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Archive for July, 2011

Thursday - July 28, 2011

Let’s Go to the Mall!

Whether people intend (plan) to buy or only window-shop (look without buying), shopping malls have become popular destinations (places to go) around the world. “Let’s go to the mall,” is heard often in many households (people who live together, usually families) and many languages.

An article on The New Yorker web site tells the story of Victor Gruen, the man many people call the creator of the modern shopping mall. I was fascinated by his story and by the “science” of mall design.

Gruen grew up in Vienna. As a young man, he studied architecture (the design of buildings) during the day, and performed with his friends in cabarets (restaurants or clubs with live music and dance performances) in the evening. In 1938, he immigrated from Germany to the U.S. to escape Nazi persecution (cruel treatment) of the Jews. When he arrived in the U.S., he said he had “an architect’s degree, eight dollars, and no English.”

One day Gruen went for a walk in downtown New York and met a friend who wanted to open a leather-goods (products, like purses, made from leather) boutique (a small store selling fashionable products) on Fifth Avenue, a popular location for exclusive (fashionable and expensive) shops. Gruen agreed to design the shop and came up with a new idea that some called a “customer trap” – an area to attract customers and pull them into the store. Let me explain.

Up until this time, the fronts of most stores were flat. Gruen changed that. He created an open space outside at the front of the store – shaped like a “U” – with glass cases to display (show) the products. He also added special lighting and a special floor. Many customers who walked into this space – called an arcade – to look at the products continued into the store to buy something they first saw outside.

Gruen began his most famous project – Southdale in Edina, Minnesota – more than 50 years ago. It was the first of the modern malls. There were no windows on the outside; the fronts of all the stores faced (looked toward) the inside of the mall. The entire mall – with 72 stores – was under one roof and it was heated and air-conditioned. Gruen put the stores on two levels connected by escalators (moving stairs) and added two levels of parking outside the mall. In the middle of the mall he created a kind of town square with a fishpond, artificial (not live) trees, a cage of colorful birds, hanging plants, and a cafe. It was, according to news stories, a sensation (exciting, very interesting)!

I’m always fascinated by why things are done a certain way. The “science” of mall design used by Gruen – his reasons for doing things the way he did – has been borrowed and further developed (added to) by other mall designers. Here are some of the popular mall design ideas:

  • Always include two or more anchor stores – large, popular stores that will attract people to the mall. Put the anchor stores at opposite ends of the mall to create as much foot traffic (people walking) as possible for the smaller stores in between them.
  • Alfred Taubman, another mall designer, says malls should have two levels with escalators at each end. This allows a customer to come into the mall, walk along one level, take the escalator up or down, walk back along the other level, and easily return to his or her car.
  • Put the escalators at the end of the mall – near the anchor stores – so shoppers have to walk past more stores to get to them.
  • Taubman also puts more parking on the upper level than the lower level. “People flow like water,” he says. “They go down easier than they go up” and they’ll visit more of the mall if they start at the top level.
  • Make the handrails on the second level transparent (easy to see through) so shoppers can look through them and see all the stores.
  • Be sure the main corridors (where people walk) are no more than one-thousand feet (about 300 meters) long – if people have to walk farther than that, they lose interest in shopping.
  • Keep related stores near each other – for example, put a Johnson & Murphy shoe store near a Brooks Brothers clothing store where a man might buy a new suit so he can get everything he needs without walking far.

Modern designers have experimented with many new ideas. The next time you visit a mall, take time to look around. See if you can identify some of the things the designers have done to give you a good experience and, of course, to encourage you to buy … buy … buy …!

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll always find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

 Shopping mall photo by J. Franganillo used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday - July 26, 2011

The 27 Club

This past Saturday, the singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her apartment. Although the authorities (police and other government agencies) are still determining how she died, the singer had a long history with drug abuse (being addicted to or reliant on illegal drugs).  Amy Winehouse was 27 years old.

It’s tragic (very sad) that such a talented singer has died at this young age.  However, she’s not alone.  Also dying at 27 were  Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain.  This has been called “The 27 Club.”

Is there something about the magic number of 27?  Probably not, but one writer in the Washington Post suggested one reason we remember these singers:

“Their swirling mythologies congeal around a relatively small body of work. Many of these artists were young visionaries who left bold marks but didn’t live long enough to slide into mediocrity.”

Mythology is a set of stories about a person, place, or event that might explain why things are the way they are. For example, we all know about the Greek and Roman myths or mythology and in every culture there is a mythology about how the world was created.

To congeal means for a liquid to become more solid, often because the temperature has cooled.  This is what happens when I leave my dirty dishes in the sink overnight.  The next morning, the dishes have a congealed mess on them that I have to clean off.

A body of work is a collection of what an artist, musician, writer, or any person who does something creative produces over a period of time, often over one’s lifetime.  ESL Podcast’s body of work now includes over 1000 podcasts.

Many of those who died young and whom we still remember were considered visionaries, or people who have big and important ideas about what to do or what to create.  To leave a mark on something means to have a major influence on something or to affect something a lot.

Finally, to slide is to move smoothly over a surface, so to slide into mediocrity means to move without any difficulty or interruption over time into being average, or nothing special.

Amy Winehouse had produced only two albums (CD’s) before she died.  Her biggest hit was “Back in Black,” followed by a song called “Rehab,” which talked about her own troubles with drug use. When artists die young, we create our own mythology about who they were, what they represented, and why it happened.  Only time will tell (we’ll only know in the future) what type of mythology will develop about her.

Do you like or admire any other musicians, artists, actors, etc. for whom a mythology has developed?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit:  Newport Cemetery from Wikipedia



Monday - July 25, 2011

Podcasts This Week (July 25, 2011)

Get the most out of each podcast. Listening is helpful, but reading the Learning Guide as well will help you learn English even faster.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

ESL Podcast 706 – Feeling Ill from Food While Traveling

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 guard against” and “some.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Items Not Allowed to be Brought into the United States.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the part of the U.S. government that “secures” (keeps safe) the nation’s “borders” (geographic lines between countries)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

English Cafe 304

Topics: American Presidents:  Bill Clinton; Louisiana Voodoo; articulation versus enunciation versus pronunciation; to start versus commence; I believe you versus I believe in you

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.”
“While Bill Clinton was serving as the President of the United States, the “press” (news organizations) often mentioned his love of unhealthy foods, such as fried chicken.  The president “reportedly” (was said to) liked “doughnuts”… – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ESL Podcast 707 – Looking Back on One’s Life

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 plan out” and “content.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”
“Benjamin Franklin was one of the “Founding Fathers” (one of the men who made important contribution to the country’s creation) of the United States. He made many important contributions to history, politics, science, and more…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - July 21, 2011

ESL Podcast’s Sixth Anniversary Video: The (Really) Serious Episode

Join us at English as a Second Language (ESL) Podcast in celebrating our sixth anniversary with our annual video episode! This one is called The (Really) Serious Episode, and when you watch it, you’ll see why.

Thanks to all of you who have listened to us the past year, and especially to those who have either donated money or become a member of ESL Podcast.  Your financial support is necessary for us to continue.  If you’re not a member, consider joining today.

Thank you again!

~Jeff, Lucy, and the ESL Podcast Team

P.S. The transcript for the video is below.

Video Transcript

Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast’s Sixth Anniversary Video.  I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.  We want to begin our episode by thanking you, our listeners.  We recently released our one-thousandth episode and we have thousands of you in almost every country around the world listening and improving your English.

Now, you may know that in the past, our anniversary videos have been funny, or tried to be funny.  But not this year.  This year, we’re going to do a serious anniversary video podcast.  It’s serious business learning English, and we thought that we should do a serious video podcast this year.

Now, before I do that, let me just say that some people have emailed us suggestions about things we should do.  People have emailed and said, “Oh, Jeff, you should wear a funny hat.  And you’re from Minnesota, maybe, maybe a Viking hat because the Minnesota Vikings are the Minnesota football team, a hat, something like this.  Well, I’m not going to do it.  I’m not going to wear a hat.  That’s just not serious.  It’s not dignified.

Where was I?  Oh, yes, I also to want to thank those who help us here at ESL Podcast:  Jessica, one of our writers and our customer service representative; Sue, our video editor and proofer; Warren Ediger of who writes blog posts for us; and Adriano, our wonderful webmaster.

Before I forget, some other people have emailed other suggestions, things they thought would be funny on our anniversary video podcast.  Some people said, “Oh, you should grow a mustache, you know, something, something maybe like this.  Oh, that would be funny.”  Well, it’s not funny.  As I said, this is a serious podcast episode and I’m not going to wear a mustache, mustache, just to be funny – not going to happen.

Our biggest thanks go to those of you who are members of ESL Podcast or who buy courses in our store.  Your financial support is absolutely necessary for us.  If you’re not a member, go to our website at and become a member and help us keep this podcast going.

Now, one more thing I got as a suggestion.  Someone who thought it would be funny if I sang on this video episode, as I have in some of our previous anniversary video podcasts.  They suggested I sing something by the Bee Gees, something like, you know, something like one of those horrible 70’s songs – [sings “How Deep is Your Love”]. No, that’s not going to happen.  I’m not going to sing the Bee Gees as part of this anniversary video podcast.

Finally, I want to thank Dr. Lucy Tse, our producer and scriptwriter, for her wonderful work this year.  Lucy also wanted to send a serious message as part of this episode. Lucy?

Thank you.  From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan.  Thank you for listening.

Tuesday - July 19, 2011

Attention Nokia Owners: Get ESL Podcast on Your Phone!

If you own a Nokia phone, you can now download ESL Podcast audio files directly onto your phone with our new Ovi app. Go here for more information and to download the app onto your phone.  (If you like the app, please rate it five stars and write a good review for us!)

For iPhone users, you can simply access the podcast on iTunes.

For Android users, any program that can access an RSS file will work.  Try the Google Listen app.  You will need to enter our RSS feed address, which is:

Happy listening!


Photo Credit: Nokia Store, Used with permission


Monday - July 18, 2011

Podcasts This Week (July 18, 2011)

We need your help to continue producing ESL Podcast. If you enjoy our podcasts, please consider supporting ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!


ESL Podcast 704 – Reselling Products for Profit

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 sell out” and “premium.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Efforts to Stop Ticket Scalping.”
“Scalping tickets can be a good way to make extra money, but many people argue it is unfair and should be stopped. They believe ticket scalping “prevents” (doesn’t allow) people to attend events…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

English Cafe 303

Topics:Jaws; The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Star, and the Medal of Honor; to go in versus to go into versus to get in versus to get into; overwhelming; off-kilter

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the “Connections Between the Movie Jaws and the Novel Moby-Dick.”
“Screenwriters” (writers of scripts for television shows and films), like writers of books and stories, often “draw” (get; take) influences from other “literary works”… – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ESL Podcast 705 – An Exclusive Guest List

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 “draft” and “to buff up.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Famous Gatecrashers.”
“Probably the most “infamous” (famous for doing something bad or wrong) gatecrashers “in recent history” (in the past few years) are Michaele and Tareq Salahi. They are a married couple from the state of Virginia…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - July 14, 2011

New Markets for Hollywood Films

Summer is in full swing (in the middle of something, usually with a lot of activity) and the summer blockbusters, or those movies likely to make a lot of money, are out. I recently read an interesting story about Hollywood films becoming popular in countries that have, in the past, not been very interested in them. These new opportunities for new customers (or audiences, in this case) are often called new markets or emerging markets.

I thought I’d take just one paragraph from this article and explain some of the terms:

Box-office growth in countries such as Russia, Brazil and China (Europe and Japan have long been fertile ground for American movies) comes as theater attendance in the U.S. and Canada has flattened and once-lucrative DVD sales have plummeted.”

A box-office is the place where we buy movie, play, and other performance tickets, so this term is used to refer to how many tickets are sold.  If a movie has a big box-office, it has sold a lot of tickets and is a money-making success.  When a movie sells very few tickets, we say that the movie has bombed.

If something is fertile, it is easy to grow things there.  A woman can be described as fertile if, for example, she gives birth to 11 children.  The ground or soil is often described as fertile, meaning that plants and crops (plants used for food) grow easily and well there.

For something to flatten means to for it to not change, not increase or decrease.  We usually use this to talk about something that has been growing or increasing, but now, that growth or increase has stopped.  This use of “flattened” probably comes from line charts or graphs, showing trends or movement over time.

If something is lucrative, it is likely to make you a lot of money.  We use it to talk about business deals or opportunities: “My brother told me about a lucrative new stock, but I’m too unsure about it to buy it.”

To plummet means to fall or decrease very quickly and very much.  You can use this word literally to mean that someone or something falls very quickly from a high place:  “Jeff dropped the water balloon out of the window, but it plummeted to the ground without hitting me.”  More often, we use “plummet” figuratively to talk about things that decrease quickly:
– “Sales of bananas grown in this area plummeted when people got sick from eating them.”
– “The price of our company’s stocks plummeted with news of the scandal.”

These are all common terms we use, not only to talk about the market for movies, but to talk about business in general (with the exception of “box office,” of course).  You can read the full article here.

Have you seen any Hollywood blockbusters recently you’d recommend? Are you looking forward to any that you’ve heard about?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: “Movie Premier Setup” from Wikipedia

Monday - July 11, 2011

Podcasts This Week (July 11, 2011)

Three podcasts a week aren’t enough for you? Improve your English even faster by getting the Learning Guide.

Get the Learning Guide for each new episode and support ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

ESL Podcast 702 – Finding Other Singles

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 cruise for” and “all right.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Other Uses of the Word ‘Single.'”
“When people refer to “singles,” they’re usually talking about unmarried people, or people who are not involved in a romantic relationship. But in different “contexts” (situations), the same word can have very different meanings…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

English Cafe 302

Topics: Famous Americans:  Thomas Edison; Liberia; symposium versus workshop versus seminar; to account for; “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Thomas Edison’s Unusual Inventions.”
“Thomas Edison was a “prolific” (producing a lot) inventor who had nearly 1,000 patents in the U.S., and another approximately 500 in other countries.  Many of his inventions are well known today, and affect the daily lives of people all over the world.  However, some of his other inventions have not received as much “notice” (attention)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ESL Podcast 703 – Attending an Auction

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 “lot” and “paddle.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Common Types of Auctions.”
“The most common types of auctions in the United States are “English auctions,” where bidders can see who the other bidders are, and they start with a low price, “working up” (increasing the amount of the bids) until only one person is…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - July 7, 2011

A Declaration of Endurance

This headline (the title of a newspaper article) – A Declaration of Endurance (the ability to do something difficult for a long time) – caught my eye (got my attention) as I was looking through the New York Times online on the 4th of July, the day we Americans celebrate our independence (freedom). I started to read:

For the last few nights, brief shimmers (soft shaking light) of fireworks have sparkled (shine in small bright flashes) in the dark skies over Joplin, heralding (announcing) the approach of another national birthday. But the monstrous (very large) tornado that mowed  through (went through the town like a grass-cutting machine) here six weeks ago forced (make someone do something they don’t want to do) the city to change its Fourth of July plans.

That much didn’t surprise me. Six weeks ago, Joplin, Missouri – in the center of the U.S. – was nearly wiped out (destroyed) by a monster tornado. Here’s how the New York Times writer described it:

A first-time visitor to Joplin today might gasp (breath loudly and suddenly when you are surprised) at the sight of some of its neighborhoods: the destroyed and vacant (empty) houses; the stripped (without bark or branches) trees; the front steps leading to emptiness (nothing); the crushed (broken or badly damaged) cars evoking (causing us to remember) the dead; the many streets that … have no power, no light, no life.

Such is the aftermath (result) of an EF5 (the most powerful) tornado that landed and lingered (stayed for a while) on the Sunday evening of May 22, carving (cutting like a knife) across the city’s belly (center), carrying winds of more than 200 miles an hour, changing everything. Dozens were killed, more than 7,000 buildings — schools, churches, a hospital — were damaged or destroyed, and a city’s economy was upended (turned upside down, badly damaged).

After the tornado, there was only destruction (ruin, damage) as far as you could see in any direction. Almost everything that people were used to seeing was gone. Today, six week later, everything has changed – again:

Joplin is now a study in tidy (neat) devastation (destruction), if such a thing is possible, with many swept streets, many [cleaned-up] front yards and many neat (orderly) mounds (piles) of debris (what’s left when something is destroyed) at curbside (beside the street). For example, where the concrete-and-steel remains of [a popular organization] once sat, in sad memorial (memory) to four dead, there is now a spotless foundation (bottom of the building)…. With the dead now buried, and the displaced (people without homes) now sheltered (have a place to live), it is focusing (concentrating) on removing the debris, so as to see the possibilities beneath.

When I remembered everything the people of Joplin experienced, I’m wasn’t surprised to discover that they had changed their traditional 4th of July celebration this year. What surprised me is that they insisted on making it “bigger and louder and better than ever” (You can learn more about that by reading the article.)!

As I read the article, I was moved (had strong feelings). This was not just a story about the people of Joplin. It was more. It was a story about the American spirit – the ideas, beliefs, feelings, etc., that you will find in many Americans.

I couldn’t find a specific description of the American spirit online. But maybe that’s the way it should be because spirit shows up (appears) in different ways in different situations. In Joplin, the American spirit has shown up in the resilience – the ability to become strong, happy, or successful again after a bad situation or event – of the city and its inhabitants (people who live there).

The first President Bush talked about resilience in a speech he gave after he lost the election to President Clinton in 1992. He said “I could also see every day in ways large and small the resiliency of the American spirit.” He described many of the difficulties the people of the U.S. had faced (experienced) and how they had bounced back (recovered) from them. And he said that “our advantage has been our spirit, constant confidence” – in other words, our resilience. The people of Joplin are good evidence (proof) that he was right.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo by John T. Pilot used under Creative Commons license.


Monday - July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day, a national holiday in the United States. We’ve talked about the Fourth of July a few times (here and here and here). This day marks (indicates; remembers) the anniversary of the signing of our Declaration (Statement) of Independence from Great Britain back in 1776.  For our listeners in the United States, enjoy your holiday!


P.S. Today also marks the 1000th episode of ESL Podcast (700 dialog episodes plus 300 English Cafes).  We’ll save most of our celebrating for our 6th anniversary coming up (taking place in the future) in a few weeks.

Photo Credit: “Fireworks Behind the Washington Monument”
by Sargent Lono Kollars, U.S. Air Force, Wikipedia PD