12/02/24: Between music and medicine

Robert Gupta  – TEDMED 2012

When Robert Gupta was caught between a career as a doctor and as a violinist, he realized his place was in the middle, with a bow in his hand and a sense of social justice in his heart. He tells a moving story of society’s marginalized and the power of music therapy, which can succeed where conventional medicine fails.

Please watch the video and answer the questions below.


  1. What’s your opinion on the use of music in medicine?
  2. Do you think music really has a positive effect on patients? Explain why.
  3. Do you know someone that has recovered from an illness with the help of music?


Taken from


05/02/24: Babies Start Learning Language in the Womb

Rosetta Stone language tapes for babies may soon usurp Beethoven as the womb soundtrack of choice.

Mothers who play “Beethoven for Babies” may have the right idea, though new research shows those that play books on tape or read to their fetuses are helping their progeny even more. Hours-old newborns can differentiate between sounds from their native language and foreign languages, implying that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb.

Hearing begins developing at around 30 weeks into gestation. The new study suggests that babies are listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and can even demonstrate what they’ve heard. Previous studies showed that newborns begin learning and discriminating between language sounds within the first months of life, but the researchers think this study is the first to show that language learning begins occurring in utero.

To show this, the research team exposed 40 30-hour-old infants in Sweden and Washington to vowel sounds in their native tongue and in foreign languages. (These are the loudest units in speech.) The researchers measured the infants’ interest in the different sounds by how long they sucked on a pacifier that was wired to a computer. Longer sucking indicates that infants are learning while shorter sucking indicates that they are already familiar with a sound. In both the U.S. and Sweden, the babies sucked longer on their pacifiers when foreign languages played than they did for their native tongue.

Of course, some tiger moms may not be satisfied knowing that their baby is getting a hand up on its native tongue even before it enters the world. Rosetta Stone foreign language tapes for babies may soon usurp Beethoven as the womb soundtrack of choice.

Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/babies-start-learning-language-in-the-womb-259600/

Answer the following questions:

  1. What’s your opinion on this topic?
  2. What are the possible benefits on “teaching” babies different languages when they’re in the womb?
  3. Could there be any disadvantages?

29/01/24: How to Learn a Language in Less Than 24 Hours

A new company called Memrise says their app can teach you an entire language within hours

Learning a language in 24 hours is impossible, right? Not according to British memory champion Ed Cooke, who co-founded a company called Memrise along with a Princeton neuroscientist. They combine what cognitive science knows about what makes information memorable with common social gaming strategies about what makes an activity fun and addictive. They claim their web app can help anyone memorize anything in no time at all.

Author and journalist Joshua Foer, who says he’s “never been good at languages,” recently put Memrise to the test. In preparation for a trip to the Congo, he attempted to learn Lingala, an African language spoken in that region. Foer described his experience and Memrise’s process in The Guardian:

Memrise takes advantage of a couple of basic, well-established principles. The first is what’s known as elaborative encoding. The more context and meaning you can attach to a piece of information, the likelier it is that you’ll be able to fish it out of your memory at some point in the future. And the more effort you put into creating the memory, the more durable it will be. One of the best ways to elaborate a memory is to try visually to imagine it in your mind’s eye. If you can link the sound of a word to a picture representing its meaning, it’ll be far more memorable than simply learning the word by rote.

Foer attached catchy meanings to Lingala words and phonetics. For example, he writes:

For motema, which means heart, I visualised a beating organ dripping blood on a blinking and purring computer modem. To remember that bondoki means gun, I saw James Bond pointing a gun at Dr No, and saying, “Okey-dokey.”

Over a ten week period, he clocked just 22 hours and 15 minutes of study time. The longest amount of time he spent in any given session was only 20 minutes, and on average his sessions lasted a quick four minutes. Yet he managed to memorize an entire dictionary of Lingala words in that period of time, and when he met his Pygmy friends in the Congo, he was able to put those skills to use and communicate without the help of an interpreter. Foer concludes:

It goes without saying that memorising the 1,000 most common words in Lingala, French or Chinese is not going to make anyone a fluent speaker. That would have been an unrealistic goal. But it turns out to be just enough vocabulary to let you hit the ground running once you’re authentically immersed in a language.

Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-to-learn-a-language-in-less-than-24-hours-122194358/

Answer the following questions:

  1. In your opinion, do you think it is possible to learn a language in a reduced amount of time?
  2. Would you try this app? Explain.
  3. Have you had a similar experience as the author? 


22/01/24: Why a Simple Message—Fat Is Bad—Is Failing

Extra pounds are extra years off your life, we hear. But the science isn’t so sure about that

It’s a common mantra: in order to live a long healthy life, you must eat well and exercise. Extra pounds are extra years off your life, we hear. Your annoying aunt might believe this with her heart and soul. But the science isn’t so sure.

Today in Nature, reporter Virginia Hughes explained that there’s a lot of research suggesting that being overweight doesn’t always mean you live a shorter life. This is what many call the obesity paradox. Hughes explains:

Being overweight increases a person’s risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses. But these studies suggest that for some people — particularly those who are middle-aged or older, or already sick — a bit of extra weight is not particularly harmful and may even be helpful. (Being so overweight as to be classed obese, however, is almost always associated with poor health outcomes.)

This paradox makes public health campaigns far trickier. If the truth was at one extreme or the other—that being overweight either was or was not good for you—it would be easy. But having a complicated set of risks and rewards doesn’t make for a good poster. And public health experts really do want most people to lose weight and not put on extra pounds.

This is where researchers, public health policymakers and campaigners are starting to butt heads. A simple message—that fat is bad—is easier to communicate. But the science just isn’t that simple.

When a researcher from the CDC put out a study that suggested that excess weight actually extended life, public health advocates fired back, organizing lectures and symposia to take down the study. Katherine Flegal, the lead researcher on that study, says she was surprised by just how loud the outcry was. “Particularly initially, there were a lot of misunderstandings and confusion about our findings and trying to clear those up was time-consuming and somewhat difficult,” she told Hughes. But the study was a meta-review, a look at a large group of studies that investigated weight and mortality. The research is there, Flegals says, and it suggests that weight isn’t necessarily the worst thing for you. And for Flegal, what public health people do with her work isn’t really that important to her. “I work for a federal statistical agency,” she told Hughes. “Our job is not to make policy, it’s to provide accurate information to guide policy-makers and other people who are interested in these topics.” Her data, she says, are “not intended to have a message”.

And the fight against fat hasn’t really ever been particularly effective. Not a single obesity drug or diet plan has been proven to last over a year, says Hughes in a blog. And much of our weight comes down to genes, she writes:

Friedman sees things quite differently, as he eloquently explained in a 2003 commentary in Science. Each of us, he argues, has a different genetic predisposition to obesity, shaped over thousands of years of evolution by a changing and unpredictable food supply. In modern times, most people don’t have to deal with that nutritional uncertainty; we have access to as much food as we want and we take advantage of it. In this context, some individuals’ genetic make-up causes them to put on weight — perhaps because of a leptin insensitivity, say, or some other biological mechanism.

So those who are the most prone to obesity might have the least ability to do anything about it. We’re not particularly good at understanding obesity and weight yet. Some of the key metrics that we use to study weight aren’t particularly good. Body Mass Index has long been criticized as a mechanism for understanding health. Dr. Jen Gunter blogged about Flegals’s study when it came out (she was critical of it) and explained why BMI might be the wrong tool to use to look at mortality:

BMI just looks at weight, not the proportion of weight that is muscle mass vs. fatty tissue. Many people with a normal BMI have very little muscle mass and thus are carrying around excess fat and are less healthy than their BMI suggests. There are better metrics to look at mortality risk for people who have a BMI in the 18.5-34.9 range, such as waist circumference, resting heart rate, fasting glucose, leptin levels, and even DXA scans (just to name a few). The problem is that not all these measurement tools are practical on a large-scale.

And while researchers argue over whether weight really does guarantee a shorter life and policy advocates try to figure out what to advocate, the weight loss industry rakes in billions of dollars every year playing to our fears and uncertainties.

Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-a-simple-messagefat-is-badis-failing-77733013/

Answer the following questions:

  1. What’s your opinion on this topic?
  2. What else could you add to this text?

15/01/24: Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough treks to Peru to see how Machu Picchu was built

The Earliest and Greatest Engineers Were the Incas

Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough treks to Peru to see how Machu Picchu was built

In American universities, engineering students typically learn that military and civil engineering originated in Europe, and they study the European tradition almost exclusively—with maybe a glance back at Egypt or China. But the Inca, whose great era of imperial expansion ran roughly from 1438 to 1533, were also master builders, and Smithsonian-affiliated researchers are now bringing their accomplishments to light.

I saw examples of Incan engineering prowess firsthand when I visited Peru in 2011. I walked segments of what was once a 24,000-mile network of roads and gazed in amazement at civil and religious works perched atop, or on the sides of, steep mountains near Cuzco, the Incan capital. The structures at Machu Picchu are the best-known of the Incan triumphs, but there is so much more.

In November, the American Indian Museum hosted a public symposium on Incan engineering accomplishments and the lessons they hold for builders today, particularly in the area of sustainability.

MIT professor John Ochsendorf, one participant, has become an authority on the rope bridges built to traverse the gorges in the Andes—bridges so awe-inspiring that upon seeing them, neighboring peoples would sometimes submit to the Inca without a fight. Later, conquistadors would be reduced to crawling, petrified, across the swaying rope contraptions, although they could bear the weight of columns of soldiers.

Ochsendorf has studied historical records, built a replica bridge and visited the last remaining Incan bridge, in remote Huinchiri, Peru. It is fashioned from native grasses woven into threads, in turn braided into ever-bigger ropes. Each year nearby villagers ceremoniously cut down the existing bridge, let it float away—it’s 100 percent biodegradable—and replace it.

Ochsendorf’s tests suggest that the bridge’s main cables can support 16,000 pounds, and he believes the cables of the sturdiest Incan bridges, incorporating leather, vines and branches, could have supported 200,000 pounds.

Christine M. Fiori, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech, began studying Incan roads five years ago, using tools like ground-penetrating radar. She expected to find deep foundations but didn’t. How could they have survived? “Primarily because the Inca controlled water,” Fiori says: They observed its natural course and directed it, preventing erosion.

As someone who spent 35 years teaching engineering, I know we can learn much from the Inca, who intuitively grasped how to build structures that harmonized with nature. The engineering symposium is part of a broad effort at the American Indian Museum to explore the complex relationship between Incan technology and culture that will culminate in a grand exhibition, in 2015, devoted to the Incan Road.

Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/earliest-and-greatest-engineers-were-incans-180947976/

Answer the following questions:

  1. In your opinion, do you think we can learn a lot from the Inca in terms of engineering?
  2. Why do you think engineering professors and students worldwide have not paid too much attention to Inca’s accomplishments?

30/10/13: Welcome!

Welcome to the blog that has been specifically designed for Comprensión Lectora en Inglés – Course CLECV Plus 3 – administered by Idiomas Católica.

This blog aims at providing opportunities for participants to exchange information related to the course. Although our reading course is not meant to develop oral or written communication skills, we have noticed that many of you can and wish to “have your say” in English about issues that we look at in the course. Your participation in this blog can award you up to 5 points in the assessment area labelled Tareas de Evaluación Continua.

Ready to begin? It is easy. The questions on the next message are waiting to be answered! You may want to participate twice. The first time, just write your answers to the questions. The second time, you are supposed to reply somebody else’s answer.

Enjoy the experience!


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