Monthly Archives: May 2011

B2.2 – FCE Writing Part 2 – Letter of application for a job

One of the options for part 2 of paper 2 (writing) might be to write a letter applying for a job (120 – 180 words).

The task will probably give you an advert for the job and some criteria for applicants:  e.g.:

Want a summer job in a beautiful location? A campsite located in stunning Scottish countryside has the following vacancy:  Receptionist.  A good level of English and another foreign language is required / experience of working with customers would be useful).


Take a look at the 1st table below and think about the content of your letter:

Content – what should be included?
  Yes No
A description of my personality?    
A description of my education / professional qualifications?    
A description of my career so far?    
(Invented) references from previous employers?    
A description of my professional skills?    
A paragraph about why I want the job?    
A description of my hobbies / interests etc.?    

Comments / considerations / ideas:

Content – what should be included?
  Yes No
A description of my personality? You could include some personal description but the key thing is to make it relevant to the job you are applying for.  Decide which of the following is better:  (a) ‘…I am cheerful, sociable, independent and responsible…’ or (b) ‘…I am cheerful and sociable which means I can work well with customers or in a team.  In addition, I’m very independent and responsible so I am capable of working alone…’
A description of my education / professional qualifications? Maybe, but remember you have a 180 word limit.  You can only be brief and, again, the qualifications you mention should be relevant to the job.
A description of my career so far? A few lines on this might help you get the job if you can show that you have directly relevant experience which would help you do the job you are applying for.  Which of the following examples do this?(a) ‘My experience of dealing with the public as a sales assistant would be valuable in your campsite reception as I know how important it is to provide accurate information in order to meet customer’s needs.’(b) Although I have never worked in a reception, I have experience of dealing with customers from my previous position as a call centre advisor.  As a result I am very people-focussed and polite.’

(c)  I have previously worked in Information Technology – maybe I could help you develop your website?

(Invented) references from previous employers? Most application letters don’t quote from references but they often include a standard phrase:  ‘Written references are available on request.’  However, you could say something like:  ‘I love working in a team and previous colleagues have told me that they appreciate the support I give them.’
A description of my professional skills? Essential!  Tell you prospective boss about all the things you can do that make you a great candidate for the job!  Computer / telephone / language / management / administration / time-management / interpersonal skills.  Again, include things that are relevant to the job you are applying for.  If the job advert in the question says that “applicants should have a good level of English” and “experience working with customers is preferred” then you must demonstrate this in your application letter. 
A few lines about why I want the job? Useful.  You could say you are have studied something relevant to the job and say you are looking to learn more about that industry and widen your experience.  Keep things professional and relevant though.  You don’t need to explain that you are desperate to find a job and will do anything!
A description of my hobbies / interests etc.? Could be useful.  Again, make your description relevant to the job.  Something like:  ‘I really enjoy playing computer games and cycling in my free time,’ might be irrelevant for the job of campsite receptionist but something like:  ‘My hobbies include lots of outdoor activities like walking and cycling so I think I could identify well with customers at the campsite.’

Style / register / effect on the reader / range of language

Your audience for this text is a prospective manager who you want to impress.  Therefor your letter should be formal and professional.   It should also be enthusiastic.  You are writing in order to get the job.  Sell yourself and make sure you get the interview by including positive language such as adjectives for personal qualities (revision:  Unit 5 (page 60?) in the course book – vocabulary:  The world of work).  Your letter will probably include language for description and explanation.

Organisation and cohesion:

Your letter should be clear to follow so organising your ideas in clear paragraphs os essential.  Linking expressions and a clear opening and closing comment will also make your letter more cohesive.

Editing activity:

Here are some extracts from some application letters which were written by learners preparing for the First Certificate exam.  Can you suggest any improvements to the accuracy, style, vocabulary?  (They were writing for a job as a trainee travel agent).

Extract 1:  I think I would like to be involved in this job.  I think I have good skills to get this job.  I am sociable, persuasive, friendly, professional and very responsible.  Also I can speak six languages:  English, Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Italian.

Comments:  That first sentence doesn’t sound too enthusiastic, does it?  How could you rephrase it to make it sound more sure?  Could you also add a supporting reason?   Why does the applicant want the job?  The list of skills and personal qualities is great:  it shows the examiner that the candidate has a wide range of vocabulary but the examples could be made a bit more relevant to the job.  Try completing the sentence beginnings below with an ending that shows how the skills/qualities would be useful for a trainee travel agent:

I think I have good skills and personal qualities which are suitable for this position.  Firstly, I am sociable and friendly which means that I could……………………………………………………..  Furthermore, I am persuasive so I would be able to……………………………………..  Finally, I am very responsible for this reason you can ……………………………………………………

(Notice how the words in bold above are used to link ideas together.)

Extract 2:  I have worked in other agencies before but I did not like the place very much.

Comments:  Doesn’t sound too promising does it?  Which of the following send(s) the most positive message to a potential employer?  Add a similar sentence of your own.

(i)  I have worked in travel agencies before so I have a good understanding of the industry.  (ii)  I have experience of working in small travel agencies which has given me a good background in the industry but I am now looking for a fresh challenge with a larger company and better opportunities to develop my career.  (iii)  As well as having a degree in tourism, I did some part-time Saturday work in a travel agency while I was studying which demonstrates my interest in this field.  I would take full advantage of the opportunity of trainee travel agent to make this my career.

Extract 3:  I am particularly interested in working with you in Travelociad because in this job I can help people decide on the travels.

Comments:  What alternatives to “the travels” might be better here?

Extract 4:  How many do you pay?

Comments:  Is this appropriate?  If the writing task tells you to ask for more details about the salary, how could you do this less directly?  (Indirect question form?)

One more thing:  This writing task gives you the opportunity to be creative.  Don’t reject this option in part 2 because it’s not the kind of job you’d like to do.  Imagine the profile of the ideal candidate for this job and try planning a quick CV for them.  Ask yourself:  Who would love this job?  What kind of applicant are the employers looking for?  Imagine yourself into the shoes of that candidate before you write. 

Oh, and one more:  When you plan, check to make sure that everything you are going to include is relevant for the job you are applying for.  When you’ve finished writing, check back to make sure your letter is in the right register – don’t be afraid to make revisions to the text you have written.  You don’t need to rewrite it again if you change things, just make sure your changes are clear for the examiner to follow.

There is an example of an application writing task on page 6 of the latest homework sheet (writing).  I look forward to receiving your letters.


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Reading – The one man cathedral


One of the most curious day trips off the beaten track from Madrid has to be to the town of Mejorada del Campo and, specifically, the under construction cathedral of Don Justo.

The idea behind this post is to practise speed reading skills:  There are 4 texts to read as quickly as possible, looking for specific information that might be contained in them.  How quickly can you complete the activity below?

Put “yes” or “no” if the text mentions the idea in the statements:

  Statement Text 1 Text 2 Text 3 Text 4
A The text explains Justo Gallego’s reasons for building the cathedral.        
B The text reveals where Justo Gallego gets materials and money from.        
C The text talks about the legal dilemma facing the authorities.        
D The text refers to a TV advert that helped raise the profile of the cathedral.        
E The text mentions people who have helped Justo Gallego in building the cathedral.        
F The writer of the text gives an opinion on what should happen to the cathedral in the future.        
G The text talks about Justo Gallego’s architectural preferences.        

Texts 1-4:

  1. Postcard from Mejorada del Campo, Will Bureaucracy Fell Spain’s One-Man Cathedral?  Andres Cala, Aug 31, 2010 – Time magazine online
  2. Madman or miracle worker?  Don Justo and the DIY cathedral.  Kate Turner, Tales of a Brit Abroad blog.
  3. Don Justo’s Self Built Cathedral, April 2005, Citynoise
  4. Madrid man builds cathedral from junk, Dec 2010, BBC

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Topic – Society: Protests in Spain

Banners draped over a billboard advert during the May protest in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, May 2011

A few links to English language media coverage of the May protests in Spain:

BBC News:  Spain protesters defy ban to remain in Madrid square  (includes video), Youths defiant at ‘Spanish revolution’ camp (more in-depth coverage), How the story developed:  18th May:  Spanish youth rally in Madrid echoes Eygpt protests, 19th May:  Spain sit-in over unemployment (includes video) , 20th May:  Call for protest ban in Spain for elections (includes video)

Guardian:  Spanish protestors head for standoff with police in Madrid square (Fri 20th May)

Channel 4:  Spain’s protestors vow to continue demonstrating (Fri 20th May)

Boston globe:  Tens of thousands of protesters defy ban in Spain  (Fri 20th May)

Entrance to the train station covered in protest messages, Puerta del Sol, Madrid, 20th May 2011


Some ideas for things to do with this topic:

1)  Speaking:  Talk to yourself!  (probably best to do this when you are home alone or find a friend to help).  (i)  visit a photo gallery with images from the protests (BBC page:, El País:, choose one image which you think best captures / is most symbolic of this week’s events to use on the front page of newspaper supplement about the protests.  Talk to yourself, describing the photo and saying why you think it would make a good cover image for the supplement.

(ii)  The two pictures below both show occasions when large groups of people gathered in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid.  Compare the photos and comment on:  (a)  Why the people have chosen to be at the square, (b)  how their feelings might be similar or different in the two pictures.

Football fans celebrate the Spanish national team's success at the World Cup in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, June 2010

Protesters and curious onlookers at the Puerta del Sol Protest, Madrid, Spain, 20th May 2011

When you have finished, you could write up your comments and post them on the blog.

2)  Writing:  (i)  Find an image from the photo galleries above which show people.  Put yourself in their shoes for a momment and a write a short diary entry for them.  How are they feeling?  What have they done today?  What are their hopes?  Fears?  Why are they there?  Your character could be inside or outside the protest:  a demonstrator, a politician, a police officer, a “compra oro!’ worker.  (ii)  Imagine it’s the year 2021.  Ten year’s ago you went to a protest in Madrid and camped outside in the main square for a week.  How did your experience change you?  Has anything changed in your country since those long May nights in 2011?  How do you feel looking back on that time now?  (iii)  Cambridge exam-like essay:  Politicians should do more to actively listen to public opinion.  To what extent do you think this statement is true?  Include arguments both in favour and against the statement.  Pre-writing reading:  “We don’t want to remove the politicians, we want them to come down to street level.”  (El País in English interview with organisers of 15-M)  (iv)  Four thoughts:  This link should take you to a picture of 4 people in a cafe overlooking the square:  Imagine what the 4 people are thinking – write a few lines for each person (Link here:

Summarising:  (i)  Compare the coverage in two articles / editorial comments in two different Spanish newspapers.  Summarise, in English, any differences in tone about how the information is presented (e.g. critical / neutral).  Try to keep your summary brief – 70 words max.

Translation:  Find some slogans from the protest, translate them into English / Spanish.  Here are some to get you started:

(i)  “Si Ana Botella se deja de rastas ahoramos una pasta.”  (Flikr photo)  (ii)  “Apaga la TV, enciende tu mente.”  (iii)  “En este país se puede acampar para un concierto de Justin Bieber y ver la última de Crepúsculo…pero no para defender tus derechos.”

Edit:  18th August 2011.  Just came across this podcast from The Economist on ‘The Indignados’:

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<a href=’javascript:void(0)’ onclick=’““, “feedroom”, “width=402, height=336, scrollbars=0, resizable=1, status=no, toolbar=no, location=no”);return false;’>Los indignados</a> (audio, search “By subject”, “Europe”)


Filed under B2.2 - Reading, C2.2 - Topics, Topic - Society

Topic – Culture – Literature

Following on from our discussion in class yesterday and the conversation between the two short story writers we listened to, here is a link to a Guardian blog:  World Literature Tour:  Spain.

A useful CPE activity would be to collect words related to the topic of literature and words/expressions you could use in reviews (a CPE exam writing text type), articles on the topic or for the long turn in the speaking exam.

You can read contributions in the comments section about literature in English about Spain or literature in Castilian or get involved in the discussion yourself.  Link:  World Literature Tour:  Spain

Or you could post here, answering the same question:  Which are your favourite reads from Spanish literature?

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FCE Use of English part 4 – transformations with phrasal verbs (1)

In part four of paper 3, Use of English, candidates transform a sentence beginning and ending so that it has a similar meaning to another sentence.

This is testing how well you can control and use different structures, patterns and vocabulary to paraphrase information.  Basically, how flexibly you can use English to communicate messages in different ways.

Here are some variations on the actual exam activity.  Read sentence one and then order the words below so that they create a sentence with a similar meaning to the first one.

The examples here are aimed at testing phrasal verbs / expressions we have seen during the course.  There is an example first.

0)   Since the recession began many people have been forced to spend less.

Order these words:  start cut recession spending have of of the a people the to had down on lot since

Answers:  Since the start of the recession a lot of people have had to cut down on spending / A lot of people have had to cut down on spending since the start of the recession.

1)  I have finally decided what I’m going to do in the summer.

Order these words:  made  about  going  this  finally  my  do  I  have  mind  what  am  summer  I  up  to

2)  I really admire the way she has coped with her health problems.

Order these words:  really  because  she  coped  problems  her  to  her  of  health  up  the  look  way  with  I  has

3)  Could you give me some more information about the course?

Order these words:  mind  would  details  into  the  about  you  more  going  course?

4)  She is such an effective communicator.

Order these words:  gets  so  ideas  she  well  her  across

5)  I will need to check the numbers again and make sure there are no mistakes in the report.

Order these words:  have  will  over  report  numbers  again  in  no  mistakes  to  to  the  there  are  look  the  ensure  I


1:  I have finally made up my mind about what I am going to do this summer.

2:  I really look up to her because of the way she has coped with her health problems / Because of the way she has coped with her health problems, I really look up to her.

3:  Would you mind going into more details about the course?

4:  She gets her ideas across so well. / She gets her ideas across so well.

5:  I will have to look over the numbers in the report again to ensure there are no mistakes.  /  I will have to look the numbers in the report over again to ensure there are no mistakes.  /  I will have to look over the numbers again to ensure there are no mistakes in the report.  / To ensure there are no mistakes in the report I will have to look over the numbers again.  etc.

Check the phrasal verbs:

to reduce spending / spend less money:  to c _ _ d _ _ _ o _ spending

to decide / make a decision:  to m _ _ _ your mind u _ / to m _ _ _ u _ your mind

to admire someone:  to l _ _ _ u _ t _ someone

to give more information:  to g _ i _ _ _ (more) detail(s) (+ about something)

to communicate ideas (well):  to g _ _ your ideas / point a _ _ _ _ _ (well)

to check information / details e.g. numbers, figures etc.:  to l _ _ _ o _ _ _ some information / details etc.

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Coolbrands (1) Introduction, reading and vocabulary

In recent classes we’ve been speaking and writing about brands based around an annual study called Coolbrands.  This study is administered by The Centre for Brand Analysis in the UK.  The study looks at different brands across a variety of markets and decides if they are “cool” based on 6 criteria:  style, innovation, originality, authenticity, desirability and uniqueness.

You can read some reformulated texts that students produced and do some language activities with them on the Coolbrands (2) post.

For more information on the winning companies in Coolbrands 2010, check out the digital presentation: and info about the selection process and winners:


Here are some activities to revise expressions we looked at in class to talk about brands:

1)  In recent years a number of Apple products have taken the world by _________ .

(A)  thunder  (B) lightning  (C)  storm (D)  wind

Check your answer:  How ipod took the world by…

2)  Thanks to a memorable advertising campaign, the company managed to ___________ the public’s attention. 

(A)  capture   (B)  arrest  (C)  imprison  (D)  enamoured

3)  When a product becomes successful it can create an enormous ________ about the brand because everyone is talking about it.

(A)  buzz     (B)  gossip     (C)  rumour     (D)  whisper

4)  If a brand really wants to be cool, it needs a strategy that will keep it ahead of the _______ so its competitors don’t copy what it does and overtake it.  That’s why innovation is so important.

(A)  match     (B)  game     (C)  team     (D)  sport

5)  In fashion a _________ is someone who wears or makes clothes that other people soon start wearing.  In business, it’s a brand with style and innovative ideas that other brands try to follow and replicate.

(A)  trend-follower     (B)  trend-breaker     (C)  trend-bringer     (D)  trend-setter

6)  Some styles come and go.  They are fashionable one day but look dated the next.  Coolbrands often have a style that is lasting and ________ the test of time.

(A)  puts up with     (B)  stands     (C)  supports     (D)  takes

7)  A brand that can establish a/an __________ look on all its products (through logos, colour etc.) is instantly identifiable.

(A)  identification     (B)  mark     (C)  signature     (D)  label

8)  Great companies and great brands don’t stand still.  They are constantly __________ by adapting to new trends in the market.

(A)  evolving     (B)  redoing     (C)  unwinding     (D)  devising

9)  If you can get your brand to be synonymous ______ originality or style, you are on the right road to success.

(A)  of     (B)  with     (C)  for     (D)  on

Answers to follow in the comments box below.

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Coolbrands (2) – Learner texts

During our work on Coolbrands in our classes, learners prepared and gave their own mini-presentations about a Spanish brand that they think meets the coolbrands criteria (style, innovation, originality, authenticity, desirability and uniqueness).  Here are some (reformulated) contributions from these classes with some activities to try out:

Disclaimer!  These texts are very positive about the brands they talk about but they aren’t meant to be recommendations or endorsements! 


Tous is a Spanish fashion accessories brand which is a trend setter in our country as well as in Europe and the US.  It produces iconic, cutting edge jewellery with its distinctive bear symbol.

Tous has successfully created a buzz about its products and kickstarted new trends with new product lines in its segment.  Its growth in the last five years has been phenomenal.  It’s gone from being a small, local, family run business to having shops in the most important cities around the world.  An enormous growth in popularity, desirability and brand awareness.  There’s always a long queue around the Tous concession in El Corte Ingles at Christmas.

Tous produces high-end products in a classic but modern style.  It’s expensive but you can always buy something small for someone special.  Tous is also expanding into fragrances, bags and shoes .  A growing business and an example for others to follow.

Activities with the Tous text:

  1. Rewrite the first sentence – Tous is a Spanish fashion accessories brand which is a trend setter in our country as well as in Europe and the US – using the structure “Not only …. but also….”  to replace “as well as.”
  2. Add more cohesion to the text:  In paragraph 2 where could you include the phrases:  “by way of illustration,” “this is illustrated by” to show you are giving an example?
  3. Add a more complex expression:  In the final sentence the text says Tous is “an example for others to follow.”  Rearrange the following words to make a sentences which have a similar meaning:  (1)  Tous / for / to / provides / companies / a / other / benchmark / follow /  (2)  Tous / should / standards / other / which /  / sets / companies /  follow
  4. Compare the text above to a description of the company from its own website.  Find features in the text (words, expressions, punctuation, structures) which give it cohesion.  Click here for the TOUS text.


Activity:  word-formation:  Use the words given in capitals in brackets to form a word that fits in the space.  There is an example (0)

Camper is a Spanish footwear brand with (0) …worldwide… (WIDE) appeal.  Its shoes are noticeably different from the (1) …………. (STREAM) but at the same time they are both (3) ……………… (COMFORT)and smart.   They offer an alternative to people who want shoes for informal situations which are not too (4) …………….. (SPORT).

Camper always keeps its collection fresh by coming up with new models which always have the (5) ……………… (DISTINCTION) Camper style.  It’s difficult to (6) ………………….. (REPLICATION) a Camper shoe but they are (6) …………… (INSTANT) (7) …………… (RECOGNISE).  Camper has (8) ………….. (TRUE) created something with a style of their own in the footwear segment.  Colourful, stylish and (9) …………….. (TREND) – another Spanish success story. 

VIPS restaurants

Activity:  Make the sentences below into a coherent text by putting them into a logical order.  The sentences have been organised in groups of 3 or 4 which make paragraphs.

Paragraph 1:   

(a)  It is synonymous with convenience, cleanliness and choice, but what is it about VIPS that makes it cool? 

(b)  I will argue that a to meet the criteria of a cool brand, the brand does not necessarily have to be luxurious. 

(c)  Everyone in Madrid has heard of VIPS.

Paragraph 2: 

(a)  Regarding uniqueness, innovation and originality, VIPS is the only place in town where you can not only grab something to eat but also shop with an extended timetable.

(b)  Say you are looking for a last-minute present for someone’s birthday but most of the shops have already closed – VIPS has the answer.

(c)  Let’s look at each of the criteria in turn.

(d)  That means it is really convenient for customers.

(e)  That’s why VIPS has stood the test of time while other companies have sunk without a trace.

(f)  Say you want a meal but it’s too early or too late for most restaurants – you can always turn to VIPS.

(g)  Always open and always available; I would argue that reliability is a really important criteria for labelling something as ‘cool.’ 

Paragraph 3:

(a)  For me that fulfils the criteria of desirability and authenticity.

(b)  So, VIPS is safe bet when you are stuck for something to do.

(c)  The restaurants are always busy – that many people can’t be wrong!

(d)  It’s not just me who thinks so.

(e)  By filling a gap between Fast Food and more up-market restaurants, VIPS has ensured its popularity with people of all ages.

(f)  What’s more, while the food might not be out of this world, there’s variety and fresh ingredients which makes it great value for money.

Paragraph 4:

(a)  What about style?

(b)  However, what about the product mix?

(c)  Anywhere that you can go in to pick up some milk when you’ve run out on a Sunday and come back with a few good films to watch is cool in my book.  

(d)  Okay, I’ll admit that the atmosphere, the design, the uniforms, the lighting, none of them are particularly stylish.

(e)  From where I stand, style is choice.

Paragraph 5:

(a)  All things considered, to my mind, VIPS scores highly in all the criteria for a cool brand.

(b)  When it comes to building brand image and identity – that’s really cool.  

(c)  It might not be the first brand that comes to mind when you are trying to define what’s “cool”, but in my view it ticks all the boxes and adds extra value in terms of reliability.

Loreak Mendian

Activity:  There are unneccessary words hidden in the text.  Edit the text, deleting these words.

Loreak Mendian is a fashion brand that it is synonymous with original design and the key point is that it is also comfortable.  It is associated with surfing, especially around the Northern Spain.  The company started up in the port area of San Sebastian/Donostia selling T-shirts with a very simple designs in a Hip Hop style with a daisy logo on them.  In next to no time, these became must-have products.  From T-shirts they moved into hoodies which were stylish, comfortable and well-made.  They were took the world by storm.  However, the real sign of innovation in this brand has been the way in they have gradually upgraded their products.  They made them smarter and the materials got better too.  As a result of, the brand became more sophisticated and urban with stores opening in Paris and London.  To illustrate this shift from casual to premium, just think back to since ten years ago when the signature Loreak Mendian item was a hoodie.  Today you would spend £200 on a coat.  Despite of this change, the brand has maintained its philosophy from the very beginning.  For these reasons, Loreak Mendian are very true trend setters with a distinctive style whose clothes are the highly desirable.       


Loreak Mendian is a fashion brand that it is synonymous with original design and the key point is that it is also comfortable.  It is associated with surfing, especially around the Northern Spain.  The company started up in the port area of San Sebastian/Donostia selling T-shirts with a very simple designs in a Hip Hop style with a daisy logo on them.  In next to no time, these became must-have products.  From T-shirts they moved into hoodies which were stylish, comfortable and well-made.  They were took the world by storm.  However, the real sign of innovation in this brand has been the way in they have gradually upgraded their products.  They made them smarter and the materials got better too.  As a result of, the brand became more sophisticated and urban with stores opening in Paris and London.  To illustrate this shift from casual to premium, just think back to since ten years ago when the signature Loreak Mendian item was a hoodie.  Today you would spend £200 on a coat.  Despite of this change, the brand has maintained its philosophy from the very beginning.  For these reasons, Loreak Mendian are very true trend setters with a distinctive style whose clothes are the highly desirable. 

Reading link:  read more about Loreak Mendian here.

More answers to follow in the comments section.


Filed under Advanced Professional English, B2 - Professional English