Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

302 Topics: Famous Americans: Thomas Edison; Liberia; symposium versus workshop versus seminar; to account for; “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 302.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 302. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. We’re going to talk in a low voice today!

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you some additional help in improving your English. I think I had too much caffeine in my coffee this morning!

This Café is going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on Thomas Edison, who invented or created many important things and played an important part in American history. We’re also going to talk about the country of Liberia and how it is connected to U.S. history. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin talking about another famous American, focusing on Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison was a scientist and a businessman, but even more importantly he was an inventor. To “invent” means to create something that no one has ever created before, or in some cases to create something that no one has ever even thought of before. Thomas Edison was a prodigious inventor, meaning he created many different inventions. When I say he was “prodigious,” I mean that people were impressed by the large number of inventions he created, as well as the importance of those inventions.

You see, many of Edison’s inventions became popular very quickly and spread throughout the world. That is, other countries – people in other countries started to use them as well. For example, he invented the first practical electric light bulb. When I say it was the first “practical” light bulb, I mean it was the first one that could be used without a high cost or a lot of difficulty. Other people had invented electric light bulbs before Edison, but they were expensive, or unreliable, or difficult to use. Edison’s light bulb was easy to use, it was inexpensive, and it lasted a long time, so it began to be used by many people very quickly.

Edison also invented the “phonograph,” which is a machine used to play recorded sound, such as words or music. It was a little bit like a record player and nobody had ever seen anything like it before. Edison also invented the motion picture camera, or a camera used to record people and objects as they move, as in modern movies. Well, those three things alone would guarantee Edison his place in American as well as world history: inventing the first practical light bulb, the phonograph, and a motion picture camera. It’s hard to imagine our modern world without these technologies.

Edison invented, however, so many things that he actually held more than 1,000 U.S. patents. A “patent” (patent) is legal permission or authority to make and sell something while no one else is allowed to do it for a certain time. A patent is similar to a “copyright,” but copyrights are usually for artistic creations, like writing, music, art, this podcast, which is copyrighted. Patents are for physical inventions, like a battery for an electric car, or something that would record your votes, or a telephone technology. Anything physical, if you want to protect it legally, requires that you get a patent.

As I mentioned before, Edison was also a businessman. He was born in Ohio, which is in the central eastern part of the United States, in 1847. He was one of seven children. The family didn’t have a lot of money, so he had to become an entrepreneur to try to increase his “income” or the amount of money he was receiving. An “entrepreneur” is someone who starts a new business, maybe opens a new restaurant or starts really any kind of business. You could be an Internet entrepreneur, starting a business on the Internet. In Edison’s case, he sold candy and newspapers on trains, that was one of his businesses, and he sold vegetables. Over time, however, he realized that he was a good entrepreneur and a good businessman, and he eventually created 14 companies, including the company that is known today as General Electric, which is still an extremely important company in American business.

When Edison was young, he began working as a telegrapher. A “telegraph” (telegraph) was a way to communicate over long distances using signals that would be printed out on a piece of paper as combinations of dots and dashes that could be read and converted into letters and words. You may know of something called “Morse code.” Well, Morse code was used in the telegraph business to communicate messages. Every letter has a different code, and you put those codes together and you form a word. Edison’s training as a telegrapher helped him create some of his earliest inventions.

Edison created most of his inventions in a place called Menlo Park, New Jersey. New Jersey is located on the eastern coast of the United States next to the state of New York. After Edison became successful, people started to call him “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” especially after he invented the phonograph. A “wizard” is someone who has magical powers and usually a lot of “wisdom” or intelligence. Not a real person, of course, but we often use the expression – the word in English to talk about someone who’s very smart, who’s able to do some things that seem magical that you perhaps don’t even understand. Inventions like the phonograph seemed magical to people at that time, so it makes sense for them to talk about Edison as a wizard or magician.

Edison basically invented not only the phonograph and the electric light bulb, but a new way of inventing things. Many people think one of his best inventions, or most important, was the first industrial research “lab” or laboratory. A “laboratory” is a place where people come together to work, usually on some science-related project or technology-related project. Edison had a team – a group of people working for him, conducting, or doing research that was needed to create new inventions and improve his existing inventions, the inventions he already had invented. The results of the work these people did belonged to Edison, just as the work done in modern industrial research labs belongs to the companies rather than the individual people who do the work.

Edison “passed away,” which is a nice way of saying “died,” in 1931. Remember, he was born in 1847, so he was quite old at the time. He continues to live on in our memories, which means Americans have not forgotten Thomas Edison. I’m sure most Americans know he was the inventor of the light bulb. We also understand that Edison played an important role, or had an important part in the Industrial Revolution here in the United States, the period of time when people created many machines that could produce things in factories, freeing up people’s time to do other things and generally improving the economic life around those communities who experienced the Industrial Revolution.

Even today, Edison is often “quoted,” meaning people repeat some of the things he was known to have said. For example, sometimes you can hear people quoting him as saying “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” “Genius” is something that is very intelligent – or someone. It’s the idea of the intelligence, really. So, genius, or intelligence, is one percent inspiration. “Inspiration” is when you have a new idea, an interesting idea. Ninety-nine percent of genius, however, is “perspiration,” which is sweat or the water that appears on your skin when you’re working very hard. What Edison meant by this expression was that a new idea is only a small part of inventing something. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s that hard work – that perspiration – that is more important.

Today many buildings, schools, museums, and other places are named after Thomas Edison. There’s even something called the Edison Medal, which is an award – a prize given by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for outstanding achievements in electrical engineering and science. There have also been many books and movies about Edison and his life and inventions.

Thomas Edison represents a certain ideal in American history of the practical American inventing technology. It’s part of, kind of, our image of what a great American is: someone who is practical, who is successful, who makes a lot of money, who contributes something to the technology of the society. Nowadays, of course, we have Internet geniuses, people who are able to create new businesses on the Internet – new services, and that’s a kind of invention as well.

For our second part of the Café, we’re going to ask our own Dr. Lucy Tse to come in and talk to us about the next topic. Lucy?

Welcome to Lucy’s English Café. Just kidding! Thank you for letting me come and visit you here once again on the English Café.

Our second topic today is about the Republic of Liberia. Liberia, of course, is a country in Western Africa and our English Café normally focuses on the United States. However, Liberia has an important connection to the United States and its history of slavery, and that’s why we’re going to talk about it today.

The country of Liberia was “founded” (founded) or created by freed American slaves. These “former” (former) slaves, or people who had previously been owned in the United States as slaves, were free, meaning they could go where they wanted, but they still weren’t treated as equals in the United States. An organization called the American Colonization Society, or ACS for short, wanted to repatriate freed slaves back to Africa where their ancestors had come from. “To repatriate” (repatriate) someone means to send someone back to his or her own country.

The ACS had a lot of support among white people in the United States. Most people believed that freed slaves would have more freedom and respect if they returned to Africa – especially Liberia – than if they stayed in the United States. People recognized that the history of slavery was still very important in the United States, and that racism would result in those free slaves being treated differently than other people, especially white people, who had their freedom.

People who supported “abolition” (abolition) or an end to slavery wanted freed slaves to repatriate to Liberia so that they could live fuller, more complete lives. People who supported slavery wanted the freed slaves to repatriate to Liberia so that their slaves wouldn’t see freed slaves and want the same freedoms, leading to rebellion and fighting. ACS received a lot of financial support – that is, money from the U.S. Congress, the part of the U.S. government that makes laws, to prepare for the journey and send freed slaves to Liberia by ship.

So, beginning in 1821 to 1822, some freed black slaves began colonizing Liberia. “To colonize” (colonize) a place means to go to a place and live there, usually to have political control or power over that area. The people who colonized Liberia didn’t try to assimilate into Liberian or African culture. Instead, they remained “apart” (apart), or different and separate. In many ways, the black colonists were an elite group. Someone who is “elite” (elite) is powerful and special in some way, often wealthier, having more money than other people who are not part of the elite group.

The elite colonists referred to themselves as Americans and tried to establish a government that was very much like the American system in many ways. They even named their capital city Monrovia, after U.S. President James Monroe, who supported the idea of repatriating freed slaves.

That’s all we have time for today in talking about Liberia. I hope you found it interesting. Let me turn it back over to Jeff, who will answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Van Giap (Van Giap) in Vietnam. The question has to do with the meanings of the words “symposium,” “workshop,” and “seminar.” These are all words that you might use or hear at a professional meeting or gathering. If you go to a conference where other people in your area of work talk to each other, give presentations, these are words that you might see there. Let’s start with “symposium.”

“Symposium” usually is where you have several people who are talking about a certain subject, and you have an audience, people they are talking to. So, you might have four or five people up on a stage – on an area in the front of the room, everyone else is sitting in their chairs, and these four or five people give a presentation about some topic – some related topic.

A “workshop” could be a meeting about a certain topic, usually the idea is that you’re going to be doing something; you’re not just sitting there listening to the person talk, but you’re producing something. It could be something creative; it could even be something physical. At a “conference,” a professional meeting, a workshop is usually designed to teach you something, not just to give you information; you actually learn to do something.

A “seminar” is probably the most general term, referring to a meeting or a series of classes on a certain topic. It is the word we use at the university for advanced students – master students, Ph.D. students – who are taking a class on a very specific topic. A “seminar,” more generally, can be just a informational, educational meeting on a topic. It’s similar in that way to “workshop.” You are usually learning something. “Workshop” has the idea of being more active. You could go to a seminar and just listen to a person talking, but learn something practical. When you go to a workshop, you not only listen but you’re also doing something on your own; that’s the general idea.

I used to give seminars in different places in the United States on reading and helping high school students become better readers. I’ve traveled to, oh, probably 30 or more cities in the U.S. This was a few years ago, not recently. So, I called those “seminars,” they were one-day seminars. We won’t talk about that now.

Yoshio (Yoshio) in Japan wants to know the meaning of the phrase “to account for.”

An “account” is a story or an explanation of something: “The police officer asked me to give an account of where I was yesterday.” What I was doing, a story, what happened. “Account” can also be a agreement or relationship you have with a bank or a store. You, for example, can buy things on the Internet if you have an account with the company that is selling whatever you’re buying. Here at ESL Podcast you can have an account if you are an ESL Podcast member. You have your user name and your password and so forth.

In this case, “account” isn’t that kind of agreement or relationship; it’s the first definition of “story” or “explanation.” “To account for” is a phrasal verb meaning to explain or to effect or to cause. Here are some examples: “The girl could not account for her actions last night.” She could not explain them; she did not have a story. You could also say, “The bad economy accounted for most of the business’ losses this year.” The economy was the cause of their problems.

So, either “story” or “explanation” – or “cause” – are the two most common meanings of the phrase “to account for.” You might ask, “How do we account for the fact that we don’t have any money left in our business?” What is the cause; what is the reason?

The word “account” is used in several different phrases in English with different meanings; I’ll just mention a few of them. We have the expression “on account of,” which means because of: “I can’t run today on account of my leg hurting me.” Or, “I can’t run today on account of my leg.” The reason – the cause is because I have a problem with my leg. So there, it means because of. We also have the expression “to take into account.” “To take into account” means to consider or to think about. This is a little more formal English; “on account of” is a little more informal. An example of “take into account” would be “The father took into account the age of his child when deciding which books he was going to recommend him to read.” He considered; he thought about.

Finally, Vittorio (Vittorio) in Italia, in Italy, wants to know the meaning of an expression that was used – a phrase that was used by John F. Kennedy, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Well, let’s start with the verb “to negotiate,” which means to discuss a matter that two people disagree about and to come to an agreement. I want to sell you something for 10 dollars, you say, “No, I’ll give you 5 dollars,” we negotiate a price of 7 dollars and 50 cents. That’s to negotiate. “Out of” means because of. So, “to negotiate out of fear” means to negotiate because of fear, because you are afraid. Kennedy was saying, “Let us never negotiate out of fear.” In other words, we’re making agreements because we’re afraid of something. Instead, he says, “let us never fear to negotiate.” “To fear,” as a verb, means to be afraid of. So, let us never be afraid to negotiate, but let us not negotiate just because we’re afraid.

This quote comes from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, the first speech that a president gives right after he or she becomes president. There are several famous quotes from that inaugural address; maybe someday we’ll do a Café just on that famous speech.

If you have a question about a famous speech, or just anything in English, email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. I’m using that low voice again, you see. Actually, I have problems with my allergies today, where my throat and my eyes and my nose are all bothering me, so I apologize for the funny sound.

Where was I? Oh! From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Please 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.

inventor – a person who creates something that no one else has ever created before; a person who creates something that no one has ever thought of before

* Jelissa wants to become an inventor, building flying machines that use the sun for energy.

prodigious – producing an impressive or amazing number of things; making a lot of something that others value

* Johann Sebastian Bach was a prodigious composer of music.

practical – suitable for use; effective for use

* Is it practical to only pack shorts and t-shirts when we’ll be dining in some of the best restaurants in Seoul?

phonograph – a old machine used to play recorded sound, whether spoken words or music

* My grandmother had a phonograph that played music for her guests to dance to at her house parties.

patent – the right or legal permission to make and sell something while nobody else is allowed to do it for a certain period of time

* The reason this drug is so expensive is that the drug company still has a patent on the medication.

entrepreneur – a person who starts a business, often using a lot of his or her own money

* Archie is an entrepreneur who has started two tech businesses in three years.

telegraph – a way to communicate from a distance by using signals that are printed onto a piece of paper as combinations of dots and dashes that could be read and converted into letters and words to send messages

* The telegraph allowed people to communicate faster across large distances than sending a letter.

wizard – a man with magical powers, often with a lot of wisdom or intelligence; a man who can do magic, often found in very old stories or children’s books

* The wizard changed the boy into a dragon so he could fight the monsters.

perspiration – sweat; the water that appears on one’s skin when one is working very hard

* When Vijay is nervous, he can feel the perspiration on his upper lip.

to repatriate – to send someone back to his or her original country; to return someone to his or her own country

* People who enter this country illegally are usually repatriated.

to colonize – to go to a place and live there, usually to have political control or power over the land

* How many countries did the British colonize in the 1700s and 1800s?

elite – a group in society considered to be the best, because it has the most power, money, or talent

* The governor is meeting with the city’s business elite, trying to convince them to hire more workers to help the poor economy.

symposium – a meeting where people talk about a certain subject, especially if one or several speakers present new information in front of an audience

* Each of the doctors at the symposium talked about his or her own research findings.

workshop – a meeting or series of classes about a certain subject, especially if only a few people take part and they all share work or information with each other; a place where people do creative or physical work

* At the safety workshop, we learned new ways to do our jobs so we’ll be less likely to get hurt.

seminar - a meeting or series of classes about a certain subject, especially if the people who take part are advanced students at a university

* Are you taking Professor Litton’s seminar on international relations in the Middle East?

to account for – to cause; to explain; to strongly affect

* No one is able to account for the increase in crime in our neighborhood over the past two years.

to negotiate – to discuss a matter with others and to come to an agreement

* Carmen was able to negotiate a good salary and work schedule with her new boss.

What Insiders Know
Thomas Edison’s Unusual Inventions

Thomas Edison was a “prolific” (producing a lot) inventor who had nearly 1,000 patents in the U.S., and another approximately 500 in other countries. Many of his inventions are well known today, and affect the daily lives of people all over the world. However, some of his other inventions have not received as much “notice” (attention).

Like many people who followed Orville and Wilbur Wright’s experiments with an early form of the airplane, Edison became interested in flying. In 1910, Edison was granted a patent for a “Flying-Machine” by the United States Patent Office. The application included a description of the machine and drawings of what the “Flying-Machine” would look like. Unfortunately, Edison’s “Flying-Machine” “existed” (could be found) only “on paper” (was never built).

Another of Edison’s patents was for a pen that worked using “electricity” (electric power). Many years later, the invention of this pen was used as a “basis” (foundation) for inventing the instruments used in modern-day “tattooing,” the process of writing words or drawing pictures under a person’s skin so that they will remain there “permanently” (lasting a long, long time; lasting forever).

Although Edison was a man of science, he had an open mind about the “spirit” (related to the part of the person that is not physical; ghost) world. He invented machines that would “lure” (attract; tempt) ghosts “into the open” (to a place where others can observe them; to no longer be hidden) and to “trap” (not allow to leave) them. He made many experiments with these machines believing, as a man of science, that he could “prove” (show to be true) or “disprove” (show to be untrue) the existence of ghosts.