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310 Topics: Famous Americans: Clara Barton; The California Gold Rush; problem versus issue versus concern; cordless versus wireless; brothers and sisters

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 310.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 310. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

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.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on Clara Barton, who founded or created the American Red Cross. We’re also going to talk about the California Gold Rush here in California in the 19th century. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café with a continuation of our series on famous Americans. Today we’re going to talk about a famous woman, Clara Barton. Clara Barton was an American teacher; more importantly, she was a nurse. She’s best known for organizing the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. called the American Red Cross. By “nonprofit,” we mean something that is not a business, is not trying to make money.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton is her full name. She was born in 1821 in the City of Oxford, Massachusetts. Massachusetts is located in the northeastern part of the United States. Barton became interested in nursing and medicine at a very young age; she often took care of animals and then took care of her own brother after he had a bad fall – after he hurt himself by falling. During the Civil War, Barton took care of injured or wounded or hurt soldiers and soon became more involved in getting medical supplies and distributing those supplies to soldiers. “Medical supplies” are things that are used for a medical purpose and typically, like most supplies, need to be replaced, things like medicine and bandages, the things that you would put on a cut or other things that you would find in a hospital. Often one of the most challenging parts of war is getting medical supplies to where they are needed, and that’s something that Clara Barton became interested in during the Civil War.

In 1862, in the middle of the U.S. Civil War, Barton received permission to go to the front lines of the battlefields. The “front lines” are the places where the men were directly fighting with others, closest to the enemy. The front lines are, therefore, the most violent places in a war, the most dangerous, where soldiers are most likely to be hurt or killed. She comforted injured soldiers – that is, she tried to make them more comfortable. She thus became known as “The Angel of the Battlefield.” An “angel” is normally a religious being – a spiritual being – that acts sometimes as a messenger from God, at least in Jewish and Christian tradition. Usually, you see an angel in human form with wings on the back of its back. Angels help people, or at least that’s one’s belief, and so they called Clara “The Angel of the Battlefield.” They were referring to how much she helped these poor hurt soldiers.

In 1864, still during the Civil War, Barton was put in charge of some of the military hospitals. “To be put in charge of” means to have responsibility for something; to be the leader, in this case, of something. President Lincoln put her in charge of looking for missing soldiers.

Barton did a lot to advance nursing itself as a profession. “To advance (something)” means to make progress or become more important, more respected. Previously, nursing was not viewed as something that was very important or required a lot of skills; that was before Clara Barton. Barton helped people realize how much value good nurses can bring to medical care.

After the war, Barton began to give lectures or presentations about her experiences. In 1869, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, in Europe, where she learned about something called the Red Cross. The Red Cross was and is an international emergency response organization. The Red Cross responds to or helps out in emergencies, dangerous situations such as wars, hurricanes, earthquakes – that sort of thing. The Red Cross helps the victims. “Victims” are the people who are hurt by these wars or by other natural disasters such as a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, and so forth. At the time, the United States didn’t have a branch or part of the Red Cross. Barton worked hard to establish the American Red Cross, and she became its first president in 1881.

In her work with the Red Cross, Barton traveled widely, meaning she traveled a lot. She made trips to Istanbul in Turkey, Armenia, Cuba all in her efforts to help victims and to respond to disasters. She was very passionate about her work and she continued to serve as president of the American Red Cross until 1904, when she was 83 years old.

Barton passed away, or died, in 1912, when she was 90 years old. But the American Red Cross that she founded, or created, continues to be a very strong organization in the United States that provides valuable assistance to many people for both natural and manmade disasters. The Red Cross is famous in the United States also for collecting blood for hospitals so that there is enough blood for those who need it, and in an emergency often times there is great need for blood as well as other supplies. The Red Cross raises money or gets money by asking people to donate their money, and sometimes their time.

When I was in high school – junior high school, I was very active as an amateur radio operator; I still am, what we sometimes call “ham radio.” I’m not active anymore, but I still have my license. Amateur radio allows you to talk to people in other countries; this is before the Internet allowed you to do so. And when there’s a natural disaster, often there isn’t regular communication – phone communication, so the only communication available is by radio, and that is typically provided by volunteer amateur radio operators. I remember very clearly volunteering when there was a natural disaster in Minnesota, a flood in a town called Rochester, and I remember being at the Red Cross office all night on the radio talking to people who were down in Rochester communicating messages back and forth to families and so forth.

So, the Red Cross is a wonderful organization and an important one, not only here in the United States, but across the world. In some countries it’s called the Red Crescent. Since the cross is a symbol associated with Christianity, in some Muslims countries – Islamic countries it’s called the Red Crescent, but it’s the same basic organization.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is the California Gold Rush. Normally “rush” (rush) is used as a verb to mean to hurry. For example, I could say that I had to rush to get to work on time; I had to move quickly, to go fast to get there so that I was not late. But a rush can also refer to many people moving quickly in the same direction, all going toward one thing or one object. That’s what the Gold Rush refers to; it’s a period of time when many people came here to California to find gold. The California Gold Rush lasted from 1848 to about 1855, a period of seven years or so. It was the most important event in the history of California in the 19th century, in fact the most important event perhaps in the state’s history.

The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when a man named James W. Marshall found gold in Coloma, California. Coloma is a small town located near the now capital of the State of California, Sacramento, in the northern part of California. Word spread quickly about this discovery. The phrase “word spread” means that people heard about it, because one person told someone else, who told someone else, who told someone else, and so forth. Word spread about gold in California, and soon thousands of people (mostly men) were rushing to California – hurrying to California to find gold and, of course, to become rich. They had to complete very difficult and often dangerous journeys to reach California. This is before, of course, there was a lot of modern transportation, before there was a railroad that went from the East to the West Coast of the United States. When people arrived – when the men arrived, of course they all thought that they would become rich, so even though the journey – the trip was dangerous, they felt it was worth it.

President James Polk officially declared or announced the Gold Rush the following year in 1849, so the people who went to California in search of gold became known as the forty-niners. We talked in English Café 292 about the forty-niners when discussed the song, “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” which is about a miner, someone who digs into the rock looking for something. A miner forty-niner, he was called, and his daughter Clementine.

By 1852, about 100,000 people had come to California to pan for gold. “To pan (pan) for gold” means to look for gold. It comes from a way that you look for gold by using a small pan, sort of like a pan you would have a pie in, and you take some earth – some rock and dirt – from the bottom of a river and then move it around in small circles, looking for shiny pieces of gold. Over the years, the forty-niners found tens of billions of dollars’ worth of gold, but of course the wealth wasn’t shared equally; not everyone became rich.

The influx of people had a lasting or permanent impact on California. An “influx” (influx) is an increase in something or the addition of something. We had this huge increase in people moving to California during the Gold Rush. It was one of the reasons why California became a state in 1850, in the middle of this California Gold Rush. The population of San Francisco in Northern California, for example, grew from about 200 people in 1846 to about 36,000 people just six years later. Most of the gold was found in Northern California, and that’s one of the reasons why San Francisco became the first large city in this state. Los Angeles didn’t start to grow until much later.

Many of those 36,000 people were looking for gold, but many were just people making money from the people looking for gold. These were businesses that catered to or served the forty-niners: hotels, restaurants, and most importantly, saloons. “Saloon” (saloon) is an old word for a bar, where you can buy an alcoholic drink. In general, the people who opened businesses made more money from the forty-niners than the forty-niners made looking for gold.

The Gold Rush had other consequences; it wasn’t just economically and politically important. There were also some technological advances because of the Gold Rush. As the forty-niners found all the easy gold, people had to develop new methods to find gold, the gold that was farther below the ground, more difficult to reach. The Gold Rush also led to advances in the panning of gold, but also in transportation, in railroads, and agriculture, and in some ways in law. These other changes were because of the sudden Gold Rush in California.

The Gold Rush also created many problems. Many people came looking for gold, but there were also many disagreements, and these often ended in violence. The Native Americans who lived in the areas often fought the forty-niners and many of them were killed. And, as happens often with mining, the environmental damage was also great in some parts of the state.

California is still known as the Golden State, and that is because of the California Gold Rush. It’s part of the state’s identity, just as much as Hollywood and the movies are part of California’s identity, or nowadays Silicon Valley and technology. The Gold Rush and California being the Golden State is something that all Americans are familiar with. Now, California could use another Gold Rush because the government – the state government doesn’t have any money anymore! But that’s another problem.

Now let’s answer some of your questions.

Our first question comes from Kawa (Kawa) in Japan. Kawa’s question has to do with the meaning of the words “problem”, “issue,” and “concern.”

“Problem” can be a couple of things; it can mean a reason to make you feel worried, angry, or confused: “I have a problem with my girlfriend. She doesn’t like my old friends.” That’s a problem, something that I’m worried about. A “problem” can also be a question that needs an answer, especially in mathematics: “He’s working on a word problem.” A “word problem” is a mathematical problem that is presented as a little story in a small paragraph.

“Issue” is a topic that people can talk about or think about. Sometimes it’s related to something in school: “The professor gave everyone an assignment to write five pages about this political issue.” “Issue” can also refer to problems; so “issue” can be a general term but it can also refer specifically to a negative situation, a situation that has you worried or confused. So, it can have a similar meaning to “problem.”

“Concern” is something that you are interested in; it could be a person, it could be a situation. Usually, it involves you worried about something: “I have a concern about my brother.” There’s some problem, there’s some issue. “I’m concerned about him,” as a verb, means I’m worried about him. So as a noun, “concern” is a situation that causes you to be worried.

“Problem” is the word we usually use when we are talking about things that go wrong: “We have a problem with our website,” “I have a problem with my boss,” and so forth. “Problem” can seem somewhat negative to people, so sometimes people replace the word “problem” with words like “issue” or “concern” because it seems a little less negative even though you’re really talking about a problem. “Problem” is, with the exception of the mathematical sense of the word or meaning of the word – “problem” is always negative. “Issue” can be negative; it could be neutral; it could be positive. “Concern” is usually a negative thing as well, like “problem.”

Adilson (Adilson) in Brazil wants to know the difference between “cordless” (cordless) and “wireless” (wireless). Well, the suffix “less” – the thing that goes at the end of the word, that’s added onto another word – means without. So when we say “cordless” we mean without a cord. A “cord” is a long wire that connects usually something electronic to a power source. You plug in your computer into the wall; what connects the power plug to your computer is a wire or a cord. Most commonly, however, it’s called a “cord.” So when we say something is “cordless,” we mean that you don’t have to plug it into the wall for it to work; this is usually because it has batteries. So, for example, you might have a vacuum cleaner to clean your carpets, and it might be a small cordless vacuum cleaner. You don’t have to plug it into the wall; it has a battery and you can use it without plugging it in.

“Wireless” means without wires. It’s, however, used to talk about communicating electronically – not power, but electronic signals such as telephone or radio or Internet signals. Most companies, many houses have wireless routers. This is a machine that broadcasts or transmits a signal – an electronic signal to devices such as your computer or your phone that allow you to connect to the Internet. Or if you go to a café, at least here in the U.S., many of them have wireless communication so you can connect to their Internet service; it’s called “WiFi.” So, “wireless” is used to refer to radios, telephones, other electronic devices that can communicate without a wire – without having to connect the device to something else with a physical wire.

In British English, I should point out, “wireless” is a term for the radio. Of course, radios are by definition wireless. Remember when radio first started there was no way of communicating unless you had a wire connecting two points. The telegraph, for example, is a wired form of communication. Radio – using radio waves, radio electronic communication, is a wireless medium, a way of communicating without wires. And so in British English, “wireless” can refer to what we now call in American English a radio.

Finally, Miigaa (Miigaa), from a mystery country, wants to know how we use the word “sister” and “brother.” This is seemingly a simple question, but in fact is an interesting one because in different cultures the word “brother” and “sister” can refer to people that it would not refer to in English. So let’s start, then, with “sister.”

A “sister” is a female person – a girl or a woman – born to the same parents as another person, it could be a boy or a girl. A sister can be older or younger. I, for example, have two sisters; they’re both older than I am; they have the same mother and father as I have. A “brother” is the male equivalent, a boy or a man born to the same person – the same parents, rather, as another person.

Americans do not tend to put a lot of importance on the order in which you are born in a family compared to other cultures. I say they put less importance, but that doesn’t mean they completely ignore whether someone is an older sister or a younger brother. It only means that when you’re being introduced to someone or when someone is talking about their family, they don’t often refer specifically to whether they are older or younger. I say, “This is my brother.” I probably won’t say, “This is my older brother,” even though it’s obvious that he is my older brother because he looks older than I am. Of course, all of my brothers are older because I am the youngest, the baby of the family. It really depends, though, on the context, on the situation.

I should also mention that in American English your older brother is often called your “big brother,” and your younger brother or younger sister is called your “little sister” or “little brother.” Your big brother is supposed to protect you – to watch over you, and of course that’s where George Orwell got that expression for his famous novel 1984. Big Brother referred to the government watching everything you do, and now it has become a horrible television series.

There’s an informal use of the words “brother” and “sister,” especially among African American or black speakers of English in the United States. Some African Americans will refer to other African Americans who are not biologically their brother or sister as “brother” or “sister.” This has become more popular even outside of the African American community. People will say, “Thanks brother,” even though they’re not African American; the short form of this is “bro” (bro) for “brother.” However, I would not recommend using that in speaking English; it’s something that’s very informal. It could possibly be something that would upset certain people. It’s best probably not to use “brother” and “sister” in that way if you are speaking English, unless you are very comfortable or really know the ways in which that expression or those expressions are used.

If you have a question or comment about something you can email us – a concern, a problem. 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.

medical supplies – things that are used for a medical purpose and need to be replaced, like bandages and medicines

* The new doctor’s office cannot open without proper medical supplies.

front lines – the places where soldiers fight directly with other soldiers in a battle or war

* Many of the soldiers on the front lines suffered major injuries or were killed.

angel – a religious being that acts as a messenger and helper of God, usually shown in a human form with wings

* Cherise believes that there is an angel watching over her, helping her with her daily life.

in charge of – having the main responsibility of; in control of

* In this office, everyone is in charge of ordering his or her own office supplies if they run low.

to advance – to make something progress or get better; to help something become more well known, important, or respected

* How can we advance our cause to end hunger if we don’t have enough money?

victim – a person hurt or killed as a result of someone else’s actions, an accident, or some other event

* The victims of the car accident were taken to County Hospital.

to rush – to move quickly; to hurry

* Nick woke up late this morning and had to rush to arrive to work on time.

word spread – for information to become known to more people; for one person to tell another and for that person to tell someone else, until many people know the information

* Word spread that the ice cream store was giving away free ice cream today and there was a long line outside of it by the time they opened for business.

to pan for gold – to look for a precious metal that is often used for jewelry and is yellow in color

* Every weekend, Dominic goes to the mountains to pan for gold, hoping to strike it rich.

influx – the arrival or entry of people or something else into an area

* The influx of people from California to our state has made it difficult to find affordable housing.

saloon – bar in the American West; a place of business where alcohol and other drinks are served and people go to socialize

* The cowboys’ favorite saloon is Rosie’s Saloon, where they can play cards and drink all night.

problem – a reason or a situation that causes one to feel worried, angry, or confused; a question that needs an answer, used especially in math

* There’s a problem with the engine in my car and it won’t start.

issue – a topic that people need to talk about or think about, used especially when the topic relates to some difficulty or cause for worry

* I have an issue with childcare and can’t work fulltime because of it.

concern – interest in a person or a situation, especially if that interest involves feelings of worry

* We’re not concerned about Kwame’s future, because he is very intelligent.

cordless – having no cords; able to function on battery power

* This cordless phone works even when you use it in the backyard.

wireless – having no wires; able to communicate electronically without a wire connection

* My wireless keyboard isn’t working because it isn’t communicating properly with my laptop computer.

sister – a girl or woman born to the same parents as oneself, who may be older or younger

* Simone has three sisters, one older sister and two younger ones.

brother – a boy or man born to the same parents as oneself, who may be older or younger

* Quentin looks a lot like his younger brother Dan, but not his older brother Al.

What Insiders Know
Gold-Related Frauds

With the discovery of gold, people sometimes get “gold fever” and they can’t think of anything else but finding gold and “striking it” (becoming) rich. With the poor economy in the past few years, many people have “invested in” (put money into something with the expectation that they will make more money) gold. For this reason, gold is once again “sought after” (wanted very much by many people).

Gold fever makes some people “susceptible” (vulnerable; likely to be influenced or harmed by something) to “frauds.” A fraud is a trick or a deception that is done to gain money or something else valuable.

One of the most common frauds from the past involving gold is the selling of “shares” or part ownership in fake or “fraudulent” gold mines. “Oftentimes” (usually), there are no gold “reserves” (places where gold is found) where it is claimed to be, or the location doesn’t even exist. Sometimes, to convince “reluctant” (not wanting to do something; hesitant) “investors” (people who put money into a business transaction with the hope of making even more money), the criminal will show those investors some gold “dust” (very fine or small pieces of something), telling them that it was taken from an actual gold reserve. The “gold dust” is often just small pieces of “brass,” another metal that is gold in color, but that is far less valuable.

The interest in gold in the past several years has “given rise” (cause to happen) many “cash for gold” businesses. While some “cash for gold” business are “legitimate” (honest and real) and give people money in exchange for the gold they own, other “cash for gold” use dishonest ways to give people very little money for the gold that they offer for sale.