Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween : Not Just for Kids

If you ever thought Halloween was a festival for children, think again.

In Vancouver, British Columbia,  Halloween is almost more important than Christmas, not only for children, but for every age group from 3 to 65.

Created from a mixture of  traditions, originally meant  to frighten away the spirits of the dead, Halloween is now an excuse for people to "let their hair down,"  (relax and stop acting inhibited) dress up in all kinds of wild costumes,and wander the streets of the city laughing, and acting silly.

The wonderful thing is that not one person will "bat an eyelash." ( look at them strangely)  Walk downtown today or tomorrow and you will see some strange and wonderful looking people dressed in anything from vampire costumes to toothpaste boxes. They will look like they are having a wonderful time, and you'll smile because their joy is contagious.

Halloween Magic 

Halloween is a magic time for many Canadians, young and old. It is one of the few times of the year when  normally reserved Canadians allow themselves to forget they are responsible, hard working people, and to remember and let out some of their childhood feelings of joy and wonder.

Canadians are not a people who wear their feelings on their sleeves, or who party in the streets, so Halloween is an excuse and an opportunity for us to do just that. In many countries, this is called "carnival", or "joie de vivre", or simply public partying. In Canada, it is called Halloween, and people have come to look forward to it the whole year long. 

Getting Ready  

Preparations for Halloween begin almost a month before the big day. From the beginning of October, schools build their entire art and craft programs around the theme of Halloween.   Witches, ghosts, bats and pumpkins appear on every classroom window. Children read Halloween stories, plays and even poetry and write their own ghost, or horror stories.   Teachers and parents bring hundreds of children out to pumpkin patches on the outskirts for the city. Here, children all choose their own pumpkins to take home and carve.


By the first week of October, children, teenagers, "twenty and thirty  somethings", and even  parents have  begun to plan the costume they plan to wear on October 31st. Teenagers and young people between  the ages of 20 and 40,  who will be attending several parties, or night club crawls, often put together three or four costumes. Some people put together strange pieces of clothing from their own cupboards.

Others make their own costumes. any fill the aisles of thrift stores like the Salvation Army or Value Village looking for something "just right." Still others spend big bucks and go to costume shops. All you need is an imagination.

Decorations and Pumpkin Carving

At home, parents and children begin decorating their own homes with all the symbols of Halloween in their traditional black and orange. Nowadays, families go even further putting decorating their yards with cemetery headstones, hacked up bodies dripping with fake blood, murderous looking criminals, zombies or Frankenstein like statues glowing an eerie green in the dark,  tree branches draped in filmy, but very visible spider web fabric.

Parents and children, or entire groups of teenagers hold pumpkin carving parties. Organizations stage pumpkin carving contests with prizes. Walk around any neighbourhood with children, and you will see front steps adorned with five, seven or even 10 beautifully carved pumpkins all lit up to look as spooky as they can be.

Then, of course, there are the school parties, and the Stanley Park Ghost train, which runs for almost a month. On the weekend of Halloween itself, almost  every community centre in the Greater
Vancouver has some kind of "safe" family Halloween event planned with games, spooky themes, and lots of sweets.  Vancouver itself has haunted house tours, cemetary walks and even fright nights at the Playland.

Parade of Lost Souls  

For many years, the Parade of Lost Souls, a parade that featured artists, gymnasts, bands, fire throwers and a feature of other dramatic characters drew up to 30,000 people to the Commercial  Street area. This year, the Parade will continue, but in a much smaller, and more secret way down some of the less well-know back alleys on the East Side.

 From Saturday until Monday, every bar, club and pub will feature Halloween parties and extravaganzas, many of which will be better attended than New Years bashes, and a lot more fun. Young people, who would normally only attend one party on the weekend, will go party hopping, from friend to friends' the better to show off their well thought out costumes. Even churches have gotten into the act, with some throwing fund raising costume parties and dances for the whole family. Needless to say, none of them will serve alcohol.

Trick or Treat!! 

Finally, as soon as it begins to get dark on October 31st,  children of all sizes and shapes dressed in superhero, scary, cartoon character, hero,  princess or scary costumes will go knocking on doors shouting out "trick or treat," as their parents, flashlight in hand, watch them carefully  from the gate, or the street.

These days, when people open their doors to greet the kids, they will hand out chocolate bars and packaged goodies instead of candy kisses, homemade popcorn balls, or apples.  There have been too many scares for parents to allow their children to accept anything that is not tightly sealed and packaged.

By nine o'clock, things should have almost stopped. Occasionally, a group of 12 year olds wearing nothing but a face mask will come knocking on doors with their hands out for candy. At my house, the rule is no costume, no candy.

Safety Tips for 
Trick or Treating 

For parents who are new at the process of "trick or treating" there are some basic rules.

  • Don't knock on doors unless you see at least one or more lit pumpkins. 

  • Have your children walk and knock on doors in groups as well as carry flashlights. They will be safer
  •  Kids should wear something bright and reflective. Drivers need to see them
  • If a homeowner allows children to choose their own treats, kids should limit themselves to one. 

  • If you see that pumpkin lights have been put out, the home has run out of candy. Don't knock on the door. 

By nine o'clock, the trick or treating should be all over. It's time to go home. 
So,  if you are reading this and live in North America, carve a pumpkin, put a candle in it and put out on your front porch. Buy some candy, and open the door to trick or treaters.

Get yourself a costume, dress up your children, and go out trick or treating. Attend a community centre party. Ride the ghost train, or tour a haunted house. Enjoy the party, and have fun.

Let me know what YOU think about Halloween. I would like your opinion.  Just click on the comment box. 

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Halloween

All over North America, children, teenagers, 20 and 30 somethings, parents and even grandparents are celebrating Halloween this weekend. Of course, Halloween doesn't officially start until Monday October 31st, but that doesn't stop anyone from enjoying the festivities well ahead of time with parties, parades, visits to haunted houses, rides on ghost trains, and a wide host of other activities.  Then, of course on Monday night, hundreds of thousands of children will be out knocking on doors shouting "trick or treat" and expecting you to give them candies. Halloween is a magic time here, and I will describe more of it in my next post, but here are a series of videos that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about  Halloween.

Here are a few more links about activities in the Vancouver area.


As well, tghe Vancouv er police department has released an excellent set of Halloween Safety Tips.  Read them in order to keep your children safe.
Vancouver Police Halloween Safety Tips

Look for Halloween music and lyrics in the Music Page  Look for readings about the origins or the jack-o-lantern and trick or treating, as well as some scary ghost stories on the Reading Page. Listen to some people reading spooky ghost stories on the Listening Page.

Have fun on this weekend on Halloween. Use your imagination. Allow yourself to be a child again.Enjoy yourself.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How do you Use the Internet?

I posted this question eight or nine months ago and got no responses at all, Yet, this post seems to have been one of my most popular posts. Why?  Please help me out here. Use this as an opportunity to practice writing opinion comments, and post your comment to the question:

How often do you use it? What do you use it for? Do you mainly use it to play games, find friends?  Do you learn online, or shop?  Do you talk with friends and family with skype?  Do you watch TV shows, movies. the news or You Tube videos of your favourite singers via  the Internet instead of on TV?  Do you even own a television anymore? Do you use Internet radio stations rather than regular ones from your radio? How about social media, do you use the Internet to tap into Facebook, twitter or any other social media out there?   

The Internet has taken over our lives.Many people spend so much time on the Internet that they can't imagine what life was like before the Internet was created. For some it has become a serious addiction that threatens their marriage, just as alcohol or drug addiction does. 

What are YOUR thoughts on this big question and the smaller ones associated with it. 
This is your opportunity to practice some opinion writing on line.

How DO YOU use the Internet? 
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet?  Don't kid yourself, there are disadvantages.  Do you have any tips or suggestions to give other people who are addicted to the Internet, or do you think there is no such thing as being addicted to the Internet? 

Give me your comments on this 

Where do Vancouver's Ethnic Minorities Live?

Last week the Vancouver Sun ran a five part series on the neighbourhoods within Metropolitan Vancouver in which its ethnic minorities have decided to settle down.

According to the 2006 Canada Census information, almost 40,000 immigrants arrive in Metro Vancouver every year. Often referred to as the Lower Mainland, Metro Vancouver is a region of 2.2. million people that comprises of Vancouver, Richmond, Delta, White Rock, Tswassen, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Surrey, Langley
Again based oln the last census, 42% of Metro Vancouverès population consists of visible minorities. That number will definitely rise when the results of the 2011 census are published.

 In his five part series, columnist Douglas Todd reported on the areas and neighbourhoods where ethnic minorities, including South Asian, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, Dutch, English and many other ethnic groups have made their homes. The series  includes a series of interactive maps that detail where different ethnic groups are living.

The series is both informative, and useful reading if you want to get to know  the city and the region you are living in. As such, I am including links to all the of the articles and maps as well as the complete version of he last story. 
In his last and concluding article of the series Todd made some raised important questions that all of us who live in the Vancouver area need to think and talk about.  This includes long time Canadians, both former immigrant and native born and recent immigrants.  

Do we want to continue living in ethnic enclaves where we feel less of a sense of a belonging to Canada, or do we want to mix it up a little more so that this city famous for its tolerant multiculturalism becomes truly multicultural in every sense of the word   immigrants.  .
 RELATED: “Ethnic mapping: A unique interactive way to explore Metro Vancouver”

Vancouver Sun Staff Blog: The Search

Ethnic Mapping Conclusion:
As Enclaves Grow, will Metro Residents' Trust Fade?
by Douglas Todd 

The  Vancouver Sun’s unique ethnic mapping series has revealed a distinct trend – that Metro Vancouver’s neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly defined by ethnicity.
What will the diverse face of Metro Vancouver look like in a couple of decades? If recent high immigration settlement patterns continue, the fast-growing region of 2.2 million will further evolve into a collection of enclaves.

The vast majority of Metro Vancouver residents, of all ethnic origins, tend to be friendly, or, at minimum, tolerant, toward people of different backgrounds, whom they meet every day in offices, schools, on transit and in shopping outlets.

But, in the midst of this apparent inter-ethnic urban calm, The Sun’s ethnic mapping series has revealed Metro Vancouver residents are increasingly choosing to seek comfort by living near people of the same colour or ancestry, whether Chinese, South Asian, Filipino or Caucasian.

Indeed, Metro Vancouver may be the country’s prime illustration of a shift that is occurring across Canada’s major bustling metropolises, which new immigrants overwhelmingly choose over smaller cities.

In 1981, Canada had only six ethnic enclaves, which Census Canada defines as neighbourhoods where more than 30 per cent of the population is a visible minority.

Now, the number of ethnic enclaves in the country has mushroomed to more than 260.

The Sun’s mapping series, based on 2006 census data, has determined that roughly 110 of those enclaves are in Metro Vancouver. No major Canadian region has more enclaves as a proportion of its population.More than 70 of those Metro ethnic enclaves are predominantly Chinese. Most are in the cities of Vancouver and Richmond.Another 40 ethnic enclaves are predominantly South Asian. Most are in southeast Vancouver and north Surrey.

In 2006, more than 42 per cent of Metro residents were members of a visible minority. When the results of the 2011 census are revealed, the number of both visible minorities and ethnic enclaves is expected to have expanded further.Furthermore, if Statistics Canada eventually begins, as some expect, to start counting whites the same way they do other visible minorities, the number of ethnic enclaves in Metro Vancouver would sharply increase again.

What did The Sun series discover about how the rise of enclaves is affecting the face and culture of Metro Vancouver? Many Metro residents, of all colours, often declare pride in their ethnic neighbourhoods, professing they are places where people of diverse backgrounds generally get along cheerfully. Metro Vancouver, the series confirms, is home to untold mixed-ethnic business connections, friendships, partnerships and marriages. Some young people are leaders in this intercultural fusion.

But The Sun has also found distinct murmurs of discomfort among young and old throughout Metro, expressed both on the record and off, in private.

Interviews generally backed up the impression captured by a 2010 Nanos Research poll, which found 29 per cent of British Columbians want to increase immigration rates. But 31 per cent of B.C. residents want levels to stay the same, and almost 40 per cent desire fewer newcomers.
There are many echoes in Metro of famous Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s massive survey of 30,000 Americans, which determined that people who live in ethnic enclaves generally tend to be more distrusting of those around them.Meanwhile, a series of scholarly studies out of the University of B.C., Scandinavia and by Transparency International consistently show that the most contented people and well functioning governments and economies are those based on a high degree of mutual trust.

The Sun’s interviews fully backed up University of Victoria scholar Zheng Wu’s recent study, which found immigrants say they feel “comforted” and “protected” by settling into enclaves of people of their own ethnicity.At the same time, however, Wu saw a downside, concluding that life in ethnic enclaves reduces immigrants’ “sense of belonging to Canada.”  
Few Metro Vancouverites suggest trust and mutual reliability have disappeared among the city’s disparate residents.But suspicion often comes out in whispers – over which ethnic group is making housing unaffordable, why schools are so ruthlessly competitive, how store signs are often appearing in languages other than English and whether employers, white or Asian, are willing to hire outside their ethnic group.

Around the planet, Canadians, and especially Metro Vancouverites, are often complimented for their broadminded approach to living together in the same cities as people of multiple ethnic origins.

Like London and Toronto, Metro Vancouver is becoming a mass laboratory for globalization, an experiment in whether cooperation can flourish in a major metropolis made up of people from different backgrounds.

No one knows how Metro will turn out a few decades from now. If enclaves expand, will the city come up with the institutions, people or values that can foster a sense of unity among its eclectic residents?To counter the demographic shifts that are moving residents into distinct neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver, will there be ties that bind us together, that encourage a sense of common purpose?  The world will be watching to find if this city has the answers.

What are your opinions or feelings on this topic? 

Please leave a comment: