3 Fun Websites to Practise your English Online

Looking for some other sources of inspiration to practise your English? Check out these 3 websites below. Best of all, even if you only have 5 minutes to spare, I guarantee you can use this time productively!

1. Tube Quizard

1.pngTube Quizard (http://www.tubequizard.com/) is a collection of YouTube videos on a variety of topics with gap-fill quizzes. You can browse in several ways: by level, by language focus, by category, and by accent.

Click on the empty box in the exercise and the video will cue to that time. Fill in the blank and check your answer.

It’s easy to use and with so much content, you can spend just minutes or hours on it.

2. BBC World One-minute News

2.pngWant to put your intensive listening skills to the test and at the same time catch up with the latest global news? BBC World One-minute News (http://www.bbc.com/news/av/10462520/one-minute-world-news) is the place for you.

You will hear a short summary of a few headline news items. At first, you may not get much information, but repeating the clip several times will help considerably.

Best of all, it is updated regularly so you can listen several times a day if you wish.

3. PlayPhrase.me


Playphrase.me (https://www.playphrase.me) is an innovative platform that allows you to practise pronunciation through short excerpts of movie and TV series.

It is suitable for English learners of all levels. You just have to write the word, expression or phrase you want to hear in the search box and Playphrase.me will produce a number of short video clips that feature the item.

You can pause the sequence of video clips so that you can repeat the phrase you hear. It is also a great way to see expressions in context as in the example here (on the horizon).

Happy Practising!

Love is in the air… 4 classic rom-coms to watch this month!

Love is in the air this month as we celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th. So let’s look at some classic rom-coms and 10 expressions we can use when speaking about relationships.  Rom-com is short for romantic comedy and is a film, series or book about love that is intended to make you laugh.  Here are 4 of my favourite rom-com films in chronological order: 

1. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – British English

Renée Zellweger stars as Bridget, a 32-year-old single girl who (1) has a thing for her boss, Daniel, played by Hugh Grant. Daniel is a bit of a (2) love rat but fear not, as there is another man, Mark Darcy, who could potentially be Bridget’s true love and who (3) is a real keeper.

A sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, was released in 2004 and another sequel, Bridget Jones’s Baby, was released in 2016.

2. Love Actually 
(2003) – British and US English

When it comes to celebrating love in all its forms, very few can beat the kind on display in this epic rom-com. This film has an amazing cast of actors and all the love stories are interlinked in some way and cover the positives and negatives of relationships. In one story, a marriage (4) is on the rocks as one character thinks his wife is (5) the love of his life but, in reality, she (6) is having an affair with his brother.  Also, it is set at Christmas so if you love watching films about that time of year, it’s the film for you!

3. Bridesmaids (2011) – US English

If you are looking for something less sugary and sweet, this rom-com is for you. Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) is a single woman in her mid-30s and her life is a bit of a mess. Her business has gone bankrupt and her love life is disastrous. (7) She has fallen for Ted, an idiot who she should really (8) dump as he is not interested in making their relationship more serious. Things get worse when her best friend tells her she (9) is tying the knot and asks her to be maid of honour.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – US English

Although this film may not fall into the usual rom-com category, it really is one… with a bit of drama too. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has bipolar disorder, is released from a mental health facility into the care of his parents. He learns that his wife has moved away and doesn’t want (10) to get back together with him.  At a dinner with his friend Ronnie, he meets Ronnie’s sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow and recovering sex addict. Pat and Tiffany start to develop an odd friendship through their shared neuroses.

And if you are a bookworm and looking for pure romance with a bit of drama, see these reviews that our students have written about romance novels: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and P.S. I Love You by Cecilia Ahern.

(1) to have a thing for someone – to be attracted to someone, be interested in someone:
e.g. “He has a thing for his colleague but she doesn’t feel the same way.”

(2) to be a love rat – a man who is cheating on his partner with someone else:
e.g. “I can’t believe he is seeing two women at the same time! He’s such a love rat!”

(3) ​to be a (real) keeper – someone with good qualities, who you can have a long relationship with:
e.g. “She supported him through a very difficult time in his life. She’s a keeper.” 

(4) to be on the rocks – a relationship that is in difficulty:
e.g. “When she moved out of their apartment to take a break, it was clear their marriage was on the rocks.”

(5) to be the love of one’s life – the person you want to spend the rest of your life with:
e.g. “Of course we’re going to get married. He’s the love of my life!”

(6) to have an affair with someone – to cheat on your partner with another person:
e.g. “She is having an affair with her colleague. Her poor husband has no idea.”

(7) to fall for someone – to fall in love with someone:
e.g. “He always falls for the wrong kind of woman”.

(8) to dump someone – to end the relationship:
e.g. “He dumped her as things were getting too serious.”

(9) to tie the knot – to get married:
“They’re tying the knot next Saturday. I hope it doesn’t rain.”

(10) to get back together (with someone) – to return to a relationship or marriage after separating:
e.g. “I really hoped we would get back together after a break but now he is seeing someone else.”

By Jenny Smedley

La opinión de Jenny Smedley ¿Sirve para algo hablar en inglés con mi hijo si no soy nativo?

My first question would be WHY? What is your motivation for using English with your child? If it is primarily because you are worried that your child will not be able to reach a decent level of English without your extra input, I would tell you not to worry.

Nowadays, we all have far greater access to resources in English for children. There are so many other things you can do with your child to help them. Why don’t you watch one of their favourite cartoons in English with them, sing together, read together, take them on holiday somewhere English speaking, sign them up to activities in English with children their own age…. Why would you want to sacrifice the chance of communicating to your child in your own beautiful and rich language?

As a mother of two young children, I wouldn’t dream of speaking to my girls in any language other than my native language. We call it mother tongue for a reason. In my opinion, language is much more than a simple means of communication. It is a part of our identity and it allows us to form emotional connections. A fetus in the womb hears their mother speaking when they are just 15 weeks old and one of the first things we do with our babies is to sing lullabies. How natural would it feel singing lullabies in English or mimicking animal noises that are very different to your own language. Woof or guau? No matter how good you may be at English, conversing with a toddler may seem easy but how would you feel about potentially dealing with a teenager’s deeper and more difficult issues in a language that is not your own?

You may think that because I am English, it is easy for me to say all this but I really don’t think that is the case. My husband is Italian and before having our first child, he had pretty much decided that he would speak to our daughter in Spanish as it would be more “useful” for her than Italian as we live here in Spain. In the end, I managed to convince him to speak to her in Italian and to this day he doesn’t regret my doing so. She is half-Italian and the language is part of her identity, her emotional connection with her babbo and how she connects with her grandparents and family in Italy. It is so much more than language.

Summing up, I would tell you not to miss out on speaking to your child in your native language, whatever that might be, and by allowing your child to do fun things in English as they grow up, rest assured they will grow up with a love for English too!

Jenny Smedley

Mistakes are good for you!

Sin títuloHave you ever been in a situation where you wanted to express something in your target language but did not do so because you were afraid of making a mistake? In my years of teaching, I have sometimes experienced frustration with students who preferred to limit their experimentation with the language due to fear of making mistakes. Why do I get frustrated as a teacher? Well, because ultimately this fear impedes progress and also because it is vital that my students enjoy experimenting and improvising in the language.

You may remember a time when you have felt embarrassed due to a mistake you have made. I clearly remember one occasion when I was living in Austria and speaking to my new flatmate in German. He thought I was offering him a massage when I really just had a message for him. I can laugh about it now and I will never ever forget the word for message in German! So you see, making mistakes helps you learn. 🙂

Although you may have had a bad experience with learning a language at school where you were constantly judged on your knowledge, learning a language in your adult life should not be seen in this way, but rather as an extremely useful communication tool which could help you move up the career ladder or improve your life in general.

It is true that you can sometimes feel discouraged if you feel that you receive lots of correction. It is important, though, that the mistakes you make are highlighted to you and that you understand the correction. You should also record recurring mistakes in a notebook or in a Word doc and regularly review them. By doing so, you will eliminate them. We always say that regular exposure to the target language plays an important role but receiving valuable feedback and learning from it is just as, if not more, important.

You should record recurring mistakes in a notebook or in a Word doc and regularly review them

And a positive attitude here is the key to success. Why do we say that children learn languages so quickly? Although it may be true that there is a link between age and ability to learn, the key to progressing in a language could also be to “think like a child.” Children play with the language and are willing to make mistakes. They are not self-conscious. An adult is much more likely to say, “I can’t”, rather than, “I haven’t learned that yet”. Let go of your adult inhibitions!

The US political activist, Ralph Nader, once said, “Your best teacher is your last mistake!” Learn from your mistakes and you will make progress!

Change your language settings and change your chip!

Sin títuloTechnology can be our best friend or our enemy at times but when it comes to learning a language, why not let it help you out in simple ways?

Have you ever accidentally changed the language on your phone and then struggled to get it back again? We’ve all been there before. I remember one particularly confusing incident with Arabic but maybe that’s just me! However, this is actually a great way to help you to learn new words right away.

Why not go one step further and change the language on your Internet browser, Facebook and Twitter accounts? Instead of using Wikipedia in your mother tongue, why not change the settings to the language you are learning? Not only will you discover something new when you are doing your research, but you will also learn some new language in the process. Now that’s what we call killing two birds with one stone!

Language learning is all about making lifestyle changes, but it is also about keeping things real and creating simple, achievable habits. The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more naturally the language will come to you and this is an easy way to do it.

So, the next time you go on Facebook, think for a second how you would say “share, follow, like, password etc.” in the language you’re learning. Don’t know? Change your chip and change the language! 🙂

Use it or Lose it!

use-it-or-lose-it-There is a nice expression in English that means if you don’t practise something, you will probably forget it… Use it or lose it! Nowhere is this truer than when we speak about languages. All Ziggurat students, past and present, know that without regular and consistent practice, it is impossible to improve or even maintain a language.

However, let’s look specifically at the topic of vocabulary, and let’s take English as our example language. We all know that English has more words than most comparable world languages, so it is natural to feel a little frustrated when you have notebooks full of random words but you still feel that you can’t express yourself well because you can’t remember most of them!

In reality, increasing your vocabulary range happens in at least 3 steps, and unfortunately most students don’t get past the first:

  • Step 1: Recognize the word. You’ve seen the word, you more or less understand it in context, but may have doubts about meaning, word syntax (e.g., in the case of a phrasal verb if it is transitive or separable).
  • Step 2: Learn the word. This is what most students aim for. You know this word. You can give the definition, put it in a sentence, etc.
  • Step 3: Use the word. Many students spend hours “learning words”, but they never actually incorporate them into their daily speaking routine.

The question is how can we get to step 3? The key is to be selective. It is impossible to know all the words in the English language. Native speakers don’t know all of them so why should you? Instead, focus on learning vocabulary that will be useful and relevant to your daily life or expressions that you like in your mother tongue and want to use in English.

One way to help you to ultimately use new vocabulary is to create a Word Bank. You could do this by using a notebook and dividing it into different sections or you could use a digital document (e.g., Word or Excel). The important thing is to create categories that are useful for you because the ultimate goal is to have a personalized dictionary.

Let’s look at an example of an intermediate student who is working in sales and needs to increase his work-related vocabulary. Possible categories could be:

  1. Email expressions (when contacting colleagues in Germany)
  2. Technical vocabulary (related to the products he is selling)
  3. Presenting and selling a product (functional language)
  4. Networking and socialising (language for conferences when meeting international colleagues)

As well as writing the translation of each word when necessary, it is important to write a sentence or definition (in the target language) to ensure that you understand the word and know how to use it. A note could also be made, when necessary, about pronunciation.
Here are some examples:


This Word Bank can be applied to whatever language you are learning, not just English.

And remember, the goal is to start using a new word or expression a day as opposed to learning one. Use it or lose it!

By Jenny Smedley, Teacher Coordinator