of the news or to radio program(me)s, and because being good at taking listening and reading tests at the advanced level requires having listened and read quite a bit, on a diversity of topics, and in order to encourage you all to keep a listening diary, this is, to make sure you listen to some radio program or other a few times every week (hearing one or two several times is crucial on a weekly basis: you see, you need to KNOW that the second and third times you do understand more, or much more), I started designing exercises, so we wouldn’t use up the real C1 tests, which you will take in March.

Daily listening work: So please, I’m asking you to listen to the news and radio programs every day. Work out your weekly listening plan, you can fit in 3 mins here, 6 mins there. I suggest you use some of the materials I post, too. There are some on the C1 Materials blog, and on this blog, too. Here is a radio book review on “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein (7 min). Next week I’ll bring some more listening exercises, including a dictation and identifying the outline (topic structure) of another radio book review.

Speaking: We started off with some students talking about the movie we watched last week. It was great because they gave their opinion, mentioned some scenes, talked about the people in the movie, too. I paraphrased some sentences they said for practice on fluency and accuracy. And we talked a bit about a few related topics. Then…*

Reading: And then went on to do my Reading follow-up activity on Hidden Figures. We had a little gapped activity as a warm-up, too. Homework: And I asked students to identify the present and past participle clauses in the article for next Monday (and I’ll probably forget about it, in case you can kindly remind us of this!) c1reading_hiddenfigures (2 Word pages). I also gave out a wikipedia entry for the Civil Rights movement, for further reading. But I do recommend Rosa Parks autobio. She was not a feminist because that was not possible at the time, but she does realize things as a feminist, and in spite of all the terrible pressure for the invisibilization of sexism.

Listening: We did a listening activity I designed, on Mars. I was insecure, thought it might be far too easy, but fortunately it was not! that’s why I always say that if you survive this course you’ll find the exam easy or relatively easy, hahahah… It included practice on self-assessment. People did well: most marks were 4/7, then 3/7 I think, well, that’d be a pass mark, right? Of course, you should reach for the moon! listeningonmars (1 Word page)

Well, congratulations, dear students, for surviving another lesson! 😀 Keep your work up! ❤

And please, remember it’d be great if there were people in class by 7.10, when Elva arrives! We’ll have guests, perhaps, and when we are back alone, we’ll listen to Dolores and Germán! ❤

*The mini-disquisition (it could’ve been never-ending! 😀 ) ! I also shared a couple of ideas which I think are good to reflect upon by us all: one is that our affections and interests are conditioned by culture. We tend to think it’s all about our freedom, our Self, but culture — intentional, non-intentional — determines we develop a greater interest in what men do, and little interest towards what women do, particularly in the areas they have always been banned from. The other idea I shared was about invisibility, too: how we tend to only see violence and struggle in specific events and how we fail to see violence and struggle in other events. And here’s the fact, in my view: as violence and struggle are things HUMANS do every day, but culture determines the how’s, we don’t see conceptual violence (we’re improving, though, now many people understand that women or black people or poor people are not less intelligent, or the like; or that a ruler has no right to rape, and murder, and enslave people), the verbal violence (e.g., invisibilization, misperceptions too and how we word that, e.g., the left-handed people and everyone else, piropos that actually terrorize women when uttered by unknown men in the street, or by an aggressive boss), which everyone of us uses and has to bear. We mostly see and only are aware of physical violence, and don’t allow it in women (we fear them even more than men when they use it, as if they were evil, much worse than the men who use it), culturally speaking — incidentally, that might explain why they can be so good at verbal violence. We identify struggle with the “necessary” or “justified” use of violence, but fail to see how we use nonviolent struggle in our everyday lives, and of course, the great development women have given this kind of struggle precisely because they were banned from the use of physical violence. (And Hidden Figures offers some great examples, and I hope people who did not come to see the movie, finally go.) Finally, I posed the question we all crave for: how we contribute to making people’s lives better and we don’t actually know, or can’t see it most of the times. This relates to our culture of violence and self-destruction, I believe. But we are human, and we can do amazingly good things. I wish they were seen, appreciated, acknowledged by more people because this would generate relevant change for the better in human cultures (but see the resistance to acknowledge women’s humanity, to mention just the largest human group subject to such terrible concepts as that of Woman in patriarchal culture), but there are people who do so. And how we tend to even make up the harm we do, or our lacks. When I realized this, as a middle-aged woman, I decided to quit what I call the network of gossip, which is not only done by women, but by men too. But the price of this is you don’t have certain information which is good to have! (not the vicious opinion sharing but other kinds, like someone is ill or the like). Well, dear all, I’m sorry about all this rambling. My intention isn’t to convince you of anything because I don’t believe in that, at least not the way that is understood. I’m trying to communicate, mostly! See if my points are understood by other people, what you all think. As you know, I’m trying to write about all this (and I’ve finally got A Room of My Own!), but never find the time!

OPs: Learning to speak from Outlines

Germán shared with us his work on the assignment: Oral Book Review, on the Ngozi essay we read in class. It was timed, to fit the speaking exam format called “monologue”. As you can see in the photo of what he wrote on the whiteboard, he had an outline to speak from, which is a very valuable exercise I hope all students do regularly this year, so they can feel more confident in June, and so they learn a relevant skill for everyday life — how to speak in public from an outline.

As you can see, he started out with factual information on the essay and the author. In his intro to the book, he assessed the kind of reading it was and its value, and moved on to sustain these ideas by sharing with us the anecdotes and ideas the author shared, his highlights. He also paid attention to the language he learned/learnt. What’s missing on the whiteboard is the final recommendation, which he actually did, anyway.

A final outline could have been:

Book Review

  • author, title: factual info
  • intro: feminist approach, entertaining, own experience
  • body: analysis – highlights sustaining intro:
  • anecdotes + misconceptions – show value of feminist analysis (bulleted points possible within this point)
  • language highlights
  • Final comment + Recommendation

I also add key words to outline points, to remind me of the particular ideas I want to mention, e.g. misconceptions (feminists hate…)


Germán, remember to record your work, for your Speaking File, so you can review it later and remember/consolidate.

I hope this great example helps you all to undertake your work at home on monologues. Remember you can watch my video here on Speaking File, and Lucía’s upcoming video!

Diary for Mon Oct 10 – Reading an essay + Hmwk (oral book reviews)

(Links in bold; highlights in color) Today our lesson was very productive, also in terms of putting together a wonderful lesson for next Monday! (I’ll post about this latter /látr/ point separately!)

Fighting absentism (I’m sorry, the spellchecker says “absenteeism” but I keep resisting!): today we had good news about Mario by Cristina, and he actually made it to class! Then I was able to talk to Sergio after class. Why am I mentioning all of this? It turns out they had no plan of dropping out, but I fight hard absentism, and try to prevent it, OK? 🙂 So when I think there might be a possibility there, I take action! Please, before ever dropping out, book a meeting with me, so we can talk. I could be of help, OK? 😀

I gave out another three minisagas (notice my use of “another” here. Can someone explain in class next day?). I’m really happy with your pieces, and hope you can share them over here. Remember I can post them for you if you want them to be anonymous.

Diagnosis B2 Reading Test. I read out the answers, and people told me their results. Remember that if you take the test at home and you check it, I can register your results. I’ll be putting up an Overview of the work you share on our bulletin board, so you can complete it in case I miss something. People’s results were quite good. You shouldn’t worry about the particular result. What counts is “pass” or “fail mark”, OK?

Three students told us they had prepared an OP! This is impressive and it fills me with hope!! Two will be on learning methodology and one on a how-to you’ll probably be happy to learn about.

DEAR CHIMAMANDA, WE’RE LISTENING! ❤ Teamwork: students read Ngozi’s essay “We Should All Be Feminists“: Dolores, Sergio, Marta N., Soluna, Cristina R., Mariajosé, Lucía, Sonia, Germán, Luz, Mario, Laura, (we missed Karen, for she had to leave before her turn), and Romina. Here is a list of words you should all pronounce correctly, OK? Please, double check you know how to pronounce them and stress them!

  • inclUsion, pUshed
  • assUmption, hUsband, sUpport,
  • greatest childhood /gréitest cháildhud/
  • liked the /laikt-the/
  • laugh /laaf/
  • bristling half-baked /beikT/
  • looked at /luk TAT/
  • likes it / laik SIT/
  • culture /ka…/, cultural
  • course /kóors/
  • own room /oUn rum/
  • /patról/ (verb)
  • pólitics / politician / policies
  • necessary /nésesari/
  • Nigeria /naigéria/
  • Lagos /léigez/
  • cafés
  • metropolis / metrópolis/
  • money /mÁni/
  • occupied /ókiupaid/ – the occupy movement (like 15M, Arab spring: 99% is associated to the occupy movement; asambleas to the 15M but they all relate to occupying squares to fight for meaningful democracies)
  • occur
  • knowledgeable
  • creative /kriéitiv/
  • forgery
  • actually – /ák-CHuali/
  • son /sAn/ = like “sun”
  • /iz/ ending: changes, marriages, priviledges, experiences, silences, uses,
  • /id/ ending: hated /heitId/
  • colleagues /kolígz/

Useful language (please, write the ones you selec in context, I didn’t have the time! It can be your own examples, or from the essay. You can post yours on the page for UL above): to deliver (give) a talk, a big deal, how stereotypes limita dn shape our thinking, unsolicited advice, they don’t intend harm, put it simply, spots available (to park), a well-meaning person, At some point, the word is so heavy with baggage, I saw realization dawn on his face (cf. suddenly it dawned on me / Friends: suddenlty it hit me), a go-getter, What struck me, prescribe how we should be, pretence / pretend, be apologetic about, love = partnership or ownership, emasculate (cf. belittle), mindset (frame of mind), deprived of, tap another person’s power, evil omen, What’s the point of culture?, to close a conversation, to speak out, It would be a way to / of … Western (occidental), Anyway (to change topics, or go back to the topic).

I gave some tips on constructive approaches to gender issues, explaining a hard-to-find idea: the difference between Patriarchal Reason (Razón patriarcal) and Empathetic Rationality (what we strive for). I also suggested students to consider their identity and gender, how gender expectations in our society, by the people we love, condition the development of our identity — parting from the acknowledgement of the fact that we are all, culturally speaking, children of patriarchal ideology, and therefore justify the patriarchal gender-sex system in conscious and unconscious ways. So some ideas are related to intellectual dignity and also to the connection of learning languages and learning about ourselves and others.

HOMEWORK. An oral book review on this essay. 3, 4 mins. Include: factual info, what the book is about, your highlights or personal insight (on language, ideas, anecdotes; passages, quotes), a recommendation. Remember to introduce your exercise and signal the end of it, too.

I’ll post a radio book review so you can practice note-taking and add stuff to your listening log! 🙂

Resources I mentioned: Maths, Disability, History

friedan.jpgBook TV. In this video, Zinn speaks, a key thinker in the 20th century, but before that the reporter interviews people about the books they enjoyed that year (1998) and there is the presentation of a program(me) on a feminist classic by Betty Friedan (not intended by me!), a middle-class suburban feminist who made the point we didn’t have the language to speak about what was wrong!

PS: I’d like to tell you about something. In countries at war pacifists are considered people with no patriotism, no love for their people, and “therefore” public enemies. Ask Women in Black Belgrade, what they learned/learnt from the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. And being a pacifist is considered a great violence towards their Fatherland. Because in the USA patriotism is as strong as classism in Europe, or perhaps much greater, really! (It’s so extreme!) — and I don’t mean all the progressist people from the USA we know about in Europe but about the general trend, the public opinion so to put it — pacifists are seen as very bad people. (Yes, imagine the hippie movement and their peace work against Vietnam, that was exceptional and actually resulted in the putting into practice of Low Intensity Warfare, with Reagan on, in 1980.) And what about “reds”? Just remember the witch hunt. Just consider the US Congress has no leftwing parties in it. Being someone with leftwing ideas in the USA is being a suspect of the worst kind, for the general population. In the same way, not having religious beliefs in the USA equals being a suspect of being a bad person. (Ironical that freedom of religion would rule out the option of not having a religion.) Religion in the USA is intimately linked to Patriotism and War, for tradition says they are the chosen people. And that is why aliens in scifi movies always contact the US president! 🙂 Well, this is my view, as a US American-Spaniard who lives in Europe because I feel there is more freedom in many ways that matter to me.