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Tuesday - May 26, 2015

The Boys of Summer*

Tee_ball_player_swinging_at_ball_on_tee_2010Yesterday was a holiday in the United States called Memorial Day, a day when we honor (remember with respect) those men and women who fought and died for our country in the military. Memorial Day is also the unofficial (not legally, but informally) start of summer for most people in the U.S., since it comes on the last Monday of May.

Summer is associated with lots of different activities – vacations, going to the beach, picnics, barbeques – but for millions of American boys, summer is all about baseball. (Baseball is also played now by some girls, but most girls prefer to play a similar game called softball, which uses a larger, softer ball.)

When I was a young boy, I, too, wanted to play baseball. I grew up in a family where almost everyone played sports. All of my older brothers – all eight of my older brothers – played some sort of sport, and so I decided very early on that I should learn how to play a sport as well.

So when I was five years old, my father signed me up (registered me; put me on a list) to play what’s called “tee-ball.” Tee-ball (also spelled “T-ball”) is a form of baseball, but unlike regular baseball, there’s no pitcher. (The pitcher in baseball is the guy who throws the ball; the person who tries to hit the ball is called the batter.)

In tee-ball, there’s no pitcher because five-year-old boys can’t throw very far, and you can’t really have a baseball game unless the batter has a ball to hit. So instead of hitting a ball thrown by a pitcher, the batter hits the ball off of what is called a tee, which is a cone or stick that sits on the ground (see photo).

I remember very well my first game of tee-ball, down at Griggs Playground, a small park near my house in St. Paul. In my first at bat (when I first tried to hit the ball), I hit it pretty hard. I ran to first base. My team was happy. My older brother who took me to the game was happy. I was happy. So far, so good.

Later on in the game, when my team was out on the field trying to catch the balls that the other team hit, I was told to play a position call “shortstop,” which is the player who normally stands between second and third base. Like all the players out on the field, the job of the shortstop is to catch the ball if it is hit toward him. What could be easier?

After a couple of batters, one rather large five-year-old on the other team came up to the plate (walked to where the batter stands to hit the ball). He swung his bat (moved the long stick to hit the ball) and hit the ball right at me.

I froze (was unable to move my body). The next thing I remember, the ball hit me right in the face. Bam!

I immediately fell down and started to cry.

The coach (the leader of the team, an adult) came out on the field and asked if I was okay. I told him I certainly was NOT okay. I mean, I didn’t expect this game to be painful.

I told the coach I was quitting, right then and there (at that very moment; immediately). I walked off the field and my brother took me home. That was it – the end of my life in baseball after only a few hours.

I never returned to baseball, and, to be honest, was never very good at any sport when I was a child (or now as an adult). But I still love watching baseball, and plan on spending many hours this summer doing just that. I learned my lesson that it is much less painful watching baseball than actually playing it.

~Jeff

* The title of this post is taken from the title of a well-known book about baseball by the same name.

Image credit: Tee-ball, Wikipedia


Sunday - May 24, 2015

Podcasts This Week (May 25, 2015)

icon_51812Get the full benefits of ESL Podcast by getting 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 1106 – Getting a Flat Tire

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 “tread” and “bent.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Roadside Assistance.”
“Many Americans ‘rely on’ (depend on; use the services of) ‘roadside assistance’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 504

Topics: American Movies – The Fugitive; The United States Capitol Building; knowable versus scrutable versus tangible; to go through versus to get through; to man up

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Television Producer Quinn Martin.”
“Quinn Martin, born Irwin Martin Cohn, was one of the most ‘prolific’ …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1107 – The Death of a Pet

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 be run over” and “heaven.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Laws Against Animal Cruelty.”
“Animal ‘cruelty’ means treating an animal very badly, ‘inflicting’ (causing) pain and suffering…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Tuesday - May 19, 2015

Writing In English As A Second Language

Zinsser_CasualTwo weeks ago I wrote about heroes and told you about a few of mine. Sadly, one of them – William Zinsser – died a few days later; he was 93 years old.

Today I want to remember him by doing something that would surely please him. I want to share with you a speech he gave in 2009 to a group of international students about writing in English as a second language. I have used his words as much as possible.

Zinsser said that he was “hopelessly in love in with English because it’s plain and strong. It has a huge vocabulary of words that have precise (exact) shades (differences) of meaning; there’s no subject, however technical or complex (difficult), that can’t be made clear to any reader in good English – if it’s used right.”

Good English writing, according to Zinsser, begins with good nouns and good verbs. “The good nouns are the thousands of short, simple…nouns…of everyday life: house, home, child, chair, bread, milk, sea, sky, earth, field, grass, road.… When you use those words, you make contact with the deepest feelings and memories of your readers.” Never use a noun, he said, because you think it sounds more impressive.

“Your best tools are short, plain…active verbs…. If you could write…using only active verbs” – like he wishes, she learns, or they discover –  your writing would automatically be clear, warm, and full of life. “So fall in love with active verbs,” says Zinsser. “They are your best friends.”

Zinsser told the international students that there are four principles (basic ideas) of writing good English:

Clarity. “If it’s not clear, you might as well not write it. You might as well stay in bed.”

Simplicity. “Simple is good. Most students from other countries don’t know that. When I read them a sentence that I admire, a simple sentence with short words, they think I’m joking. ‘Oh, Mr. Zinsser, you’re so funny,’ a bright young woman from Nigeria told me. ‘If I wrote sentences like that, people would think I’m stupid.’ Writing is not something you have to decorate to make yourself look smart.”

Brevity. “Short is always better than long. Short sentences are better than long sentences. Short words are better than long words. Don’t say currently if you can say now. Don’t say assistance if you can say help. Don’t say numerous if you can say many…. Don’t call someone an individual [five syllables!]; that’s a person, or a man or a woman…. Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. Writing is talking to someone else on paper or on a screen.”

Humanity. “Be yourself. Never try in your writing to be someone you’re not. Your product, finally, is you. Don’t lose that person by putting on airs (acting better than you are), trying to sound superior (better than someone else).”

If you want to read more of Zinsser’s suggestions for writing in English, read Learning to write – in English on my web site. And if you’d like to learn more about writing from him, consider getting his book On Writing Well.

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

Photo of William Zinsser from his website.


Sunday - May 17, 2015

Podcasts This Week (May 18, 2015)

icon_51812We are grateful to our members and donors, because we are only able to produce this podcast with the generous help of our listeners.

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

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1104 – Making a New Discovery

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 “leap” and “pioneer.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about the term “Eureka.”
“The word ‘eureka’ is an “interjection” (a word used to express surprise or emotion)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 503

Topics: American Presidents – Calvin Coolidge; further versus furthermore versus more; resilience versus resistance; You can say that again.

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Coolidge Dam.”
“A ‘dam’ is a structure that prevents water from flowing or moving as it normally would…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1105 – Dressing Appropriately for an Event

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 “dress” and “affair.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about buying “Used Clothing.”
“In the United States, many people like to buy ‘used clothing’ (clothing that has been worn by other people but can still be used by others) …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Tuesday - May 12, 2015

Do You Have Americanitis?

NYC_subway_riders_with_their_newspapersThe suffix “-itis,” pronounced “AYE-tus,” is used in medicine for a physical condition where a part of your body is inflamed, with the area swollen (grown in size), red, hot, and painful. It’s used in the names of many common medical conditions. Arthritis, for example, is an inflammation of the joints (where two bones are connected, usually where you bend), and tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon, the tissue or material in the body that connects muscles to bones.

Sometimes, outside of medicine, we use the suffix “-itis” to refer to a made-up or fake medical condition, usually to be funny. Seniors — students in the final year of high school or college — might have “senioritis,” a condition where students don’t study very hard, their attention wanders (don’t stay on the main subject), and they wait impatiently for the school year to end.

In the late 1880’s, doctors coined a new term (gave a new name) for a set of common symptoms (signs or indications of illness) they noticed in patients. This condition was called “Americanitis.” It’s not clear who first used the term – some say a visiting doctor from England and others say one from Germany – but it became widely used (used by many people) to describe the negative effects of an American way of life.

People noticed that Americans worked long hours and too hard, they hurried or rushed from place to place, and they worried too much. This, they believed, weakened Americans’ nerves, the fibers or long pieces of tissue in the body that send messages from the brain to different parts of the body and back. This weakening, it was thought, resulted in many common medical conditions, including high blood pressure (amount of force used to pump or move blood through the body), heart attacks, stomach problems, and nervous disorders (psychological problems, such as anxiety (worrying too much)), and many more.

As you can tell, Americanitis was a very ill-defined (vague; not having a clear description) condition. If you were working long hours at work and couldn’t sleep, you may have been diagnosed with (said to have the medical condition) Americanitis. If you were taking care of a household (members in a home/family) and had sore muscles and stomach pains, you might have had Americanitis. Americanistis was a frequent diagnosis and many treatments (what can be done to make an ill person better), including electric shock treatment (applying electricity to parts of the body), were prescribed (recommended by doctors).

It’s not surprising that many people who were told or who suspected (believed) that they suffered from Americanitis turned to (looked to for a solution) medicines. In those days, patent medicines (common medications made by a person or a company that do not require a doctor’s prescription) were very popular, and medications were not regulated (need to follow laws) in the way they are now. Pills and tonics (old-fashioned term for liquid medicine) were sold and advertised to cure (fix a medical condition; eliminate an illness) you of Americanitis. If you look at the advertisements, Americanitis was anything and everything you can imagine, and so were the cures.

Within 50 years, doctors stopped taking the idea of Americanitis seriously. Today, the term Americanitis is no longer used in medical science, but many might say that the American lifestyle is still bad for your health.

Do you suffer from Americanitis, or at least the behaviors that people associate with it, such as working too hard, hurrying all the time, and worrying too much? Would you like to buy my cure for that? Only a little electric shock is necessary.

– Lucy

Photo Credit:  Crowded rush-hour New York City train from Wikipedia


Sunday - May 10, 2015

Podcasts This Week (May 11, 2015)

icon_51812Is your limited English standing in your way? Do you want to improve your English now?

Learn English even faster with the help of the Learning Guide. In it, you’ll 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 1102 – Discussing Capital Punishment

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 “justice” and “soft.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Three-strike Laws.”
“‘Three-strike laws’ are laws that ‘mandate’ (require) ‘strict’ (harsh; severe) punishments for ‘repeat offenders’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 502

Topics: The Massie Trial; concept versus content versus context; whereas versus while; [month]+[date] versus [date] of [month]

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Trial in Absentia.”
“If a person is accused of a crime and is being ‘tried’ (having to appear in court to determine one’s guilt or innocence) …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1103 – Sports Tryouts

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 hold nothing back” and “to crush.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Team Sports in Schools.”
“Most American high schools offer opportunities for students to play team sports with their ‘peers’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Tuesday - May 5, 2015

One More Hero

Terry TaylorI found a new hero a few days ago. I had never heard of Terry Taylor, and I still don’t know very much about him. But I’ve learned enough about him to make him one of my heroes.

Heroes are people we admire (think highly of) for what they have done or the kind of people they are, often both. Sometimes heroes become like teachers to us. As we get to know them, we often find ourselves becoming like them in important ways without consciously (thinking about) trying.

I’ve had a number of heroes – and still do. My grandfather was one. He was a farmer and not well-educated, but he was a student all his life and never stopped learning. When he was 98 years old, he told me about something that he had learned recently, then laughed and said, “You’d think that by my age I would have learned that already!” I’m sure that a lot of my love for learning comes from him.

William Zinsser is another. He was a journalist (news writer, reporter) first, then a much-loved teacher of writing and author of many books and articles. Almost 30 years ago, I read his first book, about writing. Soon after that I read Willie and Dwike, his book about two African American jazz musicians who traveled across the U.S. and around the world, introducing jazz to people who didn’t know about it.

I’ve read almost everything Zinsser has written – about writing, about learning, about the people and places that have helped make America what it is. I admire the way he writes – clearly, concisely (without unnecessary words), and personally. As a result, I’m sure there’s a little of William Zinsser in everything I write.

My newest hero is Terry Taylor. I admire the fact that Terry, who was a mechanic (car repairman), has been riding a bike (bicycle) for more than 70 years. “I ride to live, and I live to ride,” he says. “If I don’t ride, I get real grumpy (disagreeable).” Forty years ago, Terry was one of a group of riders that rode across the U.S. – 4200 miles (6759 km) – to celebrate America’s 200th birthday. Next year, when he’s 78 years old, he hopes to do it again.

I also admire how Terry thinks about growing older. He says that his bike riding has helped him stay healthy and live a long life. “Bicycling helps you grow old gracefully (in a pleasant way). You’re not going to get out of (avoid) growing old, but maybe you can grow old gracefully. I look around at other people my age, and I’m amazed at how old they look. I hope I don’t look that old. I want to be the best I can at whatever age I’m at, physically and mentally.”

Like Terry, I enjoy bike riding. And I admire the way he thinks about getting older and how bike riding helps him do that gracefully. That’s why he’s my newest hero.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Terry Taylor’s story comes from Bicycling Magazine.
Photo of Terry Taylor from Life on Two Wheels by Peter Taylor.


Sunday - May 3, 2015

Podcasts This Week (May 4, 2015)

icon_51812Get the full benefits of ESL Podcast by getting 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 1100 – Making and Receiving a Job Offer

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 “tenure” and “to hear back.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Salary Negotiation Tips.”
“When accepting a new job, many people believe it is a bad idea to ‘accept’ (agree to) the first offer…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 501

Topics: Famous Movies – Raiders of the Lost Ark; Hotel Del Coronado; to forfeit versus to nullify versus to revoke; nonetheless versus nevertheless; to live versus live

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 ‘Hotel California.'”
“In 1977, the popular rock band the Eagles ‘released’ (made available for use and/or purchase) the ‘single’ …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1101 – Problems Getting Along With Family

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 “dig” and “to storm out.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Burr-Hamilton Duel.”
“Former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and former Vice-President Aaron Burr fought in a famous ‘duel’ in 1804…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide


Tuesday - April 28, 2015

How to Look Smart Even If You’re Stupid

noun_10157Let’s say you are about to go on a job interview, or perhaps on a first date (a meeting with someone you are romantically interested in). Your hair looks great. Your clothes are nice. But you are worried about what the other person will think of you. You want to seem like you are an intelligent person, a smart person.

Is there anything you can do to make you look smart, even if you are not?

It turns out (It just so happens) that there are things you can do to look smart, but some of them are not what many people think will make them look smart.

A series of studies (scientific investigations) by a professor at Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles found that some of the things you think make you look smart, don’t. For example, here are some things that people think will make them look smart:

  • Putting on (Having) a serious look on your face
  • Holding your hands and arms very still (not moving them)
  • Using big words and complex (complicated) sentences
  • Moving or talking faster than others around you

In the studies, none of these things that people thought would make them look smart actually did. In fact, using big words and talking or moving more quickly actually makes people think you are less intelligent than if you used simpler language and spoke more slowly.

But there were four other things that people thought would make them look smart that actually did make them look smart:

  • Looking at others while speaking
  • Standing or sitting up straight (erect; vertical)
  • Wearing glasses
  • Using a middle initial (first letter of your middle name) when you sign your name

The first three don’t surprise me, but the last one does. Apparently, I will look smarter if I sign my name “Jeffrey L. McQuillan” than if I sign it “Jeffrey McQuillan.” Good thing I have a middle name!

There were also a few things that people didn’t name (mention; say) as ways of making one look smarter that people actually do pay attention to. These include:

  • Having a self-confident expression (looking sure of or really believing what you are saying)
  • Nodding (moving your head up and down when someone else is talking) and gesturing (using your hands to express yourself)
  • Speaking in a pleasant (nice-sounding) voice
  • Using clear (easy to hear and understand) language

Of course, looking smart and being smart are not the same thing. If you aren’t very smart, eventually (at some time in the future) the other person will probably figure it out (realize it). But for now, put on those glasses, sit up straight, and look the other person in the eye. You might just get that job – or a second date – if you do.

~Jeffrey L. McQuillan

Image Credit: Einstein by Robert Beerwerth


Sunday - April 26, 2015

Podcasts This Week (April 27, 2015)

icon_51812We are grateful to our members and donors, because we are only able to produce this podcast with the generous help of our listeners.

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

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1098 – Riding in a Limousine

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 spill” and “to blast.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Common Prom Traditions.”
“At a typical prom, students ‘get dressed up’ (wear very nice clothes). Girls often wear a ‘full-length’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 500

Topics: Famous Americans – Elizabeth Blackwell; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; to delay versus to put off versus to procrastinate; during versus while; sheer

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “American Fashion Critic Richard Blackwell.”
“Richard Blackwell, more commonly known as Mr. Blackwell, was an American fashion ‘critic’ …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1099 – Child Sports Injuries

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 “rough” and “to live (something) down.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Sports Causing the Most Childhood Injuries.”
“The ‘prevalence’ (high frequency) of ‘concussions’ (temporary unconsciousness caused by …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide