Hello, everyone! I hope that you are saving enough energy for one of the most emotive moments of the year: Christmas, which we will be celebrating next week. In the Catholic world, each family and each culture has its own way of experiencing the symbolic birth of Jesus Christ to redeem the Humanity from sin. But do we know what the origins of Christmas are? And, which is more important, who is Santa Claus and why does he show such a big generosity in bringing presents to kids around the World? Let’s explore the sense and the evolution of this celebration. Will you join me?

In Ancient times the winter solstice was a crucial moment for every human community after the invention of agriculture and cattle rising: during the autumn, darkness had conquered daily life, shortening the hours of insolation and condemning the people to a season of terror, when they lived in permanent fear of being attacked by bad spirits and of not seeing the light again. As a result of increasing darkness, harvest could not go on either, so the whole community had to live on its savings, hoping that the gods were beneficent enough as to allow them to grow food again within the next weeks. December 21st marked the moment when their good hopes came true: once more, darkness would give way to sunlight, which would re-conquer its territory little by little, letting people undertake their rural occupations again until spring rewarded them for their efforts, with natural species came back to life in a whole explosion of colours. That is why the Romans institutionalised the celebration of the winter solstice as the Saturnalia, in order to honour Saturn, god of agriculture, between December 17th and 23rd. When Christianity became official in the Roman Empire, by the end of the 4th century A.D., priests and other religious authorities thought it convenient to make Jesus’ birthdate coincide with that of the Saturnalia, which was already so popular, to make it easier for the new religion to win support among Roman people. Only they moved it a few days forward, from December 21st to the 24th.
And what about Santa Claus? In him two different traditions merge: on the one hand, that of Teutonic god Odin, who was believed to give presents to children; on the other hand, that of Saint Nicolas of Bari, archbishop of Myra (in Turkey) in the 4th century A.D., who assisted a father that had not enough money to marry his three daughters by giving the latter a vast amount of golden coins, which he put into the sockets that the girls had hung out on the window of their house.  As centuries passed by, the man who had been so benevolent not only towards those three sisters, but also to every children around him, was remembered every Christmas in the shape of an elderly character, with white beard and moustache, always smiling, who gave presents to children that had behaved properly along the year.

 That is how present-day Christmas celebrations took place, adding of course the most important element: the familiar atmosphere that presides the dinner that we share with our beloved, or the love and tenderness that we provide to people that cannot spend the night with their relatives, but whom we try to make feel like home. Because the ‘Christmas spirit’ must be present in our lives not only in December, but also during the whole year. Don’t you agree?

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".

There were three of us

“There were three of us”

When telling a story or describing something, it’s quite common to have to talk about the number of people or things at any place in time.  In English we have a rather precise way to do this, so today we’re going to shed some light on this strange construction.  The sentence: “There were three of us,” means Éramos tres and many Spanish speakers have the tendency to say, “We were three”—but that’s incorrect! In English, if we want to express the idea of how many people or things were at a certain event/involved in a situation, we need to use:

·         The verb there is/there are OR it +to be (these can be conjugated in the past, present or future, depending on the situation)
·         The number of people or things
·         "of"
·         The accusative form of the personal pronoun (us, you, them).  Remember, since we’re counting, we’re only going to be using plural pronouns.

This little formula should be helpful but let’s look at some examples to make sure it’s clear.

How many books were there in your bag?
There were four of them.

How many students are there in your class?
There are 31 of us.

How many of us are going to participate in the concert?
I’m not; I think it will be just the two of you.

Obviously you could respond to these questions in other ways: “There were four books in your bag”; “there are 31 students in my class”; or “only you two will participate in the concert”.  However, this construction is a great way to show your domination of one of the intricacies of the English language, so try it out!

Here are a few examples to practice on (feel free to make up the answers):

·         How many people are in your family?
·         How many books are on your bookshelf?
·         How many employees are there in your job?
·         How many people were in that restaurant?
·         How many balls are on the field? 

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.

Fitting prepositions into your busy schedule

Fortunately or unfortunately, we have to admit that time rules our life.  We’re constantly scheduling things, marking our calendars, making sure we leave on time to get to the next activity—let’s face it, we’re slaves to the clock!  And so, you can move to a nice a little cabin in the woods and use the sun as your only form to measure time or you can accept your fate and learn how to talk about time terms in English.  Sorry guys, today we’ll have to go with the latter.


  • AT-When discussing time we use the preposition at.

Ex: My ballet lesson is at 3:00 (three o’clock).
        We’re going to the theater at 7:00pm. (at 7pm).

It’s also important to remember that when asking questions about time, we can you “what time is” OR “when”.

Ex: What time is your soccer practice? It’s at 4:30 (four thirty).
        When do you have your dentist appointment?  It’s at 10:45 (ten forty five).

We use “am” and “pm” in spoken English when it’s not clear if we’re talking about the morning or evening, or if we want to emphasize an exact time.

Ex: The business meeting begins at 10am. = (at 10am sharp!)
       I start work at 8pm; it’s the night shift.


  • ON-When we talk about days of the weeks or specific dates, we use the preposition on.

Calendar | Blog 121 Conversation

Ex:  I have English classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.
         My birthday is on December 3rd. OR My birthday is on the third of December.

Remember, we do use an article (the) with dates but we DON’T with days of the week.

Ex: I’ve got a date on Friday. –If we want to be specific we can say “this” but NEVER “the”.
       I’ve got a date this Friday.
       He’s going on vacation this Saturday.


  • IN-When we’re talking about months and years, we use the preposition in.

Ex: I have a huge project due in January.
       When did you get married? We got married in 1984.

So, until you find yourself living on the beach without a care in the world, make sure you use the right preposition when talking about time!

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.

"Yo man/How are you, sir?"

Believe it or not, we all choose our words carefully.  We speak differently when we speak to our bosses, our mothers and our friends.  However, when speaking a foreign language sometimes it’s easy for these differences to get lost in translation and you end up speaking to your boss as if he were your child.  Worrisome or embarrassing at best, it’s important to learn about register in English.  Here we’re going to give you some examples about how you can speak formally and informally but it’s up to you to decide when to use each one. 

1.     Greetings.
A simple “Hello” is a great go-to greeting for friends, family or colleagues.  To be even a bit more formal, you can try “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” 
When talking to your friends you can sound more relaxed by saying “Hey there,” “Hi,” “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?”

2.     Making a request:
In Spanish, there’s a strong tendency to use the imperative form (“Dame el boli; Pásame ese papel”).  However, in English we tend to form these requests as questions using “can” or “could”.

Now let’s look at a formal way to ask these same questions:

  • “I’m sorry to bother you but could you let me borrow your pen?”
  • “Would you mind passing me that paper over there?”
In informal requests we’re more relaxed but the imperative still sounds quite demanding. Sometimes we emper it with a tag question:

  • “Can I borrow your pen?”
  • “Pass that paper, will you?”

3.     Expressing emotion. 
Giving positive feedback or congratulating someone is always appreciated but it’s not really appropriate to say, “Cool!” or “Sweet!” to your boss or professor.

You could say, “Wow, that’s great news.” Or “I’m really impressed, that’s amazing.”  Excellent, wonderful, incredible and terrific are some other options.

You’d be more likely to tell your friend “Oh my god!! That’s awesome!” or “Wow, that’s so cool! Sick!!”

So there you have it.  To finish things off I’ll just say, “Thank you very much for your time,” or, “catch ya’ on the flip side!”

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.