B1, B2, grammar, listening practice, Recorded class

Useful expressions in conversations

Whether you are speaking or writing, it is important to learn how to express your opinion on different subjects. If you are thinking about taking an international exam, for example, this could be particularly helpful, since you will be asked to write an essay or record your voice expressing your opinions on a given topic.

Expressing opinions

Here’s a conversation where two people give their opinion on the police and the use of body cameras, they agree and disagree with each other’s opinions, used expressions for persuading and clarify what was said.

Listen to the audio and identify the new expressions being used in conversation.

A: In my honest opinion cops shouldn’t be able to turn their cameras on and off.

B: Why do you think so?

A: Everybody has seen cases of police brutality and racial discrimination on social media. Many police officers use excess force when they arrest people, so it’s my belief that if their cameras are always on, they would be more accountable for their actions.

B: That may be true but some citizens are also concerned about privacy. Innocent bystanders, including minors, may be videotaped without knowing it. Can you see where I’m coming from?

A: I see your point but, from where I look at it, the police would be more accountable for their conduct if they wear body cameras at all times and I honestly think that’s the biggest concern for citizens, not being videotaped.

B: Put yourself in the shoes of a civilian that may be inadequately dressed or recorded at a location where an officer is rolling the cameras. Don’t you think we have the right to privacy?

A: So, let me get this straight, you think that officers shouldn’t wear body cameras at all, right? Is that way you’re saying?

B: You misunderstood what I said. It’s not black and white, I’m just saying being recorded when you are not aware of it is unfair on civilians.

A: Yeah, I agree with you there but a video footage could be used to solve a crime, maybe in court to back up somebody’s testimony, nobody would be looking at the civilian who wasn’t properly dressed.

B: I guess you’re right.

Why is expressing your opinion important when learning English?

As you can see, A and B disagree on whether the police should wear body cameras and have them on at all times. They, however, have a civilized conversation about it and debated this topic with useful expressions to express their opinions in a strong, assertive way without hurting the other person’s feelings. The ability to express yourself and defend your points of view using proper language is valued highly in conversation and can turn you into a great conversationalist! which is why I recommend learning at least a couple of expressions from each of the categories above (to give an opinion, to agree and disagree, to persuade, to clarify a point, to interrupt someone, etc) to incorporate to your conversations and debates.

More often than not I hear students using the worn-out expressions “in my opinion” or “I think”, but today I want to challenge you to stop using those expressions and start using expressions like In my honest opinion…, It is my belief that…, As far as I am concerned…, To my understanding… These expressions are more advanced and will surely give you extra points in an international exam when you are asked to give your opinion on a given subject.

Do you want to be ready to use these expression in English class? Download and print the document below and have it on hand when doing speaking activities.

How do I practice using these expressions?

You can practice with a classmate, a friend who is interested in improving his/her language skills or you can do it like we do it at WeSpeak Idiomas, in our conversation workshop 🙂 Whichever way you choose, just keep practicing!

Click on the video below to watch a segment of one of our live classes where we discuss this very same topic.

Happy learning!

B1, B2, grammar, Recorded class

Comparisons with as…as

If you’re a basic English learner, you must already know how to make comparisons using -er or more, sentences like “Brazil is bigger than Peru” or “Accommodation in Mexico city is more expensive than in Playa del Carmen”. That’s a basic way of expressing comparisons. In this video, however, I’ll teach you a different way, using as…as.

Step 1: Watch the video

Step 2: Do the exercises

B1, B2, grammar

The passive voice in Spain

Level: Upper basic, intermediate

If you don’t love grammar but love traveling, this lesson is for you. Why? Well, I used to be a student like you and as a student I got bored reading textbook examples that were neither memorable nor related to my life at all; thus, they didn’t stick in my mind and by the next day I’d forgotten everything I’d learned. Today I bring you a lesson based on my trip to Spain. All the examples you will see here are from the notes I took while I was going on walking tours in Barcelona and Granada, so they are all real examples you can relate to if you have been there, plan to visit these cities or are just curious about historic buildings! I hope you like this explanation of “The passive voice”.

City: Barcelona

On my first day in Barcelona I went on a free walking tour where I learned about the old, impressive buildings located downtown, which were ideal to teach a grammar lesson. So pay attention to how the following buildings are described. Do you recognize the grammar being used?

La plaza real or “Royal square”

This square is in the Gothic neighborhood; however, the architecture isn’t Gothic but Neo – classical.
If you take a look at the photo you’ll see Palm trees in the background. A few are originally from the area but most palm trees were imported from California and Florida.

The passive voice – Use

Let’s analyze this sentence:

Most palm trees in the Royal square were imported from California and Florida.

This structure is called “The Passive Voice”. The Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. It is not important or not known, however, who or what is performing the action.

Do you know who imported the palm trees? No                                                                          Is it important? Not really.

In the example above, the focus is on the fact that the palm trees were imported. I do not know, however, who did it.

Active voice: The Spanish imported palm trees from California and Florida.                Passive voice: Palm trees were imported from California and Florida.

The passive voice – Form

How do you form the passive voice?

the passive voice

When rewriting active sentences in passive voice, note the following:

  • the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence
  • the finite form of the verb is changed (to be+ past participle).
  • the subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is dropped)

Regular verbs in the passive voice

Remember that the past participle of regular verbs is the same as the simple past.

regular verbs

La Sagrada Familia

The most amazing building I saw in Barcelona was La Sagrada Familia and the fact that caught my attention is that this church is still being built! When I went there, I saw the construction workers and machinery. It has been 137 years since its construction began and they’re still building it! Being in an old historic city, I expected to see old churches that were started and finished hundreds of years ago but never did I imagine I would see an old church that is still being built.

Renowned Gaudí took over the project one year after its construction began and worked on it until he died. According to my tour guide, this church will be finished in 6 years, so I guess I’m going back to this city once it is finished.

Spanish architect Gaudí

The passive voice in different tenses

Look at the chart and see how the passive voice is used in different tenses.

The passive voice - tenses

You must be thinking “Ayleen, you forgot to include the other verb tenses in the chart. Aren’t there other tenses?” And the answer is “Yes, there are”. However, these are the most common tenses used to describe buildings and constructions, so for now I don’t want to mix you up with more grammar that you won’t need to use in this context. As you can see in the descriptions below, I didn’t really need to use the present perfect or past perfect to talk about these constructions.

City: Granada

Santa Ana church

The Church of Santa Ana in Granada was built in 1501 in place of the mosque of Almanzra. This means that Santa Ana Church is located where an ancient mosque once stood. Unlike other Christian churches, this one is made of bricks. It was designed by renowned local architect Diego de Siloe. The church was constructed according to the architect’s specifications. De Siloe wanted to create a heavily decorated, spectacular building which combined elements of Arabic architecture with Christian imagery, that’s what makes this church so unique. An example of Arabic influence in this church is the ceiling. It is made of carved wood. Carved wood in ceilings is representative of the Moorish craftsmen.

The passive voice when you mention the “doer”

Let’s analyze these sentences:

Santa Ana church was designed by renowned local architect Diego de Siloe.

In this sentence we mention the doer of the action, the person who designed the church. If you want to mention the doer, use “by”. Don’t use “for”.

Active voice: Architect Diego de Siloe designed Santa Ana church.

Santa Ana church was designed by renowned local architect Diego de Siloe. (correct)

Santa Ana church was designed for renowned local architect Diego de Siloe (incorrect)

Cathedral of Granada

It is known as the Catedral de Granada, or Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada in Spanish. This church was built after acquisition of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers in 1492.This cathedral was built over 181 years between 1523 and 1704. The first collapsed after an earthquake so they didn’t even start the second one, unfortunately, the second tower wasn’t finished. In its place there is a smaller tower, which is called Tower of San Miguel.

In the first and second examples the verbs are irregular, that means they don’t end in “-ed”. To form the passive sentences with these verbs you just have to memorize the verbs.

Irregular verbs in the passive voice

Base form Simple past Past participle
make made made
know knew known
build built built

The Alcaicería Market

Alcaicería is a name which was used all over Moorish Spain and parts of the Middle East. Granada the city with the biggest Arabic influence in Spain and this market is important because it was one of few Moorish traditions to survive the Christian conquest.

In the past this place was bursting with stalls, Arabic silks, spices and other precious goods were sold here. Nowadays the place is half the size it used to be but it is still a rich area with history and local culture, still packed with interesting, exotic things to buy.

Warning: Take care when walking around this area; it is popular with pickpockets and local gitanas (gypsy women) offering to tell your future or read your palm, for a price. I was stopped by a gitana who tried to give me a sort of plant “for free”, but I’d already heard about them and what they do is first give you something “for free”, next take your hand, read your palm, tell you your future and then ask for money.

Asking questions in the passive voice

What was sold in the market?                                                                                                  Arabic silks, spices and other precious goods were sold here.

What name is used to name this kind of markets?                                                       Alcaiceria was used to name this kind of markets.

To watch a short clip of my visit to La Sagrada Familia, click here.

A2, grammar

Superlatives in New Orleans

I wasn’t planning to go anywhere in August but was gladly surprised by my boyfriend’s birthday present, a trip to New Orleans! One of America’s most culturally and historically-rich destinations, New Orleans is a city of superlatives. There I found the best food, drinks and parties 😉

IMG-20180806-WA0085

So I thought, why don’t I use the photos and videos I took during my trip and make a lesson? This month I am teaching an upper basic class and one of the class objectives is to use superlatives to describe our travel experiences. So here is a mix of my most recent travel experience in a linguistic context. Learn about New Orleans using superlatives!

A2, B1, grammar, Youtube channel

Uses of the word “Just”

“Just” is one of the top 30 words in the English language! Yes, you will hear it all the time in songs, movies, conversations in the streets, etc. Did you know this word could make our sentences sound softer and at the same time it can be used to make our sentences stronger? Crazy! This word has opposite functions.

Using Just

You can use just to make what you say stronger. It can mean “very” or “really”:

  • I often have nightmares, just horrible dreams.
  • He interrupted me and didn’t let me say a word. He’s just rude!

You can also use just to make what you say softer. It can mean “only”:

  • It’s just a little strange.
  • It’s just a little odd.
  • I just wanted to talk to you for a second.
  • She’s not upset, she’s just tired, that’s all.

Just also means “exactly”:

  • They just need the downpayment to get that house.
  • I just need a strong cup of coffee to get started in the mornings.
  • Many people tell me I look just like my father.

How many times have you heard the word just this week? In what contexts? Let me know!