Category Archives: Topic – Society

CAE – M/W and Tue/Thu – Speaking (and writing) about photos

Came across some great photo galleries online this weekend, linked to a competition called Portugal: o teu olhar (Portugal – through your eyes (translation ok?)) organised by

I found two online galleries, one at Instagram and the other on Facebook.

(A) Part 2 Speaking – speaking about two pictures for about a minute

I’ve linked some images to the blog in three categories along with some typical CAE Speaking prompts.  You could use these to practise Part 2 speaking tasks.  You can practise speaking out-loud at home (maybe best done in a whisper to avoid family members thinking you’re speaking to yourself).  You could even record yourself using online presentation tools like brianshark.

Alternatively, you could write down what you’d say – think about how you’d organise your ideas to include a mixture of description and comparison leading to an answer to the question.

Here are some links and question prompts…

Leisure time

  • Why do people enjoy doing things like this?
  • How typical are these activities in Portugal?
  • How do you think the people in these photos will remember the day?
  • What do you think the people in the photos might be talking about?

Photo of a couple sitting on a wall looking out over the Tagus River by alaps

Photo of a group of friends, ‘sleeping time after pic-nic’ by renrib

Txim txim – photo by limaamj

Skimming – photo of a surfer by _dutti_

Surfing life by cataryna20

Setting up a street party by ceusobrelisboa

People working

  • Which of these jobs do you think would be the most difficult to do?
  • What kind of skills, abilities and qualities are required to do jobs like these?
  • Why might these people be doing their jobs?
  • What might the people like about their jobs?  What might they want to change about them?

Man pushing a wheelbarrow, ‘Balance‘ by ifox34

Street performer – photo taken by inessarzedas

Corn farmers – Desfolhada by renrib

Fishermen – Pesca by Marco Dores

Graffiti and street art

  • Why do you think the graffiti/street artist chose to paint/make these examples of street art?
  • What do these these examples of street art add to the place they were painted?  Do you imagine that any of them detract from their surroundings?
  • Would any of the images attract criticism?  Which might some people most want to be removed from the walls/buildings they are painted on?

Amy wall portrait – photo taken by danielff76 

Women eating pasta – street art windows – photo by inessarzedas

Street art tell no lies – ‘Til debt… – photo by luisrochareis

Jose Saramago picture and quote – photo by joaofernands

(B) Speaking presentations or writing about images using a variety of photos in the gallery:

Some ideas that you could work on, prepare, and make into a video presentation using online tools like brainshark or write up.

  • Imagine you are editing a photography book of the collection in one of the online galleries.  Which one image would you choose to use as the cover shot?  Why?
  • Imagine you are the picture editor for a national newspaper which is producing a Sunday supplement magazine entitled Portugal in 2012.  The magazine will be a mix of articles and photos.  Which image(s) would you use in the magazine?  Why?  What aspect of life in Portugal today does/do the image/s represent?  How?
  • Are you a photographer?  Choose a photo you admire or even wish you had taken.  What is it about the image you find powerful/moving/inspiring/interesting etc.?  How does the photo speak to you?
  • Imagine you are working for the tourist board of Portugal as a whole or one of the cities/towns/villages/regions etc depicted in the photos.  Which image would best sell Portugal to the widest audience of visitors if used in a poster campaign or brochure?  How might your choice be different if the publication were aimed at a smaller target group e.g. 18-30 backpackers, families, retired people, business travellers etc.  Choose one of these smaller target audiences and compare the photo you chose for that group with the photo you chose for the wider audience.  Compare the two photos giving the reasons behind your choices.  What would be a good caption for the shot?
  • Can you find a Coimbra/Santa Clara image?  What aspect of life in your city does it reflect?

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Filed under C1 - Speaking, C1 / CAE Writing, C1+ Vocabulary, Topic - City Life, Topic - photography, Topic - Portugal, Topic - Society, Topic - Travel

Topic – society and culture – reading about Spain in English

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the new blog from El País in English, Transiberian.  It’s written by English speaking journalists or commentators living or travelling in Spain.  Content has been fairly eclectic so far and it might be interesting to get an outsiders’ perspective on the topics the writers raise about life in Spain.

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

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