Spaghetti Westerns

It’s summertime! Lots of students on summer vacation are flocking to (going to in large numbers) movie theaters.

Students today may be surprised to learn how popular Westerns were before the 1970s. They may be more surprised to learn that some of the most famous classic (well-known and respected) Westerns weren’t even filmed in the U.S.

A Western is a movie about the Western part of the United States during the 1800s, when there were a lot of cowboys (men who ride horses and move cattle (cows) from one place to another), Indians (now called “Native Americans” or “American Indians”), and ranchers (people who owned many cattle).

Even though Westerns were about the American West, in the 1960s, many Western films were made by Italian studios (companies that make movies). These Italian Westerns are known by the nickname (informal name) “Spaghetti Westerns.” (Spaghetti is a common, long type of noodle or pasta from Italy.)

Many Spaghetti Westerns were filmed (recorded) in the Spanish desert (a hot, dry, sandy area) because it looked similar to parts of the American West. Also, because Spaniards spoke Spanish, it was easy to find Spanish-speaking actors to act as Mexicans, usually fighting against the American cowboys.

Spaghetti Westerns were very violent, with a lot of fighting. They were also filmed in a minimalist (simple) style, and many people did not like these movies for that reason. But in the 1980s people began to appreciate (see as being good or worthwhile) Spaghetti Westerns because they realized how influential (having a lot of impact) they were in shaping (causing to change) Americans’ views of the American West.

Three of the most famous Spaghetti Westerns are those in the trilogy (a series of three related movies) called “Man With No Name,” directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone. Before Clint Eastwood became an Academy Award winning director, he was a very popular star (main character) in 1960s Westerns, including in this trilogy.

The three movies in the trilogy are “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The third movie — “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” — is probably still one of the most famous Westerns ever made.

~ ESLPod Team

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
Photo Credit: from Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 80. 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 | 12 Comments

Are You a Pig, Owl, Beaver, or Clam?

owl-845131_1920Animals and people have a lot in common, if language is any indicator (something that shows the current state or level of something). We compare people to animals all the time, whether it’s because of their appearance (how they look), personality traits (characteristics), or behavior.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common expressions we use to talk about people’s personalities.

If someone is stubborn (not willing to change their attitude or opinion), they can be called “pigheaded.” We can also say that they’re “as stubborn as a mule” (an animal born to a female horse and a male donkey).

Intelligent people are sometimes described as being “as wise as an owl” (a large bird with round eyes and the ability to turn its head almost in a full circle and is awake at night). And you might hear people say “an elephant never forgets,” referring to a general belief that elephants have long memories (the ability to remember things for a long period of time). (Elephants are very large animals with a long nose called a “trunk.”)

Lions are generally thought to be brave (courageous, not scared of things). But a chicken is someone who is afraid to do something. The phrase “to chicken out” means to change one’s mind and decide not to do something because one is too scared.

Someone who is very enthusiastic (wanting to do something and looking forward to it) about doing something, especially work, can be described as an eager beaver (a rodent-like animal with a large, flat tail that uses its teeth to cut down trees and use them to block rivers to create ponds).

Someone who is nervous, shy, quiet, and lacking (being without) an interesting personality may be called “mousy.” Similarly, shy people are sometimes described as being “as quiet as a mouse.”

Someone who has a lot to say but suddenly stops talking is said to “clam up,” because a clam is a sea animal that lives between two round shells that can close like the lips of a person who doesn’t want to speak.

Finally, people who “eat like a bird” eat very little. The phrase “to pig out” means to eat a lot of something, and people who “eat like a horse” eat a lot of food.

~ ESLPod Team

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 729. 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 | 6 Comments

Anasazi Cliff Dwellings

A few weeks ago (in late May), I got a chance to visit a place I’ve wanted to go to for a long time: the Anasazi cliff dwellings. The Anasazi were a Native American tribe (group; people) that lived in the Southwestern part of present-day (what is now) United States in about 1100 A.D. A cliff is the very steep side of a mountain, and a dwelling is a home.

In the southwestern corner of Colorado is Mesa Verde National Park. A national park is a place of natural beauty or importance that is protected by the United States federal (national) government. Mesa Verde is where you will find some of the best preserved (protected from damage) cliff dwellings dating back to the (from the years) 1100 and 1200s A.D.

Nobody knows for sure why, but in the 1190s, the Anasazi, who had lived on the top of the mesa (mountain with a flat top) up to this time, moved to new dwellings they built underneath (below) the hanging cliffs (part of the cliff without supporting rock underneath).

Some of the structures were small and had only one room, probably used for storage (keeping things for later use). Others were as large as 150 rooms, large enough for an entire village (community of people living together). While the Anasazi continued to farm above, they lived below. One theory (guess based on the available evidence) is that they were protecting themselves from other hostile (unfriendly; wanting to harm them) groups.

Again, no one knows why, but by the late 1270s, the Anasazi started moving south. They are the ancestors (people who came before) of the Pueblo Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona today. By 1300, a little more than 100 years after they were built, the Anasazi cliff dwellings had been abandoned (with no one living there anymore).

I was able to go on a tour of one of these cliff dwellings. To reach the dwelling, we had to climb down a tall ladder (see below), crawl (move on hands and knees) through holes in the rock, and scramble (move quickly over rough ground) over the side of the mountain. It was not as strenuous (requiring a lot of physical effort) as it sounds and quite safe, of course. I am not Tom Cruise!

Here are a couple of the photos I took of the “Balcony House,” one of several dwellings that visitors can tour. (A balcony is a place you can step out onto on the outside of a house, and this dwelling was called the “Balcony House” because it had a rock formation (rock structure) shaped like a balcony.)



Below is a photo of the “Cliff Palace.” A palace is a very large home where rich or important people live, such as kings or queens. I couldn’t tour this dwelling because it wasn’t open for tours yet.

Finally, can you see the windows in this photo? There are dwellings behind them. This gives you an idea of the scale (size compared to other things) of these dwellings and the surrounding cliffs.

How did the Anasazi reach these dwellings? The best guess (belief based on little or limited evidence) is that they used ropes (long pieces of strong fabric) and were excellent rock climbers, perhaps using only their hands and feet to climb up and down.

If you ever get a chance to visit Mesa Verde National Park, I highly recommend it. But be sure to get your tour tickets a few days early. There are always more people who want to take tours then there are tickets.

~ Lucy

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
Photo Credit: Lucy Tse
Posted in Life in the United States | 12 Comments

Let’s Chat

Another video experiment for today’s blog’s post! Here I explain the meaning and usage (the way we use) the verb to chat.


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A Rock versus a Stone: A One-Minute Video Lesson

Here’s a one-minute video lesson on the difference between a rock and a stone in English. Enjoy!



Posted in Language & Terms | 12 Comments

Which Dog Will You Feed?

I heard an echo (something you hear again) from the past a few days ago. From my childhood, actually.

When I was young, I remember hearing a story – first told, I believe, by a religious leader named Billy Graham – about a fisherman who used to bring his two dogs – one white, one black – to town every Saturday afternoon. He had taught the dogs to begin fighting whenever he told them to. The town-people would make bets (pay money to say) on which dog would win. One Saturday the black dog would win. The next Saturday the white dog would win. And the fisherman always won!

One day one of his friends asked how he always knew which dog would win. “It’s easy,” he replied, “I starve (don’t feed) one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.”

The way I heard the story is that we all have both good and bad in us. The part we feed will dominate (control) us.

I heard an echo of that story a few days ago while reading a blog post by Seth Godin. Godin is a really smart guy. He’s written 18 best-selling books, started two businesses, and writes a daily blog followed by many.*

What I like about Godin, and the biggest reason I read his blog, is that he is also wise: he has good sense (understands what is important) and judgement (ability to make good decisions) that he’s learned from his many life experiences.

In his blog post, Godin suggests making two lists on two pieces of paper. The first is a list of negatives – people who don’t like you, bad things that have happened to you in the past, bad situations that you’re experiencing now, and things like that.

The second is a list of positives – like things you know, good experiences that you’ve had, people who trust you, what’s working for you now, and what’s worked for you in the past.

Godin says, “It’s all real” – good and bad. “Don’t hold back (hesitate).” In other words, write it all down.

When you finish the two lists, Godin says to choose one of them and put it somewhere you won’t see it. Once a week, take it out and look at it. Put the second list somewhere you can see it and read it every day.

Godin writes that the daily list will determine what you notice, what you think about, and how you think about what happens to you day by day. The choice is yours. Which list will you put where?

Personal note: The next few months are going to be very busy for me, so I’m going to be taking a break, at least until the end of September. Hope you have a great summer!

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

* Editor’s note: Godin’s blog is so popular, you can find it by just typing “Seth” into the U.S.’s Google search engine.

Photo found on Etsy.



Posted in Life in the United States | 3 Comments

“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue”

bloom-1851462_1920June is here and weddings are in the air (all around us). June is the most popular month for Americans to get married. The second most popular month is October.

December is the most common month to get engaged (promised to marry), according to a 2014 study by the popular wedding website, The Knot. (The name “The Knot” comes from the popular expression “to tie the knot” meaning to get married.)

There are many traditions in American weddings. One of them is related to what the bride (woman getting married) will wear on her wedding day. This saying – “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” – tells the bride that she must wear these four things if she wants to have good luck for her wedding and in her marriage.

What is the meaning behind each of these four things?

“Something old” – This shows a bride’s connection to her past and her relationship to tradition or the old way of doing things. If a bride wears something old, the marriage will have longevity, or will last a long time.

“Something new” – This shows hope for a good future. If a bride wears something new, the marriage will be happy, and be filled with joy or happiness.

“Something borrowed” – This usually comes from another woman who is already happily married. The idea is that the borrowed item will give the new marriage some of the good luck and happiness that the married couple already has.

“Something blue” – This represents love and fidelity (faithfulness and loyalty). It’s not clear why the color blue represents this ideal (principle). There are different theories. Some say blue was worn as a sign of faithfulness by Jewish brides, and the tradition continued from there, since the color blue was later associated by Christians with the Virgin Mary. Others attribute it to a custom related to preventing “evil spirits” from affecting the bride.

Perhaps it was chosen simple because the word “blue” rhymes with the word “new” in this catchy (easy to remember) little rhyme (short poem with words at the end of sentences having a similar sound)!

~ ESLPod Team

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 61. 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 Life in the United States | 10 Comments

Look for the Helpers

What should you do when the news is scary (makes you afraid)? Fred Rogers’ mom told him that whenever there is a catastrophe (terrible event), he should “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Many Americans know Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s television program that debuted (began) about 50 years ago, just a short time before Sesame Street, on PBS, the Public Broadcasting System.

No one who saw Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood will ever forget him walking through his door at the beginning of the program singing:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine? …
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Fred Rogers wasn’t the kind of person you’d expect to find on television. He was a simple, kindly man. And he dressed that way, too, in a cardigan sweater (sweater with a zipper) and blue sneakers (casual shoes). And that’s the kind of person he was. In the words of Anthony Breznican, a young American writer, “Fred Rogers was the real thing.”

Mr. Roger’s photo and his mother’s advice recently popped up (appeared) in a number of places on the Internet after some days of bad news. Breznican saw the photo and tweeted (wrote on Twitter) the story of his personal experience with Mr. Rogers.

Breznican wrote* that “as I got older, I lost touch with (forgot about) the show, which kept running through 2001. But in college, one day, I rediscovered it. I was having a hard time. It was easy to feel hopeless. Walking out of the dorm (apartment building for students), I heard familiar music: ‘Won’t you be my neighbor…’

“The TV was playing in an empty common (for anyone to use) room. Mr. Rogers was there, asking me what I should do with the mad (anger, upset) I feel. His show felt like a cool hand on a hot head. I left feeling better.

“Days later, at work, I got into the elevator. There, in the elevator, was Mr. Rogers. I stepped in, he nodded (moved his head up and down) at me, and I nodded at him.”

When the elevator doors opened again, Breznican turned and said, “’Mr. Rogers, I don’t mean to bother you. But I wanted to say thanks.’

“He smiled, ‘Did you grow up as one of my neighbors?’ I felt like crying. Yeah. I was.

“Rogers opened his arms for a hug. ‘It’s good to see you again neighbor.’

“As we walked away, I told him that I’d stumbled on (found accidentally) the show again recently, when I really needed it.

“So I just said, ‘Thanks for that.’ Mr. Rogers nodded. He paused. He sat down and invited me to join him.

“This is what made Mr. Rogers different. No one else would’ve done this. He goes (said), ‘Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?’

“So I sat. I told him my grandfather had just died. He was one of the few good things I had. I felt adrift (confused). Brokenhearted (very sad).

“Pretty soon he was telling me about his grandfather. He still wished the old man was here. ‘You’ll never stop missing the people you love,’ Mr. Rogers said. ‘Those things never go away.’

“Finally, I said thank you. And apologized if I made him late for an appointment.

Mr. Rogers said, “Sometimes you’re right where you need to be.”

When Mr. Rogers died in 2003, Breznican says he sat at his computer with tears in his eyes. “But I wasn’t crying over the death of a celebrity. I was mourning (feeling sad) the loss of a neighbor.”

You can find Breznican’s complete story on the Entertainment Weekly website, along with some Mr. Rogers videos.

* Most of this story is told the way Breznican wrote it on Twitter; I have shortened it and changed some of the words to make it a little easier to read.

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

Photo from Galaxy fm used under Creative Commons license.

Posted in Life in the United States | 2 Comments

Remembering POWs and MIAs

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States, a federal (national) holiday to remember those soldiers (members of the military) who have died in active military service (died while fighting as a soldier).

During the Vietnam War (fought during the 1960s and 1970s), there were many American soldiers who became prisoners of war or POWs – those who are held by the enemy and not allowed to leave during a war. Some soldiers were missing in action or MIA – those whose whereabouts (location) was unknown.

A special POW/MIA flag was created to honor and remember POWs and MIAs, and to remind Americans back home (in the United States) of the need to find out the fates (what happened to a person, or how a person died) of the men and women who serve in the military during wartime.

The POW/MIA flag is black and white. It has a silhouette (an outline drawing) of a man, a watch tower (a tall structure that guards sit in to watch what happens in a prison and make sure prisoners do not escape), and barbed wire (thin lines of sharp metal used to make fences that people cannot cross).

“POW MIA” is written on top, and the phrase “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN” is written on the bottom.

The POW/MIA flag is flown (placed on a pole for others to see) on six special days in the U.S.: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and National POW/MIA Recognition Day (September 15th).

It is also flown at many military installations (places where members of the military work), police stations, fire stations, and similar places.

In addition, military mess halls (cafeterias; large dining rooms with long tables) often leave one table and chair empty, draped (covered with a cloth) with the POW/MIA flag to serve as a reminder of the soldiers who are missing and symbolize (represent) a chair waiting for their return.

~ ESLPod Team

Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 716. 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 Life in the United States | 3 Comments

Share Your Spare

Have you ever thought about giving one of your kidneys – the part of your body that cleans your blood – to a stranger, to someone you don’t know?

Scientific progress has made it easier and safer to transplant organs – to move a healthy heart, liver, kidney, or other organ from someone who has died to a living person who needs it. In 2015 about 31,000 transplants were performed in the U.S.

That’s a large number. But the number of people waiting for transplants of all kinds – almost 120,000 – is much larger, and a new name is added to the list every 10 minutes. Even though transplants save or improve the lives of 85 people every day, 22 others die because they can’t get one.

Our kidney’s main job is to clean our blood. When it works well, we don’t think about it. When it doesn’t, we often have to go to the hospital or a clinic several days a week for dialysis, using a machine to do what a sick kidney can’t do.

In the U.S., 600,000 people are on dialysis, and 100,000 of them need a transplant because dialysis is only a temporary solution. But in 2015, only 16,000 people received healthy kidneys. Why so few? Not enough healthy kidneys to transplant.

We are born with two kidneys. And we can easily live with only one. That’s why many people are making the decision to donate (give) a kidney to a stranger.

Last year, Dylan Matthews, a young journalist (news reporter), gave one of his kidneys to a man he’d never met.

Matthews says that he’d thought about giving one of his kidneys for years. “It seems,” he writes, “like such a simple and clear way to help someone else, through a procedure (process) that’s very low-risk (safe) to me.”

Matthews points out that if he “kept walking around with two kidneys when there are more than 100,000 people on the kidney waitlist (waiting list) who would most likely die in the next five years if they didn’t get one,” he would be like someone who sees a child drowning (die from being under water) in a pond (small area of water) but doesn’t do anything because he doesn’t want to get his clothes wet and dirty.

Matthews became friends with one person who had become a donor, then another. And after talking with them he decided that the facts were simple: “it’s awful to need a kidney and really not that hard to give one.” And so, in 2016, he did.

The process took about five months. Testing started in March, was finished in mid-May, and in June he was approved as a donor. On Monday, August 22, he was admitted to (entered) Johns Hopkins hospital so his left kidney could be removed.

The first few days of recovery (return to normal) were difficult. But Thursday, three days after surgery, he went home. On Friday he went out with friends, and on Saturday, he and his father went to a movie.

Matthews says that “giving a kidney was the most rewarding experience of [his] life.” He talks about the choices we make – especially when we’re young – some good, some bad. He believes that this decision was one of his best. “I was…deeply gratified (thankful) to have made at least one choice in my life that I know was beyond a shadow of a doubt (absolutely) the right one.”

Note: The title for this blog post comes from Briana Zavala, a young kidney donor from California, who encourages people to “share your spare (extra)” kidney.

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

Dylan Matthews’ story comes from
Photo: screenshot from MPD-SI Newhouse School.


Posted in Life in the United States | 6 Comments