Podcasts this Week (November 7, 2016)

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………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1258 – Causes of Plane Crashes

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 “instrument” and “cabin.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The National Transportation Safety Board.”
“The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is a U.S. government ‘agency’ (department or organization) responsible for…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 580

Topics: Famous Americans – Marian Anderson; in a heartbeat versus in a second versus in a moment; old versus stale

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Surtitles.”
“‘Subtitles’ are words that are shown at the bottom of the screen during a movie, TV show, or news broadcast…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1259 – Discovering a Family Secret

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 sucker punched” and “to come to light.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Surprising Secrets of Former Presidents.”
“The life of U.S. Presidents might seem to be ‘an open book’ (something that is known to almost everyone, with no secrets)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Posted in Announcements | 1 Comment

Canadians: We’re Coming For You

Canada_US_pipeline_borderThe United States and Canada are usually friendly neighbors. We share the longest demilitarized border (without an army or military protection) in the world, and our citizens can travel back and forth without any special visas. But things haven’t always been peaceful (calm and without fighting) between us. In the middle of the 1800s, some Americans actually attacked Canada. The history behind (the story that explains) this attack is somewhat complicated, but basically it was brought on (came about; was caused by) by two, completely unrelated events.

The first event took place not in America, but in Ireland. From 1845 to 1852, the Irish (the people of Ireland) went through a terrible period called the Great Irish Famine (having very little food). The potato crop (plants grown for food), which was so important to the Irish diet (what people eat), was nearly wiped out (completely destroyed) by disease, leaving many people starving (dying because of not having enough food). At least one million people died.

Due to this famine, about two million people left Ireland, many coming to the United States. (Note: the McQuillans left Ireland just before the famine, in 1840. My father told me that was because we wanted to beat the rush (get somewhere before everyone else does).) Many of the Irish blamed British policies for making the suffering (pain) of the Irish even worse, leading to (causing) the high mortality (number of deaths) of the famine.

Irish immigrants brought their hatred of the British with them to America, leading to the formation (getting together) of groups that wanted to end British control over the country of Ireland. Those who joined these groups were called “Fenians,” a name supposedly taken from the “Fianna,” a group of the king’s guards (protectors) led by the famous Irish leader Finn MacCool.

The second event in our story happened a few years after the Irish famine: the American Civil War between the northern and southern states, fought between 1861 and 1865, that resulted in the deaths of more than 800,000 people. Thousands of these new Irish immigrants had joined the military and fought in the Civil War, and when the war ended, they were mustered out (resigned from the military; officially left the military) of the army.

And this is where these two otherwise separate events come together: (1) a lot of trained former Civil War soldiers with no jobs and nothing better to do with their time, many of whom (2) hated the British due in part to their actions during the previous Irish Famine.

Some of the Fenians came up with a plan to use these Irish American soldiers to help free Ireland from the British. They reasoned (thought) that since Canada was under British rule at this time, if the Fenians could get the British military to start fighting in Canada, it would make it easier for the Fenians in Ireland to take control and declare Ireland a separate, self-governed (ruled by its own people) nation. The British Army, or so the Fenians thought, would be so busy fighting a war thousands of miles away in Canada that they wouldn’t be able to defend Ireland.

The whole thing looked great on paper (seemed like a good plan), but, well, it didn’t exactly go as the Fenians had planned.

The first step in the plan was to start a war in Canada. So over 700 Fenians from Ireland and 800 of these ex-soldiers from the American Civil War decided to meet in northern Maine, a state next to Canada, in northeast corner of the U.S. Their goal was to seize (take control) a small island, Campobello Island, that was part of British Canada. From there, they would be able to expand (make bigger; increase) the war to other parts of Canada, causing the British to send thousands of its troops (soldiers) to stop them.

After fierce (intense) fighting and several deaths on both sides, the Fenians failed. They tried again later that year. They failed again. Finally, a few years later, in 1870, they made another attempt at attacking Canada. That failed, too.

These attacks were not supported by the American government, of course. They only involved former American soldiers who were acting on their own. Still, we can truthfully say that Americans attacked Canada – and the Canadians won.

Even today, in bars and pubs (what the British call “bars”) in Ireland and in the United States, you’ll hear songs about these “brave” Fenian men who took part in (were involved in) these (completely unsuccessful) raids. And who knows? Some of them may have even been my Irish American relatives!

~ Jeff

Photo Credit:  Canada US-Pipeline Border from Wikipedia

Posted in Life in the United States | 10 Comments

Podcasts this Week (October 31, 2016)

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 1256 – Describing Fast and Slow

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 catch” and “to drone on.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “THeodore Roosevelt McElroy.”
“Theodore Roosevelt McElroy, ‘named after’ (with the same as) U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 579

Topics: American Authors – Philip K. Dick; on purpose versus deliberately versus intentionally; moderately versus sparingly; understatement of the century

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about
– READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1257 – Repairing Damage to an Autobody

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 “body” and “to run.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The National Institute for Auto Service Excellence (ASE).”
“The National Institute for Auto Service Excellence (“ASE”) is a national organization that provides ‘certification’ …” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Posted in Announcements | 11 Comments

Seattle’s Bike Batman

nobrakesatlSuperheroes have been around for many years. Superman is 78 years old. Spider-Man is 56. Captain Marvel, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America are somewhere in between.

Most heroes, though, are not super. They don’t appear in comic books, on television, or in movies. Many times we don’t even hear about them. They just do what they believe needs to be done to make their world a better place. We could call them everyday heroes.

Bike Batman – he doesn’t want anyone to know his name – is the second kind of hero.

Bike Batman is a 30-year-old married engineer who lives in Seattle, Washington. He’s a cyclist (someone who rides a bicycle) and enjoys working on them. When he has time, he buys them, fixes them up, and sells them on Craigslist or other websites where people list things they want to sell.

About two years ago, he was looking for a bike for his wife. He found one on Craigslist that he considered (thought about) buying. As he often does, he also looked at Bike Index, a website where bicycle owners can register (put on an official list) their bikes and, if necessary, report them when they’re stolen.

There, on the Bike Index website was the bike he was thinking about buying. What should he do?

Once Bike Batman was sure the Cragslist bike matched (was the same as) the Bike Index bike, he called the person who claimed to be the bike’s owner and arranged to meet him – supposedly (that’s what the seller thought) to complete the sale.

When the two men met, Bike Batman told the Guardian that he told the thief, “You’ve got two options (choices). You can wait until a cop (police officer) gets here, or you can just beat it (run away as fast as you can).” You can imagine what the thief did.

When Bike Batman’s story came out (became known) in the news, people in Seattle learned that he had recovered (found and returned) 22 stolen bicycles. He looks at bikes for sale on Craigslist and similar websites, and if something seems suspicious (not right), he looks at the Bike Index to see if that bike had been reported stolen.

When he finds a bike that he believes has been stolen, he calls the owner to make sure it’s the same bike. If it is, he arranges to meet the seller, just as he did the first time. One thing has changed, though. Today he also calls the police so they can back him up (help and protect him).

Why does Bike Batman do it? He admits (says it’s true) that he enjoys the excitement. But most of all, he’s doing it to help the city of Seattle – he simply wants it to be known as a friendly city.

Do you know any everyday heroes like Bike Batman?

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

Photo from nobrakesatl.

Posted in Life in the United States | 8 Comments

Podcasts this Week (October 24, 2016)

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

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 1254 – Being Under a Corrupting Influence

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 act on” and “to monitor.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Banned Movies.”
“Although the United States ‘prides itself on’ (is very proud of having or doing something) ‘freedom of speech’…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 578

Topics: Movies – The King and I; nation versus sovereign versus kingdom; to obstruct versus to hinder; fire and brimstone

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Yul Brynner.”
“Yul Brynner was a famous actor. He was born in Russia in 1920, and he lived in China and France before…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1255 – Talking About Gemstones

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 “polished” and “to a tee.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Gemological Institute of America.”
“The Gemological Institute of America is a nonprofit organization that conducts research and provides education about gemstones…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Posted in Announcements | 4 Comments

Frank Sinatra: Trapped in Australia

frank-sinatra-1281484_1920The well-known singer Frank Sinatra had a long and successful career, but things didn’t always go smoothly (not always without problems) for him, according to the National Archives. The 58-year-old singer arrived in Melbourne, Australia on July 9, 1974 to give several concerts: two in Melbourne and three in Sydney.

Sinatra had come out of retirement (start working again after ending his career) to perform these concerts, so reporters were eager (wanting very much) to talk to him. They tried to talk to him when he arrived at the airport, but he refused to give any interviews (have meetings with reporters to answer questions). Without anything to write about, the reporters wrote of his alleged (claimed but not proven) mafia ties (connections with crime organizations) and ran photos of his many female companions with the caption (words under a photo) “Sinatra’s molls.” A gangster is someone working in a criminal organization and a “moll” was a term used for a gangster’s girlfriend.

Sinatra saw the articles and wasn’t happy. Following his opening number (first song in a concert) at the Melbourne concert that evening, Sinatra complained about being chased (run after) all day. He called the press parasites (organisms or living things that feed off of other living things) and said that female reporters who work for the press were hookers (women who sell sex for money).

As you can imagine, the press was not at all happy with Sinatra. The next morning, the Australian Journalists‘ (reporters) Union (organization of workers) demanded an apology (asked forcefully for him to say “sorry”). Sinatra refused (said “no”).

The head (leader) of the Journalists’ Union asked the other unions for help. The theatrical (related to the theater or stage where people perform) unions cancelled Sinatra’s second concert in Melbourne. The Transport Workers Union members refused to refuel (put more gas or fuel into) Sinatra’s private jet (small, fast airplane). Hotel union members would not serve Sinatra or the people with him or handle (move or carry) their luggage.

Sinatra flew on a commercial (not private; owned by a company) airline to Sydney for his other three concerts. When he got there, he found out that the theatrical unions there had canceled his three Sydney concerts. And he was trapped (could not go where he wanted)—he couldn’t fly on his private jet or on a commercial airline: the Transport Workers Union refused to fuel any commercial airplane which might carry Sinatra.

The head of the Australian Journalists’ Union told Sinatra that if he didn’t apologize, Sinatra would have to stay in Australia indefinitely (for an unlimited period of time), because he would not be allowed to leave unless he could walk on water.

Finally, Sinatra’s attorney (lawyer) asked for a meeting. The meeting involved U.S. and Australian government officials and 15 union representatives. The meetings lasted a long time, but finally a compromise (agreement in which neither side gets everything it wants) was reached. Sinatra refused to apologize but agreed to sign a statement that he did not intend to insult the Australian press and regretted any harm that his presence (him being there) had caused.

All sides must have been satisfied because his last Sydney concert was rescheduled (held at a different day or time). He was more reserved (not showing emotions) on stage this time. Sinatra and his entourage (people surrounding or traveling with an important person) did finally fly out of Australia.

This was an experience Sinatra did not easily forget. In a later concert in New York, he told an audience: “A funny (strange) thing happened in Australia. I made a mistake and got off the plane.”

I guess all was forgiven, though, because Sinatra returned to Australia to perform in 1988, 1989, and 1991.

~ Lucy

Posted in News and Current Events | 7 Comments

Podcasts this Week (October 17, 2016)

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 1252 – Reneging on a Promise

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 beg off” and “to leave it at that.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Legality of Oral Contracts.”
“In the United States, most ‘contracts’ (legal agreements) are written….” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 577

Topics: Famous Americans – Stephen F. Austin; Classic TV – M*A*S*H; disability versus handicap versus impairment; recourse versus resort; to fly in the face of (something)

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Austin City Limits.”
Austin City Limits is the ‘longest-running’ (shown on television for the longest period of time) music program, beginning in 1976…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1253 – Using a Ridesharing Service

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 “meter” and “to change hands.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Most Popular Types of Peer-to-Peer/Sharing Services.”
“The ‘shared economy’ refers to all businesses in which people share items by renting them from each other…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Posted in Announcements | 16 Comments

Meet Siri

IMG_0017I was talking to a student recently – on Skype – when I was interrupted by a woman’s voice:

“I’m sorry, Warren, I didn’t get that.”

The voice came from my iPad, which was sitting on my desk. I had said something that woke up Siri, she hadn’t understood what I said, and she was letting me know so I could repeat it.

Siri, if you don’t already know about her, is a computer program that acts as a personal assistant (helper) to people using iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. Siri can do a variety of tasks (jobs) that begin when the user asks her a question or gives her a command (tells her what to do). She can understand what you say, she knows where you are, and she can search the Internet for information she needs to answer your question.

Siri adapts (changes in a helpful way) to the way you speak and how you use English. The more you use her, the more she learns about you, and the more her answers fit you and your situation.

Recently, Susan Bennett, the original Siri voice, explained how Siri’s voice works and why it sounds so life-like. Bennett is a voice actor. She does commercials (advertisements for radio and TV), sings, and provides voices for other companies and public address services, like the announcements you hear when you walk through an airport.

Siri needs to be able to say almost anything. When she answers your question, the powerful computer program that makes her possible quickly builds words and sentences from a large collection of individual sounds. That means that Bennett, and others like her, must record every possible sound of every letter and combination of letters in English.

You can imagine how difficult that might be. How many “s” sounds are there in English? A lot. For example, the “s” sounds in “hiss,” “snakes,” and “rose” are different. Even short words have many individual sounds: “teeth” has “t”, “ee”, “th”; “lips” has “l”, “ih”, “p”, “s”. Imagine all the sounds that must be chosen and combined (put together) to make all the possible sentences that Siri might need!

To get all the sounds into the computer memory, Bennett records nonsense (without meaning) phrases (groups of words), like “oil your mills jewel weed today.” Bennett did this for four hours a day, five days a week for one month when Siri was first created.

Siri can do a lot, but if you ask a question she doesn’t understand or can’t find the information for, she’ll tell you so you can repeat what you said or ask your question differently. Sometimes she’ll just give you a funny answer. I remember one of the first times I tried to use Siri. I had taken the metro light rail (small train-like system) to meet someone for lunch at a restaurant named “Father’s Office.” When I got off the metro, I didn’t know where to go, so I asked Siri, “Where is Father’s Office?” Her reply – “I’m sorry, Warren, I don’t know your father.”

Today, while I was finishing this post, I tried again. I asked Siri to “give me directions to Father’s Office.” This time she gave me two choices and asked me to tell her which one I wanted to go to.

She’s learning.

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

Photo by W. Ediger

Posted in Life in the United States, Technology | 18 Comments

Podcasts this Week (October 10, 2016)

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 1250 – Dealing With Bossy People

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 “back off” and “in the first place.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “U.S. Federal Observances.”
“Most Americans celebrate a ‘standard’ (not changing) set of holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 576

Topics: American Authors – James Baldwin; Famous Songs – “High Hopes”; homeless versus destitute; odd versus odds; “I’m not a has-been. I am a will-be.”

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Baldwin Locomotive Works.”
“The Baldwin Locomotive Works was a Pennsylvania-based company that built ‘railroad locomotives’ (train engines)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 1251 – Getting a Confession

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 “after” and “half-decent.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Brown v. Mississippi and Due Process.”
“In 1936, a U.S. ‘Supreme Court’ (the highest, most powerful court in the country) ‘ruled’ (made a legal decision) in Brown v. Mississippi…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Posted in Announcements | 16 Comments

Tips on Printing Your Own Money

ChaseWhat do you do if you’re the U.S. government and you’re short on (don’t have enough) money? You just print it, of course.

During the U.S. Civil War (1861 to 1865), the federal (national) government was nearly broke (without any money). Before 1861, the U.S. did not have paper money as we know it today. Instead, people used government coins (metal money) or banknotes, which were pieces of paper issued by (produced by) banks as a promise to pay the person holding the banknote in “real” money – metal coins.

Historically, in most places government-issued paper money had always been backed by, or represented the value of, some amount of precious (valuable) metal, such as silver or gold. But since the government needed money to pay for things to fight the war, President Abraham Lincoln decided simply to print paper money even though the government did not have metal money to back it up. The paper money was instead backed by the trust one had in the U.S. government.

Not surprisingly, the value of this new paper money depended on just how much people trusted the U.S. government. When the war was going badly (not well) for Lincoln and the North, the value of the money declined (went down). When the North was winning, people trusted the government more and the value of these paper bills (pieces of paper money) increased.

The mastermind (person with the smart or clever plan) behind the printing of paper currency (money of a country) was Salmon P. Chase, then Secretary of the Treasury, the part of the federal government responsible for the country’s money. Chase was also a very ambitious (wanting very much to succeed) politician. To give himself more attention, Chase put his own portrait (image of a person’s face and shoulders) on the United States’ first dollar bill (see photo), called “greenbacks.”

Chase’s greenbacks helped the government avoid financial ruin (complete destruction), but they had a major problem. Because they were produced quickly and weren’t well thought out (planned), it was easy to counterfeit (copy; produce fake versions). By the end of the Civil War in 1865, one in every three bills was fake (not real). At some points during the war, a dollar bill was only worth 34 cents due in part to counterfeiting (100 cents = 1 dollar), although the lack of a gold or silver standard (backing) contributed to this as well.

President Lincoln understood this problem. On April 14, 1865, he created the Secret Service to purge (eliminate completely; get rid of totally) the country of counterfeit bills. Ironically, it was later that same day that Lincoln was shot. The two events were not connected, however.

Today, the Secret Service is mainly known for protecting the president of the United States. But at the time President Lincoln created the Secret Service, it was all about money. It was only 36 years later that the Secret Service was assigned (given the job) to protect the president. By then, there had been two more presidential assassinations: President James Garfield in 1881 and President William McKinley in 1901.

Back to counterfeit money: The Secret Service knew it had an important job to do. If they didn’t stop counterfeiters, the country was in danger of hyper-inflation, which is when prices go up very quickly and people can buy less and less with the same amount of money. The Secret Service used a staff (group of workers) of 10 people, some of whom were reformed (no longer a criminal) counterfeiters themselves, to clean up (to remove the bad or fake) the United States’ currency. By 1869, the Secret Service had arrested over 200 counterfeiters and opened 11 offices across the country.

How much of the United States’ currency today is counterfeit?  Only one bill in 10,000 – or at least, that’s what the U.S. government says, if you trust them.

~ Jeff

Posted in Life in the United States | 15 Comments