ESL Reading and Discussion

News-based English language activities from the global newspaper
Page 1
May 2011
Level ≥ Advanced
Style ≥ Individual or group activities
Welcome to the Guardian Weekly’s special news-based materials to support learners and teachers of
English. Each month, the Guardian Weekly newspaper selects topical news articles that can be used to
practise English language skills. The materials are graded for two levels: Advanced and Lower Intermediate.
These worksheets can be downloaded free from You can also find more advice
for teachers and learners from the Guardian Weekly’s Learning English section on the site.
Materials prepared by Janet Hardy-Gould
Last two speakers of dying language won’t converse
Manuel Segovia … keen to pass on Mexico’s Ayapaneco language Jaime Avalos
Before reading
Work in pairs and discuss the questions below.
a Are there languages in your country that are only
spoken by a small number of people?
b Are these languages that are in danger of
c Why do you think some minority languages are
dying out in today’s world?
d Can anything be done to help minority languages?
2 Look at the headline, photo and caption of the
article. Then complete the sentences below in your
own words.
a Mexico’s Ayapaneco language might soon …
b At present, there are only …
c But the problem is that ….
d In the photo, Manuel Segovia seems …
News-based English language activities from the global newspaper
Page 2
May 2011
3 Vocabulary from the article. Complete the sentences
with the verbs below. What do the words in bold
converse, ensure, pass on, revitalise, take hold
a Manuel Segovia plans to
his native tongue to the
younger generation.
3 “They don’t have a lot in common,” says Daniel
Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana
University, who is involved with a project to
produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he
says, can be “a little prickly” and Velazquez, who
is “more stoic”, rarely likes to leave his home.
b Before the indigenous language dies out, people
it once more.
want to
4 The dictionary is part of a race against time
to revitalise the language before it is too late.
“When I was a boy everybody spoke it,” Segovia
said. “It’s disappeared little by little, and now I
suppose it might die with me.”
c Segovia’s family are unable to
fluently in the
Ayapaneco language.
d Educating children in Spanish, helped to
the demise of
e Spanish began to
in the
1950s and the core group of speakers disappeared.
Last two speakers of dying
language won’t converse
The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in
the land now known as Mexico for centuries.
It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off
wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now,
like so many other indigenous languages, it’s at
risk of extinction.
2 There are just two people left who can speak it
fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other.
Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69,
live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in
the state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there
is a long-buried argument behind their mutual
avoidance, but people who know them say they
have never really enjoyed each other’s company.
5 Segovia, who denied any active animosity
with Velazquez, retained the habit of speaking
Ayapaneco by conversing with his brother until
he died about a decade ago. Segovia still uses
it with his son and wife who understand him,
but cannot produce more than a few words
themselves. Velazquez reputedly does not
regularly talk to anybody in his native tongue
6 Ayapaneco’s demise was sealed by the advent of
education in Spanish in the mid-20th century,
which for several decades included an explicit
prohibition on indigenous children speaking
anything else. Urbanisation and migration from
the 1970s then ensured the break-up of the core
group of speakers concentrated in the village.
“It’s a sad story,” says Suslak, “but you have
to be really impressed by how long it has hung
7 The National Indigenous Language Institute is
planning a last attempt to get classes going in
which the last two surviving speakers can pass
their knowledge on to other locals. Previous
efforts have failed to take hold due to lack of
funding and limited enthusiasm.
8 “The classes would start off full and then the
pupils would stop coming,” Segovia said.
Jo Tuckman Mexico City
News-based English language activities from the global newspaper
Page 3
May 2011
to see off (phrasal verb) to force someone to leave a
animosity (noun) a strong feeling of anger or hatred
prickly (adjective) when someone is easily annoyed or
reputedly (adverb) when someone is thought to have
done something
advent (noun) the coming or start of an important event
e What factors led to the decline of the language?
f What two plans are there to revitalise Ayapaneco?
While reading
Read the article and answer the questions.
a How long has Ayapaneco existed? What events has it
b What do we know about the relationship between
Segovia and Velazquez?
c What exactly are the two men like?
d How often do the men use Ayapaneco?
g What has happened to plans in the past?
2 Read the article again. Write the paragraph numbers
next to the paragraph titles. One title is not needed.
One final chance to learn Ayapaneco
The negative impact of social change
An ancient language in danger
Two people with different characters
Time is fast running out
The mystery of speakers who just won’t talk
More speakers come forward
Past experience indicates attempts might not
Survivors with opposite speaking habits
3 Discuss these questions with a partner. Refer back to
the text where necessary.
a Do you think the two men will ever speak to each
other? Why?/Why not?
b If they spoke to each other, what might their first
conversation be?
c Do you think the new classes will help to revive the
d Do you think it’s a problem if Ayapaneco dies out?
e How do you think it feels to be one of the last
speakers of a language like Ayapenaco?
News-based English language activities from the global newspaper
Page 4
May 2011
After reading
Identify these structures from the article and
comment on their use.
a The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken …
for centuries. (paragraph 1)
b When I was a boy everybody spoke it … (para 4)
Activity – discussion
Work in groups of three. Each person thinks of
a different minority language that they have a
connection with or are interested in. For example,
perhaps a grandparent spoke the language or it is
spoken in a region they have visited. For homework,
each person finds out the information below about
the language:
a the region where it is traditionally spoken
b the history/background of the language
c the current number of speakers
d examples of some words and phrases
e the possible future of the language
In the following lesson the students work in their
groups and present their information in turns. They
decide which language has the strongest future.
c Segovia still uses it with his son and wife … (para 5).
Before reading
2 a die out/disappear.
b two speakers of the language.
c they won’t converse/talk to each other.
d sad/melancholy/lonely.
3 a pass on; a language that you first learnt as a child
b revitalise; a language that originally comes from that place and not from
c converse; easily and without stopping
d ensure; the end of something e take hold; the main body
d The National Indigenous Language Institute
is planning a last attempt … (para 7)
e The classes would start off full and then the pupils
would stop coming … (para 8)
While reading
1 a For centuries. It has survived wars, revolutions etc.
b They won’t talk to each other and they have never enjoyed each other’s
c Segovia is a little prickly and Velazquez is stoic.
d Segovia speaks Ayapaneco every day to his family. Velazquez never speaks it.
e The forced use of Spanish. Also, urbanisation and migration.
f A new dictionary of the language. New classes for locals with the last two
g The classes have failed because of a lack of enthusiasm and funding.
2a7b6 c1d3e4 f2g–h8i5
After reading
1 a Present perfect (passive); used to indicate an event which started in the past
and continues now
b Past simple; used to indicate a finished past event
c Present simple; used to describe a daily habit
d Present continuous; used to refer to an ongoing situation. e Would; used to talk
about repeated past habits