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Archive for August, 2008

Thursday - August 28, 2008

An Historic Day

BarakYesterday was an historic (historically important) day in the United States. No matter if you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, it was hard not to notice the significance of what happened in Denver, Colorado, last night. There, one of the two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic Party, nominated (chose) as its presidential candidate the first African American to represent a major political party in US history. His name, you probably know, is Barack Obama.

Even if Senator Obama doesn’t win the presidency in the election (which will be the first week of November), it is an important step in American politics. The idea of a Black or African American presidential candidate would have seemed impossible even 20 years ago, and, I think, his selection is a good sign for our country.

Tonight, Senator Obama will accept the nomination in a nationally televised (shown on television) speech in Denver. Interestingly enough, today is the anniversary of another famous speech, that of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous address (speech) in Washington DC back in 1963, where he spoke in favor of civil rights for all Americans. King’s speech, which is commonly called the “I Have a Dream” speech, is perhaps one of the best known in modern American history.   Today, we are a little bit closer to fulfilling (carrying out, making true) King’s dream of equal rights for all men and women in the US.

~Jeff

Thursday - August 21, 2008

Begin To Do and Begin Doing

We received an interesting question from Maggie and Savor in Beijing:

We have a question from Cafe 150: What is the difference between “begin doing” and “begin to do”?  In Cafe 150, it says “Josephine began to act in movies” and then says “She began singing jazz music.”  Why is there a difference?

You can say either “begin to act” or “begin acting.”  They would both be correct in this circumstance.  You can put an infinitive verb (such as “to act” or “to do”) after the verb begin, or a gerund (a verb that ends in -ing, such as “acting” or “doing”).  However, this only works when the verb begin is in the simple present or simple past (begin, began).  If it is in the present or past progressive, such as, “He is beginning” or “He was doing,” then you can only use an infinitive after the verb: “He is beginning to act on the stage” or “She was beginning to annoy (bother) me!”

~Jeff

Tuesday - August 19, 2008

I Want My Food…Now!

5440lo.jpgOne thing that Americans are known for is their love of fast service. We want things now, and the faster the better.

This is true for our food, too. Americans already eat a lot of fast food. We order our hamburgers, fried chicken, or pizzas, and it’s made quickly. Many people use the drive-through and order their food without leaving their cars.

However, for some Americans, the wait at the drive-through is still too long. One recent survey found that about 70% of Americans won’t wait more than five minutes in a drive-through line.

How can restaurants make service even faster? Many large restaurant chains are now accepting electronic orders online (using the Internet) and with text-messaging (electronic messages sent from a cell phone). A large pizza restaurant chain, Pizza Hut, says that they get 30 electronic orders every minute!

~ Lucy

Thursday - August 14, 2008

Majority Minority

There was an interesting article in the newspaper this week about changes that are taking place in the U.S. population. According to a new report published by the Census Bureau (the part of the federal or national government that counts how many people there are in the United States), by the year 2042, the majority of Americans will no longer be white.

America will increasingly become a country where the majority are “minorities.” In U.S. English, the word “minority” is often used to describe those who are not white or of European descent (to have come originally from a place). Examples of a minority would include Hispanic/Latino, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans. But now in many cities in the United States — and soon in the entire country — more than 50% of the population will be members of one of these or another minority group.

Part of the reason for this change in the population has been the declining (decreasing) birth rates (the number of children a woman has) of European Americans, as well as the higher birth rates of other groups and the increasing number of immigrants.

This change has already taken place in many places such as Los Angeles, where only 30% of the population is classified as white or European American.

~Jeff

Tuesday - August 12, 2008

I Need to Go to the Restroom…Now!

QUESTION:
One of our listeners, Natalia, recently asked what the common and polite way is to say that you have to go to the bathroom.

ANSWER:
In the U.S., the most common terms are bathroom and restroom for the room with the toilet. In most U.S. homes, the room with the toilet is the same room where you’ll find the bathtub/shower and the sink. Even if it’s not, we still use these two terms.

The most common phrases we use are: “I need to go to the bathroom”/”I’m going to the bathroom” and the slightly more polite, “I need to go to the restroom”/”I’m going to the restroom.”

Other polite terms for the bathroom/restroom are the ladies’ room or the men’s room, and some women may use the terms powder room or the little girl’s room. However, “restroom” is fine in nearly all situations, so that’s the term I suggest using. In the U.S., you would very rarely hear anyone say, “I need to go to the toilet,” which is considered impolite and sounds a little strange to a native speaker, and Americans don’t use the terms “loo” and “W.C.” (water closet).

The most polite and formal ways to say you have to go to the restroom, however, does not mention the bathroom or restroom at all. At a formal gathering or at a business meeting, for example, most people would simply say, “If you’ll excuse me…” or “Excuse me” as they get up to go to the restroom.

In very, very informal situations, you may hear someone say, “I need to pee.” To pee is to allow urine (the water waste in your body) to come out. Again, this is very informal and impolite, so I don’t recommend ever saying this. I mention it in case you hear it in movies or on TV shows. Other very informal phrases you may hear are, “I need to go to the john.” The john is the toilet; and “I need to hit the can.” You guessed it–the can is the toilet.

I can’t believe I spent five paragraphs talking about the bathroom, but I hope this is helpful!

~ Lucy

Friday - August 8, 2008

Your Questions for the ESL Podcast Third Anniversary Video Podcast

anniversaryballoonbunch.jpgWe have celebrated our past two anniversaries by producing a video podcast. We want to do that again this year, but we need your help.

This year, Jeff will be answering listener questions. Do you have a burning question (something you want to know very much) about us or the podcast? If so, post a comment here and we will select a few to answer in the anniversary video podcast.

Thanks, in advance, for your help!

~ Lucy

Thursday - August 7, 2008

Writing a Blog as Medicine

There are many types of blogs. The ESL Podcast Blog is one for learning. Other kinds of blogs are confessional, where people tell others about something they’ve done, often things that was a secret and/or wrong in some way. Many blogs give new information or breaking news (most recent news, happening right now) about politics, technology, and other topics. Still other blogs are a creative outlet, where people can post their imaginative and original works or ideas for others to see.dog-blog1.jpg

For some therapists (people or doctors who help people with mental or psychological issues and problems), blogs have another function. Therapists are telling their patients to blog as part of their treatment (medical care to make a person better).

Psychologists (scientists who study the mind) say that blogs are different from diaries because there is a built-in (inherent; as part of it) audience. As children, we learn that we can get help if we tell others about our problems. And as adults, we associate (connect) communication with getting consolation (comfort received after something bad happens). For this reason, psychologists say, blogging gives people their need for sympathy (others feeling sad for you), especially when there are major problems. Therapists say that blogging gets you closer to a sympathetic audience and that’s therapeutic (have a good effect on your body or mind). According to one psychologist, blogging, which can be anonymous (not identified by name so no one knows who you are), which gives it another therapeutic advantage: People can tell of intimate (private and personal) things without making themselves vulnerable (giving other people an opportunity to attack or harm them).

Would you consider starting a blog? If so, what kind of blog would it be and what would you write about?

~ Lucy

Cartoon: “I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to pointless, incessant barking.”
pointless
= without purpose
incessant = with no end; without stopping
to bark = to make the loud sound a dog makes with its mouth when it “speaks”