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Archive for February, 2013

Thursday - February 28, 2013

Why Are You Learning English?

There are about 375 million people who speak English as their first language (language learned from parents; first language we learn as a child). By some estimates (guesses based on available information), there are between half a billion and a billion people around the world who speak English as a second language (language learned after your first).

We all know that English is useful or important to you in some way, or else you wouldn’t be listening to ESL Podcast or reading this blog.  But we thought it would be interesting to know your particular reason(s) for improving your English.

The poll below lists some of the most popular reasons.  Check as many as applies to (is true for) you.  If your reason isn’t listed, tell us in the comments.

~ Lucy

P.S.  A few of you have noted Jeff’s absence (being missing) from the blog recently. He has been very busy working on ESL Podcast projects for you, our listeners, and I am filling in (doing some of his work) in the meantime . However, like the Terminator, he’ll be back — soon.

 

Why are you learning English?

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Tuesday - February 26, 2013

We the People Want a Death Star

We_the_People_logoIn a democracy, people are supposed to be able to tell the government what they want and how the country should be run (organized and managed). In reality, that’s not exactly how American democracy works.  However, on September 22, 2011, a new feature appeared on the White House website that gives Americans a new way to give the government their two cents (opinion). It is called “We the People.”

This website allows Americans to write an electronic petition and to gather (collect) signatures. A petition is a written request to the people in power who can make the changes or do the things you request.  A petition usually states what the petitioners (people asking) want and also contains the signatures (hand-written name) of the people who want to show their support for the petition. “We the People” is an opportunity for citizens (people who officially belong to a country) to send in their ideas and to provide solutions to a number of different political problems in the country.  Petitions have long been used in the American political system, but in the past, petitions were written or printed, and people had to sign their names to it in person.

On this website, any American can start a petition, but it must get the support of other Americans. First, for it to appear on the White House website and be searchable (able to be found by doing a computer search), it must receive at least 150 signatures within 30 days.  Second, to receive a response from the White House staff (workers), the petition must get at least 100,000 signatures within 30 days. (Before January 2013, that number was just 5,000. I guess the website has become too popular and there isn’t enough staff to respond to all of the most popular petitions.)

As you can imagine, there are serious and not so serious petitions. A not so serious petition was submitted in 2012.  The petition asked the government to construct (build) a Death Star.  If you have seen any of the Star Wars movies, then you know what the Death Star is.  It is a fictional (not real) space station the size of the moon that is armed (supplied with) many weapons and is very powerful, powerful enough to destroy a planet, like the Earth. Creating a Death Star, the petitioners said, would stimulate (cause something to work better, more, and/or faster) the economy and create jobs.  The petition received enough signatures to receive a response, which the government released in January of 2013. It was a humorous (funny), tongue-in-cheeck (using irony (using words that mean the opposite and not showing seriousness or respect)) letter.

First, a Death Star could not be built, the letter said, because the cost is estimated to be 852 quadrillion dollars ($850,000,000,000,000,000).  Second, at the current rate of steel (strong metal) production, it would take 833,000 years to construct. Finally, the letter said: “The Administration (government) does not support blowing up (causing to explode and to be destroyed) planets.”  You can the read the entire response here.

So, the answer was no.

Some people have criticized the “We the People” website saying that the petitions are not taken seriously and that they don’t really cause any change. In fact, there is a petition asking the government to shut down (close) the website because it is “worthless.”

Still, there are many serious petitions.  For example, there are petitions asking the government to reexamine (look again at) gun control (allowing people to buy and own guns and other weapons) laws and to establish new federal (national) holidays. You can see current petitions by clicking on “view the petitions” here.

Are petitions used in your country to change the government?

~ Lucy

P.S. To learn why the website is called “We the People,” listen to English Cafe 92, in which Jeff talks about the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

 

Monday - February 25, 2013

Podcasts This Week (February 25, 2013)

We really appreciate our listeners and we are especially grateful to our members and donors, because we are only able to produce this podcast with their generous help.

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

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 872 – A Publicity Stunt

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 dress up as” and “to tie into.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Business Publicity Stunts.”
“Businesses “engage in” (are involved in) many different types of publicity stunts to gain media coverage and public attention for their businesses…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 387

Topics: Movies – The Maltese Falcon; Napa Valley, California and wine country; usage of “bit”; abuse versus assault; to put (someone) in the picture

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Bootlegging.”
“Bootlegging is the “illegal” (against the law) making or selling of something. In the United States, alcohol was illegal…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 873 – Avoiding Giving an Opinion

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 leave” and “either way.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Ways of Avoiding Speaking to the Press.”
“When the ‘press’ (newspapers, magazines, TV news shows, and the reporters associated with them) is ‘investigating’…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - February 21, 2013

What Would George Do?

3g12934uGeorge is George Washington, the first president of the U.S. And the question – What would George do? – is the title of an article written by Louis Jacobson, a reporter for the Tampa Bay (Florida) Times newspaper and Politifact web site.

Several months ago, Jacobson found a copy of a small book – Washington’s Rules of Civility (polite behavior) – that was written when George Washington was a teenager. Today we might call the book Rules for Becoming a Good Person.

At that time, it was common for students to copy lists of social and moral (what is good/evil, right/wrong) rules like these. The goal was for students to learn the rules and become good people and citizens and partly, I believe, to improve their handwriting. According to Jacobson, the rules Washington copied come from a French book – Good Manners in Conversation Among Men – written in 1595.

In celebration of our Presidents’ Day (the third Monday in February), President Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), and President Washington’s birthday (February 22), I thought it would be fun to try to rewrite a few of Washington’s rules in simple modern English and to share them with you. Some will make you smile. Others, I hope, will make you think. Here they are:

Everything you do should show respect for the people around you.

Don’t say anything, either jokingly or seriously, that will hurt another person. Don’t laugh at or talk about anyone in a way that lets them know you think they’re stupid, even if they are.

When others are nearby, don’t sing to yourself with a humming (“mmmmm”) sound or drum (tap on the table or floor) with your fingers or feet.

If you cough, sneeze, sigh (breath out with a loud sound when you are tired, bored, etc.), or yawn, do it quietly, not loudly. Don’t speak while you’re yawning, but put your handkerchief or hand in front of your face and turn to the side.

Don’t sleep when others speak, don’t sit when others stand, don’t speak when you should be quiet, and don’t walk when others stop.

Don’t act happy when someone has bad luck, even if he or she is your enemy.

When you visit someone who is sick, don’t act like you’re their doctor, especially if you don’t know anything about medicine.

Don’t argue with someone who is your superior (someone who has a higher position than you); obey (do what they ask you to do) them and don’t try to act more important than you really are.

Don’t wear smelly, dirty, or torn clothes; brush them off at least once a day; be careful not to look dirty, not even a little.

If you have any respect for your own reputation (what people think or say about you), spend time with good people; it’s better to be alone than to spend time with bad people.

Don’t share news if you’re not sure it’s true.

Don’t be curious (wanting to know something) about other people’s business and don’t try to listen when others are speaking to each other privately.

Don’t be so anxious to win an argument that you don’t give every person a chance to share their opinion; let the majority decide who is right.

Don’t say anything bad about someone who is not present, because that is unjust (not fair or reasonable).

Don’t take a second bite of food until you have swallowed the first one; don’t take bites that are too big for your mouth.

Don’t drink or talk when your mouth is full of food; don’t look around while you are drinking.

Don’t clean your teeth with the table cloth, napkin, fork, or knife; use a toothpick.

Whatever happens, don’t get angry at the table, and if you have a reason to be angry, don’t show it; be cheerful, especially if strangers are at the table, because good humor (a pleasant attitude) turns one dish of meat into a feast.

And my favorite:

Work hard to keep that little spark of heavenly fire called conscience (the voice inside that tells you if what you’re doing is right or wrong) alive in your heart.

If you’d like to see all of Washington’s rules as they were originally written, you can find them here.

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Monday - February 18, 2013

Podcasts This Week (February 18, 2013)

You want to improve your English, so what are you waiting for? Listening to the podcast will help, but if you want to the full benefits of each podcast, get the Learning Guide.

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 870 – Using Caffeine as a Stimulant

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 “wired” and “instant.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Energy Drinks.”
“Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular in the United States and other countries, but they are also a source of…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 386

Topics: Ask an American – Undocumented students and college tuition; stop thinking negatively; very; smoking hot

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Court Case United States v. Wong King Ark.”
“In 1871, a Chinese woman gave birth to a baby boy in San Francisco, California. The Chinese parents named the boy Wong King Ark. Years later, upon return from a trip…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 871 – Listening to Club 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 “club” and “to sample.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “House Music.”
“‘House music’ is a type of electronic dance music. It first appeared in the early 1980s in Chicago, Illinois…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - February 14, 2013

Dynamic Pricing

800px-Onedolar2009seriesOne thing we are accustomed to (used to) when we shop is prices going up and down with sales and seasonal (different time of the year) deals. But what about prices changing frequently, as much as every 10 or 15 minutes?

If you’re like many Americans, you’re doing more and more of your shopping online (on the Internet). Popular websites are now using dynamic pricing to get the best price for their goods (items for sale) and urging (encouraging) you to buy. Dynamic pricing is when a business uses computer programs with complex (not simple) algorithms (math formula; math rules a computer follows in computing) to figure out the best price for a product. This algorithm takes into account (includes in its calculations) things such as inventory levels (how much of a product the seller has), competitor prices (how much other stores are charging), how quickly the item is selling in a given time frame (a certain amount of time), and your buying history (what you have already purchased from that website).

Dynamic pricing is not new. If you’ve purchased an airline ticket in the past 20 years, you know that you may get a different price depending on when you make your reservation (booking before purchasing). In recent years, some sports teams have begun to price their tickets according to how popular a game is predicted (expected) to be and how many tickets have already sold, among other things, to make sure that it sells the most tickets possible. Now, this practice (way of doing things) is being used for all kinds of products.

I noticed dynamic pricing when using a popular online retailer (seller): Amazon. Amazon’s pricing system is so sophisticated that it’s a mystery to most people. However, if you ever put an item in your shopping cart (list of things you’re getting ready to buy) and leave it there for a few days or a few weeks, you’ll see the price changing, perhaps many times over that time period, depending on the factors I mentioned above and more, including what you buy in the meantime. This use of customer information is somewhat (kind of; fairly) controversial because some critics (people who don’t like it) say that it’s an invasion of privacy (viewing and using of personal information without your knowledge or permission). However, it’s being done all of the time, and not just with large retailers like Amazon.

Have you noticed dynamic pricing used in your online shopping? What do you think of this pricing practice?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Onedolar2009series from Wikipedia

Tuesday - February 12, 2013

Question: “I’m, like, forget you!”

Circle_question_mark

QUESTION
Marco from Italy wants to know: “When I listened to the famous song “Forget you” of Cee Lo Green, I heard him say: “… and I’m like forget you … “.  What does the expression “I’m like” mean in this case and how is it used normally in (informal, I suppose) conversation?”

ANSWER
In American English, the word “like” has several very different usages (ways it is used).  The way that “like” is used in Marco’s example is as a way to informally paraphrase (repeat, but not in the exact words) what you or someone else has already said.  Take a look at these two examples:

A:  “Jeff said, ‘I’m buying lunch!’”
B:  “Jeff is like, ‘I’m buying lunch!’”

In the first example, I’m saying that Jeff said the exact words “I’m buying lunch!” at some earlier time.  In the second example, I’m giving you the essence (main meaning) of what Jeff said, but not necessarily his exact words.  He may have actually said, “Lunch is on me!” or “I’m paying for lunch!,” but the message is the same.

Americans use “like” in this way all the time in informal conversations.  Although it started out as something young girls used in daily conversation with each other, today, you’ll hear all kinds of people using it in this way.

Another very common way “like” is used in American English is as a filler, similar to “um” or “er.”  We all use conversation fillers to give us more time to think as we’re speaking.  Here are a couple of examples of this usage.

- “I, like, don’t know what to say to you when you’re so upset.”
- “Like, are you really going to move to McQuillanland?”

Finally, “like” is often used when we want to indicate that what we are about to say is an approximation, or that it isn’t exactly right, but it is close enough or good enough.  Often, this is an exaggeration (saying something is more than it actually is).  Here are a few examples:

- “The store is only, like, a mile from here, so there’s no excuse not to go.”
- “I ate too much last night.  I’m, like, never going to eat again.”
- “When my parents came home and saw what we did to the house, they, like, died.”

All of these uses are informal and you will almost never see them in writing or hear them in formal conversation.  However, you’ll hear Americans use “like” in these ways all the time. These are not the only uses of “like,” but they are among the most common in daily conversation.

There you have it (here is what you asked for), Marco.  I hope that answers your question.

By the way, Cee Lo Green’s song “Forget You” was very popular here in the U.S. a few months ago.  You can hear it here.  This is the “clean” version without profanity (bad words), because there is another version in which the word “forget” is replaced with the four-letter “f-word” that you all know.

~ Lucy

Monday - February 11, 2013

Podcasts This Week (February 11, 2013)

Don’t let your limited English stand in your way. Improve your English now with the ESL Podcast Learning Guide.

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 868 – Mergers and Acquisitions

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 “equal” and “to buy.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Types of Mergers.”
“The business world has “seen” (experienced; witnessed) many types of mergers. A “horizontal merger”…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 385

Topics:  Famous Playwrights – August Wilson; low-income housing; to keep in mind versus to bear in mind; goose down blanket and other bedding; beauty is only skin deep

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Squatters in New York City.”
“A squatter is a person who lives in an area or a building that they do not have a “right” (permission) to be in. Squatters do not…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 869 – Touring Celebrity Homes and Filming Locations

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 location” and “to come face to face with.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Unusual City Tours.”
“Visitors to most major U.S. cities can choose among “a variety of” (many different) tours, but some of them are very…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - February 7, 2013

I Hate Parties!

BirthdaypartyOkay, I don’t really hate parties. Let’s say, rather (introducing a different idea), that I have a love-hate relationship with them. You know how that works, don’t you? When you have a love-hate relationship with someone or something, sometimes you really like or love them, and sometimes you don’t, you dislike them or even hate them.

That’s the way I am with parties.

Now, before you think I’m just not a people person (someone who likes people), let me tell you about me and people. I’m usually very sociable; I enjoy meeting and being with other people. Just ask my wife. When we visited the state of Maine on our vacation last fall, she spent a lot of time wandering (walking slowly without a purpose) down the street alone while I stopped to talk to an artist about his unusual primitive (simple) style. To a gallery owner about the local artist whose paintings look a lot like Joseph M.W. Turner’s (a British Impressionist painter). To a shop owner about the cool, creative way she displayed (showed) the clothes she was selling. And to a local photographer about photographing Maine’s Atlantic coast (where the land meets the ocean). My family thinks I can, and often do, talk to anyone.

It’s not that I’m afraid of crowds (larger groups of people), either. All my life I’ve taught, performed, or spoken to groups of people – sometimes a few, often several hundred, once at least several thousand. No problem.

So what is it about me and parties?

I found the answer to this question a long time ago. But before I tell you what I learned, I want you to notice two things about what I wrote above: both situations I described involve me and one other person or me in front of many people. Parties are different. At a party it’s me among many people, moving around, making small talk (casual conversation) with different people, and so on. And that’s where the problem lies (exists).

Years ago, one of my friends told me about David Keirsey and his book Please Understand Me. Keirsey is a highly respected psychologist. His personality inventory (a test to help you understand the kind of person you are), called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, has helped many thousands of people better understand themselves.

I found the answer to the question about me and parties in Keirsey’s chapter about extroverts and introverts. According to Keirsey, people who are extroverts need to be sociable. People turn them on, charge their batteries (energize them), and they’re often lonely when they’re not around people, even for a short time.

Introverts – yes, that’s me – may leave the party early, according to Keirsey, “not because they’re party poopers (people who spoil other people’s fun), but because they’re pooped (made tired) by the party.” Introverts may actually feel lonely when they’re in a crowd. Working or reading alone or being with a few select (carefully chosen) people is what energizes the introvert. And that should give you a clue where to find me at a party – in a quiet corner talking at length (for a long time) with one or two select people.

Research tells us that we’re all part extrovert and part introvert but that we’re more comfortable with one than the other. About 75% of Americans describe themselves as extroverts, 25% as introverts. Western culture, as you may know, seems to favor extroverts – people who are outgoing (like to meet and talk to other people) and sociable.

Which are you? And where will I find you at the party?

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

 

 

Tuesday - February 5, 2013

American Pizzas

798px-2007-1019-PizzeriaUnoI’ve been trying to shed a few pounds (lose a little weight) after overindulging (eating too much) over the holidays in December. Maybe that’s why my mind has been turning to (focusing on) food so much lately.

When people think of “American food,” they often think of hamburgers and hot dogs. But in a country where nearly everyone is from somewhere else — whether it is the current generation or many generations ago — defining American food is difficult.

No one would say that pizza is an American food. But since the first pizza restaurant opened in New York City’s “Little Italy” neighborhood in 1905, pizza has developed in this country in a way that may not be recognizable (easy to identify) as a relative (belonging to the same family) to the original from Italy.

A few distinct (separate) types of pizza have developed here in the U.S. The two most well known are New York-style pizza and Chicago-style pizza.

New York-style pizza is a pizza that is large and has a thin crust (bottom and sides of the pizza made of a type of bread) that you can easily fold (bend) to eat it. People say that the difference between New York-style pizza and other American pizzas is the crust, which is hand-tossed (thrown in the air to shape) and is made with bread flour with high levels of gluten (a substance in wheat that makes bread stretchy or elastic).  Some people claim (say; believe) that the crust has a special flavor because the water in New York City has a lot of minerals (materials, like iron, that your body needs) that gives the pizza that special texture (feel and look) and taste.  Trying to sell New York-style pizza in other cities, some restaurants have even tried to transport New York City water across the country to be authentic (real; like the original).

Another popular type of pizza is the Chicago-style pizza, also called deep-dish pizza.  Deep-dish pizza has a crust like any pizza, but the crust is very thick and the sides come up two or three inches, and is usually higher than the level of the ingredients. The pizza is baked (cooked in the oven) in a round, steel (hard metal) pan with tall sides (see photo).  Since Chicago-style pizza is so thick, it looks almost more like a pie, than a traditional pizza.  This style of pizza is said (is believed) to have been invented (created) in Chicago in 1943 by the owner of a Chicago pizza restaurant.

These aren’t the only two types of American-style pizza, but they’re the most popular types.  I’ve had both kinds of pizza, in New York and in Chicago. So which do I prefer? I like them both. But then, I’ve had pizza in Italy, too, and I like that, too.  I guess I’m just a pizza fool (something who likes pizza a lot)!

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: 2007-1019-PizzeriaUno.jpg from Wikipedia