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301 Topics: Ask an American: The value of church services; outbreak versus break out; to pull off versus to pull over versus to pull in; to act silly

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 301.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 301. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. On it, you can visit our ESL Podcast Store, which has some additional premium courses in business and daily English that you will enjoy, I think. You can also download the Learning Guide for this episode, and every current episode. The Learning Guide contains lots of additional information, including a complete transcript of this episode, vocabulary words, definitions, sample sentences, cultural notes, and a comprehension quiz on what you’re listening to now.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our Ask an American segments, where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal rate of speech – a normal speed. We’re going to listen to them and explain what they’re talking about.

Today we’re going to talk about churches in the United States, but somewhat unusual focus. We’re going to look at the economic or possible economic value of churches. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our topic on this Café’s Ask an American segment is the value of the services that churches provide the local community. We’re going to listen to some people talking about a recent study – a recent piece of research that was done at the University of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is in the northeastern part of the United States.

Researchers tried to put a price on the services that are provided in a community by churches and other religious groups. The study tried to determine the monetary or financial value of those services. Of course, many people think this is a strange idea, but it’s an interesting way of looking at how churches contribute to society. In the United States, the majority of people are believers in God and many of them are part of some religious organization or a church. So, it’s important to understand a little bit about how churches function in the United States. They don’t just provide psychological or spiritual help; they also provide other kinds of assistance.

We’re going to start by listening to Bob Jaeger, who worked on this particular research study. We’ll listen to him, try to understand what he’s saying, and then go back and explain it. Let’s listen:


All too often right now, when we invest in neighborhoods, the church or synagogue is overlooked. We just assume it’s gonna always be there. We don’t fully understand what value it has. If a pastor persuades someone not to commit suicide, what is the value of a human life? What’s the dollar value, how many millions of dollars?

[end of recording]

Bob begins by saying that all too often, or too frequently, when we invest in neighborhoods, the church or synagogue is overlooked. “To invest” (invest) normally means to put money into something, something that you hope will make you more money later. You might invest in a house; you might invest in buying stocks from a company. However, “invest” can also be more generally used to mean to put money into something so that eventually things get better in an area or in a community. We might say, for example, that the government is investing money in building roads – good roads, because that will help the community eventually.

What Jaeger says here, our friend Bob, is that when we invest in neighborhoods – “neighborhoods” are the places where people live, the areas of town; most cities have several different neighborhoods – when we invest in neighborhoods, the church or synagogue is overlooked. A “church” is normally a word we associate with a place where Christians worship – Christians pray. The word “church” can also refer to all of the people who are present there, or all of the members of that particular religious organization. A “synagogue” is a building where Jewish people go to pray and worship. A “mosque” would be a place where Muslim believers go and pray. The typical community in the United States has churches, many have synagogues, more and more now there are communities with mosques. This was a study done in Pennsylvania – in Philadelphia, which is a city in Pennsylvania, and they looked at churches and synagogues.

The author of the study, our good friend Bob, says that the church or the synagogue is overlooked. “To overlook (something)” means not to notice it or not to realize how important it is. You don’t want to overlook bringing sunscreen if you are going to be out in the sun or on the beach. “Sunscreen” is something you put on your skin to protect it so it doesn’t get burned; you don’t want to overlook that.

Bob says that we just assume that the church and synagogue is gonna always be there. “Gonna,” usually spelled (gonna), is a short form of “going to.” It’s an informal form you will hear when people are speaking. It’s not something see in writing very often unless it’s a dialogue, or a quote like this. Bob says that we assume these churches and synagogues are gonna always be there. “We don’t fully (or completely) understand what value it has.” “The value (value) of (something)” is how much it is worth or how much someone would pay for that. Sometimes it’s easy to identify the value of some things, especially physical objects: a phone, a computer, a microphone. Other things are more difficult to put a value on; that is, to say how much money that’s worth.

Bob gives us an example. He says, “if a pastor persuades someone not to commit suicide, what is the value of a human life?” He starts by talking about a “pastor” (pastor). In this context, a “pastor” is the spiritual leader of a particular Christian church. Some churches call their leaders “ministers,” others call them “priests,” others call them “pastors.” We’re talking about the same person here. He says, “if a pastor persuades (or convinces) someone not to commit suicide, what is the value of that human life?” “To commit suicide” means to kill yourself, to end your own life, something someone may do if they’re very depressed or have psychological problems. People who have a lot of psychological problems or are very depressed will often go and talk to one of these religious leaders – these pastors – and sometimes the pastor will persuade them – convince them that this is not a good idea. Bob asks, “What is the dollar value of that?” How much is that worth? How much is that service worth to the community? He says, “how many millions of dollars?” Actually, the study found that it was worth about 20,000 dollars; I’m not sure exactly how they calculated that. And, of course, many people think that trying to say how much a life is worth is not a very good way of analyzing something – talking about something. But, this is a study done by people interested in economics, and sometimes they put values on things that we may not put a value on.

In any case, let’s listen to Bob again talk about these churches and synagogues, and the value they bring to their communities.


All too often right now, when we invest in neighborhoods, the church or synagogue is overlooked. We just assume it’s gonna always be there. We don’t fully understand what value it has. If a pastor persuades someone not to commit suicide, what is the value of a human life? What’s the dollar value, how many millions of dollars?

[end of recording]

In the next section, Bob talks about the effect that these churches and synagogues have on their community. He uses the word “halo” (halo), which is normally a circle of light that we associate in artwork with a saint or with an angel. Normally with angels, we talk about them having a halo, like a round circle of light above their head. It could also be used, as it is here, to describe the good influence that something has on the people or things around them. Let’s listen:


We thought there probably would be some evidence that in a halo of a block or two or more – you know, in that kind of circle around a sacred place – there is probably some impact that’s demonstrable, and what we’ve learned, in fact, is that much of this impact is local.

[end of recording]

So Bob – or Bobby as I like to call him, because I consider Bob a friend of mine – Bobby says, “We thought there probably would be some evidence that in a halo of a block or two or more,” and then he continues, but let’s talk about that first phrase. “We thought there would probably be some evidence (some proof or indication) that in a halo of a block or two or more.” A “halo,” as we described, has to do with the influence – the good influence that might come from someone or something that is good, and here we’re talking about the influence around the church or the synagogue. He says “a block or two,” but he really, I think, just means in the local area, where the church or synagogue is.

He goes on to say, “you know, in that kind of circle around a sacred place.” “Sacred” means holy, similar to or like God. So, the sacred places would be the churches and the synagogues in the neighborhood. He says, “there is probably some impact that is demonstrable.” “Impact” would be effect or influence. “Demonstrable” means something that you can see, something that you can show, something that you can prove; it comes from the word “demonstrate” – “demonstrable.” The fact that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit is demonstrable; I can show you, you can see the water becoming ice. Well, this is a study to see if the impact or the effect of churches and synagogues is demonstrable, if we can actually show it, and he says that in fact you can. He says that much of what we’ve learned is that much of this impact is local. “Local” meaning in the nearby area, in the area around these churches and synagogues. So, it’s not going to be global, it’s not going to be across the whole world; it’s not going to be nation-wide, across the whole country; it’s not going to be state-wide, across the whole state. It’s going to be local: in the neighborhood, the city, or town.

Let’s listen to Bob – Bobby one more time:


We thought there probably would be some evidence that in a halo of a block or two or more – you know, in that kind of circle around a sacred place – there is probably some impact that’s demonstrable, and what we’ve learned, in fact, is that much of this impact is local.

[end of recording]

It’s not difficult in most communities – most neighborhoods – to see the influence – the positive influence of churches and synagogues on the social and economic life of the people who live there. Churches often, in the United States, have hospitals, schools, clinics, special programs – educational programs, health programs, and so forth – that they use to help the people who live in the areas where they’re located.

The government, of course, also provides many of these services. But they cannot or do not provide all of them, and a significant percentage, in the United States anyway, of these what we might call “social services” are provided by local churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Housam (Housam) in Libya. The question has to do with the difference between two similar sounding expressions: “outbreak” and “break out.” They sound almost the same.

“Outbreak” (outbreak – one word) is when there is a sudden increase in something, usually a disease or some violent activity, or it could be certain insects or animals that are attacking food. For example, we might talk about an “outbreak of influenza,” or the flu, when lots of people start getting sick suddenly. We could talk about an “outbreak of war” or an “outbreak of violence,” a sudden, rapid increase.

“Break out” is two words; it has a couple of different meanings. One of them is similar to “outbreak.” It can mean to happen or increase suddenly. Here, “break out” can be used as a verb to mean something similar to “outbreak,” which is a noun. So we might say, “When influenza broke out at the school it had to close, because all of the students were sick.” “Break out” is a verb here, meaning the same as “outbreak.” Or we could say, “War broke out between the two countries,” war started between the two countries.

“Break out,” again as a verb, can also mean to escape from prison. “The criminal broke out of the county jail” – of the local jail or prison. As an adjective, “break out” is sometimes used now to talk about an artist, a singer, or an actor who suddenly becomes very popular: “The breakout singer of the year, Justin Bieber,” or someone like that. Is that his name? Bieber? Justin…yeah, Justin Bieber; that’s his name – whoever he is.

Finally, “break out” can also be used to talk about when you have what is called “acne” on your skin. “Acne” (acne) is when you have small, red spots that appear on your skin. It’s something that happens very commonly among teenagers. We call those small, red spots “pimples” (pimples).

One expression you might hear with “break out” is “to break out of your routine.” Here the idea is that your routine is like a prison; you need to do something different, you need to break out of what you normally do every day. Your “routine” (routine) are the things you normally do or the sequence – the order in which you normally do something. Most people, when they get up in the morning, they have a routine. They may go and exercise and then take a shower. They may read the paper while eating breakfast. They may watch the television while getting dressed. Those are routines that different people have. My routine is to get up and to eat and read my newspaper; that’s part of my morning routine.

Our next question comes from Surya (Surya) in India. The question has to do with three similar sounding expressions, these are all phrasal verbs with the verb “to pull”: “to pull off,” “to pull over,” and “to pull in.” Well, each of these expressions is slightly different. Let’s start with “to pull off.”

“To pull off” is usually used when talking about a car driving down a street and you need to stop. We would say, “I’m going to pull off the road.” The idea is you’re going to stop somewhere safe, somewhere that is completely off of the road itself. It could be the land next to the road; it could be a place where you get gasoline, anywhere that is not on the road or highway. Or you might say, “I need gas,” and if you’re driving on the freeway you may decide to pull off at the next exit, to leave the freeway – the highway – and go to the gas station.

“To pull off” can also mean to do something very difficult successfully. “I didn’t think the singer could pull off that song,” it’s a very difficult song, and yet he managed to sing it very well.

“To pull over” can also mean to move your car to the side of the road so that other cars can go around you. However, normally “to pull over” is something that you would do for a short period of time. Maybe you’re lost, and you pull over to look at a map. “To pull off” means to leave the road; “to pull over” usually means that you’re still on the road and that you’re probably just there temporarily. If you are driving down the road and you see a police officer behind you, the officer might tell you to pull over, to stop your car on the side of the road.

“To pull in” means, again talking about cars and driving, to drive your car slowly into a parking place – a “parking spot” we would call it – in a garage or in some other narrow space where you have to put your car into. My house, for example, has a driveway, a place for the car to go between the street and the garage. Sometimes I don’t put the car in the garage, I just pull it into the driveway; I drive it slowly and I park it there. So, when we’re talking about driving “to pull in” means to go into a parking space.

Finally, Farzane (Farzane) from an unknown country – a mystery country – wants to know the meaning of the expression “stop acting silly.” Well, “to act” here means to behave in a certain way. “To act like” or “to act as” means that you are behaving as if you were something else. “You’re acting like my father,” that means you are behaving and saying things that my father might say to me. “To act silly” would mean to be foolish, to be stupid, to make dumb mistakes; that’s to be silly. Or, “silly” can just be a word to describe someone who is acting like a child, an adult. So, “stop acting silly” means stop behaving in this foolish way. It’s something we may say to children, but it may be something you would say to an adult who you think is not thinking very clearly or logically, who doesn’t have very much common sense or good judgment.

When I was growing up, we used to say, “Act your age, not your shoe size.” “Act your age” means if you are 10 or 12 you should act like a 10- or a 12-year-old, not like a 4-year-old. If you are 85 years old you should act like an 85-year-old, not like a 20-year-old. Or at least, you shouldn’t be asking 20-year-old women to go on a date with you! If you act your shoe size, well, in the United States shoe sizes are usually numbers like 8 or 9, 5, maybe 10; they’re low numbers, and that would be to act like a child. So, we have the expression “act your age, not your shoe size.”

I promise I won’t act silly if you email us a question or comment. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.

invest – to put money into something, usually a project or a business, often because one expects to make more money as a result

* How much money do you invest in your retirement savings plan each month?

church – the building where Christians worship or pray and praise God

* Do you go to church each Sunday?

synagogue – the building where Jewish people worship God

* Are we supposed to get dressed up to go to the synagogue?

to overlook – to not notice something or not realize how important it is

* A wedding planner helps the bride and groom avoid overlooking any important details, like flowers, music, and cake.

value – how much something is worth; how much someone would be willing to pay for something

* Our family has always emphasized the value of a good education.

pastor – the spiritual leader of a Christian church, like a minister or priest

* The pastor sometimes acts as a marriage counselor to people who attend church.

to commit suicide – to kill oneself; to end one’s own life

* Traci tried to commit suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of aspirin.

halo – a circle of light, especially the circle of light shown around the head of angels in religious art

* The little girl dressed up as an angel in a white dress with a gold-colored piece of metal around her head to represent a halo.

sacred – holy or God-like; related to God or religion

* The priest’s robes are sacred, so no one else is supposed to touch them.

demonstrable – able to be seen, shown, or proven

* Have researchers been able to show any demonstrable benefits of taking high doses of vitamin C?

impact – the effect or influence of something

* The World Bank evaluates its projects to determine whether they’re having any real impact on economic development.

local – related to the nearby area, neighborhood, or community

* We spent most of the weekend at a local park.

outbreak – a very sudden increase in something, usually involving disease, pests (insects or animals that attack food or other animals), or violent activity

* How many people died in the last outbreak of cholera?

to break out – to happen or increase very suddenly; to break free from being held (put in prison) or held back mentally or physically; to have acne show up on one’s skin, where pimples (small red spots) appear, most often on the face and most common in teenagers

* Is it true that eating chocolate can make your skin break out?

to pull off – to drive a car off the road and stop it in a safe place where it will not block traffic

* It’s dangerous to drive while talking on the phone. Please pull off the highway before making a call.

to pull over – to signal the driver of a moving car that he or she must move off the road and wait; to drive a car to the side of the road; to move a car out of the way so that another car can pass

* Clarke was pulled over by a police officer for not wearing his seatbelt.

to pull in – to drive a car slowly into a parking spot, a garage, a drive-thru, or another narrow space

* She pulled into the drive-in to order a hamburger and French fries.

to act silly – to behave in a foolish or absurd way

* Whenever Janice is around an attractive man, she starts acting silly.

What Insiders Know
Gospel Music

“Gospel music” is written to “express” (show; demonstrate) Christian beliefs and values. Most gospel music is written for “worship” (showing God one’s love), “praising God” (thanking God and talking about the good things God has done), and entertainment. There are many different styles of gospel music.

The Gospel Music Association was created in 1964 to support and encourage all forms of gospel music and their performers. In 1971, it created the Gospel Music “Hall of Fame” (a way to recognize the greatest performers or competitors in a particular industry or sport). The Hall of Fame “inductees” (people invited to join an organization) have included Elvis Presley, The Blackwood Brothers, Amy Grant, The Jordanaires, and many others.

The Gospel Music Association also presents the Dove Awards. A “dove” is a small, white bird that often serves as a symbol of peace or even of God himself. The Dove Awards are presented for “outstanding” (excellent; superior) achievements in the Christian music industry. The first Dove Awards were given out in 1969 and until 2011 they were always presented in Tennessee. Awards include Song of the Year, Male/Female “Vocalist” (singer) of the Year, New Artist of the Year, Producer of the Year, and many “genre” (type)-specific awards.

Many people see important differences between “black” and “white” gospel music and argue that the Gospel Music Association tends to recognize white gospel music more than black gospel music. “Parallel” (doing something in a similar way at the same time) organizations like the National Convention of Gospel Choirs & Choruses (NCGCC) recognize outstanding black gospel music performers. For example, NCGCC gave the Mississippi Mass Choir the 2010 Thomas Dorsey Most Notable Achievement Stellar Award.