Wednesday, October 29, 2008

History of Halloween

Ancient Origins
Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).
The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
Video: The haunting History of All Hallow's Eve (Halloween).
Video: Timothy Dickinson tells the intriguing tale of why we celebrate Halloween, and it's evolution from Samhain, an ancient Celtic Harvest Festival.
The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Run for President of the United States!

Surprise your family and friends! Put the best candidate on the podium and run for the job of President of the United States.

Discuss the issues that are important to you. Pick your own party. Upload an image and get started.

Image from

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Who do you want to win?

With all the excitement of the upcoming elections in the United States, you may be wondering who you would vote for. Compare the candidates and decide for yourself who you would like to win.

Keep up with the last minute information of who is ahead at the polls. The political dashboard at Yahoo will show you who is winning and where, along with how many electoral votes each U.S. state gets.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Convert Text to Speech

Programs that convert text to speech are really fun! Make eggs talk at the Talking Egg-a-Gram web site, courtesy of Holiday Inn. Or try Monk-E-Mail. Send your message on to a friend!

Walkthrough for Friday's game Phantasy Quest is here. Follow these directions if you get stuck.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Play Video Games while Practicing your English!

Like video games? They can be a lot of fun, but some people think they are a waste of time. Here is a video game you can play directly on your computer that you can have fun with while practicing your English. In Phantasy Quest, you will find yourself on a desert island, near your ship, which has been shipwrecked. Your quest is to find the girl. It is not difficult - just point the mouse and click. Follow the arrows. Pick up objects and use them on each other. Try to rescue the girl. Have fun!

I will post the walkthrough tomorrow for those of you who get stuck!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tell Others What To Do! (Practicing Commands)

Practice your commands and get a laugh as you do! Tell the subservient chicken what you want him to do and watch him bow to your every word!

How? Type in a command and submit and then just watch. Here are just a few to use:
  • roll over
  • bend over and touch your toes
  • dance
  • jump
  • scratch your head
Try a few of your own!

Not a fan of the chicken suit? (I admit, it could be a little cuter!) There is a cute little dog waiting for your instructions at I Do Dog Tricks. The dog can't do as much as the chicken, but it's fun anyway, and maybe you'll learn some new vocabulary! Try these commands with the dog: dance, beg, bark, jump, sit, stand, etc.

Are you a higher level learner? Try the Family Friendly Simon Sez Santa, where the commands understood are greater and new ones are being added.
If you are there to practice your English, be sure to choose English as your language. If you're there just to have a little fun, there are a lot of languages to choose from. An added feature here is that some fun commands appear at the bottom - ideas for you to try!


PS I saw these on Larry Ferlazzo's blog, although I'd seen the dog web site before. Check out his blog if you're an English teacher looking for ideas!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Voice Threads - Connect with people around the world

Looking for a place where you can interact with people around the world, plus practice your speaking, listening, and reading skills? Try Voice Thread, a great web site where you can post a picture, record yourself explaining something about the picture, and then receive comments about it from other internet users. Try it - it's free!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Are your actions Earth-friendly?

How earth-friendly are your actions? Are you conscious about how your actions affect the environment? Compare how you live with others in your area and find out what your ecological footprint is by taking this quiz. You can take the quiz in many different languages - but do it in English if you are an English student! :)

Post your comments here to see how other English speakers around the globe rate in comparison to you!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Easter (Pascua)

Here in Ecuador, today, Jueves Santos, and tomorrow, Viernes Santo, are the big days. Families will gather around the table to share in big bowls of fanesca, followed by a dollop of thick mashed potatoes and rice pudding for dessert. Much like Thanksgiving in the States, Ecuadorians will eat until they can eat no more, and then have one more bowl of fanesca.

Fanesca is a complex fish soup made of all sorts of spring harvest items: pumpkin and squash, beans, peas, corn, peanut sauce, even hominy or lentils in some families. Of course, you mustn't forget the dried salt cod, the main ingredient in the dish! Topped with fried sweet plantain, hard boiled egg, and fritos, small fried dough balls, this dish requires a lot of preparation. Sometimes the whole family gets involved shelling beans and cooking the grains beforehand, which makes it easier on the cook and helps build lasting bonds over the food.

It is very different from how Easter is typically celebrated in the States. Usually the Easter bunny has a show, and then everyone will hunt for eyes: plastic or previously dyed eggs. Families will often go to church in their Sunday best - typically new clothes bought for the occasion. Some may have an Easter brunch, while others will celebrate with a larger meal. The traditional fare is ham and potatoes, and possibly deviled eggs (you have to find something to do with all those dyed Easter eggs).

However you are celebrating the coming of Spring, have a happy break and spend lots of time with family and friends!

Pics from and, respectively.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Visualize the tenses with cartoons

Here is a web site to check out. This web site not only shows you, through colorful, interactive cartoons, the way tenses are used in English, it also gives step-by-step rules of how to form the structure and when to use it, as well as common phrases used with the tense. For example, in the case of future perfect, common phrases are: until, before, by the time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Happy day to all the Irish out there, and happy día del santo to all of you named Patrick! May the luck of the Irish always be with you!

So, how do the Irish (and non-Irish) celebrate? With parades, drink, food, music you name it! Show a little spirit today and wear some green. Have some cabbage with your meal in honor of the day.

For die-hard Catholics celebrating Holy Week, this article may be of interest. Apparently, Holy week takes precedence over saint days, so, technically, today is not St. Patrick's Day at all.
Tell that to the millions of Catholics round the globe that are celebrating this day with a pint and something green... or, even better, a pint of something green. :)

Pic from

Top pic from Bottom pic from

Thursday, March 6, 2008

World Book Day

All the readers out there may be interested to know that today is World Book Day. All across the UK and Ireland today, school kids will be celebrating this day with a book. Not only does the day help raise awareness of the importance of reading, but it also provides an opportunity for people to talk about the books that have moved them. But World Book Day isn't only for kids - go to the Spread the Word link and get good recommendations on books for adults.

Visit the official web site to find even more to whet your appetite: games, competitions, and book tokens (for those of you living in the UK or Ireland).

In honor of today, we'd also like to share a great resource for readers. What Should I Read Next? is a web site that will recommend books based on your favorite authors. Discover new authors and books by typing in a book you love or enjoyed and then choosing another from the list of authors you'll be given.

And, for those of you who love quizzes and trivia, check out this quiz on the Guardian. How much do you know about the literature of the different continents? Put your mind to the test!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Using YouTube to Improve Your Pronunciation

YouTube isn't just a place to find funny videos or shorts of your favorite TV shows. You can actually use YouTube to help you improve your speaking and pronunciation skills. The video below, which works on word stress, was created by an English teacher for speakers of other languages, and is a good example of how you can use the Internet, and web sites like YouTube, to work on your English skills.

To find more videos like this one, put "english pronunciation" in the search field of YouTube and click! A number of videos to help you work on your pronunciation will show up.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Trip vs. Travel: Revealed!

Yesterday we asked you to think of the difference between trip and travel. If you looked at our examples, it was probably rather straightforward: trip is used as a noun (in this context) and travel is a verb. It's as easy as that!
So, let's see how you do with a few practice sentences. Fill in each blank with trip or travel.
  1. We're going to take a ___ to Tena this weekend. My mom and dad will be ___ with us, but my younger sister couldn't make it because she is going on an end-of-the-school-year ___ with her friends.
  2. My father ___ a lot for his job. He usually ___ by plane, but for his Chicago ___ he'll be ___ by bus, since it is only a few hours from here.
  3. To make the most of your ___ , be sure to ___ lightly. Don't pack more than you can carry, since once you arrive to the camp you'll be ___ mainly by foot and will have to carry all of your belongings with you.
  1. trip, traveling, trip
  2. travels, travels, trip, traveling
  3. trip, travel, traveling

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trip vs. Travel

Trip and travel - two words that create confusion for many English language learners. So what is the difference? Why do students get confused?

Have a look at the examples below and see if you can figure out the difference for yourself. Come back tomorrow for the answer and some practice.
  • Have a nice trip!
  • Travel with us again soon.
  • I am taking a trip this Sunday.
  • I am traveling to Cuenca this Sunday.
  • We plan to travel soon.
  • Let's go on a shopping trip next week!
  • After she graduated from high school, she spent a year traveling all over Europe.
  • Is there going to be a school trip this year?
  • I travel to work by train.
  • The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis takes about 8 hours by car.
  • I thought I might take a trip to the Amazon river basin sometime this year.
Picture from

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

See vs. Watch vs. Look: Practice!

Choose the correct verb (see, watch, or look) for each sentence.

(Remember: We see something static, unmoving. We also see the things around us, perhaps without paying much attention to them. We look at something in order to pay more attention to its appearance. We watch something when we want to know what happens (so therefore we generally watch something that is moving or that requires our attention). We use look when we want to direct someone's attention to something.)

  1. Do you ___ that picture on the wall? It is a picture of my great-grandmother.
  2. Tania can't ___ blood or she faints.
  3. When you are done ___ the game, would you please help me in the kitchen?
  4. Can you ___ my children tonight while I am at the meeting?
  5. I need someone to ___ my computer. It isn't working.
  6. ___ ! That little boy is going to fall out of the tree.
  7. I don't ___ the difference between these two pictures. Are you sure they aren't the same?
  8. ___ that man on the corner. He's acting suspicious.
  9. Have you ___ The Lord of the Rings? It's a classic.
  10. I want to learn how to make fanesca. Can I ___ you make it?
  11. Don't ___ me! My hair's a mess!
  12. I have this feeling someone is ___ me. It is really creepy.


  1. see
  2. see
  3. watching
  4. watch
  5. look at
  6. Look
  7. see
  8. Watch
  9. seen
  10. watch
  11. look at
  12. watching

Monday, February 25, 2008

See, Watch, or Look?

Watch: to look at something for a period of time, especially something that is moving. We watch something when we are interested in what happens.
  • Could you watch my purse while I go to the restroom?
  • I love sitting at the window and watching the people walk by.
  • We watched the basketball game on TV.
See: 1 to be aware of what is around you by using your eyes,
2 to watch a film or TV program
  • Did you see Desperate Housewives last night? It was a rerun.
  • When you see Jenny, please tell her not to be late for the party.
  • Do you see that white church? That's San Agustín.
Look: to direct your eyes in order to see
  • Look! There's Marlene with her boyfriend.
  • Look over there - do you see that red bus?
Look at: to view something, to be interested in the appearance of something
  • Look at Martha, isn't she pretty today?
  • Can I look at your answers? Mine are all wrong.
See is usually used for something stationary or static (not moving)
E.g. You see blood, see the stars, see a picture/photograph, see a painting

Watch is usually for something that moves, or that requires attention
E.g. watch a movie, watch children playing, sports

Look (at) is to pay attention to a detail, or appearance
E.g. You can look at people, objects

Look at the children! (Check out their appearance or what they are doing. Do not pay a lot of attention to them, though.)
Watch the children, please. (Pay attention to them so that they don't get hurt or in trouble)
I can't see the children. (They are not within my view.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

American English? British? Australian?

Confused about which accent in English is better? Worried that you are learning the "wrong" accent? Here is a point of view that might put things in perspective.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Saying "I Love You" on Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day from all of us at CEC!

Have you sent your loved one a valentine yet? If not, why not send an e-card? Or, create a handmade card using templates. If you are creative, try making your own valentine. Here are some typical greetings in English you will find on a valentine card:
  • You're so sweet.
  • Be my valentine.
  • From (or to) my valentine.
  • Be mine.
  • Easy to Love.
  • You're Mine.
  • I'm Yours.
Celebrate today with a dinner for two, a quick email or phone call, or some candy hearts. Whatever you do, be sure to spend time telling those close to you how much you care about them.

Answers from yesterday's Valentine's Day Quiz:
  1. February 14
  2. three
  3. Lupercalia
  4. 17th century
  5. 1840s
  6. the British Museum

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day Quiz

How much do you know about this popular holiday? Take the quiz below and then go to this article to find the answers you're missing.

  1. When do people celebrate Valentine's Day?
  2. How many Saint Valentines does the Catholic Church officially recognize?
  3. What ancient Roman tradition is Valentine's Day possibly related to?
  4. When did people in Great Britain begin to celebrate Valentine's Day?
  5. When did the first mass-produced valentines begin to be sold in the U.S.?
  6. Where can you find a display of the oldest known Valentine card?
Answers will be posted tomorrow. Picture nipped from

Friday, February 8, 2008

Reference Books for a Variety of Learning Objectives

As a student of English, it can be difficult to know what reference books are out there. Walking into a bookstore and seeing shelves upon shelves of English textbooks, dictionaries, and reference books can be overwhelming. Asking a clerk for advice can help at times, but more often than not, if the clerk doesn't know English herself or has never been an English language learner, she probably isn't the right person to ask. Teachers can provide ideas of where to look for references that might help, but sometimes teachers themselves are overwhelmed or unprepared to recommend books outside of their level. To help sort it out, we have compiled a short list of reference books pertaining to very specific learning needs.

Giving presentations in English
If you have to give a presentation in English but are unsure of what presentation style is appropriate, Presentations in English by Erica J. Williams will be a good place to start (the book is not published yet). This book will help you work through some of the steps to presenting in English, helping you find your own unique presentation style. It is appropriate for self-learners, but may also be used for classroom activities. The books offers not only presentation skills and tips, but helpful language. A DVD is also available, showing different presentation techniques, and using real students as they work through the course. It is intended for levels Intermediate to Advanced (B2 to C1 on the Common European Framework).

Another option is Mark Powell's Presenting in English - How to Give Successful Presentations (1996). This book focuses on the rhetoric of public speaking as well as techniques for handling audiences. A drawback to this book versus the one above is that there is no DVD, and the audio is still in cassette form.

Writing emails in English
Email English by Paul Emmerson is the perfect resource for business students who need practice writing effective emails in English. It is ideal for self-study, but may also be adapted for the classroom. It includes a Phrase Book with functional phrases commonly used in business and formal emails. It also deals with the informality of emails, teaching students how to switch from formal to informal and providing practical knowledge like knowing when one style is more appropriate than another. Intended for Intermediate to Upper Intermediate students (B1 - B2 on the Commom European Framework), this resource is ideal for anyone wanting to learn the "fine art" of email writing.

Improving reading comprehension
Reading the News by Pete Sharma (2007) is a good resource for students preparing for international exams such as the TOEFL®, TOIEC®, or IELTS®. Students get practice reading authentic news items while learning more about contemporary global issues. It is a great place to start for getting practice outside of the classroom. It includes a special section focusing on journalistic writing conventions, intended to help students become more familiar with newspaper style. An audio CD is also available.

Focusing on grammar tenses
For students who would like to improve their use of grammar tenses, Tense Situations - Tenses in Contrast and Context by Pamela Hartmann, Annette Zarian, and Patricia Esparaza (1998) is the book for you! This text works through the different grammar tenses in English, comparing and contrasting them through a variety of oral and written exercises. Pictures supplement the grammatical explanations, providing a visual representation of how and when certain tenses are used.

Better pronunciation
Heinle Online Speaking Labs taps into this amazing resource that we all have at our fingertips: the Internet. Through speech-recognition technology, students receive immediate, visual feedback on their speaking sessions. Speaking Labs are available for all levels. Unfortunately, at the moment it appears to be available only for language labs for schools and universities, but maybe someday in the future this program will also be avaiable for students studying from home!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Submit Your Film and Promote Global Understanding

Pangea Day, an effort to bridge the differences between people all over the world and develop tolerance in our globalized society, is looking for original short films that tell a unique story, a story to drive people from different cultures and walks of life to compassion and understanding. Films should speak to inspirational themes such as anger, folklore, rituals, and affection. On May 10, 2008, these films will come together and be broadcast through Internet, mobile phones, television, and digital cinemas as a means to connect the world's people, who, so often, are separated by culture, borders, politics, and language.

From the Pangea Day web site:
From the dawn of time, humans have gathered around the village campfire to share their stories, a primal experience building community and creating strong emotion.

The world has shrunk, and today our village is global. But we haven't yet figured out how to listen to each other. Think of Pangea Day as a modern-day campfire. It will be a moment when we stop, gather together, and listen to each others' stories – using the most powerful story-telling technology our species has ever known: film.

We're looking for films that will make us laugh, cry, and gasp. They can be fiction, non-fiction, real-life, animation, or your own unique mixture. But they should hold our attention for every second. And above all, they should tell a story that someone else on the other side of the world will be able to relate to.

As you plan your film, try to imagine millions of people in different countries gathered around in the flickering light, waiting in hushed silence for your tale to start. What story will you tell? What images will you show them?

If you are an inspiring film director and would like to submit a film to be considered in this project, you can go here to learn more about the requirements. Films should be no longer than 5 minutes and can be submitted in any language, although English subtitles are a must (the web site gives directions on how to do this). Do so before February 15, 2008, in order to be considered for this year's event!
Good luck!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Win the Chance to Work in England

Macmillan Business English is hosting a contest from now until June 2, 2008, for people interested in gaining valuable work experience in the UK. The contest, The Business Experience 2008, consists of marketing a product from your country in order to win the opportunity to go to Macmillan Education in Oxford to learn about the world of publishing and gain valuable hands-on experience working in the publishing field.

People interested will have to give some basic information about themselves, and then prepare a five-point marketing plan for a product or service from their country (using the marketing points from page 66 of The Business Upper Intermediate). The winner will work 35 hours a week for three weeks (Monday-Friday) and be given a weekly subsistence fee of £100, flights, and accomodation.

Don't miss this opportunity to become something bigger than you imagined! Visit their web site, read the official rules, and apply before June 2nd to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

Here is the link to a PDF flie of page 66 from The Business Upper Intermediate.