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April 12, 2018
by Bloomsbury International

How to Improve your Listening Skills Through Podcasts

I often ask my students what they struggle with most when they are learning English, and more often than not, the answer is: listening!

How to Improve your Listening Skills through Podcasts, Podcast concept on laptop and smartphone screen over wooden tableThere are many ways in which a learner can improve their listening skills, such as watching TV series and films in English, finding a language exchange partner and listening to songs in English, but not many students realise how podcasts can be an effective to hone in on their listening skills, and have fun at the same time.

Podcasts are a brilliant and entertaining way of improving one’s listening skills.  They expose the listener to native and non-native English: to different dialects, pronunciation and intonation. They help learners build their vocabulary, and they help them understand native speakers, even when they speak quickly.

In recent years, podcasts have become more and more popular. As a matter of fact, you can find a podcast on almost any topic on the Net, from food, drinks and music, to politics, comedy and weird stuff. What’s more, podcasts are widely accessible and often free. You can listen to them on your phone, computer or laptop and, more importantly, you can listen to them anywhere and everywhere:  at home, whilst commuting to work or school, in your car, or even at the gym.

Now you might be thinking that the language of podcasts might be too difficult for you. The great thing about podcasts is that many of them are now available with transcripts so you can check whether you have understood or read while you listen, and quite a lot of the English learning podcasts are accompanied by tasks and worksheets to help you improve and advance your level.  Brilliant, isn’t it?

How to make full use of podcasts:

  1. Choose a podcast you might be interested in.
  2. Read the summary to understand whether it tickles your fancy.
  3. Predict 10 words and 5 expressions that you imagine might appear in the podcast.
  4. Listen and check whether you were correct

Another tip for making full use of podcasts is to:

  1. Choose your topic.
  2. Do some research on the topic and make notes.
  3. Listen to a podcast on your chosen topic to check if they mention any of the information you have researched.

Best Podcasts to improve you English and have fun doing so:

Podcasts in English

An excellent site where you can choose which podcast to listen to according to level. Most Podcasts are accompanied by worksheets, tapescripts, and vocabulary tasks. The easiest and most comprehensive way of improving your listening skills!

The English we speak Podcasts

This website allows you to download short podcasts which focus on short natural English expressions or idioms. A fun way of learning expressions in context!

English Class 101

Learn English with fun, interesting and culturally relevant lessons that are easy to listen to.

Free lifetime account where you can access audio and video lessons on-the-go, as well as a variety of podcasts and vocabulary learning tools. App available for your phone or tablet.

Learn English Podcasts

Learn English by listening to graded audio podcasts. Each podcast is accompanied by a variety of language tasks and worksheets to help you improve your English language skills and your level.

IELTS Podcast

A wonderful site where you can listen to IELTS experts give you tips and advice on how to complete IELTS exam tasks.

Down to Business

These podcasts deal with recent international news headlines, and is a great resource for learners who want to improve their listening skills while keeping up to date with the latest local and international business trends.

Ted talks daily

Ted Talks offers its latest thought-provoking talks in audio format here at

A great opportunity to learn as you develop your listening skills.

And for a couple of funny comedy podcasts try these:

Marc Maron’s Podcast

Comedian Marc Maron interviewing Barack Obama (USA).


Two hilarious radio hosts Adam and Joe (UK).

March 28, 2018
by Bloomsbury International

The Story Behind Easter Chocolate

When we think about Easter we think about winter finally ending, spring arriving, but most of all we think about Easter chocolate.

But how did chocolate become associated with the Easter?

If you think about it, the egg has always been a symbol for fertility and of rebirth, and Easter usually falls at the beginning of Spring when daffodils start to blossom, buds start to appear on trees and gardens start to become fertile, buzzing with bees and butterflies. 

The history of egg decoration dates back to before Christian times, as far back as the Persians, where eggs were painted for the spring equinox. That said, the tradition of decorating eggs has been and still is prevalent in most cultures around the word, for instance in Russian and Greek orthodox communities have always decorated and cracked eggs to celebrate the Russian Easter and New Year.The Story Behind Easter Chocolate, Decorated Easter eggs

Insofar as Christians are concerned, they adopted the egg as a symbol of rebirth and the resurrection of Christ. The egg also denotes the end of lent, the 40 day period when Christians fast, abstain or show penitence to commemorate Christ’s fasting in the Judaean Desert.

Nowadays, most Christians abstain from eating sweets of chocolate during lent, therefore the chocolate egg not only signifies the resurrection of Christ but also the end of their fasting or abstinence period.

In time, eggs have lost their symbolic religious meaning and more “pagan” decorated chocolate eggs started appearing in Germany and France during the early 19th  Century. This new tradition was adopted in England shortly, after by JS Fry from Bristol, in 1873.

Easter Chocolate eggs became so popular that this custom spread all over the world and different variations started appearing, including eggs filled with chocolates or toys. easter chocolate egg with soft centre

Today, we can find chocolate eggs in most supermarkets, and it is tradition to do an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday, when most parents hide eggs around the house and garden and their children have to run around trying to find as many as possible. This is so much fun (even for adults!!!) and you can find many Easter egg hunts in different locations in and around London by following this link: Easter in London Egg hunts
 happy easter ecard message

March 15, 2018
by Bloomsbury International

English Punctuation Rules: Comma Punctuation

English Punctuation Rules with Examples

This week’s topic is about English Punctuation rules. The Oxford English Dictionary defines punctuation as “The marks, such as full stop, comma, and brackets, used in writing to separate sentences and their elements and to clarify meaning.” They are also used to define pauses in sentences where one might need to catch one’s breath, used to emphasise certain words in a sentence, separate blocks of sentences or clauses, help us distinguish between important information and additional information in a text avoid ambiguity.

English punctuation rules, open laptop on desk

This is all well and good, but actually, using commas accurately is one of the key elements to avoid misunderstandings.

A prime example of this is:

Let’s eat, grandpa!

Now try it without the comma. I’m not really sure how tasty grandpa would be!

How to Use English Commas

The comma can be used:

To separate lists:

Listing commas are used in sentences to avoid repeating the conjunctions and/or, or separate a list of adjectives or nouns.

E.g.: I enjoy reading newspapers, magazines and books.

After work she had a large, hot, tasty bowl of soup.

  • To separate actions:

Just like listing commas, joining commas are used to separate a sequence of actions:

E.g.:     The Prime Minister walked into the room, sat down, looked around the room and smiled.

Joining commas can also join two clauses which usually contain a subject and a verb, and are often connected by conjunctions such as and, but and while.

E.g.: I wanted to go to Madame Tussaud’s, but he didn’t.

Watchmen and ruined mannequins of explorers at Madame Tassaud’s

You might now be asking yourself if the comma is necessary in the sentence. The answer is no, as the main clause is short and does not cause ambiguity. However, if the main clause were longer, then I would suggest you put a comma.

E.g.: I wanted take Susan’s youngest son Joseph to Madame Tussaud’s the other day, but he’d made other plans.

  • With addresses and numbers:

In addresses we separate the street address, the city and the county with a comma.

E.g.: 204 Mayflower Road, Poole, Dorset.

With numbers, we use commas, not full stops, to separate the thousands from the hundreds. E.g.: 672,948

  • In relative clauses using “which”:

When two clauses are joined to form a single sentence, and one of the clauses adds extra information that can be removed without causing ambiguity, then we add commas.

Eg: Django, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino, is an extraordinary film.

These types of sentences are called non-defining relative clauses.

  • Isolating commas

Another way of isolating clauses or sections of the sentence (a clause, a phrase or a single word) that are not essential, is to use commas. There are different types of isolated sentences:

  • With discourse markers: Fortunately, he arrived on time.
  • With linkers and connectors: I enjoyed the film.  However, Tom Hanks wasn’t that good.

I think, nevertheless, that buying a flat in London is a good idea.

  • To emphasise: He is late, as usual.
  • When pausing

We can use commas to reflect when a natural pause might appear in spoken English.

Eg: The other day, [pause] while I was walking in the park, [pause] I saw Madonna jogging with her  daughter.

  • To avoid repetition

In English, when we want to avoid repetition, we often elide some words and use commas:

E.g.: I work as a teacher and my husband, (works) in finance

I ordered a sandwich, my sister a salad.

  • The Oxford comma

This is an optional comma that can be placed in front of the word “and” at the end of a list.

Eg.: The Post was written by Elizabeth Hannah,  directed by Stephen Spielberg, and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Learn more about English punctuation rules (and much more) by downloading our PDF English learning books.