Happy Halloween!!!

It’s been a week now since we started to see a very peculiar decoration in every shop window: some smiling diabolic cabbages seeming to say ‘hello!’ to passers by, ‘get ready for Halloween!’ That’s right: Halloween is approaching, and in some days many people will wear terrific costumes to attend massive parties or just to celebrate the special occasion with friends. In the last two decades the Spaniards have incorporated the tradition of Halloween, as a way of showing our immersion into the global Anglo-Saxon culture, but do we really know what Halloween means and which its origins are? Let’s investigate about it!

Two thousand years ago, while the Romans were trying to control Europe, members of the Celt tribes that resisted Roman domination to the North of present-day France and in the British Islands gathered every late October to celebrate the end of harvest. Apparently the celebration was supposed to be a big one, as another year had gone by without great problem and the gods had favoured their worshippers with enough food to go trough a harsh winter. However, Celts knew that the end of harvest was also the beginning of dark times, when the sun would go down shortly after midday, leaving the people to their own luck and, of course, exposed to the threat of bad spirits, who would feel rather comfortable in an isolated land abandoned by the sunlight. Suddenly they had an outstanding idea: what if they dressed up as bad spirits? What if they walked around disguised as terrific creatures of which the bad spirits themselves would be terrified? Thus the commemoration of Samhain, or the end of harvest, became also a means of terrifying the devil and making sure that the whole community passed the winter unthreatened by it.

Happy Halloween | 121 Conversation
Picture taken by Antonio J. Pinto in Hoboken, New Jersey. Halloween, 2010
The Celts could not imagine that they had just invented Halloween, though some centuries had still to pass by before the contemporary celebration took shape. First, the Romans adopted it once they had already taken control of the whole continent, and they too celebrated the end of harvest and of summer in a very similar way, in order to honour Pomosa, the holy goddess of harvest whose symbol was a poma, that is, an apple. By the end of the 5th Century Catholicism became official within the Roman Empire and maintained the tradition, only that three centuries later popes Gregory 3rd and Gregory 4th made some changes in it: on the one hand, they decided to turn it into a celebration in daytime, as Catholicism tended to associate sin to everything that happened after sunset; on the other hand, they decided to make it a remembrance of the souls of the dead and to empty it of its pagan meaning. Hence they called it ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, which contracted became ‘Halloween’.

In the same places where the Celts had lived hundreds of years before, Catholic communities started to honour the souls of their deceased relatives or friends, but they also preserved the tradition of wearing terrifying customs, only then it was just a way of having fun and losing one’s inhibition behind the mask of anonymousness. European Anglo-Saxon migrants that crossed the Atlantic and colonised America took the tradition with them and strengthened it, especially in a new land where they felt a special necessity to conjure the threat of the devil and the unknown, as well as to demand protection and good luck by thanking God for the recent and prosperous harvest. That was why Halloween became so popular in the United States, where it turned into a major celebration in the 1920s, when everyone wished to let the world know about the benefits of the American Way of Life.

At present, Halloween has become a major occasion to meet with friends, have a nice time and, just for one night, forget about everyday life and lose the fear of making a fool of oneself. Therefore, it is another way of bringing a smile to your own face and, by that, to the faces of all the people that share the moment with you. This is one of the main reasons why it has become so popular in Spain and in other non-Anglo-Saxon countries that have incorporated it to their popular culture, where people pretend to terrify the others in the evening just to wake up the next day with the sweet taste of candy on their lips.

Happy Halloween!!!

Before finishing the article, let me ask you some questions:

Were you aware of the origins of Halloween? Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, how do you do it? If you have children, do you encourage them to wear dresses and go door after door asking ‘trick or treat’? What do you think of incorporating this tradition to the Spanish popular culture? What other ways do you think we might promote to celebrate Halloween?

(Add your comments below)

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".

La Agenda Privada de 121 Conversation: Un apunte técnico

La Agenda Privada de 121 Conversation esta desarrollada sobre las útlimas tecnologias y lenguajes de programación Web del mercado. Por ello, esta basado en las últimas versiones estables que existen en el mercado en cuanto a navegadores Web.

Internet Explorer tiene una funcionalidad denominada "Vista de Compatibilidad", que emula el comportamiento en las versiones anteriores, donde no existia una compatibilidad 100% entre los diferentes navegadores y por tanto, esta "Vista de Compatibilidad" de Internet Explorer afecta a la forma en que se visualizan algunas web. Si está habilitada para la Agenda Privada de, puede que algunas funciones de la web no se muestren correctamente.

Para evitar estos problemas le sugerimos que suprima de su lista de sitios con la Vista de compatibilidad habilitada, o bien, deshabilite esta funcionalidad de su navegador IE. Para ello, siga los siguientes pasos según la versión de Internet Explorer que tenga instalada en su ordenador:

Internet Explorer 8

En Internet Explorer, abra el menú Herramientas y elija Configuración de Vista de compatibilidad. Seleccione en la lista "Sitios web que agregó (o se agregó) a Vista de compatibilidad" y haga clic en Quitar.

Internet Explorer +9 

En estas versiones de Internet Explorer, haga clic, con el botón derecho del ratón, en el icono de la rueda dentada, situado en la esquina superior derecha (al lado del icono de estrella de "Favoritos"). Si no ve la rueda dentada ni los menús "Archivo" o "Herramientas" en la parte superior de la ventana, pulse la tecla F10 para que se muestren.

Seleccione Barra de comandos. En la parte superior del navegador, abra el menú Herramientas y elija Configuración de Vista de compatibilidad.
Seleccione en la lista "Sitios web que agregó a Vista de compatibilidad". Haga clic en Quitar.


Si no aparece en la lista de "Sitios web que agregó a Vista de compatibilidad" o si sigue viendo una advertencia después de seguir las instrucciones anteriores, confirme que ha instalado las actualizaciones más recientes de Windows.

Si no desea instalar las últimas actualizaciones de Windows, siga estas instrucciones:

En la parte superior de Internet Explorer, abra el menú Herramientas y seleccione Configuración de Vista de compatibilidad. Confirme que no figura en la lista "Sitios web que agregó a Vista de compatibilidad". Si está en la lista, haga clic en Quitar.
En la parte inferior de la ventana, compruebe que no estén seleccionadas las casillas de "Incluir listas de sitios web actualizadas de Microsoft" y "Mostrar todos los sitios web en Vista de compatibilidad".

Haga clic en Cerrar.

La página que tenga abierta se actualizará y se mostrará en el modo normal.

Autor: Dpto.IT de 121 Conversation


Ship or Sheep: The Eternal Pronunciation Dilemma

Correct pronunciation is a bit of a dilemma in any new language. There are new consonant combinations, vowels with more than one sound and maybe even a strange nasalized noise. Sometimes you’re delighted to find out that a letter sounds just the same in a new language as in your language. However, when this isn’t the case progress can be difficult and a mistake might be detrimental.

In English, the long e and the short i sounds are a constant source of struggle and jokes for Spanish-speakers. You know you’re stuck at a linguistic impasse if you are scared to talk to native speakers about going to the beach or to ask them for a sheet of paper. So, let’s try to get it straight. 

The short i is the vowel sound in the word sit. The long e is the vowel sound in the word keep. The tongue needs to be dropped a little lower and farther back in the mouth to produce the short i sound. Relaxing your tongue a bit may help. The tongue needs to be spread out flat to pronounce the long e.

It’s also a great idea to look in the mirror. To make the long e sound you have to smile J but to make the short i, your mouth should be slightly opened, not smiling.
Try saying these word pairs aloud while looking in the mirror. Look at the diagram for guidance: the short i sound should come from the back of your mouth and your tongue should be raised higher than for the long e sound.

dip / deep
grin / green
lick / leak
ship / sheep
bit / beat

Diagram | 121 Conversation

Keep practicing, don’t be shy and don’t give up!

I prefer to sit in the passenger's seat.
I prefer to sit in the passenger's seat.
We need to fill this position as soon as possible.
I feel like a complete idiot.
The ship should arrive on December 6.
The sheep mainly eat grass.
Sheep often live on hills and mountains.
His lack of honesty is his Achilles' heel.
That table does not fit in the small room.
A long time ago, people had to use their own feet to measure things.
Paul lives on the first floor.
Why do leaves change color in the fall?

Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.


In today’s article I will write a few recommendations about colloquial abbreviations in emails, a well as the appropriate use of greetings and saying farewell. In the first place, I explain how to write a formal email to a person or a company that is unknown to us. Then I enumerate the cases in which one can use less formal writing, paying attention to abbreviations that can only appear in the latter type of correspondence.

My first advice is that if you are writing an email to a person or a company for the first time, it will be better for you to use formal expressions, which you will be able to substitute for more familiar ones when you have already exchanged some mails and you get to know your partner better. Hence, I highly recommend always starting the email saying ‘Dear Mr’ or ‘Dear Mgrs.’; another option is to begin your email saying ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’. Both alternatives are correct, but if you don’t know the treatment that you should use with the person you are addressing, you can write his/her name after the word ‘Dear’ (for instance, ‘Dear Thomas Smith’), though people tend to consider this option more informal. After the person’s status, it is convenient to write ‘if I may’ between parenthesis, as an act of deference to whom you are writing to.

You should finish your email writing at the bottom ‘Regards’ or ‘Kind regards’. You can say ‘Best regards’, too, but in this case you are implying that you empathise in some way with the people at the other side of your screen. Apart from the alternatives that I have just mentioned, there are two more expressions that are appropriate in this context: first, if you started the email saying ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, you can finish it saying ‘Yours faithfully’; second, if you began with ‘Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms’, you can use ‘Yours sincerely’. It is important to note that, after all the expressions that I have pointed out in this paragraph, you must write your full name in the following line to sing the email.

Either if you know the person to whom you are addressing your email, or if you have already exchanged some word with him/her/them (though you needn’t be in close terms with each other), there are some alternatives to make your communication less formal. On the one hand, you can start saying ‘Hello’ and the name of the person, but you will only say ‘Hi’ if you are really close to each other. There is also an expression that is halfway between both alternatives: ‘Greetings’, which is regarded as more neutral and is rarely used. When it is time to say farewell, you can choose between different options: ‘All the very best’ implies affection towards the person you are addressing, whereas ‘Best’ is more neutral, and ‘Cheers’ is regarded as the less formal of all, which is the reason for its use mainly in emails exchanged between friends. In the following line you can write your first name, or only your initials in really colloquial correspondence.
It is precisely in the latter kind of emails that one can use colloquial abbreviations whose meaning has been previously agreed by common use, such as ‘asap’ (‘as soon as possible’), brb (‘be right back’), btw (‘by the way’), fyi (‘for your information’), idk (‘I don’t know’), lol (‘lots of laughs’), np (‘no problem’), omg (‘oh my God’), etc.

To sum up, the first decision one needs to make when writing an email is what his/her relation is to the person to which it is addressed. Once we have clarified this question, we only need to use the appropriate tone and to remember the main expressions and their correspondence, in order to use them right and to cause a good impression in the addressee, whoever he/she might be. 

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".

Sentence Analysis: “I’ll Get That For Ya”

What could this sentence even mean?  If you don’t have just one answer pop into your head, don’t worry, neither do I.  There are so many possible meanings of this sentence that it’s impossible to define. It could be “Te lo cojo”, “Te lo paso”, “Contesto tu móvil”, “Te invito”, or something totally different!  So let’s break it down.

1. Will.

First of all, in English, if we’re talking about the future, even an extremely near future, we have to use the future tense. No present tense allowed!  Here we don’t use the “going to” future because it’s most likely a spontaneous decision.

"Will" often suggests that the speaker is offering to do something for someone else. We also use "will" to respond to someone else's complaint or request for help or when we request that someone help us or volunteer to do something for us. Similarly, we use "will not" or "won't" when we refuse to voluntarily do something.

Ex: I’ll call you later.
       I’ll pick up your pencil for you.
       I’ll carry your bag for you, it looks heavy.

2. Get.

The age-old problem of a word that has a million meanings. 

The most common meanings of get are:
            To obtain: She got her driving license last week
            To receive: I got a postcard in the mail.
            To buy: She got this new coat from Zara last week.
            To arrive: She got home late because of all the traffic.

But that doesn’t include all the phrasal verbs get is used in!

3. Ya.

This part is easier.  “Ya” is an abbreviation for you in this sentence.  When it is pronounced /y ə/ (uh like but) it means you.  However, it also means yes.  When it is pronounced /yah/ (ah like cat) it means yes.

So, hopefully this helps decipher this strange but useful and common sentence! 

Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.

You wish you could communicate better in a fluent way?

Take the bull by the horns Así de claro, "coger al toro por los cuernos".

Take the bull by the horns and deal with this situation in a firm way. Conversation on Skype with a personal teacher will grant you the confidence you need in order to let the words flow easily. You can learn a different vocabulary, like idioms or why not some slang, with your own teacher. It's a one-to-one exchange, where you can repeat the right pronunciation and correct your mistakes in a friendly way. The icing on the cake !*

*The icing on the cake: Literalmente, es el glaseado o la cobertura en el pastel. Corresponde a la expresión "la guinda del pastel".

Autora: Vivian Martin
Profesora de 121 Conversation de Inglés con mucha experiencia. Se adapta a las necesidades del alumno y procura tener clases dinámicas. Además, prepara específicamente para los exámenes de Inglés del British Council: PET, FCE, CAE.


El 12 de octubre, llamado Día de la Raza, Día de la Hispanidad, Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural, Día de las Américas o Día de la Resistencia Indígena, la mayoría de los países hispanoamericanos festejan el nacimiento de una nueva identidad proveniente del encuentro y la mezcla de los pueblos originarios que vivían en América y los colonizadores que llegaron de España en 1942, bajo el mando de Cristobal Colón.

En Estados Unidos, es el segundo lunes del mes de Octubre cuando se celebra el "Columbus Day". En Nueva York, es una fiesta conmemorativa con impresionantes desfiles. Los italianos festejan especialmente este día y para recordar que Cristobal Colón era un navegante genovés, el Empire State se ilumina de colores de la bandera italiana. Casualmente, esta fecha coincide con el "Día de Acción de Gracias" en Canadá.


Countable and UNCountable noun article

English isn't easy! We count the grains in bread but not the bread itself. We count loaves of bread and slices of bread, but we don't count bread! Why not? How can you tell? How can you keep all these countables and uncountables straight!? No need to fret, just keep reading and I'll explain it bit by bit (by the way, you can count bits of bread and even crumbs, but not the bread itself!).

So, the main difference between these two types of nouns is that countables you can count, and uncountables, you can't.  It's not quite as simple as all that but let's think.  You have some water.  Can you count it? No!  You can count bottles of water or glasses of water but the water itself can’t be counted.  One of the most common uncountable nouns is liquids.  Water, milk, soda and juice are all uncountable.  Likewise, solids with small parts or that can be melted into a liquid are also uncountable.  For example, rice, pasta and ice cream are all uncountable.  You might argue that you could count each grain of rice or each piece of spaghetti but who really wants to do that! Butter, wax, grass, popcorn and cheese also fall into this category.  Remember though, we do find ways to count these items such as scoops (of ice cream), pieces (of cheese), kernels (of popcorn), blades (of grass) and more.

In addition to food and drink, concepts are usually uncountable.  It’s logical! How can you count music or psychology or art?  Most things that are abstract are uncountable and all uncountable nouns are treated in the singular.  For example, “this music is horrendous” or “love always triumphs.”  Likewise, whenever we modify an uncountable noun, we must use an appropriate modifier.  “Some, any, a little and much” all modify these nouns (many and a few do NOT).  The last rule is that we don’t use the indefinite article (a or an) with uncountable nouns but the definite article (the) is ok.  So, let’s look at some examples that put these rules into practice:

I’ve got some rice.
Do you have any milk?
Music is my passion.
Their lawn doesn’t have much grass.


I’ve got so many grains of rice.
Do you have many glasses of milk?
The music that she plays is lovely.
There are a few blades of grass on their lawn.

In conclusion, liquids, solids that melt, and small part solids are uncountable.  Abstract concepts like love and happiness, news and information, money, power and electricity are also uncountable. We use uncountable modifiers, no indefinite article and they are treated in the singular.  However, most uncountables can be counted by specifying how we will count them.  Try some exercises yourself!

I’ve got so (much/
many) water.
He thinks that (a/ø) money is the root of all evil.
The news (is/are) very depressing.
They have (many/a little) popcorn.
Do you have (any/many) butter?

Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.

Breve tutorial de instalación de Skype

Dicen que la forma más fácil para aprender como se hacen las cosas, principalmente, es viendo como se haces. Aquí os dejamos un pequeño tutorial de poco más de dos minutos que te permitira instalar Skype en tu ordenador independientemente de la plataforma que uses en el.

Después envíale tu identificativo de Skype al profesor y él te llamará a la hora y día acordados para que recibas tu clase 121 Conversation