Remember: Grammar Is Your Friend.

Read and study, please.

: -)

Reading Makes You a Better Writer (VI): "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", by Scott Fitzgerald

Hey guys, have you watched the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? It was directed by David Fincher, starring Brad Pitt. This is the story of a man who ages in reverse and it was originally written by the celebrated American author Scott Fitzgerald. This week, I would like to encourage you to read such story and listen to the audio available here. If you choose the "slower listening speed" option, it will take you only one hour to listen to the two parts of the story. Come on, there is no excuse this time!
I hope you enjoy!


Reading Makes You a Better Writer (V): "Ask the Dust" by John Fante.

To me, this is one of the best books ever written. And you can find it here! But I will remain silent this time and let somebody else talk about the novel. Did you know that Charles Bukowski was a huge fan of John Fante? He wrote an introduction to Ask The Dust that is worth reading before you swallow the book:

I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer. I did most of my reading at the downtown L.A. Public Library, and nothing that I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me. It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. [...] I pulled book after book from the shelves. Why didn't anybody say something? Why didn't anybody scream out? [...]

Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to a table. The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me.
I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was
Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante. He was to be a lifetime influence on my writing. [...] 

There is much more to the story of John Fante. It is a story of terrible luck and a terrible fate and of a rare and natural courage. Some day it will be told but I feel that he doesn't want me to tell it here. But let me say that the way of his words and the way of his way are the same: strong and good and warm.
That's enough. Now this book is yours.

Click and read!!!!!!!

Grammar Is Your Friend (II): Using "LINGUEE"

Dear students,

this week, I would like to recommend a new tool to write and revise your texts at home: LINGUEE. This is an online dictionary for different languages, and its main advantage is that it provides us with words and expressions "in context". Linguee incorporates a search engine through which we can access to translated sentence pairs coming from thousands of webs on the Internet. This way, you can improve your use of grammar and try not to copy directly from Spanish when writing in English.

For example, if you want to know how to write la mayoría de la gente, look this expression up:

And then, have a look at the possible translations into English and the contexts in which the different options appear:

Important warning: pay attention to the sources these translations come from. If they come from Spanish webpages (and not British or American sites, etc.), they might be wrong.

Important warning number 2: you can use this tool to write -and to learn English in general- but avoid plagiarism - i.e. writing more than 3/5 consecutive exact words in a row without quoting your source.

We will be talking about "quotation" in class soon : -)

I hope you found this post useful.

See you soon!


Reading Makes You a Better Writer (IV): Stylish Book Covers

Dear students,

many of my writer friends on Facebook have shared this link today: "The 30 Most Stylish Book Covers". Looking at these beautiful covers reminded me of you. I think that  this selection is a good chance to recommend some classics. I know you are kind of overwhelmed by work now, but you might find some time to breathe and read at some point.

Anyway, my favourite covers appearing on the list are these ones:

I love these books, so this can be the reason why I like the covers too. In fact, I am re-reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar these days and I feel like devoting an entry to her soon. She was an extremely talented (and tormented) writer and deserves her own space here. As for the other titles: The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most thrilling Sherlock Holme tale. Have you seen the television series Sherlock? I really ejoyed this BBC adaptation, but I must admit I like the book much more. To me, reading is always more intense than watching -everyone to his/her own taste! Anyway, another book I would like to recommend today is 1984, a novel by George Orwell that describes a nightmarish society in the future which, unfortunately, is  somehow similar to the present day world. Finally, Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon is an unfinished novel, published posthumously, that I have not read yet. Nevertheless, this is on my wish list.


What about you? Did you find any cover you like? As a Fine Arts ex-student, I would like you to recommend some covers or pictures to me too.
That's all for now, folks!
See you soon,


Reading Makes You a Better Writer (III) - Miscellanous Collection -

Dear students,

I have been asked to recommend some books this week. Lucky us! I am always glad to carry out such a task because I love talking about books. The only "inconvenience" is that there are thousands of titles we can share, and I do not want to bore you with my stuff. It all depends on your taste.  So, please, if you are looking for a specific theme or genre, just leave a comment below and I will try to find something. Besides, I know that some of you are very demanding readers and can help as well. Everybody is welcome to recommend a book - which uses proper English - below. Anyway, before starting, let me remind you of my previous posts on reading, because you might have missed them:

Reading Newspapers and Magazines 

Reading Raymond Carver

Reading Poetry

Reading "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

Reading "The Flowers Look Like People at Last" by Charles Bukowski

Let's just proceed now:

Your generation is supposed to have enjoyed the magic of the Harry Potter book series, by J. K. Rowling. As you probably know, after gaining worldwide attention, J.K. Rowling was awarded many times and sold more than 400 millions copies. I am sure that you contributed to her success when you were kids, and that many of you have one or more Spanish translations at home. Therefore, I do not think it will be a big deal to click the link below and get a pdf of the first Harry Potter book. It is easy to read and contains many words and expressions that can enrich your vocabulary:

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone -Book 1

Apart from Harry Potter, I have been thinking about other fascinating (short) stories that you might like - something brief and light but sophisticated too - and a title has come to my mind: The Happy Prince, by Oscar Wilde. I have read this story many times in my life and its beauty has always touched my heart. Even though, in a sense, The Happy Prince is a sad story, I believe there is something blissful and marvellous about it. You might have read this story when you where kids, as I did. Now we have the chance to read it in English and "hear" Oscar Wilde's real voice. In order to do so, you just need to click:


Do you also want to listen to the story? Just play the video below:

As I know there are many fantasy and sci-fi lovers among us, I would also like to recommend a short story by the great writer Ray Bradbury. You can listen to the famous actor Burgess Meredith while reading the Pdf file available HERE. If you feel curious, you can also have a look at this webpage full of resources and continue researching a bit on this short story and others. 

Together with novels and short stories, poems are excellent learning companions. They are short, musical and, sometimes, unforgettable. I am especially fond of British and American poetry so today I would like to introduce you to Mark Strand. He is a Canadian-born poet, essayist and translator. You can watch the video below and listen to Mark Strand reciting one of his poems, The Couple. If you feel like reading the poem at the same time or more slowly, click here.

I hope you enjoy this crazy list as much as I do. I will be back soon with new titles. Finally, as I said before, you are welcome to suggest books, graphic novels, comics, poems, academic essays (yeah!) or any written text you consider worth reading below.

Read you later, my dearest students!


Grammar Is Your Friend (I)

Dear students,

I usually enjoy reading your texts, since you have lots of things to show the world. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures, your exciting stories, and your points of view! As you must have noticed, sometimes I leave a comment below your posts, and sometimes I correct them a little bit. Other times, I just wink and smile. Correcting everything would be humanly impossible and also quite intrusive. Communication is as important as correction and playing the role of Mrs. Rottenmeier is not really my cup of tea. However, I think it is time to go one step further and try to polish your texts as much as you can. In order to do so, I would like to give you some tips on editing your texts before you publish them:

1. Slow down: reread and rewrite slowly. I know some of you invest quite a lot of time in this, but others just drop some lines and feel too impatient to reread and edit. This is something I observed during our last test in class. Remember: the more slowly you edit now, the faster you will finish in the future, once you have assimilated all the new vocabulary and syntax. (I promise!)

2. Use dictionaries, grammar books, Google and any online resources you find useful and easy. It is quite common and extremely frequent to have doubts and uncertainties when writing in a foreign language. English is not our mother tongue. What to do? Use monolingual dictionaries, look the words up "in context", use a corrector. Translating from Spanish is usually a bad idea. And remember that coining new Spanglish words is not necessarily one of the aims of this course! If you slow down and dip into good grammar while writing at home, I am sure your writing will become more flexible and rich. Thus, when you face the final exam (writing an essay in three hours), I am sure you will find it easier, even if you are not allowed to use a dictionary.

3. I would like to recommend a superb application that might help you improve your writing. This is a grammar checker that can analyse academic, technical, creative and casual writing: GRAMMARLY. Have a look and give it a try. You can also read the GRAMMARLY BLOG, which is full of tips, explanations and jokes. I follow Grammarly on Facebook too.

As you will realize, this application only provides you with exact corrections if you pay for it. Well, you don't need to do that. You can use it to get a "diagnosis" and then try to be autocritical and find your mistakes on your own. If you don't like this idea, you can always google the expressions you don't really know.

4. Another online resource I like to use is LINGUEE, which is a dictionary and a translation search with lots of example sentences from human translators. There you can read the expressions in context.

5. Of course, don't forget to ask your classmates, friends, and  teachers whenever you need some extra help. Meeting and getting to know a native speaker is always a great option too.

Well, that's all for now. I will be back with more grammatical support soon.

Kind regards,



PDFs from Unit 0 to 6

Dear all,

it seems that some of you had some trouble downloading the files from Sakai, the resource section at um.es. Well, I have uploaded them again, and now you can also find them here. Just click.

Please, have a look at the materials, and try to be awake and lucid tomorrow when writing your first "práctica evaluable". Remember that you will be expected to produce a well-structured text, so try to write a good topic sentence, and support your point of view in a coherent way. I suggest that you think first before you write: think hard and do your best.

See you tomorrow.


Compare & Contrast: "Zadie Smith On The Psychology of The Two Types of Writers"

 On March 24, 2008, two years before she penned her oft-cited ten rules of writing, the immeasurably brilliant Zadie Smith delivered a lecture at Columbia University’s Writing Program under the brief “to speak about some aspect of your craft.” Appropriately titled “That Crafty Feeling” and included in Smith’s altogether enchanting collection Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (public library), the lecture outlines the ten psychological stages of writing a novel. Here you are a couple of excerpts from her lecture:
I want to offer you a pair of ugly terms for two breeds of novelist: the Macro Planner and the Micro Manager. You will recognize a Macro Planner from his Post-its, from those Moleskines he insists on buying. A Macro Planner makes notes, organizes material, configures a plot and creates a structure — all before he writes the title page. This structural security gives him a great deal of freedom of movement. It’s not uncommon for Macro Planners to start writing their novels in the middle. As they progress, forward or backward, their difficulties multiply with their choices. I know Macro Planners who obsessively exchange possible endings for one another, who take characters out and put them back in, reverse the order of chapters and perform frequent — for me, unthinkable — radical surgery on their novels: moving the setting of a book from London to Berlin, for example, or changing the title [...]
I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it, a fact that will surprise no one who has read my novels. Macro Planners have their houses largely built from day one, and so their obsession is internal — they’re forever moving the furniture. They’ll put a chair in the bedroom, the lounge, the kitchen and then back in the bedroom again. Micro Managers build a house floor by floor, discretely and in its entirety. Each floor needs to be sturdy and fully decorated with all the furniture in place before the next is built on top of it. There’s wallpaper in the hall even if the stairs lead nowhere at all.
Do you want to read the complete text? Just click here.

And this is Zadie Smith reading her paper at the New York Public Library. Please, pay attention to the way she compares and contrast these two types of writers she is talking about:

Reading Makes You a Better Writer (III)


Reading Makes You a Better Writer (II): Knowing Yourself as a Reader

Dear readers,

reading is one of the best ways to learn a foreign language, especially if you are interested in what you read. Motivation is the key component of any language learning process. This is the reason why I would like to recommend a bunch of various online newspapers and magazines. Pick the one you prefer and start spending some of your spare time reading. I have classified the magazines into different categories in the hope that I can help you develop a reading habit.

* Serious readers worried about world issues: THE GUARDIAN 

* Fans of science and technology: I FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE


* Incurable gossips: HELLO!

* Mad about (mostly indie) music (in English): NME

* Fashion lovers: DAZED & CONFUSED

* Poets and muses: POETRY FOUNDATION

Finally, click here if you want to read some tips about how to develop your reading habit.
And click here if you want to take a funny quiz and know what "type of book" you are... (I got the "Well-Loved Book")


Opinions: "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"

Dear students,

this is the video we have watched today in class (group B is going to watch it on Wednesday). Open your ears, and think about the way you normally give your opinion to others.

Reading Makes You A Better Writer (I): Poetry Foundation

After having read your blog entries this weekend, and in view of the success of the "Fear of..." experiment, I have realised that some of the students taking part in this course are very fond of poetry. For this reason, I would like to recommend the following American webpage: POETRY FOUNDATION. This is a literary organization committed to "discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience"- they say. Well, you can just browse the web and try to discover something you like.

I have already selected a poem to start the week, Monsters by the great Dorothea Lasky:

This is a world where there are monsters

There are monsters everywhere, racoons and skunks

There are possums outside, there are monsters in my bed.

There is one monster. He is my little one.

I talk to my little monster.

I give my little monster some bacon but that does not satisfy him.

I tell him, ssh ssh, don’t growl little monster!

And he growls, oh boy does he growl!

And he wants something from me,

He wants my soul.

And finally giving in, I give him my gleaming soul

And as he eats my gleaming soul, I am one with him

And stare out his eyepits and I see nothing but white

And then I see nothing but fog and the white I had seen before was nothing but fog

And there is nothing but fog out the eyes of monsters.

You can listen to her speaking these lines HERE.
You can see her HERE.

And, finally, here you are some tips to use reading to improve your writing, CLICK HERE.

Describing Someone: "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver

Last week, we studied the process of writing a descriptive paragraph. One of the passages we read - as an example of how to develop a personal description - was extracted fron Raymond Carver's Cathedral:

I've never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. This blind man was late forties, a heavy-set, balding man with stooped shoulders, as if he carried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a light-brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat. Spiffy. He also had this full beard. But he didn't use a cane and he didn't wear dark glasses. I'd always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wished he had a pair. At first glance, his eyes looked like anyone else's eyes. But if you looked close, there was something different about them. Too much white in the iris, for one thing, and the pupils seemed to move around in the sockets without his knowing it or being able to stop it. Creepy. As I stared at his face, I saw the left pupil turn in toward his nose while the other made an effort to keep in one place. But it was only an effort, for that eye was on the roam without his knowing it or wanting it to be.

I commented on the idea that the first sentence can be considered a sort of "topic sentence" that prefigures what is going to be said next. From the subjective point of view of the narrator, the blind man embodies a first contact with "the unknown". This character is described as a weird creepy person who neither uses a cane nor wears dark glasses, as one would expect from a blind man. The narrator's tone reveals certain uncertainty (and a very subtle sense of humour). There's tension and suspense. After all, this is the first time he meets this person, as well as the first time he meets someone who is blind. Moreover, the circumstances under which they meet are a bit strange, and the main character's feelings are projected onto the blind guy. What I find interesting here is the fact that Carver manages to fix the reader's attention on exactly the detail (e.g: the eyes), the opinion (e.g: at first, this guy looks creepy), and emotion (e.g: uncertainty, suspense) that he wants to emphasize by manipulating the point of view. In this sense, the first sentence of this paragraph works perfectly well, since it creates a point of view: the narrator does not really know that person and, therefore, what we are going to read might be beyond what is normal and expected.

If you feel like reading Raymond Carver's short story, CLICK HERE and enjoy!!