Fireside Tales – Chapter Two

It’s time for chapter two of Fireside Tales.

If you missed chapter one, you can catch up here.

Don’t forget, you can also download the transcript with a glossary so you can follow as you listen. After you have watched the video, use the quiz to test your understanding.

In chapter one, we learned the background to the ‘worst journey in the world’. In chapter two, Simon and Penguin begin the story of how the three explorers walked across Antarctica in the winter of 1911.


Chapter Two – The Journey Begins


How well did you understand the story so far?

Try and answer these questions. You can watch the video again.

1. When do emperor penguins lay their eggs?

  1. Early spring
  2. The middle of winter
  3. Autumn / fall

2. Why did Dr Wilson decide to walk to the penguin colony?

  1. Because sea ice made travel by ship impossible at this time of year
  2. Because there were no aircraft
  3. Because he needed the exercise
  4. Because he didn’t want to frighten the penguins

3. Why did Dr Wilson take two companions on the trip?

  1. To help him pull the sledges
  2. Because he was lonely

4. Which one of these sources of light did they not have during the trip?

  1. Direct sunlight
  2. Starlight and moonlight
  3. Torches
  4. Candles and matches
  5. The Aurora

5. The explorers were optimistic about reaching the penguin colony.

  1. True
  2. False


DOWNLOAD  Transcript and glossary (pdf)

DOWNLOAD  Quiz (pdf)




1b, 2a, 3a, 4ac, 5b



Do you want to know how the story continues? Come back next month for chapter three.


Fireside Tales – Chapter One

Welcome to our new series of videos: Fireside Tales.

It’s the middle of winter here in Europe. The days are dark and cold so it’s a perfect time to sit around the fire and tell stories.

Here, on the Stratford Teachers blog, you can watch the videos and test your listening comprehension.  You can also download the transcript with a glossary so you can follow as you listen.

There are six videos in this series. We will release a new one every few weeks. If you want to know when each new video is ready to watch, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Here is Chapter One of Fireside Tales. Simon tells the story of the events of another winter far away and a long time ago.

Chapter One – The Mission


How well did you understand the story so far?

Try and answer these questions. You can watch the video again.

1. Where do Emperor Penguins live?

  1. Britain
  2. Russia
  3. Antarctica
  4. The South Atlantic

2. Who was the leader of the 1902 expedition?

  1. Edward Wilson
  2. Emperor Penguin
  3. Robert Scott
  4. A Russian explorer

3. How heavy is an Emperor Penguin?

  1. Up to 130 pounds
  2. Up to 60 kilos
  3. At least 45 kilos
  4. No more than 45 kilos

4. In which year did “the worst journey in the world” happen?

  1. The year 2000
  2. 1911
  3. 1902
  4. 1840

5. Why did Dr Wilson want Emperor Penguin eggs?

  1. To find out how birds evolved from dinosaurs
  2. To complete his egg collection
  3. So that the expedition could have eggs for breakfast
  4. Because he liked penguins


DOWNLOAD  Transcript and glossary (pdf)

DOWNLOAD  Quiz (pdf)




1c, 2c, 3d, 4b, 5a


Checking and clarifying – test yourself

There are two aspects to successful communication. The first is making yourself understood. The second is understanding the other person. In order to be a good communicator in English, you need to develop both.

So, when you are speaking in English with somebody you should check and be clear that you understand correctly. This even more important when you can’t see the other person’s face, such as on the telephone.

in January we published a video demonstrating how to use checking and clarifying phrases on the telephone.

Here’s a simple interactive exercise you can use to test yourself or review the language from the video. It’s an easy game, click on the ? symbol to see the instructions.

If you have any questions about this exercise, leave a comment below.

Do you need to practise speaking English on the telephone? Send us a message.


Words making the headlines – controversial

Yes - No

Here’s a word that doesn’t tend to appear in headlines. It’s a bit too long for that. However, it’s regularly used to describe anything that’s causing public disagreement and discussion. We’re talking about the word controversial.

It’s a word that’s frequently attached to the highly controversial figure of US President Donald Trump and every controversial action he takes. Unusually, the most common use in the last week or so has not been Mr Trump’s latest controversial statement or latest Tweet containing a controversial claim or a controversial opinion about a controversial topic such as immigration or US international relations. The word controversial has been used most to describe Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury which claims to tell the inside story of Mr Trump’s first year as President of the USA.

Let’s pause for a moment and examine the pronunciation of the word. Here’s the phonemics: /ˌkɒn.trəˈvɜː.ʃəl/  . We need to get the word stress in the correct place. It falls on the third syllable. That means you say the word like this: controVERsial. However, notice in the phonemics that in British English we don’t tend to pronounce the letter ‘r’ in that stressed syllable. However, North American speakers such as Mr Trump do include that sound.

There’s another transatlantic pronunciation difference. Controversial is an adjective that derives from the noun controversy. In Britain, we have a choice. We can pronounce it with the stress on the second syllable: conTROversy or on the first syllable: CONtroversy. Over in the US they usually use the second pronunciation.

Now let’s go back to other uses of controversial. We’ll stay in the United States where Mr Trump has a controversial proposal to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Californians recently voted to pass controversial legislation to allow people in that state to buy, sell and use marijuana. Finally, there’s the ongoing investigation into the Trump election campaign’s controversial relations with people in Russia. All of which gives Americans plenty to discuss and disagree about even after they’ve finished reading Michael Wolff’s book.

Practise your listening. Click on play to hear the text.


Find more Words making the headlines.

If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.

Do you need to expand your English vocabulary? Contact us to talk about it.


Checking and clarifying on the phone

Business English - Talking on the phone

Speaking on the phone can be more challenging than speaking face to face. You don’t always hear exactly what the other person said.

In order to avoid misunderstandings, it’s important to check and be clear you understand correctly.

In our first video of 2018, Louise and Simon play Kate and Tony, two colleagues making a phone call.

The first part of the video shows what can happen when there is a misunderstanding on the phone. The second part shows you how to use a set of phrases for checking and clarifying to make sure you understand.


Video by Barney


Here are the checking and clarifying phrases they use in their phone call.

Sorry, Kate could you say that again, please?
Sorry, Tony. I didn’t catch that. Could you say it again, please?
Sorry, did you say ten thirty or two thirty?
Sorry. I can’t hear you , Kate. Can you speak up a little?


Was this useful for you? Watch our videos and download information about using the International Radio Alphabet to spell words over the phone.

UPDATE (24/03/2018) You can now test your knowledge of the checking and clarifying phrases with this interactive exercise.

If you have any questions about this video, leave a comment below.

Do you need to practise speaking English on the telephone? Send us a message.

Giving directions – interactive

Imagine this situation. You are visiting a friend. It is your first visit to this town. You want to send a package home but how do you find the post office?

You ask your friend for directions, of course.

Try our new interactive exercise and see if you can follow his directions to the post office.


Giving directions instructions


We are creating more and more interactive materials for our blog and to support our language courses. If there is a particular area of language you think we should focus on, please use the comment box below or contact us with your ideas.


Words making the headlines – lose your job

You receive a P45 document from the tax office in the UK when you leave your job

This week the Bank of England forecast that 75,000 people working in the banking sector in the UK could lose their jobs. This is because many financial services companies are making plans to leave London to avoid the impact of Brexit.

Lose your job is just one of the many ways of saying that a company has stopped employing you. If a company decides they don’t need you any more, they make you redundant, lay you off or let you go.

Grammar is important here. If we focus on the actions of the company, we use the active voice:

“The bank made 2,500 people redundant when it closed its High Street branches.”

If we focus on the person affected, we use the passive voice:

“I was laid off by the insurance company at the start of the year.”

We use a different set of words if you lose your job because of something you did. For example, if you broke the company rules or broke the law. The formal word is dismiss. However, there are lots of slang terms: fire, sack, get the sack, get given your marching orders.1

So, the company report might say:

“Barry Johnson was dismissed for stealing from the Production Department.”

But Barry would probably say:

“I was fired for nicking2 stuff from work.”

Nobody likes to be made redundant and we all hope we’ll never get the sack. However, there’s one day many of us will welcome. That’s the day when we reach the age that we can retire and don’t have to go to work anymore.

Practise your listening. Click on play to hear Barney reading this text.


In the US they also say terminate. However, in the UK this word makes us think of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film so we associate it with something much worse than losing your job.

To nick is a British slang term which means to steal something.

Find more Words making the headlines.

If you would like to suggest a word from the news for future blog posts, please use the comment box.

Do you need to expand your English vocabulary? Contact us to talk about it.