ESL Podcast Home ESL Podcast Store
HOME > BLOG > Archive for December, 2011

Archive for December, 2011

Friday - December 30, 2011

Greatness

This is the last week of the year – the week between Christmas and New Years, between December 25th and January 1st..  This week many of the articles you read and television programs you see will fall into (belong to) two different categories (groups).

Articles and programs in the first category look back (to an earlier time) and reflect on (think carefully about) the previous year (the year before). Articles like this often try to identify important ideas, products, or people from the previous year. Sometimes they suggest lessons that we can learn from what happened during the last year. Jeff’s last blog post – Top 5 Memories of 2011 – falls into this category.

The second kind of article or program looks ahead (to a future time) to the next year and suggests resolutions (promises we make to our selves) – promises to be better, do more, eat less, or try something new. Some people jokingly (trying to be funny) insist (to say something strongly) that resolutions are made to be broken (not kept).

A few days ago I was intrigued (made curious) by a reflective article I saw called The Price of Greatness. To be more precise (accurate), I was intrigued by the title (name) of the article.

It’s easy to understand how the writer, Mark Sigal, is using the word “price.” He doesn’t mean the amount of money you have to pay to become great. I’m pretty sure (certain) he doesn’t believe that  money can buy greatness. No, when Sigal uses the word “price,” he means the time, effort (work), sacrifice (deciding not to have something so you can get something more important), and all the other things that are required (necessary) to be great. Greatness is not cheap (not expensive)! It always has a cost.

Mostly I was curious about how Sigal used the word “greatness.” I wondered (asked myself), “What is his idea of a great person?”

What do we usually mean when we say someone is great? Does it simply (only) mean that they are above average – being better in some way than most other people? Or does it mean that they have been very successful, based on (determined by) how much money they have or how popular or powerful they are?

As I read Sigal’s article, it became apparent (clear) that he was using “great” in a unique (special or certain) way. In his mind, a great person is someone who does something significant – something that is important because of how it will influence or affect people in the future. In other words, greatness is the ability to benefit (improve the lives of) other people many years into the future. I like this definition.

This idea of greatness is not new. In fact, it’s very similar to the idea of wisdom that you find in some ancient (very old) poetry. There, a wise person is often someone who creates long-lasting value, or benefit, for other people. If we think this way, a great or wise person could be almost anyone. It doesn’t have to be someone who is rich or famous. In fact, it could be you or me.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English.

Photo by W. Ediger.

Tuesday - December 27, 2011

Top 5 Memories of 2011

The year 2011 is almost over, and so it is a good time to think back on the good things that have happened this year in our lives, as well as to make some New Year’s resolutions. As we bring to a close (end) the second year of this century’s “teens,” here are some of my favorite things that have happened in my life, or that I have enjoyed about this year:

5. The Sunday Paper – Americans love reading an extra-large newspaper on Sundays.  This isn’t really something special for 2011, but it is something I look forward to (wait for happily) each week. I am fortunate (lucky) enough to subscribe to two papers – the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.  I always put aside (reserve; save) an hour on Sunday morning’s for reading the newspaper at our large dinner table.

4. Visiting Minnesota – I go back to my home state of Minnesota about twice a year to visit my family, especially my mother in St. Paul.  (My father passed away (died) three years ago.)  Coming from such a large family, there are always parties and celebrations to go to.  This fall I went to my niece’s wedding. I always go in the spring, summer, or fall, never in the wintertime, when it’s just too cold!

3. My House – I am very thankful to live in a house I enjoy being in. That hasn’t always been the case (been true) in the past, but this past year I got to move to a house with a nice room for my home office and a comfortable living area.  Most importantly, I got to use my new lawn mower to cut the grass.

2. Good Books – I have always liked reading, but this year I have had the pleasure of reading books both in the traditional paper format and on my iPad.  Some of the books I have enjoyed include Moonwalking with Einstein, The Upside of Irrationality, and, of course, The Dummies Guide to Lawn Care. I’ve also done a lot more reading on the web (blogs, articles), including lots of things I find via (through) Twitter.

1. My Job – I love my work and the people I get to work with – you! I can’t think of a better place to work than (virtually, via the Internet) in the 220+ countries where you all live, and with the thousands of listeners who download our episodes each week.

What are 5 things that you are thankful for this year, or you think have made 2011 a good year?

~Jeff

 Photo credit: Ocean View at Santa Monica, 1927, Los Angeles Public Library
(NB: This photo used to be our “logo” on our MP3 files a few years ago.)

Monday - December 26, 2011

Podcasts This Week (December 26, 2011)

You didn’t get the holiday present you wanted? Give yourself the gift of English!

We designed the Learning Guide to help you learn English better and faster. Get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

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

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 750 – After Christmas Sales

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 get up” and “what else.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Biggest Shopping Days of the Year.”
“Most Americans think that “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving, in late November) is the “biggest shopping day” (the day with the greatest sales) of the year, but that is a “myth” (something that most people believe, but actually is not true)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 326
Topics: Movie: Bonnie and Clyde; Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); to cut (someone) loose versus to set (someone) free versus unrestrained; adjectives versus “who” phrases; words used to describe computer touch screens

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Vertical Farming.”
“People don’t generally think of farming when they think of cities, or “urban” areas. They think of a lot of buildings and a lot of people. But what if you could farm within buildings?…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 751 – Describing One’s Taste in Music

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 grown on (someone)” and “all ears.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Major and Indie Record Labels.”
“A “record label” is the name of the company that produced a song or album, and its name and “logo” (an image representing an organization or business) appears on the CD. The largest record labels are “referred to as” (called)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Tuesday - December 20, 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Past

One of the more famous works of fiction (novels or stories) written in English about Christmas is Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. In the story, the main character (person), Ebenezer Scrooge, is taken by a ghost (the spirit of a dead person who comes back to Earth) to recall (remember) his own childhood. There are both good memories and bad memories for Scrooge, as I suppose there are for all of us when it comes to (as it relates to) recalling our days as children. Allow me to share some of mine with you as many of us prepare to celebrate Christmas this week.

Like many children, I have happy memories of Christmas as a child. Being the youngest of 11 children, I was born into a family that already had many of its own Christmas customs (practices; traditions) established by the time I arrived. As with many families, we had a Christmas tree, but since real trees were expensive to buy every year, my parents had an artificial (not real) tree. The first one I remember wasn’t even green – it was made of metal! But it didn’t matter to me or my family – Christmas was a special time of year with or without an actual tree.

We would spend time during the first week of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) putting the tree together and decorating it. My mother made lots of ornaments (small decorations that hang on a Christmas tree) by hand (by herself, without a machine) which we put on the tree. The tree was put in the corner of our living room, and underneath (below) it, you would put the wrapped (placed in color paper) gifts you were giving to other members of the family. Since our family was so big, we actually picked names out of a hat – that is, we put everyone’s name on a piece of paper, then into a small hat, and then selected the person we would buy a gift for.  This was also how my mother chose my first name, Jeffrey, when I was born, but that’s another story (a different story I won’t tell now)!

All of my siblings (brothers and sisters) and I had a Christmas stocking (a large red and white sock with your name on it).  The stockings were hung from the stairs leading to (going up to) the second floor. On Christmas morning, Santa Claus (well, I now think it was probably my parents) would put a small gift in the stocking, in addition to a wrapped gift under the Christmas tree.

The entire house was decorated for Christmas. On the outside door hung a Christmas wreath, a round, green circle made from parts of a (real!) tree. In one of the windows, my father had a large plastic Santa Claus that had a light inside of it so you could see it at night.

Most importantly, in our dining room, there was a manger or Nativity scene.  A manger is technically a small box used to put food in for animals, but it has come to represent the place of the “first Christmas,” where Jesus, the founder of the Christian religion, was born. (Nativity comes from the Latin word natus, meaning born.) Tradition has it (it is said or thought) that Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Nativity scene back in the thirteenth century. A manger or Nativity scene usually includes small statues (objects that look like people) of Jesus’s mother, Mary, of Mary’s husband, Joseph, and of Jesus, along with some animals (see photo above for an example). Nativity scenes are now found in churches and, as was the case for my family, in many homes.  Amidst (in the middle of) all of the buying and gift giving and celebrating of Christmas, the manger scene was supposed to help my siblings and I remember what the holiday was really all about.

To those who will celebrate it this weekend, I wish you a very merry Christmas – and a happy Hanukkah to those who begin the Jewish “festival of lights” celebrations tonight.  As we enter this holiday season, I invite you to share some of your memories or current customs in celebrating this time of year.

~Jeff

 Photo credit: Nativity Scene, Wikipedia

 

 

 

Monday - December 19, 2011

Podcasts This Week (December 19, 2011)

There are only a few days left before Christmas and you’re still wondering what to get friends and family? Give them something they can really use: an ESL Podcast Membership!

With an ESL Podcast Basic or Premium Membership, they’ll get the Learning Guide with helpful vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide for your friends and family, and support ESL Podcast by giving a Basic or Premium Membership today!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 748 – Writing a Letter of Inquiry

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 enclose” and “consideration.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “What Personnel Officers Do.”
“A personnel officer is a ‘human resources’ (related to staffing an organization or business) ‘generalist’ (someone who knows a little bit about many things, but is not an expert in one particular area). Most personnel officers are ‘tasked with’…”  – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 325
Topics:  Movie – Bonnie and Clyde; Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); to cut (someone) loose versus to set (someone) free versus unrestrained; adjectives versus “who” phrases; words used to describe computer touch screens

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Vertical Farming.”
“People don’t generally think of farming when they think of cities, or ‘urban’ areas. They think of a lot of buildings and a lot of people. But what if you could farm within buildings?…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 749 – Getting Standard Medical Test Results

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 “physical” and “range.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about what typically occurs when you see a doctor for a “Standard Physical.”
“Doctors check many things during an annual physical, depending on a patient’s ‘health history’ (records of what kinds of medical problems a person has had in the past). But all ‘standard’ (typical; common) physicals begin with…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - December 15, 2011

He Died Before the End of the Story

From time to time, ESL Podcast blog readers have asked where I find my ideas. The answer is really quite simple: every day, as I scan (look quickly at) the articles that come to my computer, I look for article topics that interest me and that I think I can make interesting to you, the readers. If you’re a regular (someone who does something often) here on the blog, you know that I’m interested in the arts, music, and people.

A few days ago I saw an article title – The Art of Listening – that stopped me. I wondered if it might be something I could use in my teaching and writing. Listening, of course (certainly, obviously), is how we get most of our spoken fluency (and that’s why the ESL Podcast is such a great gift to English learners).

The article, however, went in a totally different direction (it was about something different). The writer, a Western artist working in Mozambique, built (based) the article on a modern African parable (a story that teaches a lesson). In the article he tells how he, and others, had taken a break (stopped to rest) from a rehearsal (practice) for a theater performance. He writes:

It was a hot day, and we were taking a break from rehearsals so we fled (ran) outside, hoping that a cool breeze would drift (move slowly) past. The theater’s air-conditioning system had long since stopped functioning (working). It must have been over 100 degrees (F., about 38 C.) inside while we were working.

He writes that two old African men made room for him on the stone bench they were sitting on. As the writer sat next to them, he listened as they talked about a third old man who had died recently.

“I was visiting him at his home,” one of the men said, “and he began to tell me an amazing story about something that happened to him when he was young. But it was a long story. Night came, and we decided that I should come back the next day to hear the rest. But when I arrived, he was dead.”

The writer needed to return to his rehearsal, but didn’t want to leave the bench. He wanted to hear how the other man would respond (reply). He writes, “I had an instinctive (not conscious) feeling that it would prove to be important.”

Finally the second old man spoke. “That’s not a good way to die – before you’ve told the end of the story.”

The writer goes on to say that he thinks that we could call our species (all people as a group) “homo narrans” – the story-telling person – rather than “homo sapiens” – which in Latin means “wise man.” “What differentiates us (makes us different) from animals,” he writes, “is the fact that we can listen to other people’s dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires, and defeats – and they in turn can listen to ours.”

In the Christmas story I grew up with, angels sing a song of desire, hope, and even promise. The great German composer George F. Handel translates it this way in his work The Messiah: “…peace on earth, good will* towards men.”

I often think that if we listened more than we talked, if we were more interested in hearing the other person’s story than telling ours, that song might some day come true.

If I may (if it’s okay) – since I am one who celebrates Christmas – I’d like wish you a merry Christmas. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, my family and I hope that this holiday time at the end of the year will be a very special time for you and your family.

*Synonyms for good will include words like compassion, goodness, kindness, thoughtfulness, understanding, and neighborliness.

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

Photo by bigdmia is used under Creative Commons license.

 

Monday - December 12, 2011

Podcasts This Week (December 12, 2011)

Wondering what to get your friends and family? Give them the gift of English!

An ESL Podcast Premium or Basic Membership will help them learn English better and faster. They’ll get more vocabulary and language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Make your family and friends happy and support ESL Podcast by giving a Basic or Premium Membership today!
………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 746 – Traveling Over the Holidays

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 “at all costs” and “to think (something) out.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Airport Lounges” in American airports.
“An ‘airport lounge’ is a special room or ‘suite’ (group of rooms) in an airport that only certain people have access to. Most lounges are owned by the airlines, and ‘frequent fliers’…”  – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 324

Topics:  Stephen Foster and his songs; “ish” suffix; California casual; “If it be your will”

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Horseracing and the Daily Racing Form.”
“The song ‘Camptown Races’ mentioned in this English Cafe has long been ‘associated’ (connected) with horseracing. In fact, some racetracks’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 747 – Visiting a Ranch

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 look the part” and “bit.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Cowgirls in the Old West.”
“When people think about the ‘Old West’ (the lifestyle in the Western United States in the late 1800s), they often ‘picture’ (imagine; see images in their mind of) cowboys, but cowgirls…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - December 8, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

In recent years, several young adult or teen novels have made the crossover (crossed the boundary; become popular in more than one category) from popularity with just teens to popularity with adults. Perhaps the most notable (worthy of attention) example is the Harry Potter books. Although written primarily (mainly) for children and teens, the books have become bestsellers among adults as well.  The same can be said (the same thing is true) of Twilight, a series written for adolescents or young adults.

Another adolescent series is about to join these popular teen favorites:  The Hunger Games trilogy (a set of three books telling a continuing story).  The Hunger Games books are written in the genre (category of books) of science fiction and is set (takes place) in the future, where present-day life on Earth has been destroyed, but a new population has emerged (come to life), ruled by a repressive (very controlling and strict) government.  The three books in the series feature (have as its main character) a teenage girl, who reluctantly (does not want to) participates in the annual (done each year) Hunger Games, a tournament where teenagers from every district or area fight to the death, with only one teenager left alive, who is crowned (officially given the title of) the champion or winner.  These Hunger Games  become much more than a just a competition; it is the catalyst (something that starts an important event) that begins a revolution (an attempt to remove the government).

The Hunger Games books have consistently (without change) been on the bestseller list in the U.S. for many weeks, and the series is about to do what the Harry Potter and Twilight series have done:  Make the leap (large jump) to the big screen (into the movies). The first Hunger Games movie is set (scheduled) to be released in March of 2012 in the U.S.  If you want to get a jump on (be ahead of) the movie, there’s still time to read the first book in the series before the movie release.  I just finished the trilogy and highly recommend it.  It is well-written and has the complexity (with many elements; complications) that would appeal to an adult.  They’re the type of books that are hard to put down once you’ve started reading them because the plot (storyline) and the characters (people in stories) are so compelling (interesting and easily keeps your attention).

So if you like good adventure stories, you might like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. (The second book is called Catching Fire and the third book is called Mockingjay.)  If you like adventure movies, look for the movie in theaters early next year.  Hopefully, the movie will do the book justice (reflect the high quality of the books).

~ Lucy

Art Credit: “Hunger games” from Wikipedia

Monday - December 5, 2011

Podcasts This Week (December 5, 2011)

Are you tired of not understanding what you hear in English? Get the Learning Guide and see in the complete transcript every word you hear on the podcasts. Get extra help with new vocabulary, test yourself with comprehension questions, and learn more about American culture.

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

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 744 – Dealing With a Mistake

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 “on (someone’s) end” and “to screw up.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “How Companies Place Business Orders.”
“Large companies can ‘place’ (make) orders and pay for their purchases in many ways. One of the most common is a ‘purchase order’…”  – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 323

Topics: American Presidents – John Adams; the Boy/Girl Scouts; What time is it? versus What is the time?; to rock; for all intents and purposes

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Presidents Related to Other Presidents.”
“In American politics, it is not uncommon to find ‘legacies,’ or people who hold the same position as their father or mother, or some other older relative. As in any other ‘profession’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 745 – Welcoming a Houseguest

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 talk to (oneself)” and “to hog.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Houseguest Etiquette.”
“Americans often invite other people to stay in their homes, especially friends or relatives who are visiting from far away. Although there aren’t any written rules, it is important for those visitors to be aware of houseguest ‘etiquette’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - December 1, 2011

Strange Bedfellows or Kindred Spirits?

Walt Disney. Salvador Dali. Strange bedfellows? Or kindred spirits?

When we say that two people are strange bedfellows, we mean that we don’t usually connect them in our thinking.  The relationship seems odd (unusual or unexpected) to us. Shakespeare used these two words in his play The Tempest to describe two very different characters who, surprisingly, became partners (people who do an activity together).

As a child, Walt Disney loved to draw. The love of drawing led Disney to become an animator – an artist who creates images that give the appearance of movement when they are shown quickly, one after the other. He is the father of Mickey Mouse and all the other well-loved Disney cartoon characters. Before he died in 1966, Disney’s work grew to include award-winning movies and the theme parks, like Disney World, that have brought joy to people from around the world.

Salvador Dali is well-known in the art world, but not as well known as Disney outside of it. Dali, a Spanish painter, lived at about the same time Disney did. Dali is probably the best known of the artists we call surrealists.

Surrealists believed that people put too much emphasis on reason and knowledge, so they created wildly imaginative dream worlds in their art. They put objects together that don’t usually appear together. And they painted common objects in unusual ways. Dali, for example, paints larger-than-life (bigger than you would expect) watches hanging on trees and other objects as if they were laundry (dirty clothing) hanging out to dry after being washed in his famous painting The Persistence of Memory. Many of his paintings, like Persistence, seem to show a great sense of humor and make us smile. Some of his paintings, however, like Christ of St. John of the Cross, are serious works that make us think. I have a copy of it hanging on the wall of my office and often look at it and wonder what exactly Dali was thinking about when he painted it.

A few days ago, I discovered that Disney and Dali collaborated (worked together) on a short film, called Destino, near the end of World War II. Nobody knew about Destino until Disney’s brother Roy found it in 1999. In 2003 Destino was nominated (officially suggested) for an Academy Award (an Oscar).

Destino tells the tragic (sad) love story of Chronos (time as a person), who falls in love with a mortal (human) woman. Disney’s animation brings the two characters to life as they float (move without effort) across Dali’s surrealist landscapes (pictures showing areas of land). The film’s music was written by Mexican composer Armando Dominguez.

I’m fascinated by the different ways the two artists described the film. Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disney World, calls it “a simple story about a young girl in search of true love.” Dali, the surrealist artist, says it’s a magical display (showing something so it is easy to see) of the problem of life in the labyrinth (something that’s hard to understand and difficult to escape) of time.” I’ll let you decide which it is.

Here are the lyrics (words) of the song; they are repeated (sung again) several times:

Now I can smile and say:
Destino, my heart was sad and lonely
in knowing that you only could bring my love to me.
Destino, this heart of mine is thrilled (excited) now.
My empty arms are filled now as they were meant to be.
For you came along (appeared), out a dream I recall (remember).
Yes, you came along to answer my call.
I know now that you are my destino (destiny=future).
We’ll be as one, for we know our destiny of love.

Walt Disney. Salvador Dali. Strange bedfellows? I think not. I think they’re more like kindred spirits (people who share similar beliefs, attitudes, abilities, or feelings). They were creative geniuses (someone with a high level of ability or intelligence) who have made us smile and helped us think differently about life. I think it’s fitting (appropriate) that they worked together to create Destino.

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