The Shadow Wolves are on the Hunt

European_grey_wolf_in_Prague_zooAs in other countries, smuggling and trafficking are both serious problems in the United States. Smuggling is the crime of bringing something into or out of  a country illegally (against the law). Trafficking is the selling or trading of things illegally.

To combat (fight; work against) smuggling and trafficking, the U.S. has a small group of special officers with the coolest (most appealing and impressive) name: The Shadow Wolves.

A shadow is the dark shape produced when a body or object comes between the sun or a light and a surface, like the ground. A wolf (see photo) is a wild (not tame; not living peacefully with people) animal similar to a dog.

Shadow Wolves is a unit (group of officers or soldiers working together) based in southern Arizona. They are based on the Native American Nation of the Tohono O’odham. (We talked about Native American reservations here.) The Nation is located on about 4,300 square miles (11,100 square kilometers) and its people mainly live in small villages spread out (not close together) across this entire area.

There are only 15 members of this special unit, but the Shadow Wolf officers are known for their remarkable (amazing) ability to track (to find the path or course of someone) smugglers as they try to smuggle things, especially drugs, across the Mexican-American border (line separating two countries).

The unit has had a long history of tracking, skills passed down (given from parent to children) from generation to generation. The name “Shadow Wolves” refers to the way the unit hunts (follows and captures), like a wolf pack (group of animals living and/or traveling together). When one wolf finds prey (what is being hunted), it calls in the rest of the wolf pack to help capture the smugglers.

The unit has hi-tech (using advanced technology) equipment, but it relies mainly on traditional methods of tracking, primarily a technique called “cutting for sign.” “Cutting” means searching for and analyzing “sign,” which includes any kind of physical evidence, such as footprints (impressions on the ground made by feet or shoes), tire tracks (impressions in the ground made from car or other vehicle traveling over it), thread (individual long, thin pieces of fiber used for making fabric), clothing, and more. Officers may spend hours or days tracking in the field following a “sign” until they find the smugglers so they can be arrested (taken to jail by police) and their illegally transported items seized (taken).

The Shadow Wolves are able to track smugglers across difficult desert (with a very dry climate and little rain) and mountain terrain (section of land, especially its physical features, such as being smooth or rough). They can spot (notice; find) signs that most people cannot, something as small as a broken twig (small length of wood from a tree), an overturned (turned upside down) pebble (small rock), or single fibers from a piece of clothing or a bag that could be carrying drugs. From a faint (not clear or deep) footprint in the dust (fine powder in the air that collects on surfaces), they can see when the footprint was made, where they came from, and whether they are carrying a lot of weight, such as heavy bags filled with drugs.

The Shadow Wolves have traveled around the world to teach officials and police officers how to detect and follow tracks. In recent years, the Shadow Wolf officers have seized an average of 60,000 pounds of illegal drugs a year.

~ ESLPod Team

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 The Shadow Wolves are on the Hunt

Welcoming 2018

A new year means new plans and new resolutions (promises to yourself to do better).

Here are a few words from Benjamin Franklin to inspire you (make you feel you want to do something). (We talked about him in Cultural English 542.)

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.” — Benjamin Franklin

To be “at war with” means to work against something, trying to stop it or to defeat it.

A “vice” is a type of bad or criminal behavior. In fact, U.S. police departments often have vice squads, a part of the department that combats (fights against) crimes such as illegal gambling (playing games of chance for money), illegal drugs, and prostitution (selling your body for sex).

To be “at peace with,” as you can probably guess, means not to have problems with other people and having a good relationship with them.

Another meaning of being “at peace with” is when someone has accepted or become accustomed to something that they don’t like or that has had a negative affect on them.

For example, if your daughter decides to marry a man whom you don’t like, it may take some time and effort for you to be at peace with her decision. Even though you still don’t like it, you have accepted it.

And finally, Benjamin Franklin says, “. . . let each New Year find you a better man” (or woman). For something to “find you” means for it be the situation or for something to be true.

Happy 2018! All of here at hope that the new year finds you happy, healthy, and wise (showing good judgement; making good decisions).

~ Jeff, Lucy, & Team

Image Credit: From Wikipedia

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 Welcoming 2018

Christmas: Outlawed!

Nowadays (Currently; These days), Christmas is celebrated by many Americans, whether they are Christian or not. However, that wasn’t always so (true).

The first Europeans to settle (move to and make it their home) in what is the United States today came in 1620 to look for religious freedom (the ability to believe in and practice any religion). These first settlers, called “Puritans,” were hard-working and didn’t believe in taking days off to have fun and to celebrate. They even nicknamed (gave as an informal name) Christmas “Foolstide,” meaning only foolish people celebrated Christmas.

They didn’t believe that the Bible (Christian religious book) said anything about resting on Christmas. And so the Puritans worked on December 25th!

The feelings against Christmas rest and celebration were so strong in the community that in 1659, they passed a law against Christmas. The court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first European settlement (community of new arrivals), made it illegal to celebrate the holiday and anyone found celebrating would be fined (forced to pay as punishment) five shillings (British coins = to 1/20 of a pound).

It wasn’t until 1681 that the law was repealed (ended), but the Puritans continued to fight against the holiday.

Thank goodness (we are glad) Christmas is no longer outlawed (not allowed by law)!

We wish those who celebrate the holiday Merry Christmas, and to those who don’t, Happy Holidays.

And Happy New Year to you all!

~ 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 Christmas: Outlawed!

Punctuation: The Game Changer*

We all know that punctuation — marks in writing, such as ” “, : , and ! — is important. Sometimes just a small change in punctuation can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

For example, consider (look at and think about) the following sentences that use the same words in the same order, but have different punctuation.

Woman, without her man, is nothing.
Woman! Without her, man is nothing.

The first phrase means that a woman is nothing if she doesn’t have a man in her life. The second phrase means that a man is nothing if he doesn’t have a woman in his life.

Same words in the same order, but the two sentences have entirely (completely) different meanings!

Here’s another example of how punctuation can change the meaning of a phrase.

The man dropped the bullet in his mouth.
The man dropped, the bullet in his mouth.

A bullet is the small piece of round metal that is shot out of a gun. The first phrase means that the man himself put the bullet into his mouth, and we can assume (believe to be true) that the man is still alive.

The second phrase means that the man dropped or fell to the floor, meaning that he is lying on the floor with a bullet in his mouth. From this, we can assume that the man died when a bullet was shot out of a gun into his mouth.

As in our first example, these two phrases use the same words in the same order, but one comma changes the meaning entirely.

~ ESLPod Team

*A game changer is an idea or event that makes a big difference in a situation. For example, the laptop computer (portable computer) was a game changer in personal computing.
**This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 91. 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.
Learn English Magazine: (free Apple/Android app)
Posted in Language & Terms | Comments Off on Punctuation: The Game Changer*

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