bric-a-brac english

Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Harvard Business Review: Email Newsletters

In LEARNING STRATEGIES & TOOLS on January 26, 2014 at 4:45 pm

An excellent way to stay up-to-date with the newest developments, practices, ideas in business management and practice English, from one of the most authoritative sources on the web. There’s a choice of daily, weekly and monthly newsletters, as well as topics of interest to select from.

Some recommendations:

The Daily Idea (daily)

Summaries of the best big ideas on

Management Tip of the Day (daily)

Quick, practical management advice from Harvard Business Review.

The Shortlist (weekly)

HBR editors scan the web for the stories most worth your time.

Weekly Hotlist (weekly)

Weekly update featuring the best blog posts, videos, and podcasts from

HBR Monthly Update & Best of the Magazine (monthly)

The best research, ideas, and insights in each new issue of Harvard Business Review.


Counting the Uncountables: bunches, pairs and containers.

In LEARNING STRATEGIES & TOOLS on January 24, 2014 at 3:54 pm


From engames, a website with loads of interactive activities and visual aids to practice English.

How to talk about uncountable nouns in a countable way. Also, things that come in pairs, bunches, etc., and other containers. With a video, a mind map (picture above) and three interactive games.

Click here.

An astronaut’s guide to life on earth

In VIDEO, VOCABULARY on January 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Chris Hadfield became famous when he performed David Bowie’s Space Oddity… in space! Watch the video here. Click subtitles for lyrics.

You can also check out his YouTube Channel.

Hadfield was Commander of the International Space Station, where he recorded the video.

Back on earth now, he has recently released a book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

In this video, he explains which skills were crucial to him during his time as Commander of the International Space Station, and which he deems important in his daily life back on earth. This video is part of the Macmillan Life Skills campaign.

So, life skills. What does an astronaut have to say about the skills you need to be successful in life?

First, he associates core (basic, standard) education with competence, or being competent (the ability to do something well / being able to do something well) [0:30-0:44]. But then he adds the “other things that will really make the difference”. Listen out for these key words [0:45-1:35]: communicate, prepare, visualise (related to vision, visible – form a picture in your mind).

The next life skill he discusses is the ability to prioritize: to put things in order of importance, to decide what is the most important thing that needs your immediate attention – your first/top/main priority. [1:41-3:05]

In the final part of the video [3:07-end] he focuses on what he calls soft skills (hint: hard skills are the more “traditional” skills that are taught in schools, tested and proven by diplomas, certificates, etc.). Find out what skills he has in mind  by listening for these key words: problems, learn, team, situation, attitude (the way you think and feel about something and the way you behave as a result).

Do leave a comment and tell us what for you are the most important skills for success in life. Do you think we need different skills to succeed in our personal and professional lives? Do you have any tips on how to develop those skills?

Running on empty: liquid fuels

In VOCABULARY on January 20, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Liquid (not solid – water, wine, soup are liquids) fuels (stuff that is burned to produce energy) keep most cars going.

They include petrol (UK) / gas (US) and diesel (oil). When your car is low on petrol/gas, you can fill up at a petrol/gas station. If you don’t, you’ll be running on empty and your car will soon stop moving. The container where petrol/gas is stored on your car is called the tank.

The word petrol comes from petroleum – the oil we get from under the ground.

Gas is short for gasoline. Of course, the word gas also means “a substance that is neither solid nor liquid,” eg. oxygen. Natural gas is another type of fuel in gas form that we get from under the ground and is often used for heating our homes, cooking, etc.

Petroleum/oil and natural gas are fossil fuels. Fossils are the remains of living things buried underground for a very long time. They allow us to know what ancient living things that have disappeared looked like (read more and see pictures of fossils here). Petroleum and natural gas are called fossil fuels because they were formed from parts of plants or animals that remained buried under the ground for millions of years.

Business Writing

In LEARNING STRATEGIES & TOOLS on January 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Two resources to help professionals with their business writing in English:

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston is a trainer specialising in business writing. On her site you can find free tips and articles, as well as publications you can buy. Sign up for the free monthly newsletter with practical advice on grammar, syntax and etiquette (you get a complementary copy of Email Etiquette: 25 Quick Rules). Lynn also maintains a blog about Business Writing.

Pro Writing Aid offers a free online editing tool. Just paste your text into the editing box and the site generates a detailed analysis and tips on how to improve it. There’s a premium version and an add-on for Word (which I have not tried, though).

Learn English: monthly topic Macmillan Dictionary

In VOCABULARY on January 20, 2014 at 4:41 pm

A vocabulary resource from the Macmillan Dictionary blog, with posts focusing on a particular topic each month. So far there’s been sports English, holiday English, travel English, family English and culture English.

Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect to get from a week’s worth of topic content:

A red word a weekred words form the core vocabulary of the English language. There are around 7500 red words in the Macmillan Dictionary and these are the words that are vital to know because they are the most commonly used.
An example red word from October: elder

A black word a week – black words form the rest of the dictionary and are the thousands of other words in English that are less common and therefore fall outside of the core vocabulary.
An example black word from October: extended family

A phrase (or phrasal verb) a week – a phrase is a group of words that are used together in a fixed expression. A phrasal verb combines a verb and an adverb or preposition.
An example phrase from this month: cut the cord

A relevant list of synonyms and related words from the thesaurus – the thesaurus is a great place to get lost in for a while if you are studying English.
Example thesaurus content from October was a list of words used to describe babies and included words like bouncing, fussy and cranky.

Bonus content – this can include relevant BuzzWords, Open Dictionary entries, collocations, usage notes and more.
Example bonus share from October: the BuzzWord family balancing

Learn English through our monthly topic | Macmillan.