domingo, 10 de noviembre de 2013

Scottish tartans

Every time we hear the word “tartan”, Scotland is the first thought that comes into our minds. But, what is a tartan? We are talking about a piece of multiple-colored patterned cloth made of wool. However, although the tartan is straightforwardly related to Scotland, the origin of the word comes from the Old French “tertaine”.

The use of tartans dates back from the XIIIth century, when the system of clans from the Highlands lived under the power of an autocratic leader who used them. For a while, tartans were forbidden by the British Crown until King George IV visited Scotland wearing a tartan in 1822, year in which they came into use again. Another monarch who encouraged the use of tartans was Queen Victoria, who due to her love towards Scotland, designed her own tartan (Victoria tartan). Similarly, her husband Prince Albert created his (the Balmoral tartan).  

There is a distinction between the types of tartans:
1. district tartans which are worn by people from the same region in Scotland and 
2. clan tartans worn by the members of the same family, although originally clan tartans could be worn by people who did not have family ties.

The color and pattern of tartans vary across district or clan tartans. Apart from tartans, what other attire did Scotsmen wear?
                                 NOWADAYS                 PAST

*Sporran: escarcela (bolsa hecha de piel de tejón)
*Feileadhmor: tela a cuadros que se lleva en bandolera sobre el hombro y cintura. (PAST)

Curiously, nowadays many Scottish people still get married dressing in the typical Scottish clothes, which explains that there are stores exclusively created for that aim and we enjoy our sight by looking at shop windows showing varied typical Scottish wedding clothes.
Moreover, today the use of tartans is spread over the world and we can find it printed on every piece of clothes until such an extent that it has come to be related with the punk culture.

Now then, I ponder the same question everyone asks about the mystery surrounding the underwear of XIIIth-century Scotsmen ´s skirts… It’s as enigmatic as where Nessie spends his sweetest hours under the dark and deep waters of Loch Ness…

sábado, 9 de noviembre de 2013


Taking a look at this coat anyone could trace his mind back to the Roaring Twenties of the 1920’s.  At that time women fill their wardrobes with flapper dresses, cloche hats, embroidery and in general show off a more masculine look with their bob haircuts. Now then, this outfit was not only fashion-aimed, but its shape and length had a mysterious purpose: hiding the bottles of alcohol which had been forbidden in 1919.
YES! On January 16th 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified. It prohibited the manufacture, sale, transport or even purchase of alcohol. Americans did not take this measurement seriously and the prohibition turned into illegal consumption of alcohol anywhere in the country.
The question anyone asks when hearing this history fact is… why was such measurement taken in the USA? Well, there are multiple reasons which explain it. The first of all of them was because people thought that American social values were being lost. Secondly, there was one bar out of 300 people and 50% of crimes were related with the consumption of alcohol. Violence against women increased as a result of their husbands’ alcohol abuse and productivity at the workplace decreased.
Finally, in spite of the fact that there were apparently many reasons to forbid alcohol, the 18th Amendment was revoked and alcohol was again in circulation in the USA. Nowadays the minimum age for purchasing and drinking alcohol is 21. Moreover, drinking alcohol in the middle of the street is illegal, except for the places which are set up for it such as bars. That is the reason why many people breaking the rules decide to cover their alcoholic drinks with a paper or plastic bag to hide the drink and avoid cops’ fines.
                           These two images were the flip sides of the coin:

Now then, isn’t it paradoxical that an eighteen-year-old guy has the chance to enlist the Army and combat in War at that age?


After WWI, the USA is living its “Golden Age”, or as many call it, “the Roaring Twenties”. At that moment it seemed too easy for anyone to become rich through risky loans on stock and worthless real estate deals.

Parallel to this, it comes the birth of a new music style: jazz, which explains why the 20’s were baptized as the “Jazz Age”. These recently-born sounds developed in New Orleans and immediately after they travel all over the country, spreading so over any corner of the country. Jazz is based on African-American music, including traditional African rhythms, folk songs, gospel music, the blues and ragtime. Curiously, the first band which played jazz was King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators, who opened the gateway to new-coming crooners such as Frank Synatra, Tony Bennett or more contemporary artists like the Canadian Michael Bublé.
Illegal clubs called “speakeasies” proliferate. There, women with a more liberal mindset who used to wear mini-skirts, cloche hats, feathers or smoked pipes (the famous “flappers”) practiced Charleston and Lindy dances. 

Other cultural areas such as literature or movies also progress. It’s the time for “silent films”, faithfully interpreted by iconic figures like Charles Chaplin, who together with other film stars, developed their careers in the motion-picture capital of the world: Hollywood. Moreover, the year 1927 is the milestone for the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer.
However, as ying-yang, the twenties had its ups and downs and America could not end up the century without some sort of suffering.  It is a “Black Tuesday” in the month of March 1929 when the Wall Street Market Crash took place. From then on, banks closed (at least 28 states didn’t have an open bank), unemployment arose unstoppably, and people’s houses, farms and other properties were confiscated: The Great Depression has just started.
Together with this, the USA fate had something else ready for the country: huge dust storms which lasted even complete days devasted thousands of acres over the area of the Great Plains, covering the states of Oklahoma, Texas or Kansas. This became popular as “the Dust Bowl”. Consequently, around 1936, a mass exodus to the West occurred. More than 250,000 “Okies” and “Arkies” were obliged to pack all their properties and leave their ranches in search of hope and work in the West, the so called “American Dream”. Steinbeck perfectly accounts for this historical fact in his magnificent novel The Grapes of Wrath, which was adapted for film some years later. It is worthy of mention that just a century before, half million people had harshly traveled to the West following exactly the same route in search of hope. They were the famous “gold searchers”.

viernes, 8 de noviembre de 2013


The Bible had explicitly warned it: “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it shall be an uncleaned thing and they shall be childless”. And despite this, two members of two famous English aristocratic dynasties (Henry VIII from the Tudors and George V from the Windsor) disobeyed. The former married his brother’s widow for power interests; the latter married his brother’s fiancé almost under his grandmother Queen Victoria’s imposition.

After his brother’s death, Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. They will be the parents of the Catholic “Bloody Mary”. Soon Henry claims his divorce from Catherine since she does not conceive the so desired male heir to his throne. Evidently, the Bible’s words have been accomplished.

The Windsor monarchy was also a victim of such omen. After the unexpected death of the potential heir to the English Crown, Prince Albert Victor, his brother George would become future George V. In addition to this, he had to accept his recently-dead brother’s fiancé (Mary of Teck) as his wife. The fate had a surprise ready for them: the potential heir to the throne after George V’s death, his eldest son Edward VIII, acted as a monarch just from January to December of 1936, year in which he abdicated leaving so the charge to his stammerer brother George VI. Once again, the Bible had read these Kings and Queens’ palmlines: the “uncleaned” marriage of George V and Mary of Teck was not childless but one of his predecessors decided  to leave his royal duties in favour of his enjoyment and a peculiar French love of doubtful reputation who had been refused by his family.

domingo, 3 de noviembre de 2013

ENGLISH: origin, expansion and linguistic borrowings

Spanish students tend to wonder why their mother tongue, Spanish, is so different from English. Logically, it has a clear explanation. So now, they have the task to discover the different linguistic branches found in the following language tree and above all, the origin of English and Spanish. Maybe it will be here where the answer lies. Let’s take the challenge

Now they have to take a look at the following map and answer the next question: in large parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean English is spoken as a second language. Find out the explicit places where it happens.




Certainly there is a vast number of megalithic buildings in the USA because it seems as if the concept of magnificence for Americans was part of their perception of the world, or in other words, “Get a big donkey, whether it walks or not".

In spite of the fact each state has its own outstanding landmark, two of them call my attention especially, both of them located in two different states with a curious history behind them each one.

The first of them is the Statue of Liberty in NYC (NY state). In 1885 France gave the statue to the States as a gift to commemorate the centenary of the Declaration of Independence by the USA. The 350 pieces of the statue were moved in a total of 214 crates which were spread over Staten Island. Then they came across with a problem: the USA didn’t have the money for its set-up. However, it was not until the owner of the newspaper New York World gave a step forward, Joseph Pulitzer, that the set-up was possible. How?

His daily newspaper divulged the news; the need for money which made the assembly of the statue possible. Finally, the newspaper received 121,000 donations. From this moment onwards, 200 men had very harsh work ahead since they had to set the statue up more than 45 metres high. 
The hook-up of the statue was based on a three-step process:

1. The base of the Statue


 2. The iron skeleton designed by Gustave Eiffel

3. The hook-up of the outside layer

Some curious data about the statue are related with the proportions of certain parts of the statue: the sandal is 32 times bigger than 1 human foot, 1 nail weighs 1,6 kg or the muse that inspired the sculptor in the design of the statue’s face was his own mother! After 6 months of assembly, the statue of Liberty stayed as a gateway for immigrants coming from everywhere to New York. The current colour of the statue is green as a result of a rusting process.

The second megalithic construction is the Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Immersed in the Great Depression, the USA government decided to build this monument to give back self-confidence to the USA population. Its construction started in 1927 and was carved into a devasted corner of a 250-metre-high mountain with detonation!!! The sculpture represents the faces of four leading USA Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln at 20 meters from the bottom of the Mount.

The movie “North by Northwest” starred by Cary Grant shows scenes of a reconstruction of this sculpture since the USA government didn’t let the director of the film record any scene at the original landmark. Today it is a place of a highly touristic attraction, since they represent the pyramids of the USA.

sábado, 2 de noviembre de 2013


    If there was a feature that defined the architectural structure of cosmopolitan cities like New York is its skyline.
    Despite having a fixed idiosyncrasy culturally speaking, in this case we are rather talking about a space question. While the population increased in Manhattan Island, the physical space there decreased and so architects had to design a plan which allowed these people have a place where to live in. The solution for such an issue was the vertical construction of buildings, which resulted in the famous skyline that we pretty know nowadays.
Workers on the top of NYC
    This construction entailed some difficulty: the height of these buildings was a true challenge but… who was willing to take on the challenge? For sure taking a look at the following image gives you some hints to find it out. It became one of the most widely known icons of the “city that never sleeps” and has been emulated several times.
   Indeed, we are talking about the NY workers that walked along the steel rafters of the skyscrapers under construction. These workers were of European origin while others were Mohawk Native Americans desperate for finding a job after the Crack of 1929.        
    Apparently they had worked as sailors before having lunch atop the skyscrapers, which meant they were used to heights. This desperation explains the huge risk they took when working with no job security at all: no helmets, no harnesses neither security ties. They spent more than 8 hours on the steel rafters, having lunch when they had the chance and with no possibility to go to the toilet. The only positive side of the job is they earned 4 dollars a day, which doubled the daily salary of any worker; the negative and dramatic side of this is two workers out of five died while working up in the air.

domingo, 27 de octubre de 2013


Dark clothes and located in the eastern coast of the USA in New England and the Middle colonies… Well, I have to confess that I thought both of them were the same people the very first time I read about them in a book and I saw them on a TV programme. However, despite showing some common features, they also show several differences that define them. We are talking, by the way, about the English Puritans and the Amish community.

To start with, the English Puritans make up with the radical part of the Anglican Church founded by Henry VIII who, in origin, didn’t consider himself a Protestant since he even had been declared “Defender of the Faith” by the Roman Church for his words attacking Martin Luther, a German Protestant. However, as the Protestant Reformation was advancing in Europe with two leading figures, Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Anglican Church ended up being swallowed by Protestantism. Moreover, his break up with Rome linked him more with Protestantism, from which Puritans emerged. Nowadays, the concept of Puritan doesn’t exist on its own, but people say Puritans have evolved into what is now known as Baptist religion.

On the other hand, Amish come from Switzerland and the religion they practise is Anabaptist, which means that they give their children the chance to discover by themselves another lifestyle different from the Amish. In that search for their identity, they can either choose that distinct life or get baptized and belong to the Amish community forever.

Regarding the time frame, Puritans migrated to the USA during the 1600s as opposed to the Amish who did it in the XVIIIth century, although the Amish community grew in Switzerland around 1693. Nevertheless, they shared a common purpose when migrating to the states: practising their religion freely. And the Amish did it; they could be able to practise it with freedom and let others to have their own beliefs. However, it didn’t happen with Puritans, who took up the cause of this religious freedom when settling down in the colony of Jamestown. Paradoxically, they didn’t tolerate other peoples’ religions as the 1692 Witchcraft Trials or the English Cavaliers left proof of.

Furthermore, when they migrated to the USA, both groups settled in different places. On the one hand, the so called Pilgrim Fathers started their new life in New England, more specifically in a place known as Plymouth, the same name as the English port where they came from.
Sturbridge Village
Salem Village
Nowadays, in fact, there are several landmarks which have left clear evidence of the Puritans’ existence: Old Sturbridge Village, which is a living setting representing the life of these first Pilgrims, as well as Salem Village, so remembered by the Witchcraft Trials. Both places are near Boston, in the state of Massachussetts. 

Amish village
The Amish community mainly settled in other states where any tourist can visit them today: in the Lancaster county of the city of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), the city of Arcola (Illinois) and Ohio. In all these places we can witness their outfit and lifestyles.

The Puritans dressed in a very simple way; men wore collars outside armour, cloaks and gowns, jerkings and stockings with boots whereas women dressed in a coif, shift and apron (these three pieces were usually white); a waistcoat, petticoats and shoes, all of them in black. 
Puritans thought that all pleasures in life such as fine clothes, any kind of entertainment like drama performances, drinking alcohol or simply celebrating Christmas were sin for them or anyone enjoying them. In fact, many people were punished with death when they were found making use of any of the previous areas. Here lies their religious bigotry. The Amish, on the contrary, do celebrate Christmas.

The Amish wear very simple clothes. Women wear calf-length plain-cut dresses in a solid color. White or black aprons (depending on their marital status) are often worn together with a cape pinned into the apron and bonnets whose color varies depending on their age.
Men typically wear dark-colored trousers, some with a dark vest or coat, suspenders (in some communities), broad-rimmed straw hats in the warmer months, and black felt hats in the colder months. Married men and those over forty grow a beard. Mustaches are forbidden, because they are associated with European military officers and militarism in general. A beard may serve the same symbolic function: humility and the years of marriage. From the Wikipedia.

The Amish travel with buggies (cars pushed by horses) which are their only means of transport, unless they need a car for emergency cases. They don’t believe in progress such as electricity (they use gas) or make use of other energy resources like wind mills. They don’t have mobile phones because they say they don’t need them at all. Moreover, any other form of progress such as internet is rejected since, according to them, it is a way to have access to obscenity. 
Men are usually farmers,carpenters and ranchers. Women are housewives and their main role is based on housekeeping and the care of their children (they normally have seven or eight children). They are also in charge of their education (they teach them some subjects such as Latin, English, Geography or German, the language in which their religious books are written). Those who go to school stay there until they are 15 years old and then they usually work in their businesses.
The seventh art has perfectly known how to reflect the existence of these two communities which are, at least, enigmatic. The Puritans (The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible, To Kill a King) or the Amish (Witness, Sarah Cain, Pure True).

sábado, 19 de octubre de 2013


Is there anything more American than a movie scene of a 24-hour-diner, a motel or a laundry?
This is what we’ll be talking about in the following lines: about one of the most worldwide icons of the yankee culture: the DINER.

Neon lights, padding Cadillac-shaped sofas, unending counters, rounded padding bar stools, jukeboxes playing 20’s and 30’s classic melodies, waitresses wearing mini-skirts and pastel tones everywhere.
We are referring to these 24-hour-locals spread over the neighborhoods of New York offering opulent menus of extra-large sandwiches, hamburgers, combination plates, desserts… All this information would be an anecdote if it was not because the origin and history of diners are, at least, curious.

Today we are used to finding diners spread over European cities which are, to be frank, restaurants with retro look, citing as example Tommy Mel’s in Madrid. However, did you know that the very first American diners were really classic prefabricated wagons with an art deco look parked in the middle of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan? YEAH, WAGONS!!! Though their past goes back even farther…
Providence. 1858, a seventeen-year-old guy sold sandwiches and coffee to the workers of a nearby journal. As the number of customers increased unexpectedly, he decided to park a horse-car next to the Journal place. And it was like this that the concept of diner was born.

Despite its originality, diners have had their ups and downs. Thus, its golden period traces back to the 20’s and 30’s, where the effects of the Great Depresion and the hunger favored the cheap prices of the dishes offered in the menus. During the 50’s they lost their strength and only one decade after we can talk about their reinassance.

Nowadays, we can find diners more frequently in any other city that is not only the Big Apple. They usually offer varied menus with expensive prices, although it’s worth the experience of seeing a couple of dancers imitating John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John while you are tasting a mini-hamburger and a delicious milkshake…

jueves, 17 de octubre de 2013




Recently I've found out a new tool where you can create dynamic and original multimedia presentations which will get your audience engaged into your presentation. Prezi will show you another dimension of how things can be well done!

martes, 15 de octubre de 2013


Some years ago I found out a powerful tool where Students could be able to talk as if they were recording a radio programme. The software gave them the chance to record themselves while participating in a talkgroup where the Teacher is the administrator of the account and therefore who gives the permission to enter the group.

This task is quite interesting if we bear in mind the opportunity learners have in TALKING in ENGLISH on their own, in the darkest and most intimate corner of their bedroom with no one else who can interrupt their quietness when expressing in a foreign language or even feeling the terror of embarrassment in front of the class.

The tool is also practical, since the Students will receive a mark based on their participation. Otherwise, the mark will not be positive since it will show a lack of interest in the subject and more importantly in learning the foreign language.

It has all the ingredients to become a Motivating, Cheerful, and Funny activity in an English class...


sábado, 12 de octubre de 2013


A powerful tool to make our students LEARN and ENJOY at the same time has a simple name: TOONDOO. After this, learners can carry on designing original and creative TOONBOOKS.
Let's see one designed by me! ;)



Take a look at the following word cloud created with Wordle and brainstorm about the importance of English as an international language.

sábado, 1 de junio de 2013


I don't know you, dear reader, but there are certain aspects in life which need almost no explanation. The fact that Springsteen is worldwide known as "The Boss” is easy to understand. In fact, you just have to pay attention to this video from the very beginning to feel these "butterflies in the stomach" which make you vibrate and move your mind there to 1976. His great American accent is outrageous and worthy of imitation, too. Needless to say, show must start...

martes, 21 de mayo de 2013


But, of course, I shouldn’t forget the other side of the coin, the American equivalent. If we are willing to hear good American English and swallow the pleasurable American sound, we just have to type “Bruce Springsteen” and voilà….” The Boss” is right there.


It’s almost unconceivable for a blog about the English language not to have an entry containing a reference to the British pop band par excellence, the Beatles. Hard as it may sound, I have dared to choose one of my favorites: I Wanna Hold Your Hand. So, be ready to get a kick on it!

lunes, 20 de mayo de 2013


People talk and talk about Americans. Recently we have been first-hand witnesses of the unstoppable increase of the American flag everywhere. All of a sudden,  it has become chic, up-to-date, after all, fashionable. In lots of conversations people both criticize or defend wholeheartedly the American way of life, American culture and its people. However, do we know Americans sufficiently? 

In the following video, a widely-known Spanish monologuist outstands the paramount ideals of America in comparison to the Spanish lifestyle... Let's LOL ;)

miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2013


More than ever, English has become a worldwide used language with more than a billion fans over the globe. Since the CEF of Reference established the new structure of English linguistic levels and therefore the recognition of people's English skills, there has been an increasing interest in learning Shakespeare's language. In fact, due to the harsh international "Crack of the 2010s" (economic hardship) many people, in their search for a job, have seen themselves obliged to learn English. 
So, how is English so widespread? and why is English SO important? Ok, let's see the next couple of videos and try to answer to these two questions.

lunes, 13 de mayo de 2013


There are certain songs that trace you back to the past; a past full of happiness, of a long-time-ago love towards a culture, a country, ultimately, a LANGUAGE. This was just the start of a new arising love, when specific voices pervaded my teenaged years with a path of linguistic and spiritual prosperity. Now, older than then, I can close my eyes and go to that time when I felt in love with you, my dear English language, forever and ever.

domingo, 12 de mayo de 2013


There are many different ways of summarising the history and evolution of music through time, but this video has the strong power to do it in just a few minutes... Let's see how curious it is!

                              Thanks for this marvellous video;)

And what about it? 5 peeps and only one guitar! ISN’T IT AMAZING?