Unit 5 I Lesson 14:

Reading skill

Meaning of heading

Heading matching

The annual Busójárás celebration

Agnes Kovacs travels to a small Hungarian town to witness a local festival that has entertained people for hundreds of years

A. The costumes are intentionally frightening. Several people walk around the square of the small town wearing masks. The faces are red, with small eyes and large pointed teeth. Then, there are the horns. In some of the costumes, they look like goat’s horns. Other masks have bull’s horns. The people wear huge cloaks made of sheepskin, which make them look bigger than they really are. With the sticks and rattles they carry to make noise with, they look like monsters.

B. This carnival has been a tradition in southern Hungary for several centuries. The town of Mohács was the site of a famous battle between the Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire 500 years ago. The Turkish army was far superior at the time and would eventually overrun most of Hungary. However, the small town of Mohács managed to repel the invaders, albeit briefly. Legend has it that the townspeople dressed up as monsters and managed to drive away the Turks.  

C. The carnival is a celebration of continued life and combines historical events with ancient traditions of chasing away the winter darkness. It is held at the end of each winter and, as in many other winter festivals around Europe, a man-like figure is constructed from straw. On the final night of the carnival, the man is paraded through the town and set on fire. People from the town hold hands and dance around the burning man until dawn.

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Choosing key words

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Exam skills

The meaning and celebration of Matariki

Henry Wilkes travels to New Zealand to investigate an ancient Māori tradition.

A. Over the cliffs at Mission Bay in Auckland, New Zealand, an incredible number of kites give extra colour to the cold blue sky. It is no coincidence that so many people have gathered here to fly them; they have come together to celebrate the arrival of the Matariki, the group of seven stars that appear in mid-winter. Many of the kite fliers are Māori, descendants of the people who first arrived in New Zealand in the 13th century, but others have European ancestors, or are recent immigrants to this country. What all of them have in common is that they are keen to take part in the celebration, and a key part of this is the designing and making of a kite. The Māori used to make them out of pampas grass, flax and the bark of the mulberry tree, and would often decorate them with shells or feathers. Nowadays, although it is easy enough to make a modern plastic kite, people prefer to follow their customs and use traditional methods and materials.

B. Before the Europeans began to arrive and settle in New Zealand, festivities associated with the Matariki were popular amongst all Māori tribes. They gradually began to disappear, eventually coming to an end with the last traditional festival held in the 1940s. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that people began calling in large numbers for Matariki to be brought back as a cultural event. In 2000, around 500 people attended a community gathering and public firework display in Hastings, New Zealand, to mark the return of Matariki. This year, over 20,000 people are expected to participate in the same event. And around the rest of New Zealand, other similar events are co-ordinated.

C. Māori have several stories about the origins of the Matariki. One is connected to their creation myth, in which the god of the weather and winds threw his eyes into the heavens, where they became the seven stars. In another version, the god of the forests, Tāne Mahuta, became jealous of a very bright star which everyone admired. He angrily threw the star to destroy it but instead it broke up into seven smaller stars. In a third myth, the main star is a mother and the six smaller ones are her daughters. Regardless of the origins, Māori communities have traditionally celebrated in similar ways.

D. Although Māori living in New Zealand recognise January 1st as the official start of the year, it is the appearance of the Matariki which traditionally marks the beginning of the Māori New Year. Of course, people living in different parts of the world will be able to see the cluster of seven stars at different times of year. However, for New Zealanders hoping to see the Matariki, they should keep an eye out from the second week of June. If they look towards the north-east horizon, slightly to the west of where the sun rises, they should have a good chance of spotting it in the tail of the Milky Way. Of course, it is best to get up an hour before dawn, so the stars are bright enough to be easily noticed. A pair of binoculars can come in handy, too.

E. Like the first people to settle in Tonga, Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands, Hawaii and Tahiti, the Māori were great sailors. All these Polynesian peoples were able to travel long distances over water by observing the position of the stars. The seven stars that made up the Matariki were especially useful due to the fact that they changed position during the year, showing a clear direction for the huge traditional canoes to follow. It’s easy to see the common ancestry of the people of Polynesia when you look at the names for the Matariki in the different countries: it is Matali’l in Samoa, Makali’l in Hawaii, and Mataliki in Tonga, for example.

F. Nowadays, as in the past, Matariki celebrations provide an excellent opportunity for communities to unite. It is a time when people reflect on the experiences of the year which has just passed, give thanks for the good things they have received from the land and the sea, and look forward to the year ahead. It is also the perfect time for older members of the extended family or local tribe to share their knowledge with the young. They may teach them traditional songs or stories, demonstrate old ways of fishing or catching eels, or show them how to prepare hangi (food which is cooked on heated stones in a hole in the ground). For many Māori children, this contact and experience gives them a strong sense of cultural identity and belonging.

G. While Māori arts such as carving and weaving were practised during Matariki celebrations in the past, the arrival of the seven stars had another significant role. Māori decided when to plant their crops according to how easily the stars could be seen. If they were clear and bright, Māori believed that the growing season would be a productive one, and they would plant their crops in September. But if they appeared to be out-of-focus and closer together than usual, they knew that the winter was going to be an extremely cold one. This meant they wouldn’t start planting until October. But Matariki also occurred at harvest time, so there was plenty of food to share around between family members and visitors. This kind of feasting is still very much part of the modern celebrations.

Read the information. Then do the IELTS Reading task.  

The text has seven paragraphs, A–G. Choose the correct heading for each paragraph and move it into the gap. You do not need to use all the headings.


  • You have already looked through the headings. Now, read the title and look quickly over the paragraphs to get a general idea of what the passage is about.
  • Read the first paragraph and decide which headings might fit and which do not.
  • Read the first paragraph again in more detail and choose the one heading that fits best.
  • Do the same for the other paragraphs. If you have any time at the end, check your answers. If you have the same answer for two paragraphs, you need to look again!

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Practice text 1

Vivienne Waft reports on how the Sahara Desert could offer a truly green solution to Europe’s energy problems

A. For years, the Sahara has been regarded by many Europeans as a terra incognita* of little economic value or importance. But this idea may soon change completely. Politicians and scientists on both sides of the Mediterranean are beginning to focus on the Sahara’s potential to provide power for Europe in the future. They believe the desert’s true value comes from the fact that it is dry and empty. Some areas of the Sahara reach 45 degrees centigrade on many afternoons. It is, in other words, a gigantic natural storehouse of solar energy.

B. A few years ago, scientists began to calculate just how much energy the Sahara holds. They were astonished at the answer. In theory, a 90,600 square kilometre chunk of the Sahara – smaller than Portugal and a little over 1 % of its total area – could yield the same amount of electricity as all the world’s power plants combined. A smaller square of 15,500 square kilometres – about the size of Connecticut could provide electricity for Europe’s 500 million people.

‘I admit I was sceptical until I did the calculations myself,’ says Michael Pawlyn, director of Exploration Architecture, one of three British environmental companies comprising the Sahara Forest Project, which is testing solar plants in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Pawlyn calls the Sahara’s potential ‘staggering’.

C. At the moment, no one is proposing the creation of a solar power station the size of a small country. But a relatively well-developed technology exists, which proponents say could turn the Sahara’s heat and sunlight into a major source of electricity – Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). Unlike solar panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, CSP utilises mirrors which focus light on -water pipes or boilers to produce very hot steam to operate the turbines of generators. Small CSP plants have produced power in California’s Mojave Desert since the 1980s The Sahara Forest Project proposes building CSP plants in areas below sea level (the Sahara has several such depressions) so that sea water con flow into them. This water would then be purified and used for powering turbines and washing dust off the mirrors. Waste water would then supply irrigation to areas around the stations, creating lush oases – hence the ’forest’ in the groups name.

D. But producing significant quantities of electricity means building huge arrays of mirrors and pipes across hundreds of miles of remote desert, which is expensive. Gerry Wolff, an engineer who heads DESERTEC, an international consortium of solar-power scientists, says they have estimated it will cost about $59 billion to begin transmitting power from the Sahara by 2020.

E. Building plants is just part of the challenge. One of the drawbacks to CSP technology is that it works at maximum efficiency only in sunny, hot climates and deserts tend to be distant from population centres. To supply Europe with 20% of its electricity needs, more than 19,300 kilometres of cables would need to be laid under the Mediterranean, says Gunnar Asplund, head of HVDC research at ABB Power Technologies in Ludvika, Sweden. Indeed, to use renewable sources of power, including solar, wind and tidal, Europe will need to build completely new electrical grids. That’s because existing infrastructures, built largely for the coal- fired plants that supply 80% of Europe’s power, would not be suitable for carrying the amount of electricity generated by the Sahara. Germany’s government-run Aerospace Centre, which researches energy, estimates that replacing those lines could raise the cost of building solar plants in the Sahara and sending significant amounts of power to Europe to about $465 billion over the next 40 years. Generous government subsidies will be needed. ‘Of course it costs a lot of money,’ says Asplund. ‘It’s a lot cheaper to burr, coal than to make solar power in the Sahara.’

F. Meanwhile, some companies are getting started. Seville engineering company Abengoa is building one solar- thermal plant in Algeria and another in Morocco, while a third is being built in Egypt by a Spanish Japanese joint venture. The next step will be to get cables in place. Although the European Parliament has passed a law that aids investors who help the continent reach its goal of getting 20% of it§ power from renewable energy by 2020, it could take years to create the necessary infrastructure.

G. Nicholas Dunlop, secretary-general of the London-based NG0 e-Parliament, thinks companies should begin transmitting small amounts of solar power as soon as the North African plants begin operating, by linking a few cable lines under the Med. ‘I call it the Lego method,’ he says. ‘Build it piece by piece.’ If it can be shown that power from the Sahara can be produced profitably, he says, companies and governments will soon jump in. If they do, perhaps airplane passengers flying across the Sahara will one day count the mirrors and patches of green instead of staring at sand.

*terra incognita – Latin, meaning an unknown land’

Work in pairs. You are going to read an article about a form of renewable energy. Before you read, look at the title and the subheading and answer these questions.

  • What do you think the article will be about?
  • What problems do you think there might be with producing electricity in this way?

Now read the article quite quickly to find three problems with producing electricity in the Sahara.

Practice text 2

Russia’s boreal forests and wild grasses could combat climate change

A. Scientists believe Russia’s ancient forests are the country’s best natural weapon against climate change, even though the stockpile of carbon beneath the ground also makes these areas vulnerable to carbon release. A recent study found that half the world’s carbon is stored within land in the permafrost region, about two-thirds of which lies in Russia. Overlying former glaciers, they are a coniferous mix called the boreal forest. ‘There’s a lot of carbon there and it’s very vulnerable.’ says Josep Canadell, co-author of the study. ‘If the permafrost thaws, we could be releasing ten percent more carbon a year for several centuries more than our previous models predicted. It’s going to cost a lot to reduce our emissions by that much – but it will cost more in damage if we don’t.’

B. The study was published in Glob3l Biogeochemical Cycles. Researchers found that the region contains 1,672 billion tons of organic carbon, much of it several feet underground, that ‘would account for approximately 50 percent of the estimated global below-ground organic carbon’. Another paper published in Nature found that old forests, which make up perhaps half of the boreal forest, ‘continue to accumulate carbon, contrary to the long-standing view that they are carbon-neutral’. Even though fires and insect infestations destroy entire swaths of forest and release into the atmosphere the carbon they contain, old-growth forests still take in more than these natural disturbances release, says lead author Sebastiaan Luyssaert, a biologist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. ‘This is all the more reason to protect Russia’s boreal forests,’ which take in 500 million tons of carbon a year, or about one-fifth of the carbon absorbed by the world’s landmass. says Mr Canadell, who is executive director of the Global Carbon Project, based in Canberra.

C. Jing Ming Chen, a University of Toronto geography professor who specialises in climate modelling for the boreal region, says: ‘Cutting boreal trees increases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and it takes 50 to 100 years to put that carbon back in the ground.’ Luysaaert and Chen argue there’s a strong case for conserving the old-growth forests. ‘It’s better to keep as much carbon in the forest as possible right now.’ Mr Luyssaert explains. ‘If we want to avoid irreversible processes like melting permafrost or changing ocean currents, we absolutely have to control our emissions in the next two or three decades. It’s a case where you need to be short-sighted to be far-sighted.’ ‘The threats to the boreal forests don’t seem significant right now.’ explains Nigel Roulet, a carbon cycle specialist at McGill University in Montreal, ‘but I’m convinced pressure will increase as the region gets warmer and it gets easier to operate there. Also, I expect these resources to become more valuable as others are exhausted.’

D. Scientists say Russia and Kazakhstan could make a unique contribution to the fight against global warming by harvesting wild grasses that have overgrown 100,000 square miles of agricultural lands abandoned in the nineties, and using them to make ethanol – or, better yet, burn them in coal-fuelled power plants. According to Nicolas Vuichard. principal author of a paper published in Environmental Science and Technology of Washington. DC, using the grasses to make ethanol would sequester in the ground, over 60 years, about 10 million tons of carbon a year – one-quarter as dead root matter in the soil and the rest in producing ethanol as a substitute for petroleum-based fuels. ‘That’s not huge on a world scale, but it’s substantial.’ he says. Fossil fuels emit about eight billion tons of carbon a year, of which about two billion tons are absorbed by plants and soil.

E. Renton Righelato, visiting research fellow at the University of Reading and former chairman of the World Land Trust, agrees. ‘Given that it would take the world’s entire supply of arable land to replace just two-thirds of our transport fuel needs,’ he says, ‘biofuels are not a practicable long-term solution for transportation emissions. What we need is carbon- free fuel. But in the case of abandoned croplands, using grasses as biofuels could make a contribution/ he adds. Study co-author Adam Wolf, of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, cites a study by Elliott Campbell in Science magazine that showed that burning grasses in a coal-fuelled plant doubles the savings in carbon emissions compared to using the same grasses to make ethanol. ‘If biofuels are going to reduce emissions, using abandoned croplands to make electricity and offset coal use is our best bet/ he says. ‘Both of these countries have coal- fuelled power plants, so the process could start soon/ Thus, Russia and Kazakhstan are now in a position to become leaders in green energy, and could use the grasses to export clean electricity in addition to oil and gas, according to Mr. Wolf.

Reading Section 2

Read the text carefully and answer Questions 1-13.

1. Study the words

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