Hog nosed rats in Sulawesi : link to video, questions and transcript


This is a short video clip (2 mins) about a new species of rat found in Indonesia called the “hog-nosed rat”.  They are much cuter than your average sewer-dwelling black rat! There are two good American speakers.  The first is faster and uses more advanced vocabulary than the second but they both speak well.

  1. a) Vocabulary

You will hear the following words in the clip.  Check the dictionary if you do not understand the meanings.











Comprehension questions

  1. What is the name of the continental mass the biologist says the island they are working in is part of?
  2. What is special about the wildlife in that place?
  3. What are the special features of this rat?
  4. What has surprised the research team about their discoveries?


So we’re here on Gunandako, and we’re working on Sulawesi because Sulawesi is neither part of the Asian continent nor part of the Australian continent; it’s its own accretion of oceanic land masses between the two, in an area known as “Malaysia”.

And we’re here because it remains an enigmatic place for mammals because every species of rodent here for instance is found only on Sulawesi – it’s endemic to Sulawesi and nowhere else.  And how they relate to the species found in Australia, Asia and the Philippines is uncertain.

And that’s in large part because many of them haven’t been seen for many decades since the advent of genetic technology in our field and, as we’re finding, many of them have never been seen by scientific research teams, including this rat – what we’re calling the “hog-nosed rat” because of his long hog nose. It’s like no other rat that’s been seen on Sulawesi.


We know that this rat is new because it has several features that are not known from any other rats in Sulawesi or, as far as I know, elsewhere in the world.  It’s got enormous ears for an animal of this body-size.  It’s got a nose like a hog, with the nares forward-facing.  It’s also got flat nails on the hands – instead of typically sharp rat claws.  It’s got a very relatively long rostrum compared to most rats and that’s what clues us in that this is part of Sulawesi’s endemic radiation of shrew rats.


So there are many areas of relatively untouched forest left on Sulawesi, where scientific expeditions have been very limited.  And there’s a lot of biogeographic complexity in Sulawesi, so going to those different places, we’re not too surprised that we’re finding new things, but our team has been a bit surprised by the degree to which these things are really novel – they’re not just subtly different organisms but really just charismatically different.


The brand-new “Birmingham New Street” station

These reading / listening comprehension exercises are based on a recent short BBC video news article which reports on the recent re-opening of Birmingham’s main train station, following the completion of a huge renovation project.


a) Vocabulary to check

slap bang in the middle / centre of [place]

rotting (adj / participle)

dingy (adj)

the wow factor


stunning / stunningly

debilitating (adj / participle)

hoarding (n)

b) Comprehension Questions

  1. Where is Birmingham?
  2. Describe in general the project which has just finished.
  3. Compare the atmosphere of the station before and after the project.
  4. What have been the technical challenges for the project team?
  5. What is the final step of the project to get the station ready for use?

c) Transcript

Ever feel like someone’s watching you?  It looks like a giant spaceship has just landed slap bang in the centre of Birmingham; but this is a project on a stellar scale, transforming the old station – an ugly concrete rotting box, which had a car park in the way – into this three quarters of a billion pound state-of-the-art station and shopping centre.

Let me show you what they’ve been doing for the past six years : I don’t know if you remember the old station, but where I’m walking now was this horrible dingy claustrophobic concrete corridor you had to walk through to catch the trains.  Well now, they’ve given it the “wow factor”.  This absolutely show-stopping glass atrium – they’ve made the station five times bigger.  So, basically, it can accommodate twice as many passengers as it does today.

“Proud – a really proud day, to transform what was a dark dingy station into what you see here today with – keeping the station running, with about one hundred and seventy thousand people a day travelling through it, all the engineering challenges, to do that without delaying trains, without delaying the public, I’m incredibly proud of everything my teams do.”

Now we’re going to do one of those TV shots where the camera starts tight on the reporter and then the cameraman slowly pulls out, and pulls out, and pulls out to reveal the stunningly beautifully enormous room that the reporter is standing in.  But just look at that hive of activity below me, as they try to get ready for the first customers on Sunday morning.  And then, look at this roof: it’s so stunning.  I think people are going to be very impressed when they first walk in here.

They’ve transformed the whole station, but in some parts, they’ve just effectively put new clothes on an old body, and that includes all of this lovely stainless steel here.  But there is a problem when you use such a reflective surface.

“We modelled the position of the sun, every day of the year, every hour of the year, and every platform as we come out of those tunnels, just to make sure that we don’t have debilitating glare that would actually dazzle the train drivers, because obviously they wouldn’t be able to see a signal.”

Overnight, more than five hundred people will take more than 400 tons of hoarding, fencing and concrete blocks away so that the station will be ready for passengers when the sun comes up on Sunday morning.

Robots building cars in the new Jaguar Land Rover factory in Birmingham

These exercises are based on a recent (summer 2015) short BBC video clip and accompanying article about a new Jaguar Land Rover factory in the Birmingham area.

  1. Warm-up : Picture of assembly line robot

Look at this picture and describe what you see and what you think is happening.

Key words : Assembly line, robot, car, process, mechanical, industrial, component, factory, engine

  1. Introductory Article

In the following short article (taken directly from the BBC), I have underlined some words and phrases to discuss, for comprehension purposes.

Inside the high-tech Jaguar Land Rover engine factory

30 October 2014 Last updated at 11:34 GMT

UK car manufacturing in the first nine months of the year hit a six-year high, despite a dip in production last month.

More than 1.13 million cars were produced between January and September, the best comparable figures since 2008, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

Meanwhile figures released earlier this month showed UK car sales hitting a 10-year high in September with sales rising 5.6% to 425,861 from a year ago.

Steph McGovern reports from the new Jaguar Land Rover Engine Manufacturing Centre in Wolverhampton, where robots can construct an engine from its component parts in less than a minute.

  1. Technical words (jargon)

Below are some technical words for parts of a car and / or the car making process.  Their precise function would not be known by most native speakers.  However, most of us would recognise them as being related to cars.  Read the words and imagine how they sound.  If you are interested, check the translated meanings, however I will not be asking you technical questions!


(engine) block





  1. Matching exercise

Match the words and phrases on the left with the definitions on the right.

at full throttle (adverbial phrase)                              top

in-house (adjective and adverb)                              streams of water to make something colder

stuffing (participle and adjective)                             protective container

peak (noun)                                                             at maximum speed

cradle (noun and verb)                                            pushing something tightly inside a container

cooling jets (noun)                                                   internal

  1. Video

A journalist tells us about how robots are being used to make car engines very quickly.  She also speaks to Simon and Lance, workers at Jaguar Land Rover, to ask them about the process.

Listen to the video here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29829178


  1. Comprehension Questions

    a) What phrase is used to describe the rough cost of the factory?
    b) How quickly is a new engine made?
    c) What are the names of the two halls mentioned where the manufacturing takes place?
    d) What happens to the “conrod” when it is put into the machine behind the journalist?
    e) While the journalist is walking, what good news does she mention about the current success of the UK’s car manufacturing industry?
    f) What happens so that the engine block can receive the pistons? (The answer includes a phrasal verb)
    g) What are installed “further down the track”?

  2. Video transcript – read only after listening several times!

This is a new multi-million pound engine factory.  It’s owned by Jaguar Land-Rover, and when it’s at full throttle, it will be producing an engine – one of these – every 42 seconds.

With me now is Simon, who’s on the team.  Simon, tell us a bit about how it works.

“Basically, next to our new machine hall,  we’re manufacturing in-house our block, our head and our crankshaft.  These are then shipped through into the assembly hall here, where they are started to be put together with external supplied components.

The machine you were just looking at was the conrod and piston assembly machine.  This then assembles this component here which follows itself down the track where it’s then – the conrod – is then split in the machine behind you, and then follows on to the piston stuffing machine. ”

Well, let’s go and have a look at that bit.  So, over here is the next bit of the process, but let me tell you while we’re walking , that the car manufacture industry is worth about £64 billion to the UK economy every year.  It’s certainly growing at the moment, and we’re nearly back where we were when we were at the peak of making cars, which was in the mid-1970s.

So, over here, this is the piston-stuffing part of the business, and let’s have a quick chat with Lance to tell us about how this works.

“Ok. What this does, this lifts the block off the platen into there, to turn the engine over to allow it to receive the pistons. The robot will then take the pistons out of the cradle and put them into the block, which will be positioned here, and the pistons will be pushed down.  Two are inserted on this one, it’s then put back, going further down the track, to have the piston cooling jets installed and then the further two pistons and the other two cooling jets.”

And you can get all of this to happen – one engine every 42 seconds: that sounds amazing!

“Yeah, it’s brilliant – it’s a fantastic piece of technology, and it’s great to be a part of it.”

Thank you Lance for your time.  So there you go.  This is how you can make an engine in 42 seconds.

Does Queen Elizabeth speak “the Queen’s English”? (The mystery of the “schwa” sound in spoken English) 

“What a funny thing to say!”, you might be thinking.  Of course, the Queen speaks her own English!  (In England, we sometimes ironically describe well-spoken English as “the Queen’s English”.)  I ask this question not to cast aspersions on our dear queen (long may she reign), but rather to introduce a crucial issue in English pronunciation which will be the focus of this language training article.

After reading this article, you should be in a better position to understand how native English-speakers from all English-speaking countries really speak.  This should help you understand spoken English better and also speak better yourself.

The “schwa” sound

  1. Vowels

English has 5 vowels in its alphabet – a e i o u.  However, it is commonly accepted that there are 16 vowel sounds in US English and 20 vowel sounds in British English.   You can see their phonetic transcriptions and how they sound in US and British English here:



  1. The “schwa”

In all native English accents, the schwa sound (written as “ə” ) is used, and more or less in the same way.  You may recognise the sound from hearing the word “the”.  The schwa (ə) is the most common vowel sound in English everywhere.  Click on this sound and listen to it on the pages linked above.

  1. Word stress

In a word of more than one syllable, one vowel sound carries the main stress.  Other vowel sounds are uttered normally or are weakened to a schwa (ə).  This means that the schwa sound can be represented in writing as:

-a -e -i -o or -u.

For example, I have underlined the vowel which is sounded as a schwa (ə) in each of these words :

(a) about

(e) listen

(i) devil

(o) connect

(u) furniture

In all of these words, a different vowel to the one I have underlined carries the stress.  In “furniture”, there are in fact three vowel sounds : the main stress must be on the first “u” (“furn-“) and the “i” is sounded normally.  The second “u” is reduced to a schwa.  This is the only way and the correct way to pronounce this vowel sound.

Listen to the word “furniture” on an online dictionary such as Collins which has both British and American audio samples.  You should hear that despite other differences in the sound (due to accent), the stressed vowel and the schwa sound is identical in both the US and British forms of English.

The schwa sound can also be represented in writing by two vowels together such as:

-ai, -ou, -io.

For example, I have underlined the vowels which is sounded as a schwa (ə) in these words:

obvious, certain, fashion

If you sound a vowel as it is written when a schwa should be used instead, this will be a mistake.  While it is likely that a native speaker would understand you, speaking in this way is not an acceptable, alternative way of speaking, or even a more formal way of speaking: it would simply be wrong. Doing this would not be correct either in the English spoken by the Queen (long may she reign) or by the President of the USA (may he reign wisely until November 2016).  Not only would it be wrong, it would also be tiring for native speakers to listen to you for long.

If you speak English only with non-natives as a common second language, then getting the schwa sound right may be less important.  However, remember that people will have different challenges when speaking English, according to their native language group, and not everyone will understand non-standard English pronunciation.

  1. Function words

Often words of one syllable have no schwa because there is only one vowel (e.g. “cat”), and usually there is a stressed vowel in every word. However, some words of only one syllable are normally spoken with a schwa sound in place of the vowel stated in the dictionary definition. This is because these words are grammatically important but not important to the meaning of the sentence.  We call these “function” words.  These are words like:

a   an   are   were   was   for   to   and  of  some

Below, I have inserted a “ə” in place of the weakened vowel to show how they usually sound in speech:

ə   ən   əre   wəre   wəs   fər   tə   ənd  əf  səme

Look at this sentence :  “I’ve got some news for you.”

In this sentence, the vowel sounds in “some” and “for” are both weakened to produce “səme” and “fər”.  This helps to give prominence to the key word, “news”.

However, in the sentence below, the vowel sound in the word “some” is stressed because it has become an important word to express contrast :

“Only some of the people in the class received the news in time.” [some, not all of them]

In fact, here, “some” has become the most important word in the sentence.  If you only heard that word, you would still have a good chance of understanding the meaning of the whole sentence, from the context.

  1. Spotting the schwa in practice

Look at this sentence, which was spoken by Queen Elizabeth (long may she reign):

“…we keep up as many of the traditions as we can, that are sensible to keep, like going in carriages.”

The following version of the same sentence shows where the Queen (long may she reign) used the schwa:

“…we keep up əs many əf thə trəditəns əs we can, thət əre sensible tə keep, like going in carriages.”

(This appears at 0:52 to 1:00 of this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u931xcXliWE)

We now have definitive proof that the Queen (long may she reign) is an inveterate user of the schwa, just like the rest of us mere mortals.  There is no escape from the schwa, even when referring to royal carriages.

I have included my transcript of the entire clip at the end of the article.

In an admirable display of transatlantic unity, President Obama can also be heard shamelessly using the ubiquitous schwa in this clip : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oi86E5GgawY  Listen to 0:44 to 0:54, which I have transcribed below.

“Good evening, everybody.  Welcome to the White House correspondents’ dinner.  The night when Washington celebrates itself.”

After inserting schwas, the same extract looks like this :

“Good ev’ning, ev’rybody.  Welcəme tə thə White House corrəspondənts’ dinnər.  The night when Washingtən celəbrates itself.”

Even though President Obama’s dinner had not yet started, you can see that quite a few vowels were already being swallowed.

  1. Formality

All native English-speakers utter the schwa sound in the situations I have described. Using the schwa is not lazy or heard only on the mean streets of the Bronx or of Kensington, for example. In reality, the schwa is essential to English pronunciation because word stress is used to communicate meaning clearly and smoothly.  This applies equally to Queen Elizabeth, a Texas rancher or a farmer in the Australian outback.

When it comes to the schwa, the accent is not important: in words and sentences, native speakers stress particular vowel sounds and weaken some others to a schwa.  We do this in more or less the same way, wherever we come from.

  1. Further study

There is a lot more to effective pronunciation but hearing and using the schwa sound well is an essential element to good comprehension and speaking.  If you have learnt most of your English vocabulary without thinking about the schwa sound (though most people know about “the”, “wanna” and “gonna”!), then you may need to change some pronunciations habits, and this will take time.

If you want to work on this aspect of pronunciation by yourself, here is an exercise which I recommend :

a) find an authentic English audio or video clip which comes with a transcript

b) make sure you can understand at least 60% of the meaning

c) listen several times and write down what you hear

d) read the transcript, and compare it with what you hearde) rewrite the text you have studied, inserting schwas in place of the vowels which were weakened

f) read your new script to yourself several times. If you feel strange when you do this, then you are probably making progress!

Good luck and thanks for reading.

Michael Chambers LLB CELTA

Transcript : The Queen as hostess

0:33 – 1:01

A lot of the visits nowadays have a very strong political tone to them, and we are really the hosts, basically.  I mean, we give the entertainment, initially, and have the people to stay, hoping to give them a nice time to remember.  And obviously, we keep up as many of the traditions as we can, that are sensible to keep, like going in carriages.

1:33 – 2:05

I think, in a way, it’s quite an old-fashioned idea that you do put out the red carpet for a guest.  I mean, I think that people don’t really realise this that – I do tell the guests that we put on our best clothes, and everybody dresses up, and the best china and glass and the gold plate comes out which otherwise doesn’t see the light of day.  So it’s very nice to be able to use it and show it.

3:53 – 4:22

If you do put out the best china and glass, it doesn’t necessarily make it overwhelming, if you don’t accept it as overwhelming – because, if people are kind to you, and make you feel at home,  I don’t think that the outward and visible signs are really – it’s what goes on inside that really matters.

But sometimes, it is worth explaining, you know, that we put it on, you know, especially, and that we don’t actually live like this all the time.

Red Crabs on a California Beach : Listening Lesson

Red Crabs on a California Beach, 17 June 2015

(CNN video 1:16 long)


Object of this lesson

To practise listening (to American accents) and become more familiar with the meaning of some words and common idioms.

Suitable for intermediate students (B1/B2).

Instructions to students

This is a short news feature about an “invasion” of tuna crabs on a California beach in summer 2015 .

  1. Read the comprehension questions below and make sure you understand them.
  1. Listen to the video at the link above at least 3 times, without reading the transcript.
  1. Answer the comprehension questions.
  1. Listen to the video again, while reading the transcript.
  1. Finally, try the vocabulary exercise.

The answers to the comprehension questions and the vocabulary exercise are within this document.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What noun did she use to describe how crabs were spread across the beach?
  1. What is the other name for the tuna crab?
  1. Do tuna fish like tuna crabs?
  1. How big are the crabs? She estimated the size by referring to a part of the body.
  1. When tuna crabs are underwater, which other sea creature do they look like?
  1. Which weather phenomenon do some people think is the reason for the “invasion” of red crabs?
  1. In which two years were there similar invasions?


What do the following words or phrases in bold mean?

  1. They often hang around with tuna
  1. Beachgoers tiptoeing around the crabs
  2. Curious pups don’t know what to make of the crustacean
  3. Spreading their pinchers like an ocean monster
  4. They pinch him on the tongue
  5. The water is a little warmer off our coast

  6. The tuna crabs washed ashore on Pacific beach
  7. CBS 8 featured the crabs’ appearance in 2002


A blanket of red crabs across [Dall?] Beach Thursday morning.

“Today there are just thousands of them.”

Thousands of tuna crabs also known as red crabs, washing up along Ocean Beach.

“They often hang around with tuna, and tuna love to eat them.”


On the beach, the tuna crabs are about the size of your thumb.

“You know, I was pretty shocked that these were gonna be here this morning. I’ve never seen this before.”


And underwater the red crabs look like lobsters, spreading their pinchers like an ocean monster.

“I saw it right there, I was like…aaah! [incoherent]

Beachgoers tiptoeing around the crabs, curious pups don’t know what to make of the crustacean.


“My dog, like, eats 35 every time he’s out here.  I gotta tell him to stop eating them. They pinch him on the tongue.”

The red crab invasion doesn’t happen often. They live in the warm open waters down in [Baha?] feeding on plankton.


“We see this occur every few years and right now, the water is a little warmer off our coast.”

Some believe that it’s El Niño that’s bringing in the red crabs.  Last month, the tuna crabs washed ashore on Pacific beach, before that, CBS 8 featured the crabs’ appearance in 2002 and then in 1997, preceding the last El Niño.


“The weather’s definitely been super-weird”, …. and super-exciting for beachgoers.

“Say hello – my little friend.”


Answers to Comprehension Questions

  1. What noun did she use to describe how crabs were spread across the beach?


  1. What is the other name for the tuna crab?

Red crabs.

  1. Do tuna fish like tuna crabs?

Yes, they “love” them

  1. How big are the crabs? She estimated the size by referring to a part of the body.

About the size of your thumb

  1. When tuna crabs are underwater, which other sea creature do they look like?


  1. What weather phenomenon do some people think is the reason for the “invasion” of red crabs?

El Niño (hurricane)

  1. In what years were there similar invasions?

2002 and 1997.

Meaning of Vocabulary

What do the following words or phrases in bold mean?

  1. They often hang around with tuna

Spend time or wait casually

  1. Beachgoers tiptoeing around the crabs

Treading carefully, literally on the tips of your toes

  1. Curious pups don’t know what to make of the crustacean

Cannot understand the situation

  1. Spreading their pinchers like an ocean monster

Opening wide

  1. They pinch him on the tongue

A small, sharp bite on the skin made by an animal’s claw or human fingertips.

  1. The water is a little warmer off our coast

In the sea, near the coast.

  1. The tuna crabs washed ashore on Pacific beach

Left on the shore by the movement of the sea (tide)

  1. CBS 8 featured the crabs’ appearance in 2002

Showed prominently

IELTS Exam : Sample Writing Task 1, with associated study exercises. (Barchart analysis)

IELTS Writing Task 1 #98

This is a sample writing task selected at random from the website, IELTS-Exam.net.  The task is to compare and contrast population figures in a barchart.  The time allowed in the exam for this question would be 20 minutes.  Below, you can see my spontaneous effort, which took me 13 minutes.

Below the text, I have listed 11 words and phrases used in the article for discussion and practise with a teacher. 

Finally, I have selected one long sentence for consideration of its structure and style, and have written some questions on it.


The overall trend in every continent, without exception, is one of an increase in the urban population.  This trend is expected to continue well into the future, according to the 2030 projections shown on the barchart.  However, if we examine the information more closely, we can discern a number of variations between the continents.

With only 15% and 17%, the respective percentages of the populations of Africa and Asia living in urban areas in 1950 were almost identical; similarly, both of these figures more than doubled between 1950 and 2007, representing a very significant increase, both in absolute terms, and also in comparison with the much smaller rises which we can observe in the other three continents.

What is perhaps most alarming is that, worldwide, the percentage of people living in cities seems set to rise significantly across the world.  By 2030, the chart indicates that only 13% of North Americans will remain in rural areas, presumably leaving huge tracts of land unoccupied and uncultivated.

169 words, 13 minutes

Vocabulary to discuss and practise

  1. overall trend
  2. without exception
  3. is expected to continue
  4. well into the future
  5. discern
  6. With only 15% and 17%, the respective percentages of the populations of Africa and Asia ….
  7. more than doubled
  8. representing a very significant increase
  9. What is perhaps most alarming is…
  10. seems / looks set to rise
  11. presumably leaving huge tracts of land unoccupied and uncultivated

Sentence structure

Review this sentence

“…; similarly, both of these figures more than doubled between 1950 and 2007, representing a very significant increase, both in absolute terms, and also in comparison with the much smaller rises which we can observe in the other three continents.” 

Long sentences written by non-natives often place a strain on the reader, even if they are 100% accurate.  What I have excerpted is a long sentence, by English standards, but is well constructed and so easy to follow.

  1. Read the sentence aloud and decide where to place the pauses in order to help the listener follow. See how closely your pauses correspond with my commas.
  2. Deconstruct the sentence into clauses and then later, see if you can reconstruct it.

“I love my job” : Dance therapist

This is a very lovely short video in which a dance therapist from Chicago talks about how she works with elderly people, through the medium of dance, to help bring back hidden memories.  Enjoy the video and make use of the transcript, as you wish.


Erica Hornthal is a therapist who uses dance as a form of psychotherapy.  She helps patients with various types of memory loss create a connection between body and soul through movements.

That’s right.  Let’s find out why she loves her job and how good she is at it.


[Singing] All right there.  You keep it up.

Irene, how we doing?

So, basically, I see movement as a way into the brain.

A lot of the people I do work with have limited language skills.  They do have limited mobility and the memory is impaired and so I get to use movement to, what I feel is, break down the barriers within the brain that are keeping the memories hidden.

They’ve lived long lives.  They have those memories somewhere.  It’s my job to tap into that.  And so, by using movement, I basically fire up the brain.  I sometimes create new pathways to get those memories out and to get them talking again.  So, it’s kind of like being a detective.

So many that I’ve worked with, I think, a lot of individuals, even family members, feel like they’re not capable of something or they can’t do it.  And I come in, and I don’t even let that be a factor.

There we are.  I am gonna let you put your hand on my waist, here. All right?  It’s a good day now! 

I was an undergrad actually at the University of Florida as a dance major, and kind of realised that it wasn’t necessarily for me.  And so, I was taking some psychology classes and a professor of mine turned me onto dance movement therapy. And I’m sure, like a lot of people, I started thinking “is this made up?”, “is this a real profession?”, and sure enough, it’s been around since about the 1950s.

Now I’m a board-certified dance therapist as well as a licensed clinical professional counsellor in the state of Illinois.

How you doing, Ted? All right, good.

All in all, I’ve been doing this on my own for four and a half years.  As a dance therapist, I’ve been working for eight and a half, nine years.  And it must be working ‘cos it’s catching on, so!

I love my job. I mean, aside from working for myself and creating my own practice, to see someone smile, or to see the smallest movement when they didn’t think it was possible : it brightens my day. So, it’s something I love to do and there really isn’t a day when I’ve woken up and not wanted to go to work.


Aah.  See, everyone should feel that way, you know.   It makes sense, you know, like bringing back something that people loved, and using that as a form of therapy, getting them to dance and like you said, move. [move…..]

I love that, so sweet, so if you want more information about Erica and her therapy sessions, you can go to northshoredancetherapy.com.