Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

The resources on this Canadian blog are all free, and I spend a lot of my time working on it, so please consider becoming a SUPPORTER. I appreciate all the support I get. It is the fuel that keeps me going.

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top 5 Events of 2011

Happy New Year!

Now that 2012 has arrived, I  would like to reflect and celebrate some of my favourite events from 2011 before I move on discussing anything about 2012. Like everyone in the world, I too had some not so great experiences in 2011, but I prefer to focus on some the positive ones.  

My five greatest hits of 2011

1.   Celebrating my mother's 80th 
      birthday at a cottage in Ontario with all
      my brothers and sisters and their
      children. I have five brothers and
      sisters, all of whom live in different
      parts of Canada and the United States.
     It is difficult to get us all together for
     any occasion.  We were lucky enough 
     to be able to go go tubing, swimming,
     hiking, boating and simply sit around
     eating, drinking and telling stories -
     something we had not done for a while.
2.   Starting this blog ,which has been more fun that I ever dreamed, and which has also
      helped  many of my students as well as other English language learners around the
      world. I originally designed this blog for a class I was teaching in January 2011, but
      it has become much broader. This year I want to include more of my own materials,
      including listening activities, quizzes and podcasts. I also want to include job-related
      information for Canadian immigrants who are also learning and improving their English.

 3.  Going on a a wonderful vacation to
      Maui in Hawaii, where I continued to
      perfect my boogie board technique, did
      some snorkeling and read a ton of
      books.  If you need to get away from
      winter, I strongly recommend it as a
      place for a break from the stresses in
      your life.

4.  Attending the Salmon Arm Roots     and Blues Festival for the first time. Not only did I get to see and listen to some wonderful blues players, but I also got to see them from up close because I was in wheelchair due  to my shattered knee. If you are a fan of the blues, this is the festival you should attend. It takes place every year in August. You can even camp there.

5.   Working in my garden - one of my favourite places in the world, a place  that has offered me refuge from the noisy, busy world for the past 25 years.  This summer I was able to spend a lot of time there with life-long friends from Nevada, California and Ottawa whom I had not seen for a while.

What were YOUR favourite events of 2011?  Write a comment and let me know what positive experiences you had  last year.

Leaving comments: 

Remember, you do not have to be a subscriber, or belong to any social network to comment.  Read  my previous post on  How to Leave a Comment . 

New Years Traditions Around the World

What does the colour yellow have to do with bringing in a new year?

In PERU, the colour yellow plays a very important role. Here, yellow symbolizes good luck, and people often wear yellow underwear on New Year's Eve in order to bring them good fortune. At New Years shamans from around the country attend fairs to perform ceremonies that include showering subjects with yellow flowers, or passing a guinea pig over subjects' bodies.

All countries around the world celebrate the new year. But many of them celebrate it at different times and with different traditions.  Although western countries consider January 1st to be the first day of their new year, many Asian like China, Vietnam and Korea follow the lunar calendar. That means their new year starts in late January or February and lasts not for one day, but up to two weeks.   I have already discussed the way Americans and Canadians ring in the new year.

Today on New Year's Eve,  here is a look at a few of the good luck traditions people from other countries believe will bring them good fortune and prosperity in the coming year. 

 SPAIN and MEXICO:Both Mexicans and Spaniards  begin eating grapes as soon as the clock strikes midnight. Each person eats 12 grapes, one with every toll of the bell to bring good luck for each of the 12 months ahead.

COLUMBIA: Colombian families make a rag doll called "Mr. Old Year." They dress it in old clothes and with things the family doesn't want anymore, and which has brought them pain or sadness. Then, at midnight, they set the doll on fire. This symbolizes burning the past and getting ready to start a happy new year without bad memories of the past.

JAPAN: In Japan, families prepare for a full week before New Year's Day, or Oshogatsu. The house must be thoroughly cleaned, all debts must be paid, and all disagreements must be resolved and forgiven. Before midnight, 108 bells ring, to symbolize the elimination of 108 troubles. Thus, the Japanese start the year with a clean house, and no troubles, debts, or disagreements to contend with. The day after New Year’s is First Writing Day, when the Japanese write out their hopes and dreams for the new year.

PHILIPPINES: People in the Philippines have a New Year's custom of wearing  clothes with circular patterns like polka dots, as it is believed that circles attract money and fortune.  For the same reason, many circular fruits are served on New Year's Day.  Other traditions include throwing coins at the stroke of midnight to increase wealth for the coming year.

ENGLAND: The British believe that their fortune for the next year depends on the first guest to enter their door after midnight. They believe the first visitor of each year should be a man carrying gifts.  Traditional gifts are coal for the fire, a loaf for the table and a drink for the master. For good luck, the guest should enter through the front door and leave through the back. Guests who are empty-handed or unwanted are not allowed to enter first.

THE NETHERLANDS: The Dutch burn bonfires of  Christmas trees on the street on New Year's Eve as a way to purge the old and welcome the new.

GREECE: The Greeks bake a special bread stuffed with a coin buried in the dough. The first slice is for the Christ child, the second for the father of the household and the third slice is for the house. If the third slice holds the coin, spring will come early that year.

CHINA - For the Chinese New Year, every front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, red being a symbol of good luck and happiness. Although the whole family prepares a feast for the New Year, all knives are put away for 24 hours to keep anyone from cutting themselves, which is thought to cut the family's good luck for the next year.

Click on the following link to see and read about more wonderful and interesting New Years traditions from different countries. Slide show of New Years traditions from around the world  
How about you? Do you have any special traditions or ways you like to celebrate New Year's Eve or New Year's Day?  Write me a comment and read my next post on how the people of Vancouver like to celebrate New Year's Day. 


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Celebrating New Year's Eve's 2012

People celebrate New Year's with parties and fireworks
 New Years Eve is celebrated all over the world by all people, regardless of their nationality and religion. We are all waiting for this special night and carefully preparing for it. Many people even believe that a fulfillment of an upcoming year depends on how you spend your New Years Eve. If it is full of joy and happiness, then a new year will be full of joy and happiness and vice versa. Many people like to stay at home with their families and friends. Others like to travel - some to ski resorts, some to exotic islands, some to a new city. And if you finally want to visit a city you always wanted to visit, New Years Eve is a perfect time to do so. That is a magical time when all of the cities around the world are more gloriously alive than they usually are.
In Canada and the United States, New Year's Eve is a major social holiday. Many people hold parties at home or attend special celebrations where they drink wine and champagne to celebrate the upcoming New Year.In many cities, large scale public events are held. These often attract thousands of people.

New Year's Eve Ball  Drop in Times Square

                New York City 
 A particularly striking aspect of the New Year's Eve festivities is the ball drop in Times Square in Manhattan, New York City. The ball is made of crystal and electric lights and is placed on top of a pole, which is 77 feet, or 23 meters, high. 
 At one minute before midnight on December 31, the ball is lowered slowly down the pole. It comes to rest at the bottom of the pole at exactlyy midnight. The event is shown on television across the United States and around the world. The event has been held every year since 1907, except during World War II. 
If you are in Toronto, Canada you are sure to have a good time on New Year's Eve. The “Traditional Toronto New Year's Eve Bash” takes place at Nathan Phillips Square, where thousands of people get together to watch live performances from some of music’s biggest stars. There are hundreds of live performances going on all over the city, so you’re sure to find whatever type of music you’re looking for.

Here are Best 10 Places in the World to Spend New Year's Eve in order to have  an unforgettable New Year's Eve celebration. 

Family Oriented New Year's Eve  

Meanwhile, many cities around the world have begun to add family-friendly New Year's Eve events which children can attend with their parents. If you live in Vancouver, use this list to plan your family-friendly New Year's Eve 2012 celebration--all events happen on Saturday, December 31, 2011Free New Year's Eve Party at Robson Square
Downtown Vancouver's Robson Square (located across from the Vancouver Art Gallery) will play host to a free party from the Province that includes free ice skating at the outdoor ice rink, plus live music, stilt walkers, sorcerers, witches, and a magician's stage show. There will be an early NYE countdown at 8pm, with free glow sticks and noisemakers the for kids. Bright Nights at Stanley Park One of the Top 5 Vancouver Holiday Attractions, Bright Nights transforms the forest around Stanley Park's miniature train into a winter wonderland. Perfect for younger kids, Bright Nights is open until 11pm on New Year's Eve.
Family First Night at Mount Seymour
Taking place from 6pm - 9pm--with an early NYE countdown at 9pm--this family event at Mount Seymour's Enquist SnowPlay Park includes family tubing and/or tobogganing, free s'mores and apple cider, and free party hats, sparklers, blow horns and party favours for everyone at the 9pm countdown.
Whistler's First Night 2012
The biggest party for families happens in Whistler: First Night is a 100%-alcohol-free party that takes over the entire Whistler Village Square and the Conference Center, with live music, artists, kids activities, comedians, and a 9:30pm New Year's Eve countdown for the younger set. Also: Fireworks!
In my next post I will discuss New Yeas  customs in Canada and a variety of other countries. 

Vancouver Polar Bear Swim 2012

Splash in the New Year

Are you brave enough to participate in this year's Polar Bear Swim?

Each city and country has its own special way to greet the New Year. Vancouver, Canada  is no exception. For the past 92 years, thousands of people have celebrated  the New Year by jumping into the freezing waters of English Bay.  This year, the city will host the 92nd Annual Polar Bear Swim. Do you have the courage to carry on the tradition?

 Batman had a good time at the 2011 Vancouver Polar Bear Swim 
The Polar Bear Swim is hosted by the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club, one of the largest and oldest Polar Bear Clubs in the world. Its initial swim took place in 1920 when a small number of hardy swimmers took the plunge into English Bay on New Year's Day. The swim has grown from 10 in the first year to thousands today.  For many people who simply continue their New Year's Eve celebration well into New Year's Day, it is the highlight of the year.

The swim takes place at 2:30pm on January 1st. (tomorrow) Costumes and the Peter Pantages Memorial 100 yard swim race are the highlights of this event. To become a club member, you must register before the swim in front of the English Bay Bathhouse from 12:30pm - 2:30pm on New Year's Day. You may also register by clipping out the coupon in the Province Newspaper and presenting it at the registration desk the day of the swim. Don't forget to fill out the prize entry form at registration. Donations of non-perishable food bank items will be accepted.

Your free membership includes a commemorative button after you take the plunge, and who knows, maybe you will win one of the great prizes available. Regardless, you can be proud to say you joined this 'chilly' club and can call yourself truly Canadian after all.

If you don't plan to get cold and wet, come down to English Bay to watch the event. Even watching other people freeze is a fun way to welcome the new year in Vancouver. 

For more infoirmation on the Polar Bear swim go to: http://vancouver.ca/parks/events/polarbear/history.htm

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Popular Vancouver Christmas Tradition: The Van Dusen Garden Festival of Lights

                                             Photo Source: Rik Morel via Flickr.
 If you live in Vancouver make sure you spend an evening at the VanDusen Botanical Garden during their annual Christmas light display. Known as the Festival of Lights, is a well loved Vancouver tradition. An impressive display, it  has taken place as long as I have lived in Vancouver, and probably even longer. It is one of the most popular Christmas events in the Lower Mainland. If you live in Vancouver, you will not regret. 

Attend with your family and friends, but make sure you dress warmly as it will be cold, and you will want to spend time strolling through a magical fairy land designed to please every age group. You can visit with Santa Claus, listen to a variety of choirs and carollers, watch the Dancing Lights on Livingstone Lake, and much on treats such as roast chestnuts, or drink hot apple cider. Remember to bring your camera since you will definitely want to take pictures. The Festival of Lights is open from 4:30pm until 9pm every day, except Christmas Day, until January 2nd. 

Here are a few photos my daughter took during her recent visit to the  garden light show.


Friday, December 23, 2011

ESL Christmas More Christmas Songs and Quizzes

A lot of people like singing Christmas carols at this time of year. It is a wonderful thing to do in groups an d can be a lot of fun. Why don't you try a few after you watch some of these videos and do some of the quizzes.
Try to  decide if this first video is a surprise, or a planned event. Whatever it is, it should make you smile
Happy Holidays | Carlson School of Management

This second link will connect you to National Public Radio's Jingle Jam Christmas: Music for the Rest of Us.
In their introduction to their special  Jingle Jam Christmas  the people at NPR said,"Around the holidays, we like our traditions. We go home. We listen to the music that accompanies memories of childhood holiday celebrations, sitting fireside with family and enjoying the freedom of winter break. 

Occasionally, we take it too far and end up blasting songs that cross the fine line between cozy comfort and sickly sweetness. It's called schmaltz, people, and EverReady's got their limit. 

Sometimes on Christmas, people get dumped or lose their jobs, or spend the night in jail. So here's a mix of off-the-beaten-path holiday songs for those people, and for the rest of us."

I am including I5 Christmas song video quizzes from the wonderful ESL Video.Com site. Make sure you visit this site for other great video quizzes.

Jingle Bells Frank Sinatra    This is probably the single, most popular Christmas song ever, although it was originally written for Thanksgiving.
Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer  Burl Ives    Who can name all of Santa's reindeer? Few probably can, but there’s one name that stands out among young and old: Rudolph, the reindeer that was at first ridiculed for his big, red nose, but later saves the day as he  leads Santa's sleigh through the fog.
Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms  
 Rockin Around the Christmas Tree    These were two of the first modern rock and roll Christmas songs ever written. They came out in the 1950's and are still played today.           All I Want For Christmas is You   One of the most recent additions to the list of holiday classics, this song was released in 1994 in Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album
White Christmas by Shania Twain and Michael Buble    The original song White Christmas sung by Bin g Crosby is not only one of the most popular Christmas songs ever, it is the best selling song of all time.
Silent Night Sarah Mclaughlin    This classic carol was actually originally written in German, but is now sung in over 44 languages

 Nine More Song Quizzes. Enjoy 
Baby It's Cold Outside
Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley
Christmas Lights Cold Play

Some Christmas Laughter? .
If you want a good laugh, go to the listening page and watch Mr. Bean's Christmas.
Go to the Music Page for more Christmas songs and a Christmas carol songbook with lyrics to many Christmas songs.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Leave a Comment

how to get comments 300x252 How to Comment on this Blog
A number of people have written me emails and told me they liked, or were amused by what they saw or read on my blog. Others have told me they wanted to leave a comment, but didn't understand how the comment system worked.  Still others have said they couldn't leave a comment because they do not have a personal profile, nor do they have a google address, or belong to any other social media.  . .

Don't worry.


To leave a comment follow these simple steps.

1.    Click on the word "Comment" at the bottom of the page.  
2.    Write your comment, or any question you want to ask.
3.    At the place where it says comment as - ignore the words personal profile, and list
       of social media sites.
4.    Simply go to the bottom of the list, and click on  the words name/URL. 
5.   Type in your name. You DO NOT NEED TO HAVE a URL.
6.    If you do have a blog, or a website of your own, include the address
7.    Otherwise, don't worry about it . You don't need to be a subscriber, have a google
        account, or belong to any of the other social sites on the list..
8.    Click on the word publish when you are ready to send your comment. ( By the way,
       you can preview your comment, and edit it before you send it).
9.    When you leave a comment, other people can  read it, and agree or disagree with
       you, and even begin a conversation.




Please leave a comment on this post

Comment here........

 Dear Michelle,

  This was a useful blog. Thanks for letting me know how to leave a
   comment. Now, I will do this more often.
                                                                Jane Doe

Comment as  _________________

        Live journal
         Word Press                          ignore  these
         Type Pad
          Open ID                                

      Name/URL  (click.  Type your name)         Anonymous  

Publish                 Preview

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ESL Christmas: Letters to Santa

If you are a parent with children who believe in Santa Claus, here is a good collection of letters to Santa. Even if you don't have children, the article in The Independent raises some interesting questions. It is a good reading  practice focused on a Christmas  theme. Try reading it without a dictionary to begin with. Check for unknown words after you have read it.

From requests for Lego and leg warmers to a popcorn maker and a Puffle, 33 letters to Santa are an art form in themselves. Clare Dwyer Hogg delves into the world of children's wishlists. (The Independent)

Do you have any opinions about this? Let me know what you think. Post any comments below.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Justin Bieber - Mistletoe

 For any of you who like Justin Bieber, here's a listening quiz on his Christmas song Mistletoe. If you are at the advanced level, try the most difficult quiz. It will really force you to listen to specific words.  Click on the karaoke button to sing along with him. You will get the rhythm and stress just right.

There are at least three  grammar mistakes in the song. Can you spot them?
What does the word "chillin" mean?  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Cost of Christmas

A few years ago my family and I decided that we were going to spend much less on Christmas gifts. In the past, I had always gone overboard in giving presents to my children. The main reason I spent too much was based on my own magical childhood Christmas experience. I wanted to make their Christmas the same kind of memorable  day I had experienced. However, I have now come to realize that I was putting my priorities in the wrong place. Interestingly, it was my children who initiated the decision to downsize the number of gifts, and the spending in general.  In fact both of them ganged up on me and begged me to limit the number of gifts to three. 

Ever since my family decided to limit the spending,  Christmas has become a lot less stressful for all of us. It has also turned into a holiday that focuses  more on family and the joy being together than on gifts, or "who got who what?  Of course, I'm lucky because my children are in their late 20s. They aren't three, five, or even 13 years old. They haven't believed in Santa Claus for a long time, nor are they influenced by television advertising since neither of them has a television. However, how about the millions of parents who are ruled by the myth of Santa, who can bring their child everything he or she wants, or by television ads and shopping centers whose only message seems to be "buy, buy, buy." 

Parents are spending a lot more money on Christmas than they want to. In fact, a according to an an article in the British newspaper , The Daily Telegraph, parents will spend an average of £112.50 ( $175.25) on Christmas presents for each of their children, covering every thing from a main gift to stocking-fillers (The Daily Telegraph)

In the U.S., the average American spends $935 on Christmas each year and carries an average credit card debt of $8,562. The same applies for most Canadians. For more information on the American cost if Christmas over the past number of years go to The American Cost of Christmas. 
Here are a few questions for you to think about. Feel free to add your comments and opinions on Christmas spending, or on  the specific questions below. 
Guess what the idioms "gang up on someone" and "go overboard" mean. Then, ldook them up in your dictionary. 
  • Do you go overboard for Christmas? 
  • How much will Christmas cost you this year? 
  • Will it cause you to go into debt? 
  • How much should people spend at Christmas? Why? 
  • Should people even bother to buy gifts at all at this time of year? Why?