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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.

Society and work: spaces for intercultural links

Hi everyone; in this article I wish to share with you some thoughts about the implications of today’s multicultural society in work environments, as well as in the classroom. Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, either in Spain or in any other Western country, it was rather common to share the classroom and the working space with people that had the same culture as us. There were only a few countries with well-known imperial past that hosted some people from their former colonies, but they were an exception and they used to regard immigrants as second-class citizens. A radical shift in the situation occurred by the late 1990s and early 2000s, when economic prosperity and mass media spread the Western way of life and turned the ‘civilised West’ into de destination of hundreds of thousands of migrants that longed for a better living.
As a result of the situation, we share our everyday spaces with people from different cultural contexts and it is necessary to stress the importance of tolerance and respect to make possible a comfortable work atmosphere, specially in a moment of economic recession like the one we are living, in which xenophobic proclaims that blame ‘the other’ for our own faults gain more and more popular support. Either at the school, at the university, or at the worksite, we must regard other cultures as experiences different from our own that we have to know in order to enrich our knowledge of the world around us. In our minds, ‘the other’ must always be an endless source of information about how different peoples experience life in a broad sense: how they live religiousness, what their values are, which their main celebrations and their special rituals are, what their consideration towards the other is, etc. Getting to know these aspects will not only help us understand everyone better, even people from our same culture: it can even make us reconsider some aspects of our lives and change certain elements of our cultural discourse to adapt them to our daily life. In addition, it will enable us to use the proper expressions when talking to other colleagues and to understand better what they imply when they make suggestions or remarks, too: this is the main goal and the best result of studying and using foreign languages in our job (or any other daily routines) from a grammatical as well as from a cultural perspective. And that is why nowadays a well-respected trend in teaching and learning foreign languages is to frame them within the cultural background in which they were produced.
In the different scenarios that I have mentioned before there are always very good chances to become interested about different cultural elements: religion, celebrations and rituals, costumes... that become especially visible in certain moments. For instance, if we are dealing with a Brazilian company we will need of course to speak Portuguese, but we will also have to bear in mind that there are significant differences between our concept of time and theirs, so if you want something finished for ‘tomorrow’ you may want to clarify that you mean ‘the day after today’, not ‘a certain moment within the next few days’. Another common situation occurs when we are sent to work in a foreign country, and we receive lessons of its language but not of its work culture, that is: what their daily timetable is, whether they respect punctuality or not, to what degree they trust each person’s individual initiatives... And of course, it is crucial to know about how people tend to salute each other in other cultures: in Spain men usually shake hands, women kiss each other in both cheeks, and men and women do the same between them, since shaking hands is regarded as extra formal and rather cold. But... look out! French people always kiss each other every time they meet again, whereas the British and the Germans tend to shake hands, as do the Italians. As you can see, all the aforementioned aspects may escape our thoughts, but they can easily lead to uncomfortable misunderstandings if they are not taken into account, since they will condition our interaction with the others.

The ideal attitude towards different cultural manifestations is curiosity and eagerness to learn, as well as to empathise with them and turn them into a part of us when we need to use them in our job. Thus we will create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, and also of reciprocal influence that makes us mentally wealthier and socially wiser. And that is the main reason why we must transmit these values to our children, so they become rooted in everyone’s minds from an early stage of their lives. One may argue that sometimes we confront intolerance when trying to know ‘the other’, but if we persevere and at the same time we show a good disposition to share our own cultural discourse, resistance will undoubtedly give way to a more welcoming attitude to dialogue and to making a multicultural society possible. 

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".


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.

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.

Niveles de competencia lingüística

¿Qué es el MCER?

El Consejo de Europa publicó en 2001 el Marco Común Europeo de Referencia para las lenguas (MCER) con el fin de unificar directrices para la enseñanza y el aprendizaje de las lenguas dentro del contexto europeo.
El MCER es un documento cuyo objetivo es proporcionar una base común para la elaboración de programas de lenguas, orientaciones curriculares, exámenes, manuales y materiales de enseñanza contribuyendo de este modo a facilitar la movilidad entre los ámbitos educativo y profesional.

Niveles de competencia lingüística | 121 Conversation

¿Qué son los niveles de referencia?
Una de las herramientas más determinadas del MCER es el establecimiento de una escala de 6 niveles comunes en los que se divide el progreso en el aprendizaje de una lengua: A1 (Acceso), A2 (Plataforma), B1 (Umbral), B2 (Avanzado), C1 (Dominio operativo eficaz) y C2 (Maestría).
La numeración de los niveles permite que se realicen más subdivisiones sin perder la referencia del objetivo principal del que procede. La mayoría de las instituciones públicas y privadas ya han adaptado sus enseñanzas de idiomas al MCER. La duración y la extensión de contenidos de cada nivel varían entre sí. Por lo que, cada institución ha optado por dividir en 2, 3 o 4 sub-niveles cada uno nivel de los 6 niveles del MCER en función de la distribución y organización de sus cursos.

Un enfoque orientado a la acción

El cuadro descrito es una herramienta de ayuda para la autoevaluación sobre la base de los seis niveles. Se pretende ayudar a los alumnos a identificar sus destrezas principales con el fin de autoevaluar su nivel de dominio de la lengua.

El MCER delimita las 5 capacidades que el alumno debe controlar en cada uno de los niveles para las categorías comprender, hablar y escribir:

CO: Comprensión oral
CE: Comprensión escrita
IO: Interacción oral
EO: Expresión oral
EE: Expresión escrita
Teóricamente, se considera que un nivel del A1 al C2 está adquirido cuando las 5 destrezas lingüísticas sean validadas dentro de ese mismo nivel. Todas las situaciones intermedias son posibles, por ejemplo, una persona puede tener un nivel avanzado en comprensión escrita y sin embargo, tener un nivel umbral en expresión oral.
Poco a poco, la mayoría de las instituciones de enseñanza de idiomas intentan poner fin a la preponderancia de la parte escrita que ha estado presente durante mucho tiempo a favor de un enfoque equilibrado y específico para trabajar por igual cada destreza. Se desarrollan pues diferentes actividades cuyo objetivo es el de favorecer la adquisición de todas las destrezas y evaluaciones especificas para cada una de ellas.