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Archive for January, 2008

Tuesday - January 29, 2008

Your Movie Recommendations for Other Listeners

Many of our listeners like to watch English-language movies for enjoimages.jpegyment, but also to improve their English. We sometimes get emails asking for our recommendations. We don’t have specific films to recommend, but what is important is that any movie (or TV show) you watch is comprehensible, easy to understand. As another listener recently reminded us, using the caption function on your television so that the words appear on the TV screen can help to improve comprehension, and we highly recommend doing that. Keep in mind (remember), however, that reading the caption should not interfere (prevent; get in the way) too much with your enjoyment of the movie. If you find that you’re spending all of your time reading and can’t follow the story, then this movie is too hard for you right now. Try to find something simpler.

In general, dramas are easier to understand than action movies or comedies, but of course, many things can make movies more or less comprehensible. Stay away from movies with too much slang, of course, and period movies (a movie set in the past) that have old-fashioned (not modern) speech. How much you know about the topic of the movie–your background knowledge–also helps to make a movie more or less comprehensible.

You are the best people to ask for movie recommendations: our terrific listeners! If you have seen a movie in English that is enjoyable and easy to understand, please post a comment and let us and our other listeners know about it.

~ Lucy

Monday - January 28, 2008

Snow-Capped Mountains…in Los Angeles

LA MountainsIt has been raining here in Los Angeles pretty much non-stop (without interruption) for the past four days. It is normally very dry in southern California, but this year we have received a lot of rain and snow. One of the nice things about a big storm (bad weather, usually with rain) in L.A. is that the pollution levels go down, and you can see things that you cannot normally see with the dirty air we often have.

Yesterday I was driving around and I saw the beautiful, snow-capped mountains that surround the city. (The cap of something is the top of it, so snow-capped means there was snow at the very top of the mountain.) I imagined what Los Angeles used to look like many years ago, before the cars and smog and pollution of the city made the air dirty. For a brief moment, I was taken back in time.

Perhaps someday we will be able to reduce the pollution in our city so that we can enjoy the beautiful views of the mountain everyday, not just after one of the few days that it rains here.


Thursday - January 24, 2008

Play Ball! (in China)

BaseballBaseball is one of the United States’ most popular sports, but it has become popular in many other countries as well, especially in Asia and Latin America. In the U.S., the organization of professional baseball teams is called Major League Baseball (a league is a collection of teams who play each other in a sport). Yesterday, the MLB announced that it was going to have two of its teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, play two games in Beijing, China, on March 15th and 16th. This will be the first time that two professional U.S. baseball teams play a game in China. The game will take place in the stadium (an arena or place where many people can gather to watch sports) that will be used for the 2008 Olympics later this year.

As some of you know, I am a baseball fan, especially of the L.A. Dodgers. I don’t think I will be able to make the trip to watch the games in China, but I’m sure they will be on television here, since both the Padres and the Dodgers are from southern California.

By the way, Padres is Spanish for “fathers” or “priests.” The name refers to the fact that some of the earliest Europeans to come to southern California were Catholic priests from Spain (a priest named John would be called “Father John,” for example). The word Dodgers is a bit more difficult to explain. The team began in Brooklyn, a part of New York City, and were originally called the Brooklyn Dodgers. To dodge means to move quickly so you avoid getting hit by something, such as a car or train. Back in the late 19th century, Brooklyn had small trains called trollies, so one of the original names of the team was the Trolley Dodgers, since people had to dodge the trollies when they crossed the street. The team moved to Los Angels in the late 1950s, but the name was kept, so they are now the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It is not uncommon for professional sports teams in the U.S. to move cities but keep the name of the city where they started. Another example: one of the professional basketball teams in Los Angeles is the L.A. Lakers. The team is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were called the Lakers because Minneapolis is called the “City of Lakes,” since there are many lakes inside the city. When the team moved to Los Angeles many years later, the name remained the same, even though there aren’t really any lakes in L.A.!

One more thing: the traditional way to start a baseball game is for the umpire (the referee, the person who makes sure players follow the rules) to shout, “Play ball!” Now I have to learn how to say that in Chinese!


Thursday - January 17, 2008

Post No Bills

PoleBill is a funny word. Normally, it means a statement of what you have to pay someone for a product or service, what you owe him or her. In a restaurant, the waiter brings you the bill (also called the check). Most people complain about all of the bills they have to pay each month – telephone bills, electricity bills, water bills. To bill is also a verb meaning to give or send someone a request for money. If you want to pay for something later but take your product now, you may say to the person selling it, “Bill me!” meaning “Send me a bill for the payment and I will pay you later.”

But there are even more meanings of bill. Bill is also a short form of the name William, as in President Bill Clinton. Bill can also mean a sign or a poster advertising something, usually placed on a public wall or on a telephone pole (a long piece of wood that is used to keep the telephone wires up in the air). You can see here a picture of a telephone pole with hundreds of staples (sharp metal objects that hold paper or other thin material together). Why so many staples? People use these poles to put up notices about a lost dog or a local sale that they’re having at their house. Telephone poles are used as places to put free announcements that can be seen by anyone who walks by them. This pole has had many people use it as a place to post (to put in a place for people to see it) announcements. Another word for announcement or advertising poster is, remember, a bill. So on some walls or poles, you will see a sign that says: Post No Bills, meaning “Don’t put up any of those signs here!”

One more thing: a pole is a long piece of wood, but a Pole (with the “p” capitalized) is a person from the country of Poland. Confusing, right?


P.S. Thanks again to Matteo Mescalchin of Digital Movie for this photograph.

Wednesday - January 16, 2008

Marilyn Monroe Sings! (English Cafe 120)

In today’s English Cafe 120, Jeff talks about the dumb blond stereotype. When Americans think of dumb blonds, the classic example is Marilyn Monroe, or at least the characters she played in films. Here she is singing a song from the classic movie Gentlemen Prefer Blonds (1953).

~ Lucy

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend
The French are glad to die for love
They delight in fighting duels (fight for honor between two people)
But I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewelsA kiss on the hand may be quite Continental
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend
A kiss may be grand (great)
But it won’t pay the rental (rent; money you pay each month for the place you live)
On your humble (modest) flat (British term for “apartment”)
Or help you at the automat (laundromat; where you pay to wash your own clothes)

Men grow cold
As girls grow old
And we all lose our charms (attractiveness) in the end
But square-cut or pear-shaped
These rocks don’t lose their shape
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

Tiffany’s. . . Cartier. . .
Black frost. . .
Pearl ‘bossed. . .
Talk to me, Harry Winston, tell me all about it!

There may come a time when a lass (girl) needs a lawyer
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend
There may come a time when a hard-boiled (difficult; strict) employer
Thinks you’re awful nice
But get that ice (slang meaning diamonds)
Or else no dice (not okay; cannot proceed)

He’s your guy when stocks are high
But beware when they start to descend (to come down; decline)
Cos (because) that’s when those louses (bad people)
Go back to their spouses (husbands or wives)
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

I’ve heard of affairs which are strictly Platonic (friendship without sex)
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend
And I think affairs that you
Must keep Masonic (with strength; solid)
Are better bets
If little pets get big baguettes (a shape of diamonds)

Time rolls on (continues), and youth is gone
And you can’t straighten up when you bend
But stiff (not easy to move) back, or stiff knees
You stand straight at Tiffany’s

Diamonds, diamonds. . .
I don’t mean rhinestones (inexpensive stones that look like diamonds)
Diamonds. . .
Are a girl’s best. . . best friend

Monday - January 14, 2008

Let’s Crash this Party (ESL Podcast 338 – Refusing an Invitation)

In today’s ESL Podcast 338 – Refusing an Invitation, we talked about finding an excuse for not attending a party.

Sometimes, though, we decide to accept rather than refuse an invitation. In the Culture Note of the Learning Guide, we talk about different types of people who attend parties. We know that Dr. Jeff McQuillan would always be the life of the party (an amusing person who is the center of attention at a social gathering), but which are you?

Are you normally the: VIP, life of the party, party crasher, party-pooper, or wallflower?

~ Lucy


Friday - January 11, 2008

Comix and R. Crumb (ESL Podcast 337 – Reading Comic Books)

In the Culture Note of today’s Learning Guide, we talk about the comix movement. crumb_head_explode.jpg

A major figure (important person) in the comix movement is R. (Robert) Crumb, who is an American artist and illustrator (a person who draws pictures for magazines, books, advertisements). He had a unique and easy to recognize style of drawing and he often wrote satirical (using humor to criticize or expose other people) and subversive (undermining or getting around authority) stories.

A few years ago, I saw the movie Crumb (1994), which was a documentary about the life of Robert Crumb. It was considered a very good film and it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, a well known and prestigious (high status; highly respected) film festival in the U.S.

Are there well-known or well-respected comics and comic artists in your country? Are there any that have become popular outside of their own country?

~ Lucy

Friday - January 4, 2008

ESL Podcast Named One of iTunes’ Best of 2007 Podcasts in Japan


Apple’s iTunes-Japan has named ESL Podcast one of the “Best Podcasts of 2007,” one of only a 20 podcasts in Japan to receive this honor. We are very grateful for the recognition, and hope we can continue to provide useful podcasts in 2008.

Domo arigato (thank you), iTunes!


Wednesday - January 2, 2008

What’s in a Name? Maybe A Lot!

I recently read an article about something called “name-letter preference.” According to several research studies, people are more likely to favor (like better) and choose those things that begin with their initials (the first letter of their first or last name). This can mean that they buy brands (a company’s name for a product) that starts with the same letter: Manuel may be more likely to go to McDonald’s than to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Surprisingly, these studies show name-letter preference for other important things: There are more women named Mildred in the state of Milwaukee and there are more men named Dennis who are dentists (doctors who treat teeth).images-11.jpeg

Researchers have also found that grades are affected by this phenomenon (fact; situation), too. According to the article: “Using 15 years of grade point averages for business-school graduates, the researchers found that students whose name begin with C or D earned slightly lower GPAs than those whose names begin with A or B…”

In U.S. schools, grade point averages (GPAs) are computed from letter grades: A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0. The article points out, however, that the differences are not very big. For GPAs, the gap (difference) is very small–3.34 versus 3.36–but it still exists. Critics say that these differences are too small to matter and that if researchers look hard enough, they can always find evidence for phenomenon such as this.

If a name-letter preference really exists, I’m very glad my name is Lucy and not Fiona!

~ Lucy