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Archive for September, 2010

Thursday - September 30, 2010

Shop Phobia – A Male Disease?

I want to warn you that much of this post is tongue-in-cheek, or ironic – some words are used in an opposite way to create humor. I think I learned this from Jeff. On to my story…

If we can believe the people from Lee, there’s an epidemic among men and many men don’t even know they have the disease. Lee is a well-known American company that’s been making jeans (informal pants made of denim, or cotton, often called blue jeans) since 1889.

Let me pause (stop briefly) for a moment to tell you about the -demic words – there are three of them. An epidemic is a disease that quickly affects a large number of people and then goes away. During the Middle Ages – from about 500-1500 – there were many epidemics in Europe. A pandemic is an epidemic that affects entire continents or even the whole world. The Black Death in Europe from 1348-1350 was a pandemic; it killed more than 30% of the people in Europe. Endemic, an adjective, describes a condition or disease that is found in a certain area or among a certain group of people. Malaria (a disease carried by mosquitos) is endemic in many areas with hot, wet climates (weather conditions).

According to Lee, growing numbers of men suffer from shop phobia. As you may know, a phobia is a strong irrational (not based on thought or reason) fear of something, like spiders or tall buildings. What they are saying is that many of us men are scared to death (extremely frightened) of shopping. Apparently (it seems that) there’s something about shopping that turns our legs to jelly (makes them shake because we’re frightened).

I discovered this recently when I stumbled onto (found by accident) a special web site created by the people at Lee. I was greeted by (welcomed or met by) the headline “Make no mistake, shop phobia is an epidemic.” And then I found a video in which Mike confesses (to say that one has done something wrong or that something exists that one is ashamed of) that he is shop phobic and has been all his life.

The truth is, I’ve been shop phobic all my life and didn’t know it until I came here and took this test. And now I feel fantastic. I still remember, to this day, when it started for me. It was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, twenty-five years ago (Black Friday is the busiest shopping day in the year, a good day to stay home).

Mike seems to feel better now that he has discovered the truth that he is shop phobic. And confessing it seemed to make him feel even better.

What about you? Are you shop phobic? If you’re not sure, you can take the test Mike talks about. If you’re brave (not afraid), you can have your wife or girl friend take it for you! Click on the “Get Tested” button if you’re taking the test yourself. If your girlfriend or wife is taking it for you, have her click on the “Find Out How Bad He’s Got It” button.

From what I see on the Internet, it’s possible that this epidemic – shop phobia – has been around (existed) for some time (a long time). In fact, I wonder if it might actually be a pandemic rather than an epidemic: I found articles about it from several different countries.

The thing that bothered me the most in what I found on the Internet was that many writers think this problem is endemic among men – that all men have it. But then I noticed something else – all the writers were women. I thought that explained it until I asked my wife, and she agreed with them! Now I’m not so sure because she’s always right.

What do you think?

~ Warren Ediger – ESL and TOEFL tutor/coach; creator of Successful English where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for improving your English.

Photo by Ilovesorbet used by under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday - September 28, 2010

Reading English at the Intermediate Level

Reading in English, together with (combined with) listening in English, will help you improve your English a lot. It’s important to read things you can understand fairly easily, without taking out the dictionary at all or very often. The important thing is to understand the meaning of what you are reading, even if you don’t know every single word. However, for people who are not yet reading at the native-speaker adult level, there is one major obstacle (barrier; difficulty):  How do you find books that you can understand AND that are interesting to an adult?  This issue is a major one for language learners, no matter what language they are trying to learn.

The logical (reasonable; clear) solution, at least as far as finding books at the right level is concerned, is to select books intended for (written for) children or teenagers.  The downside (problem) is that these books may have themes or subjects that are too juvenile (childish) for an adult.  One solution may be to select Newbery Medal award-winning books to read.

The Newbery Medal is an award given each year to the best American literature (quality stories/books) for children.  Yes, these are still books written for children and most of the protagonists (main characters) are children, but after reading many of these Newbery Medal winners in translation in the languages I’m trying to learn, I can say that many of the books have sophisticated (high-level; complex) themes that may still appeal to (be attractive to)  adults.

You can find a list of these books here.  Perhaps even more useful is this research article, in which the authors have calculated (computed; worked out) the grade-level of each of these books, using several commonly-used methods and scales (measurements) (see the last three pages of the article for a list).  Obviously, the lower the grade-level, the easier the language, although these lists do not take into account (consider) the reader’s background knowledge or knowledge they already have about the book’s topic, which helps a lot in understanding what we read.

I’ve read only a few on this list, in English or in other languages, and some of them I read too long ago to remember well.  However, as a starting point (place to begin), I would recommend these:

1999: Holes
by Louis Sachar (Publisher:  Frances Foster)
This is an adventure and mystery story involving a group of boys being made to dig holes as punishment. They eventually find out the real reason for the holes they dig.

1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry (Publisher:  Houghton)
This is a science fiction story set in the future about a world that has eliminated (gotten rid of; no longer have) pain and suffering.  However, one person is selected to keep the memories for this society, and it is not an easy job, especially for a young boy.

1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Publisher:  Atheneum)
This is a story about a boy who wants a dog very badly, and finds one that has been poorly treated by its owner.  He wants to do the right thing.  Should he give it back or keep it?

1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (Publisher:  Morrow)
This is a book in the form of letters written by a boy to an author of children’s books. The boy moves to a new town and his thoughts and difficulties about adjusting to his new family and school situation is told in these letters.

1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (Publisher:  Houghton)
A young woman and her brother are the only survivors (remaining people living) left on an island.  The young woman must find a way to live.  This book is based on a true story.

I understand that books in English may be difficult to find in other countries.  However, because these are award-winning books in English, perhaps they will be a little easier to find, especially on major book-selling websites like Amazon.  (I understand, however, that they may be expensive to buy.)  If you have read other books you liked that may be appropriate for people not yet reading at the adult level, please tell us about them by posting a comment.

Update:  Be sure to read Warren’s blog post about finding reading materials at the intermediate level. He provides a way for you to look at the book’s pages before you decide whether you want to read it, making sure it is right for you.  Read it here:  Warren’s blog post.  Thanks, Warren!

~ Lucy

Monday - September 27, 2010

Podcasts This Week (September 27, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 620 – Making Quick and Slow Decisions

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “rash” and “to work out.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about what kind of permission you need to sell things in the U.S. and how to apply for a “Seller’s Permit.”
“In many parts of the United States, anyone who sells “merchandise” (products), “vehicles” (cars; trucks), or other “property” (things that can be owned) must have a “seller’s permit,” or permission from the government to sell things. The seller can apply for…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 261

Topics:  Yelp; Book Review: The Road; advocate versus lawyer versus attorney; any; salmon and count/mass nouns

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the movie Apocalypse Now.
“The apocalypse is a popular “theme” (subject) for books and film. In 1979, a film called Apocalypse Now “came out” (was released).  This film, however, was not about the destruction of the world.  It was about the Vietnam War of the 1970s…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 621 – Picking a Fight

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to take (something) outside” and “on (one/someone).”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “How American Bars Handle Drunk and Disorderly People.”
“When people “have too much to drink” (become drunk from drinking too much alcohol), they often become aggressive and violent, causing bar “brawls” (fights). Bars have many “policies”…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Friday - September 24, 2010

Pssssst…Hey, It’s Jeff’s Birthday!

Today, we celebrate the birthday of our own Dr. Jeff McQuillan! Dance in the streets, drink some champagne, or just send your good wishes. 

“Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday, dear Jeff.
Happy birthday to you!”

We wish you health and happiness for many, many, many years to come!

Tuesday - September 21, 2010

A Police Car Gets the Boot

Last week, I saw a picture on the Los Angeles Times website that made me smile:

In Los Angeles and many other cities, if you fail to (don’t) pay your parking tickets, your car may get a boot placed on it.  That’s the orange lock you see in the picture above.  You probably won’t get a boot for just one parking violation (breaking of the law), but if you allow parking tickets to accumulate (add up; increase in number), then you may find an unpleasant surprise waiting for you.  The boot, of course, prevents a driver from driving that car until the parking tickets have been paid and the boot is removed.

The picture above is of a police squad car used for patrolling (keeping a watch over) the streets.  The squad car was parked in downtown Los Angeles and the police officers were inside the courthouse (where judges have trials).  This car got a lot of attention, but of course, it was a joke. The boot was not placed there because the police officers failed to pay their parking tickets.  In the first place (firstly; the first thing is), we assume that police cars don’t get parking tickets even if they are parked illegally, and secondly, if they did get a parking ticket, the police officers themselves could probably “fix” them (make them disappear), as I wish they would do for me.

In fact, it appears that an unknown person had put this boot on the police car and had scratched off the serial number on the boot, meaning that this person had removed with a sharp object the identification number on the boot.

If you live in Los Angeles, you probably drive a car.  If you drive a car in Los Angeles, you have probably received quite a few parking tickets.  Even if you’re a careful driver who reads all of the parking restriction (limiting) signs, you may still have received more than one parking ticket.  On some Los Angeles streets, you may find parking signs that are so complicated that it takes you five minutes to read and figure them out.  It is not uncommon to see signs like this one :

Given (considering) the signs that Los Angeles drivers have to put up with (endure; live with even though we don’t like it), do you blame us if we have a laugh or two when the tables are turned (the situation is reversed)?

The boot is Los Angeles’s way of dealing with unpaid parking tickets.  What do the police do in the city or town where you live?

~ Lucy

P.S. “To get the boot” has another meaning.  It means to be fired from a job or to be forced to leave a job.  For example, “Lucy got the boot when her boss found her spending all of her time reading the Los Angeles Times blogs.”

P.P.S. On a completely different subject, I wanted to mention that although we’re not able to participate as much as we’d like to in the comment section of the blog, we read every single one of your comments.  So please give us your feedback about what you like and don’t like, or tell us your opinion about the topics we discuss.  We love to hear from you and your comments are very important to us.

Monday - September 20, 2010

Podcasts This Week (September 20, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 618 – Eating at a Casual Restaurant

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “it’s the (something) that counts” and “ahead of time.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The American Diner.”
“Traditionally, a “diner” was a special kind of “prefabricated” (built with standard sizes; not customized) restaurant building. These were long, narrow buildings that could be moved down the road or pulled by trains, and they made it easy for restaurants to be opened very quickly…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 260

Topics:  Famous Americans: Evel Knievel; Colonial Williamsburg; to devote versus to dedicate; the title “Dr.”; between now and then

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Frontier House.”
“In 2002, PBS began “airing” (showing on TV) a show called “Frontier House.”  This reality show followed the lives of three families who agreed to live for five months as “homesteaders” in 1883.  “Homesteaders” were people who agreed to move to…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 619 – Packing Clothes for a Trip

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “wrinkle” and “belt.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Luggage Forwarding Services” for travelers.”
“Many travelers worry about what will happen if the airlines “lose their luggage” (misplace bags, so that suitcases don’t arrive when and where the traveler does). In the past, these people tried to pack less and “squeeze” (fit into a small space) all their things into a carry-on bag…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

If you enjoy our podcasts, please consider supporting ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

Thursday - September 16, 2010

Bob Dylan – Blowin’ in the Wind

I took a trip this week – in my mind – to the past, to my early college and university days. The trip was prompted (caused) by an announcement of a new book, Bob Dylan in America, by Sean Wilentz. Seeing that title (name of the book) brought back memories of difficult times in the United States – violent (very strong) disagreement about the war in Vietnam and civil rights (treatment of African Americans) – and of some of my favorite music.

Wilentz is an American history professor at Princeton University and “historian-in-residence” at BobDylan.com. (We use the phrase “____ in residence” to indicate someone with a special occupation, like an artist or musician, who is paid to work at a university or, here, for a web site.)

Willentz believes that Dylan is the most important American songwriter of the last 50 years. Dylan will always be identified with (connected to) the ’60s, which were years of social unrest (a time of disagreement about social problems, like civil rights) and protest (public show of disagreement). Dylan and the feelings he expressed in his music were an important part of that era (time period). Many Americans shared (had the same) his feelings and ideas.

Dylan is probably best known for his song Blowin’ in the Wind. Most people would call it a protest song – a song calling for social change – because it asks a lot of questions about peace, war, and freedom. It became one of the most popular songs sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary – one of my favorite groups – another group that was involved in the musical protests of the 1960s.

Blowin’ in the Wind asks a lot of questions, but it doesn’t give any specific answers. Instead, each question is followed by a refrain (repeated words) – “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” Some think the refrain means that the answers are right in front of us, like the wind blowing in our faces. Others think it means that the answers are difficult, like trying to catch the wind in your hand. No one knows for sure.

We may not be sure what Dylan meant, but for many people Blowin’ in the Wind summarizes (gives the main points of) the 1960s – a time of social conscience (concern about social issues, like war and civil rights), idealism (ideas about a perfect world), and a touch (small amount) of melancholy (deep, long-lasting sadness) – for many people.

Dylan, who was born in 1941, is still active today. He continues to tour (travel and perform) on what has been called the Never Ending Tour. He has received many awards, including Grammy (music industry), Golden Globe (international entertainment), and Academy (movie industry) Awards, and has been inducted into (made a member of) the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2008 he received a special award for his impact (effect) on popular music and American culture. I think he deserves it!

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for improving your English.

Photo from Joe Gratz is used under Creative Commons License.

Wednesday - September 15, 2010

Podcasts This Week (September 13, 2010)

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 616 – Having a Business Mentor

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to click” and “pointer.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “How to Identify a Good Mentor.”
“Business mentors can be very “valuable” (worth a lot) “resources” (things that can help one do or build something) for young people who are just beginning their career or considering opening a new business. A good mentor can help a “mentee”…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 259

Topics: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Famous Songs: O, Susanna; whichever versus whatever; tar-and-feather; mutually exclusive

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the song parody “O, California.”
“A parody is something people create that copies a writer’s or artist’s style, or copies a “genre” or type of something, usually to create something interesting, funny, and/or amusing.  The song “O, Susanna” is so well known that there have been many parodies of this song…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 617 – Buying Bathroom Supplies

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to live on one’s own” and “to go through.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about about “Features in Luxury Bathrooms.”
“Many Americans want their “master bathroom” (the bathroom in a home that is next to the largest bedroom) to be “luxurious” (very nice and expensive). Many new homes have very large master bathrooms with many “amenities” (special features for comfort)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Saturday - September 11, 2010

A Wikipedia Page in Russian

One of our fantastic podcast listeners, Alexey from Russia, emailed us this week to let us know that he wrote a Wikipedia page about ESL Podcast in Russian. You can read it here: Wiki in Russian.  As with many Wikipedia pages, one person begins the page, but for it to be accepted as a permanent (not temporary) page, it requires the help of others, who can add to and/or edit the page.  Those of you who are literate (able to read and write) in Russian may want to take a look and add your own touches (include things you want to).  Wikipedia frowns on (does not like or allow) organizations and companies to write Wikipedia pages about themselves, and we understand why.  Since we don’t read Russian, we assume that Alexey said wonderful things about the podcast and that Jeff looks and sounds just like Brad Pitt.  Thank you, Alexey.

In all seriousness, we do want to thank Alexey for producing this page.  We know that it takes a lot of time and energy to do it.  And if any of you decide to write or help edit a Wikipedia page about ESL Podcast, please let us know so we can let others know about it here on the blog.

We really appreciate all of the support from our wonderful listeners!

~ Jeff and Lucy

Thursday - September 9, 2010

Forget the iPhone. Check out my rPhone!

Oh, sure, you’ve heard of the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone (phones that have other functions, such as music and video players and web browsers). Millions have been sold, and it has singlehandedly (by itself, without any other help) changed the way people think about phones in terms of (with regards to) style and function. But have you heard of an even cooler (more attractive; more impressive) device (machine), one that makes sounds when you use it, that is a game and a phone all rolled into one (as part of one package, one thing)?  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my new rPhone™*:

Pretty cool, eh?  Of course, those of us of a certain age (that is, old) remember when the only kind of phone was the rPhone, with no tones (sounds) other than the dial tone (the sound you hear when you first pick up a phone, before dialing it).  (The “r” stands for “rotary,” which refers to the circle or wheel you turn with your fingers to make a call.)  You needed to use a little elbow grease (strength) to dial it, and instead of tones, you heard clicks, but it seemed to be sufficient for the first 50+ years of telephone service in the world.

I found my rPhone at an antiques store (where old furniture and other old items are sold) back in St. Paul when I was there in August.  It works great, even though it is probably 40 or 50 years old.  You use your fingers to dial it (it’s like a game!),  it requires no software updates or Internet access, and it never gets a virus (a kind of illness or a harmful computer problem).

I’ve started using it now for most of my calls, and if I need to use the keypad (the numbers 0-9, *, and #) with its tones, I just pick up my other phone on the same phone line.  I love it.  Why?  It takes several seconds to dial a number, slowing down my life just a little and giving me time to think about what I am going to say to the person I’m calling.  It is a little taste (sample) of the slower, calmer life of my youth.  And if the power goes out (the electricity is interrupted or stopped), the rPhone keeps on working – no batteries required.

Next up (the next thing) for me, a manual (non-electric) typewriter!

~Jeff

Photo: © Jeff McQuillan

* = The term rPhone is trademarked (™) by Jeff McQuillan (or should be).