Californians Speaking Russian Instead of English?

Today, Alaska is the U.S.’s largest state by area (in square miles). But did you know that before 1867, Alaska belonged to Russia? In 1867, the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia and it became our 49th state in 1959.

But before 1800, Russia wanted to expand eastward (toward the east) and in 1784, with the support of Empress Catherine the Great, the explorer (person who travels to new places to find out more about the) Grigory Shelikhov (1747-1795) established the first Russian colony (an area or community controlled by a government in another country) in North America called the “Three Saints Bay Colony” on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Fifteen years later, the Russian-American Company was founded (established; started) and took over trade (buying and selling) in Alaska.

The reason Russia wanted a colony in Alaska was because of the valuable otter pelts (animal skin). But after a few decades (periods of 10-years) of over-hunting (capturing too many animals), the otter became scarce (few in number and difficult to find).

At the same time, the Russian colonists found it hard to grow food in the cold temperatures using traditional Russian methods. The colonists didn’t have enough food, so they set their sights on (planned to achieve success in) California, which had warm beaches and famous movie actors (okay, not that last one).

At first, the Russian colonists just wanted land to grow food. But they soon discovered that there were more otter to hunt in the area. So in 1812, the colonists established Fort Ross about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of what is now San Francisco. (A “fort” is a building or set of buildings constructed so others can’t get in.) It was named “Ross” because it was a shortened version of “Russia.” The settlement lasted 29 years and is still there today.

Fort Ross was not a success. The colonists couldn’t grow enough food or catch enough otter to make it profitable (make money). At the same time, the Spaniards, who had established settlements all over California many years earlier, weren’t too happy about Fort Ross, and neither were the Native American tribes (groups) in the area.

Finally, in 1841, Russia sold Fort Ross to an American pioneer (person who is among the first to travel to a place to learn more about it) named John Sutter. But in the end, Sutter never paid. (Sutter was later more famously involved in the discovery of gold in California.)

So that’s the short history of Russian colonists in California. If things had turned out differently, today we would be speaking Russian here instead of English.

~ Jeff

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
Posted in Life in the United States | Comments Off on Californians Speaking Russian Instead of English?

10 Things On My Music Player

In no particular (special) order, here are 10 songs on the Music app of my phone:

  1. On a Sunday Afternoon by Lighter Shade of Brown – A student of mine introduced this rap song to me way back (all the way back in) in the early 1990s, when I was teaching Spanish at a local university. The story in the song takes place not too far from where I live in Los Angeles. It’s a good “driving” song, nothing complicated or “deep” (of great importance; with a significant meaning).
  2. Can’t You See (Live) by the Marshal Tucker Band – I first heard this in the late 1970s, and love the laid-back (easy, relaxed) melody. It’s a love song, too.
  3. Say Something by A Great Big World – A more recent song about a couple drifting apart (losing contact or emotional connection with each other). The piano part is sparse (very little playing) but beautiful.
  4. American Pie by Don McLean – Another song from my youth in the ’70s, very popular with almost every American of my generation. It retells some of the key events of the middle 20th century, a song of nostalgia (happy memories of the past and wanting to return to those better times).
  5. The Weight by The Band – Another old song, originally released (made public) in 1968, but one I didn’t hear until I was in high school more than 10 years later. I don’t understand the lyrics (words to the song) completely, but the feeling of the song is very comforting to me.
  6. Mozart’s Requiem (Academy of St Martin in the Fields) – Like many people my age, I suppose I was first introduced to this music by the movie, Amadeus. During the 1980s, I used to listen to it every November 2nd during an actual Requiem Mass (religious celebration for the dead). (November 2nd is “All Souls Day” in some Christian churches, a day to pray for the dead.)
  7. Rosalia by Juan Luis Guerra y 440 – My favorite set of songs in Spanish come from this group of musicians from the Dominican Republic. I fell in love with this song when I lived in Mexico in early 1990s.
  8. Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen – Completely unrelated to the previous song, “Rosalita” is from Springsteen’s second album. I found the song in the early 1980s, when I became a big fan of his.
  9. Royals by Lorde – A modern song about our obsession (unhealthy interest in or attention paid to something) with celebrity (being famous).
  10. Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers – This Los Angeles group wrote a song that I used to listen to when I first moved to LA more than 25 years ago. I didn’t know anyone here when I first arrived. When I got bored, I used to drive up and down the major streets that cross the city from east to west, listening to this song about the “city of angel” being as “lonely as I am.” (Don’t worry!  I have plenty of friends now.)

Each song has a story. Some of it old, some of it new, each song reminding me of something different.

What’s on your list?


Want to comment on this blog post? You can now do that on our Facebook page – click here to comment on this post!

Posted in Life in the United States | Comments Off on 10 Things On My Music Player

My Thanksgiving Dinner, 2017

1. Here’s the turkey I cooked for Thanksgiving – ready to go into the oven!

Turkey is ready to cook!

2. Now you see the turkey 2.5 hours later – ready to go into my mouth!

Turkey is ready to eat!

3. After the turkey, there is of course pumpkin pie, traditional at Thanksgiving dinner.

Time for pumpkin pie, baby!

We have lots of words in English for “eating too much food.” Here are three of them:

  • Stuff: This is an informal but very common word. It can be a verb: “I stuffed myself tonight!” or “I stuffed my face last night.”
    It can also be an adjective: “I am stuffed!” (Notice also that the word “stuff” can also just mean a group or collection of objects or simply “things.”)
  • Overindulge: This is a more formal word for the same Idea: “I overindulged at dinner last night.”
  • Gorge: “I gorged myself at the wedding banquet (party).”

You could use any of these three words to describe what I did yesterday – I stuffed myself with turkey, gorged on mashed potatoes, and generally overindulged the whole day!

To learn more about Thanksgiving, see here and here.

– Jeff

Want to comment on this blog post? You can now do that on our Facebook page – click here to comment on this post!

Posted in Language & Terms, Life in the United States | Comments Off on My Thanksgiving Dinner, 2017

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…No, It’s a Giant Hello Kitty?!

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and an American tradition on Thanksgiving is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (see Cultural English 60).

Macy’s is a chain (business with many locations) of department stores in the U.S., selling anything from clothing and cosmetics to homewares (items used in the home, including furniture, home decorations, and items for the kitchen). A parade is a public celebration where people march (walk) along the street while other people on the side of the road are watching and cheering.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been held since 1924 and is shown on U.S. television each year. It’s best known for its floats (a flat surface attached to a truck with a display on it) and especially the giant (very big) helium (a very light gas, chemical symbol “He”) balloons that float (move above the ground) along the parade route (path).

First included in 1968, the Snoopy balloon has appeared more than any other character. Other popular balloons in the parade’s history include Mickey Mouse, Superman, Kermit the Frog, Betty Boop, and Hello Kitty. Every year, new balloons are added to include popular TV and movie characters. Check out this year’s lineup (group of people or things scheduled to appear).

Here’s some old footage (recording movie film) showing the parade in 1939:

And here’s a recent Macy’s video showing what goes into creating those giant balloons, focusing on the “balloonatics,” the people who create those balloons and make them float. (“Balloonatics” is a made-up (not real) term, combining the words “balloon” and “fanatics,” who are people who like something a lot and think about it all the time.)

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. We are grateful that new listeners continue to find us and we are particularly thankful for our old listeners, who have stuck with us (remained with us) this year.

From all of us here at, Happy Thanksgiving!

~ Jeff and Lucy

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)

Want to comment on this blog post? You can now do that on our Facebook page – click here to comment on this post!

Posted in Life in the United States | Comments Off on It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…No, It’s a Giant Hello Kitty?!

That’s a Contronym. Yes it is. No it’s not.

The English language is full of quirks (strange things). One of them is contronyms.

Contronyms are words with two opposite meanings. Knowing which of its meanings is being used depends on the context (the words around it).

Here are two contronyms we often see and hear in the news or in daily life.

1. Oversight can mean either:

A) failure to notice or to do something
For example:
– “Was it an oversight or did you decide against inviting your best friend to the party?”
– “The building of our house has been delayed because of an oversight to get the proper permits (official building permission).”

B) supervision of something, often a project or group of workers
For example:
– “Without proper oversight, will the bridge be built on time?”
– “The government has oversight in approving drugs for sale.”

2.  Sanction can mean either:

A) to give official  permission; to be officially approved
For example:
– “Will Jeff sanction my use of his photo in ads to promote my new line of cat toys?”
– “Students can’t hold a celebration at school without the principal’s sanction.”

B) to either threaten or to impose (put in place) a penalty, often to try to force one nation behave in a particular way, or to do what was agreed to in a treaty (agreement between nations)
For example:
– “If we violate (don’t do what is required) the agreement, we may be sanctioned.”
– “McQuillanland was sanctioned for imposing very high tariffs (taxes for importing or exporting items for sale) on U.S. products.”

~ Jeff

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)

Want to comment on this blog post? You can now do that on our Facebook page – click here to comment on this post!

Posted in Language & Terms | Comments Off on That’s a Contronym. Yes it is. No it’s not.

The Sounds of Halloween

It’s Halloween and you’re watching your favorite horror (scary) film today. Can you hear it? It’s the squeak (making a high-pitched sound) of an old door, a high-pitched (with high sounds) scream, the sound of thunder (loud crashing sound during storms). These are all sounds you may hear in popular horror movies thanks to Jack Foley.

Jack Foley (1891-1967) left his mark on (became well known and remembered for) the film industry by developing techniques for many popular sound effects (sounds heard in a movie, play, or TV show, but not made by the actors). He is best known for including environmental or ambient (in the surrounding area; happening around something) sounds into films. In fact, the people who do this type of work today are known as “Foley artists.”

Before Jack Foley’s techniques were invented, films usually used pre-recorded (created and captured earlier) sounds, which were added later. But Foley changed this by creating the sounds in real time (when they were needed in the films). The sounds could include anything from a telephone ring, a squeaky door, footsteps (the sound of one’s feet hitting the ground as one walks), to the sound of clothing rustling (sound of fabric moving) as people walk.

The sound effects are intended to enhance (improve; make better) the film, making it feel more realistic (similar to real life). Without those sound effects, films may feel too quiet and even uncomfortable for viewers. The best sound effects sound and feel seamless (without being separate or different), so the audience doesn’t realize that those sounds are not what the actors are actually producing.

Foley effects are especially important when films are dubbed in another language (with the dialogue being presented in another language), because when the dubbing replaces the original language, it also replaces all other sounds. As a result, those sounds must be added back in with each dubbed version.

So the next time you watch a film, listen for the work these Foley artists. They help to make us believe what’s on the screen.

~ ESLPod Team

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
Image Credit: From Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “Culture Note” from Daily English 1226. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.
Posted in Television and Movies | 19 Comments

The World Series is Here – Play Ball!

Today is the first game of this year’s Major League Baseball World Series. The best two baseball teams of 2017 play to determine the champion (winner) this year. My favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is in the series for the first time in 29 years.

It should be a national holiday.

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. They are divided (split; separated) into the American League and the National League, each with 15 teams. The winners of those two leagues play each other in the World Series.

The World Series has the word “world” in it although only teams in the U.S. and Canada are in the Leagues. In fact, there is now only one team from Canada — the Toronto Blue Jays. So that’s a little American hyperbole for you.

Hyperbole refers to exaggerated claims, such as when you say that something is much more or much bigger than it really is. Of course, you should not believe it is literally (actually) true. It isn’t.

For example, I might say, “L.A. traffic is so bad that it takes me years to get home from work.” or “My bald head is so shiny (reflects light so well), it could be used to beam (shine light) messages into space.”

The World Series consists of (has) a maximum of seven games. The team that wins four out of seven games wins the series. We often use the phrase “best out of (number)” — the person or team who/that wins the most out of a number of competitions is the champion. The World Series is a best out of seven competition.

The Dodgers play the Houston (Texas) Astros today here in Los Angeles.

As you can see, I’m ready to root for (support and encourage) my team. Go, Dodgers!

~ Jeff

Posted in Life in the United States | 26 Comments

Learn English TV – Video English Courses! Announces:
Learn English TV – Video English Courses!

Now’s best courses are available on video! We’ve started Learn English TV, a new site for improving your English by watching streaming videos.

Check it out now:

Watch and listen to cartoon stories with detailed video explanations. Seeing and hearing the English you need to improve your English will help you speak English better faster!

Get started with our popular Day in the Life series for daily English, or try our Using English at Work for business English.

20% Discount NOW!
Get a discount on our regular prices NOW for a limited time only:

Not sure? Try a FREE sample lesson here:

Learn more by watching this short video:


Posted in Announcements | 8 Comments

Yiddish Words in Daily English

talk-1246935_1280The Yiddish language originated in Central Europe in the 9th century A.D., spoken largely by the Jewish communities there. It spread to other parts of Europe (especially Germany), and was widely spoken in several countries prior to World War II.

Beginning in the 19th century, Yiddish-speaking immigrants started to arrive to the United States, especially to large cities such as New York City. As has been the case with other non-English-speaking waves (sudden large number) of immigration to the U.S., Yiddish has had a noticeable effect on American English.

Many Yiddish words have made their way into the daily conversations of American English speakers. (Some of them are real Yiddish words, but others have been made up (created)). Many of these words begin with the letters “sch(m)” or “sh(m).”

For example, to schlep means to drag (pull an object while it is still partly resting on the ground) a very heavy object, or to carry something on a long, difficult journey: “Maria lives on the fifth floor so every day she has to schlep upstairs with all of her books when she gets home from school.”

Schmuck is a rude word used to refer to a person who is very stupid, foolish, or easily tricked: “Can you believe that schmuck bought that old car for $10,000?” Or, “Some schmuck left the door open and the dog ran away.”

The verb to schmooze means to chat (speak informally) in an intimate or close way with someone who has more power and influence than you do, with the goal of making a good impression on that person and/or to influence them in some way: “Look at David. He’s trying to schmooze with the bosses so he has a better chance of getting a manager job.”

A schnoz or schnozzle is used to talk about a nose, especially a very large nose: “I hope my baby doesn’t grow up to have a schnoz like mine!”

Finally, a shtick is comedy performance or funny routine to make other people laugh that is associated with a particular person: “That comic always uses the same shtick, slipping on a banana peel (outer cover of fruit) to try to make his audience laugh.”

There are many loan words (words adopted from another language) in English and these are just a few of the most common Yiddish ones. Now that you know them, you won’t feel like a schmuck the next time you hear them in conversation.

~ ESLPod Team

P.S. If you’re curious how these words are pronounced, click on the links below to hear pronunciations:

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 701. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.


Posted in Language & Terms | Comments Off on Yiddish Words in Daily English

No Room for a Park? Build a Parklet.

Here I am on Saturday afternoon enjoying my coffee. I’m not sitting outside of a cafe. I’m sitting at a parklet in Santa Monica.

You know what a park is: it’s a green space with trees where people can go to enjoy nature, play sports and games, and just relax. But in a place like LA where there isn’t enough room for a lot of parks, some cities are building parklets.

The suffix “-let” is usually used with nouns to mean something smaller than the original. For example, a booklet is a small or thin book with fewer pages than a regular book. A ringlet is a piece of hair made into a small curl, usually on little girls. When used with animals, “-let” means a baby animal: a sow (female pig) has piglets.

These parklets — or small parks — are placed on the street and take the space of one or more parking spaces, next to the sidewalk (walkway along the street).

Here’s another parklet, this one in downtown Los Angeles:

If you don’t mind a little exhaust (gas from cars, trucks, and other vehicles), they’re a nice place to sit, relax, and people-watch (watching people go by when you don’t have anything else to do).

~ Jeff

Photo credit: City of Los Angeles

Posted in Life in the United States | 11 Comments