The BLC Blog

A forum and learning place for British Language Centre students

Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Day

February 29 is a date that only occurs every four years, and is called a leap day. This day is added to the calendar in leap years as a corrective measure, because the earth does not orbit around the sun in precisely 365 days.

According to folk tradition of the English-speaking world it is acceptable for women to propose marriage to their boyfriends in a leap year like this one. However in Greece it is considered bad luck to get married in a leap year.

People who are born on the 29th of February are called leaplings and they usual celebrate their birthdays on the 28th of February or the 1st of March. There are approximately 4 million leaplings in the world, about 30,000 of which reside in Spain (according to Europa FM this morning)

Here is an interesting article in an American newspaper about leaplings and the tradition adn explanations behind leap years.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And the Oscar goes to....

Congratulations are in order for Javier Bardem who won the Best Supporting Actor award at Sunday's Oscar ceremony for his role in the Coen brother film, No Country for Old Men. Mr Bardem has made history by being the first ever Spaniard to win an Oscar for acting. Let's just hope that Javier doesn't succumb to the Oscar jinx that has afflicted other winners of the highly-coveted award. It has been said that winning an Oscar has actually ruined the careers of many of Hollywood's leading men and women. What ever happened to Mira Sorvino? Marisa Tomei? Holly Hunter? Perhaps Javier Bardem can take comfort in the fact that the curse mainly seems to affect women.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008


So, last night my mother told me about this game she had found on the internet since she knows how I love a good word game, like Scrabble or Boggle and I thought that I would share it with you.

It's called Fowl words, after the hens that lay eggs as you play the game and not because the words you have to come up with are foul! It's a bad pun, I know!

The aim of the game is to make as many words from the letters you are given in the time allowed. (Between certain levels you will have to watch a little advert but just wait for it to finish and you can continue playing)

Play Fowl Words > > >

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Word of the Week - 7

This is a verb that we use to describe the action of being over-protective, over-attentive and over-indulgent towards another person. It is most common between mothers and their sons but can also be used in other contexts when we want to say that people are being spoilt or treated with excessive indulgence.

Here is an example from the BBC News:

Do we mollycoddle our children? A childhood expert says that the overprotection of today's children means they miss out on vital experiences and don't learn how to look after themselves.

Here is a quote from Prince William talking about wanting to be treated the same as other British soldiers if he were to join the army - (which he has now done).

"The last thing I want to do is be mollycoddled or wrapped up in cotton wool because if I was to join the army I'd want to go where my men went, and I'd want to do what they did," he said.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Say What now?

It's a common occurrence in class for the teacher to talk about a classic movie and the students have never heard of it because quite often the Spanish title bears little resemblance to the original title.

Do you know the Spanish equivalents of these original film titles ? Have a guess and then check your answers in the comments box below.


The Sound of Music

Die Hard

Rosemary's Baby

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Some Like it Hot

A Nightmare Before Christmas

The Village

Ice Princess

Shallow Hal

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Writing Film Reviews

When deciding to watch a film many people like to read what others have thought about it before paying to see it at the cinema or on DVD. I personally like to find out what people have said about a film by reading viewers reviews on the IMDB website. However, perhaps you prefer to read what professional critics have said, in which case you could check out the Rotten Tomatoes site.

Perhaps you have seen some of the recent releases in Spain at the moment and would like to voice your opinion? You could check out this site on how to write a review and then send one to me to publish on the blog! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that somebody out there will send me something!

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

More Movie Mania

If you are interested in watching trailers of films but would like some activities and exercises to do at the same time you should check out this website. You can choose from many different trailers and there are different tasks like gap-fills and grammar exercises for you to do while you watch.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Movie Mania

Actors, directors and writers are waiting with bated breath as Hollywood prepares to host the 80th Annual Academy Awards on the 24th of February. The awards, more commonly known as The Oscars, recognise the hard work and expertise of different members of the Film Industry.

Are you interested in films? What kind of films do you prefer? Sci-fi films, biopics, comedies, documentaries, slasher movies, or chick flicks? Would you consider yourself a film buff? If so, perhaps you'd like to test your knowledge on the Filmfour Oscars Quiz.

Go to the Filmfour Quiz > > >

But if that isn't challenging enough for you, you could pit your wits against Jon Mullich who reckons his Oscars quiz is ultra-hard.

Go to Jon's quiz > > >

If you are not at all interested in quizzes but you would like to find out more about this year's Academy Awards, you should check out the official Oscars website. You can find out who is nominated this year and read more about the nominees > > > in their star biographies. You can also watch trailers > > > of all the films that are nominated in each category, but in original version of course and without subtitles!

So what are you waiting for, you only have two days to get clued up on all that is happening in Hollywood before the actual event on Sunday!

Go to the official Oscars Website > > >

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Your Blog

I would like to ensure that the things I write about on the blog are what you want and need to read. To help me do this I need you tell me exactly what you want!

To contact me with ideas for future entries or to offer something of your own that you would like to see on the blog, perhaps a story or essay or poem that you have written, send me an email to the following address:

I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Word of the Week- 6

The weather is miserable today, the skies are grey and there is a little rain. It isn't really raining though, the water isn't falling that heavily, but we can say that it is drizzling or spitting.

The verb drizzle can also be used when we are talking about making and dressing a salad. In Spain it is very common to pour small quantities of olive oil on your salad. We can say that we drizzle oil over the salad, and on a morning Spanish people often drizzle oil on toasted bread.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

This Day in History

Are you interested in History? Or in interesting titbits and trivia? On the History Channel Website you can find out about what happened in history on any given date. Perhaps you could check out the website once a day to find out what happened that day. Each video lasts only 1 minute so it is a nice, quick way of getting a little English listening practice and you may even learn something interesting about world history. So. what are you waiting for?

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Everyone! Have you planned anything romantic for your other half today? Or do you think that Valentine's day is a load of rubbish and just an excuse for big stores to make money from the general public? Whatever you think about the day perhaps you would like to learn more about why it is celebrated in the first place and practise your English in the meanwhile. has lots of information and trivia about this special day and there is even a video for you to watch.

Go to History.Com >>>

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Romantic Relationships

With Valentine's Day coming soon I thought we could look at some multi-word verbs and expressions for describing the different stages of a relationship.

The first stage is meeting your Mr or Miss Right. Perhaps you will notice them one night when you are out on the town. You will look across the room and see them and perhaps you will want to get their attention or let them know that you fancy them. You may even start eyeing them up. If they also look at you with interest you may go up to them and start talking to them or chatting them up. If you are lucky (and not jinxed!), you might hit it off, in which case you could ask them to go out on a date. Alternatively, you might meet your Mr or Miss Right on a blind-date set up by a friend.

Once the first date is over and you decide to continue seeing each other you can say that you are going out together. If things continue to go smoothly and you have built up a steady relationship, you might decide to move in together and share a home or perhaps you will get engaged and then married first.

Hopefully the relationship will be long and happy and you won't cheat on your partner, or be cheated on! If this does happen, it is likely that you will decide to break / split up or even worse your partner will dump you! Although, you would deserve it! However there is always the chance that you can both forgive and forget and get back together. Some people do live happily ever after (or eat partridges as the Spanish say).

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Word of the Week - 5

This is a noun but if you add -ed onto the end you can make it into an adjective. This word is used to describe something or someone that brings bad luck or somebody who is rather unlucky. I thought of this word because I often believe that I am jinxed! Especially last week when everything that could go wrong, did! The escalators were broken in my tube station, the lift in my block of flats (apartment block AmE) was out of order and I live on the seventh floor, the escalators ate my shoe and I spilled tomato juice down my favourite top.

Have you ever seen Meet the Parents? or Meet the Fockers? Do you remember the cat in the film? His name was Mr Jinx (Gafe in the Spanish dubbed version).

Do you think you are particularly jinxed? Write a comment letting us know why.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Animal Similies

In English as in any language, you can invent any simile you like. However, we also have certain standard, or at least very common, similes that most native speakers will at least know, if not use. Today we'll look at some that incorporate animals. We're going to stick to the simple as ... as formula. (For more similes based on this formula, click on the simile tag at the end of the post and see previous related blog entries)
Now it's your turn. Can you match these animals to their adjectives to form similes?


Feel free to post your answers in the comments box.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pancake Day

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday as it is officially known, is celebrated on the 47th day before Easter Sunday. It is also the last day before the start of the period that Christians refer to as Lent. The day usually falls between the 3rd of February and the 9th of March. This year it is today, the 5th of February.

So why is it called Shrove Tuesday? The word shrove comes from the old word "shrive" which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began. Lent is also a time of abstinence and of giving things up and since Shrove Tuesday is the last day before the beginning of Lent it was traditionally the last chance for people to use up all the typical foods that were forbidden during Lent. These forbidden foods included eggs, butter, and fat, the ingredients for a good pancake. Hence the name Pancake Day.

Nowadays in Britain, people tend to use Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) as an excuse to get out their frying pan, toss a few pancakes high in the air without hitting the ceiling and fill their faces with scrumptious food! There is even a world famous Olney Pancake Race (as in the above photos taken circa 1950). I wasn't really aware that people took part in pancake races but apparently this tradition is so popular and fun that some Americans decided to copy it and take it to Liberal, Kansas.

This Youtube video will show you how to make pancakes while listening to some random music and a very amusing pancake song. I warn you that it is little strange!

If you want a more serious and mature way of learning how to make pancakes with spoken English instructions go to videojug.

Or if the first Youtube video wasn't weird enough for you, look at this one for serious insanity

Happy Pancake Day!

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National Coaching Week

This week, February 3rd-9th celebrates the tenth 'International Coaching Week'. Its purpose is to provide a week each year to educate the public about the value of working with a personal, business or executive coach.
Have you ever heard of coaching? If not, you may be interested in finding out more through the links below. The links provide opportunities for listening, reading, speaking and vocabulary practice all around the topic of coaching. You can listen to an executive coach, Cheryl Smith, discuss the differences between coaching and other similar disciplines such as mentoring, consulting, counselling etc. Cheryl also talks about the ever-increasing role that coaching has in businesses and organisations. There are also further listening tasks for you to do.
Click here for the reading / listening tasks related to the recordings.
Click here to listen to part one of the interview with Cheryl.
Click here to listen to part two of the interview with Cheryl.
Click here for the tapescript.
Click here to listen to the interview with Michelle.
Click here for the tapescript.

Happy listening and learning!

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Word of the Week -4

This is a suffix that is added to the end of words to form verbs or adjectives meaning protected against or not damaged by a particular thing.

Armed policemen usually wear bulletproof vests to protect them from enemy fire.

It's raining outside, you should wear a waterproof coat.

Parents often childproof their houses by putting special locks on cupboard doors and covers on electrical sockets.

Thank goodness my son's walls are soundproof so we can't hear him practising on his drums!

This DVD machine is supposed to be foolproof, so even I should be able to use it!

Firemen wear flame-proof clothing so that they don't get burnt.

Apparently this watch is shockproof so even if I drop it on the floor it shouldn't break.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Metro Reading

You know we like to try to get you to be more Learner Autonomous by providing you with this blog and links to sites where you can get listening practice and new vocabulary. However, the internet is not the only source of English material available to you. In Madrid there are a quite a few publications that you can get your hands on to help you practise your English while learning about the world and the city in which you live. I'm talking about newspapers and magazines, some published for the expat population of Spain and some published for language learners like yourselves. What better a way to fill your underground / bus journey to work or to pass the time in long Madrid traffic jams than reading (and learning) in English?

First of all in certain kiosks around Madrid, generally in the most touristy and business areas, you can purchase copies of both tabloid, broadsheet and financial and economic British and American papers. These are a little pricey, ranging from 2 to 4 euros, but they are extremely authentic.

Secondly, you can subscribe monthly to Hot English Magazine which is specifically aimed at learners of English and contains lots of vocabulary and interesting articles with glossaries provided in Spanish. Follow the link above to their website where you can find out how to subscribe and take a peek inside an issue of the magazine.

Another option is The Broadsheet aka TBS. This is available for free all around Spain. In Madrid it can be found in many Irish pubs, Indian restaurants, bookshops and academies. You can also access it from the link above if you prefer to read it online. This magazine is written for native speakers, but that does not mean that you can't read it too! It comes out every month and the articles and reviews are based on what is happening in Spain.

Finally, in Madrid you can get hold of In Madrid, another monthly expat newspaper. This is full of reviews and interesting articles about what is new and hot in the Spanish capital. It is available in more or less the same places as TBS and you can usually pick one up from the big white table in reception at the BLC! If not, you can access it online via the above link.

Happy reading!

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Groundhog Day

Today in the States and Canada it is Groundhog Day. A groundhog, the animal you can see in the picture, is also known as a woodchuck, a marmot or a ground squirrel. Tradition states that if this animal should come out of its burrow (home) on this day and fail to see its own shadow due to clouds, winter is almost over. However if it does see its shadow it will return to its burrow and winter will last another 6 weeks. The most famous Groundhog Day celebrations take place in a Pennsylvania town called Punxsutawney.

Perhaps you have heard or even seen the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day, where the main character is forced to relive the day over and over again until he learns an important lesson in life.

And perhaps in class, your teacher has tried to get you to say the following tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck, he would, as much as he could,
And chuck as much as a woodchuck would
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.

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