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Archive for September, 2009

Thursday - September 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jeff!


At this time each year, we at ESL Podcast, pause to say, “When is our next vacation?”

No, no, no! We stop every year on September 24th to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our own Dr. Jeff McQuillan, a man who survived the icy (very cold) climates of Minnesota, many (many, many, many) years as a poor and lowly (insignificant) student, to become our fearless leader here at ESL Podcast.

So, let’s drink a toast together to Jeff and wish him a happy and healthy 29th birthday (again)!

To you, Jeff!

Thursday - September 17, 2009

Rearrange the Letters and This is What You Get

An anagram is a word or phrase that is formed when you rearrange the letters of another word or phrase.  Here are a few words and phrases.  Can you figure out a good anagram?

1.  DORMITORY – This is a building at a school or university where students live and sleep.


3.  SLOT MACHINES – These are machines used for gambling.  You put in a coin and the wheels spin.  If you get a certain combination, you win money.

4.  ELECTION RESULTS – These are the number of votes that a candidate or a proposed law receive, showing whether people want that candidate to be elected (get the job) or the law to pass.




When you rearrange the letters:

When you rearrange the letters:

When you rearrange the letters:

When you rearrange the letters:
LIES – LET’S RECOUNT (when the results of an election are very close or people have some doubt about the result, the votes are counted again to be sure of the correct count)

When you rearrange the letters:

~ Lucy

Tuesday - September 15, 2009

“My English Isn’t as Good as it Once Was.”


Heitor from Brazil had this question: “I studied English a long time ago and when some people speak to me in English I usually say that, “I lost my English.” What I want to say is that my English is not as good as years ago. Is this expression correct?

“I lost my English” is not what a native speaker would say, although a listener would very likely understand your meaning.  There are several ways to say that your English isn’t as good as it had been at an earlier time.  Two common ways are:

– “I don’t speak English (nearly) as well as I used to.”
– “My English isn’t (nearly) as good as it once was.”

Both of these mean that your English has deteriorated (become worse, usually over a period of time). (You can also say, “My English has deteriorated,” but it’s not commonly heard.)  Note that by adding “nearly,” you are emphasizing that your English is much worse than it used to be.

Another couple of informal ways of saying this is:
– “My English has gotten (a lot) worse.”  “Gotten” in this case means “has become,” and we use this construction mainly in informal situations and in spoken English.  This is probably the most common way of expressing this meaning.
– “I can’t speak English very well anymore.”  This implies (communicates without saying directly) that your English was very good or fairly good at one time, but it is not very good now.

If you spoke English in the past, but now can’t speak it at all, you can say:
– “I can’t speak English at all anymore.”

Thanks for the question, Heitor, and I hope you won’t be able to say this for very much longer.

~ Lucy

Thursday - September 10, 2009

Dude, You are so Obama!

An article last month in the New York Times discussed American slang and how quickly it has been changing.  With the Internet, people are able to communicate instantaneously (immediately), sharing new expressions and words much faster than in the past.  As a result, teenage and adult slang (very informal language, often used by a particular group) now changes almost daily (everyday).  In fact, it changes so quickly that an expression which may be popular this week may not be popular next week.

One recent addition to American slang is to call someone “Obama” to mean that they are really, really cool (hip, popular).  So to say, “Dude, you are so Obama!” means “Friend, you are very cool!”  This usage may change depending on the president’s popularity, however – so be careful!

Here in Los Angeles, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has started a slang dictionary to try to keep track of (make a record of) the latest slang words and phrases.  Linguistics professors published UCLA Slang 6 a few months ago; the dictionary costs $10.95.  (To see a much older version from back in 1993, but one that still has many popular terms used today, look here.)  Since Los Angeles is the capital of popular entertainment in the US, a lot of slang begins here in LA and moves to other parts of the country, although the Internet may change that pattern in the future.

Here are a few other new terms the kids (young people, including young adults) are using nowadays, according to the folks (informal for people) at UCLA:

  • Schwa! – Wow!  Amazing! (“schwa” is actually what we call an unstressed vowel in English)
  • to destroy a test – to do very well on the test (opposite of what you might think!)
  • Epic fail! – What a mistake!
  • mija – my female friend (this comes from the Spanish “mi hija” (my daughter); Spanish is of course often heard here in Los Angeles)
  • sisters from another mister and brothers from another mother – friends that are so close that they are like sisters or brothers

I have to say that, before reading this article, I had never heard of any of these expressions.  Then again, these are slang terms popular among college students, not 40-something adults like me (40-something is someone in their 40s; also possible are twenty-something, thirty-something, etc.).


Tuesday - September 8, 2009

How Americans Spend Money

smartcard2Last week, Jeff blogged about how much money top athletes make, but what about average (typical; normal) Americans?

How people spend their money tells us a lot of about them and a recent article in Time magazine lists how average U.S. households spend their money.  A household includes everyone who lives in a home, and it’s often used to mean the same thing as “family,” although a household does not need to include people who are related by blood.

In 2007, an average U.S. household made about $50,000 in income, and this is how the household spent its money:

– $1,900 for apparel (clothing, shoes, etc.) and related things

– $2,700 for entertainment

– $2,800 for health care, with about $1,500 going to health insurance

– $6,100 for food

– $8,800 for transportation ($2,200 for gas, $1,000 for car insurance, and $500 for public transportation (such as buses, trains, and the subway))

– $17,000 for housing ($10,000 for rent, $3,500 for utilities (such as electricity and telephone service), and $1,800 for furniture, appliances (such as refrigerators and ovens), and other equipment

Remember that these figures (numbers) are approximate (not exact) and they are for an average household, with many people living more modestly (spending less) or more extravagantly (spending freely or a lot more).

Based on your experience, are these figures in line with (similar to) household spending in other countries?  Do Americans spend significantly more on clothes, entertainment, health care, etc. than other countries?

~ Lucy

Friday - September 4, 2009

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? – ESL Podcast on German Radio

girl_listening_to_radioWe have often said that we both have faces for radio. Here is further proof (evidence) of this.

For our German-speaking listeners, there was a radio story about ESL Podcast on Deutschlandfunk.  You can listen to the story here.

Look for the story “Englisch per Podcast: Sprachenlernen mit Humor.”

~ Jeff & Lucy

P.S. See the comments below for an English translation from Rolf, one of our German-speaking listeners.  Thank you, Rolf!

Update: Audio file can now be found here.

Thursday - September 3, 2009

How long does it take to make $100,000?

alex_rodriguez_talkingAmericans love their sports, and professional sports is a huge (very big) business here, as it is in some other countries.  The most popular sports are baseball, American football, and basketball, with hockey, tennis, and golf being somewhat less popular.  (Soccer is also popular in some cities, especially those with large Latino/Hispanic populations such as Los Angeles.)  Professional athletes (people who play sports) can make a lot of money, sometimes for playing a relatively short amount of time.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (the government agency or organization that figures out how many people there are in the US), it takes the average U.S. citizen about four years to earn $100,000.  Because pro (professional) athletes are paid so much, they can do it much more quickly.  For example, baseball star Alex Rodriguez (often called “A-Rod” for short) gets paid $33 million a year.  This year he has seen 1,593 pitches (a pitch is one throw of the ball that the batter (the hitter) tries to hit).  So each pitch so far is worth $15,856.  A-Rod only needs to see six pitches to make $100,000.  This could easily happen in less than two or three minutes in a single game.

Other pro athletes also make $100,000 in a very short time.  LeBron James, a pro basketball player, played 3,054 minutes last year and made $100,000 every 21.4 minutes.  Tiger Woods, the famous golfer, makes $100,000 for every 11 holes he plays.  (In golf, there are 18 holes that the golfer has to put the golf ball into by hitting it with a long stick, called a club.)  That would happen in less than a few hours.

But tennis pro Roger Federer “only” made $100,000 every 28 games, so he really has to work hard!


Tuesday - September 1, 2009

I Feel Like a Fool…And a Cup of Coffee

Lilin from China wants to know the meanings of the phrase “feel like.”

The phrase “feel like” can be confusing because it has two different meanings, both of which are very commonly used.

First, “feel like” is used to mean being in the mood for something or wanting to do something.  We can ask, “Do you feel like seeing a movie tonight?” meaning “Are you in the mood to see a movie tonight?” or “Do you want to see a movie tonight?”  We use this phrase all the time in conversation to express our preferences:

  • “I feel like having chicken for dinner.”
  • “Do you feel like going swimming?”
  • “I feel like staying home instead of going to a party tonight.”
  • “I feel like telling my boss what I really think of her!”

A different way to use “feel like” is to mean that someone or something is similar to someone or something else.  When we say, “I feel like an idiot or a fool” we mean that we feel stupid, as though we are a person who is an idiot or a fool.  However, we can use it to express many different things:

  • “I feel like a queen in this new dress.”
  • “I feel like an idiot trying to learn to swim as an adult.”
  • “On the first day in my new job, I felt like a baby taking his first steps.”
  • “It’s November already, but it’s so hot, it feels like the middle of summer.”

The only way to know which meaning is being expressed is by looking at the context (the words around it).

Do you ever feel like banging your head against the wall in frustration because English feels like an impossible language to learn?  I hope not!

Thanks, Lilin, for the question, and I hope this is helpful.

~ Lucy