Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two years old!

It was November 2009 when I started writing this blog. At the beginning it was just an assignment for a course on Web 2.0 I was doing, but it soon caught on me, and I kept writing about grammar points my students find difficult to understand, or cultural topics, because learning a language is not just a matter of grammar or vocabulary, but also of the habits and culture of the people that speak it.

I don’t write as often as I would like, which is not due to a lack of topics but to the lack of time, as my job and my family take up most of my time. Anyway, I always try to write at least once a month: I find it disappointing when the blogs I follow don’t get renewed in months. But what keeps a blog alive and kicking is not the person who writes it but the people who read it. So, a big thank you to all my readers! This wonderful cake is for you!
Birthday cake
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Here is a slide show with the “cartoons of the week” for the last twelve months. Most of them have been taken from Time, and others are from I hope you like them!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Between or among?

Between, betwixt, among, amongst, amid, amidst are all prepositions and their meanings are  quite similar, that’s why students of English are often confused about their use.
Between and among are the most widely used, as the others are more formal (amid) or even archaic, that is, they are no longer used by speakers, and can only be found in written or literary texts. That's the case of betwixt, which is the same as between.
Between two legs.
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We say that something is between two things if the things are on either side of it: I was sitting between my mother and my father. (Note that the root of this word, “tw”, is related to number two). Between is also used when there are more than two things but each one is clearly distinct from the others: Luxemburg lies between Belgium, France and Germany.

However, we say that something is among (or amongst) a group of things when these things cannot be told apart, that is, a collection of things we do not see separately: 
They used to live in a little hut among the trees. 
She grabbed the title among a total of 20 competitors. 
I saw him walking among the crowd.

If something is among a group of similar things, it is one of these things. In this case, it means “included in”: Among the collection of pictures there is one by Picasso.
Poppies among lavender.
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Amid or amidst is very formal and is mainly used with ideas and abstract nouns:
The politician finished his speech amid tremendous applause.
The law was approved amid a great deal of controversy.
It can also mean “surrounded by”: The house was in a beautiful position amid vineyards.
Vineyard in Greece by Spiro Anaxos.
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To be sandwiched between... is to be so close to two people or things that there is not enough space to move. My poor little car was sandwiched between a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes.
To read between the lines is to discover a meaning in something that is not openly stated: He is not going to say what he really feels, but you can read between the lines and guess that he isn’t happy with the situation.
Between you and me, or between ourselves are used to mean that something is or should be kept a secret. Now between ourselves, for this is strictly confidential, I'm quite alarmed at the prospect.
If you are between the devil and the deep blue sea, you must choose between two unpleasant situations. We seemed to be between the devil and the deep blue sea: it didn’t matter which way we went.
To come between two people is to disrupt their relationship. You have a nice example in Sade’s song “Nothing can come between us”.

Now you can check what you have learned by doing this exercise:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

7 billion people

You must have heard in the news that the world population has reached 7 billion people these days. They even show images of a baby that, according to the United Nations, is supposed to be the 7 billionth person in the world. I wonder how they can be so sure of that, as it is estimated that 5 babies are born in the planet every second! Anyway, I suppose it is just symbolic.

Several questions arise: Can the world feed so many people? Are there enough resources for everybody? Will the population continue growing at the same rate?... Nobody knows for sure, but by observing the data we have today, experts can speculate about what the future will bring.

In this video by National Geographic you will learn some facts about the global population.

One fact that is easily predictable is that the regions where the population will grow faster are Africa and Asia, as this picture by Lauren Manning shows.
World population growth, by Lauren Manning

But what strikes me most is the fact that it’s only been during the last 200 years that the population has grown exponentially, while before then it used to grow slowly. This exceptional growth can be put down to the Industrial Revolution, which brought about the possibility of increasing the resources enormously as well as improving the sanitation and medical advances. This point is explained in this video by NPR.

In the following video we can hear an explanation about where and why the population is growing so rapidly. But before watching it, you can learn the meaning of some of the terms used in it. Then check what you have understood by answering the questions.

  • Billion. In USA and, since 1974, in Great Britain as well, a billion is a thousand millions (1,000,000,000), whereas in other countries such as Spain it means a million millions (1,000,000,000,000). So, be careful, don’t be misled!
  • Exponential means very fast, increasing rapidly.
  • Fertility rate or birthrate is a number that shows how many babies are born in a particular place at a particular time.
  • Developing countries are those countries that have few industries, and many poor people live in them.
  • Developed countries are those rich, highly industrialised countries.
  • A milestone is an important event in life or in history.
  • If something has doubled it is now twice as big.
  • If something has tripled it is now three times as big.
  • Growth: an increase in the number or size of something. A noun derived from the verb "grow".
  • Pregnancy is the condition of a woman who is going to have a baby.
  • Family planning is the use of birth control methods to determine the number of children a family will have.
  • Aging population is a population that is growing old.
  • Crowded means full of people.
  • To manage resources is to control the use of the raw materials that a country produces.
  • A household is the people that live together in a house.
  • A major issue is an important topic or subject.

A tip of the hat to Richard Byrne for inspiring this blogpost.
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