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379 Topics: Famous Authors - Ray Bradbury; foreign languages taught in U.S. schools; to repair versus to fix versus to mend; to the north versus north of; food versus meal versus repast

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 379.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 379. 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 8-10 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 authors, famous writers, focusing on Ray Bradbury. We’re also going to talk about foreign languages that are taught in the U.S. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a continuation of our series on famous authors – famous writers. Today we’re going to talk about Ray Bradbury, an American science fiction writer who passed away or died in June of 2012.

Bradbury was born in 1920 in the state of Illinois, which is in the Midwest part of the U.S. His family moved to beautiful Los Angeles, California, however, when he was still a young man. He began writing stories when he was just 11 years old, and was strongly influenced by another famous American author, Edgar Allan Poe. He also spent a lot of time, not surprisingly, in libraries, reading what others had written and trying to emulate or copy their style. “To emulate ” means to try to do what someone else is doing as closely as possible, to copy their style. It could be a style of writing, it could be a style of speaking.

His best-known novel was Fahrenheit 451. Published in 1953, it’s about American society in the future, where books are not allowed and if they are found in your home, your home is burned down – is destroyed. “Fahrenheit” is, you probably know, the U.S. system for measuring temperature; that is, the system we use in the U.S. It’s similar, of course, to the Celsius scale. Bradbury picked the title Fahrenheit 451 because, apparently, 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper spontaneously ignites. “To ignite” (ignite) means to start on fire, at least that’s what it means here. Since this was a story, a novel, about the future where people burned books, Bradbury used the temperature – 451 degrees Fahrenheit – as part of the title of his book, except he put the Fahrenheit first – Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury is also well known for two collections of what we would call “horror stories,” as well as science fiction stories. They were published in 1950 and in 1951. The first was The Martian Chronicles, the second was The Illustrated Man. The Martian Chronicles is probably more famous. It was a series of stories about humans who left Earth to live on Mars and how they interacted with, or how they communicated with, the beings – the people, we’ll call them – who lived on Mars when they got there. The Illustrated Man, the other collection of short stories, contains a collection of tales, of stories that are not really related to each other directly, but they’re all about how technology affects human action, human psychology. That’s what makes Ray Bradbury’s novels and stories so interesting, because he talks about these things that we continue to talk about today – technology, how it affects us, how it affects the way we feel and think.

In his long career, Bradbury wrote 27 novels – 27 fictional books – and more than 600 short stories. Many people consider him to be one of the best science fiction writers, at least in English. “Science fiction,” which we’ve been talking about in the past few minutes, is a genre or type of writing that presents stories about things usually that might happen in the future, especially when we think about how technology might change our world in the future. A lot of science fiction is about life in the future, when humans can travel more easily, where they meet beings or life forms from other planets, where they’re able to do things they can’t do now.

That’s why many people think Bradbury was one of the best science fiction writers, but Bradbury himself didn’t like that description. He argued, he tried to convince people that he had really only written one true science fiction book: Fahrenheit 451, which we just discussed. He classified the rest of his books, or most of his books and stories, as fantasy. “Fantasy” (fantasy) is a genre that presents stories about things that aren’t possible. Fantasy may seem similar to science fiction but, according to Bradbury, science fiction is about things that may happen someday, while fantasy is about things that probably will never happen. And that’s an interesting distinction which I had not heard before.

Although Bradbury wrote often about technology and its influence or impact on future society, he didn’t fully embrace modern technology. “To embrace” (embrace) usually means to hug someone, to come up to someone and put your body against theirs and then put your arms around their body. I don’t suggest doing this to people you don’t know, especially if you’re a man embracing a beautiful woman that you don’t know – usually a bad idea. That’s the meaning of the verb “to embrace” – to hug.

However, we can also talk about embracing an idea or embracing a thing, embracing an opportunity even. This means that we welcome something openly. We’re happy about it. We want to do it. When I say that Bradbury, then, didn’t embrace modern technology, I mean he was reluctant. He didn’t really want to use some of our modern technology. Towards the end of his life, he was complaining, for example, that he had too many computers, that there were too many smartphones, too many machines that depended on the Internet. He himself was very hesitant, or slow to agree, to allow his publishers to produce digital forms of his books, what we would call “e-books.” He didn’t want e-books. He was resistant. He wasn’t eager.

Many of Bradbury’s stories were adapted or changed for comic books, television shows, movies, and what we would say “the stage” – live theater. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named an award in Bradbury’s honor – the Ray Bradbury Award. He himself received the National Medal of Arts, which is the highest award an American can get from the federal government, recognizing artistic achievement. Bradbury received that from President George W. Bush and, of course, many other awards.

Scientists once named an “asteroid” (asteroid) – a small rock, well not so small, but a rock that orbits or goes around the sun. They named an asteroid after Bradbury. There’s also a part of the moon which is named after one of Bradbury’s novels. If you like reading science fiction, you might enjoy reading one of Bradbury’s novels.

I have never read any of the Bradbury novels, I have to admit. I enjoy watching science fiction on television and in movies. I haven’t really read very many science fiction books. I think the only science fiction book I really liked was one called A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, an American writer.

Now let’s turn to our next topic which is the teaching of foreign languages in American schools. One of our listeners asked about this topic. The United States has a reputation for not doing very well at teaching foreign languages. I may have told the old joke before, here on the Café:
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? A bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks three languages? A trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American.

Well, the U.S actually does try to teach foreign languages in its schools, and that teaching has gotten better overtime. When I was in school, you could certainly go through high school without completing a foreign language, although when you got to college or university, you had to take at least a couple of semesters, maybe a couple of years of a foreign language.

When I say “foreign language,” I mean a language that is not the official or predominant – most common – language in a country. We talk about foreign languages and we talk about second languages. A “second language” is a language that someone may speak in addition to their first language. In teaching, when we talk about second language, we talk about a language that is spoken commonly in a certain country.

So, here in the United States, we would teach English as a Second Language to people who come here and don’t speak English. We wouldn’t call it “English as a Foreign Language” because English is spoken here, in this place. If I were teaching in Japan or in another country, I might talk about English as a Foreign Language because, although many people speak English in Japan or in Germany, or in Argentina or wherever, it’s not the most common language in that country.

So we’re talking about foreign language instruction and how we do it here in the U.S. We are, I think, moving in the right direction when it comes to our foreign language education here. The expression “to move in the right direction” means we are making progress, we are moving forward, we are moving in the right direction – going in the right direction. There was a survey published in 2009 by an organization here in the U.S. that showed, perhaps not surprisingly, Spanish to be the most popular foreign language taught in the United States. In some cities in the United States, Spanish is close to being the majority language. In some cities, it is the majority language.

The study found that 88% of elementary school programs and 93% of high school programs taught Spanish. So, Spanish is clearly the most taught foreign language, the most studied foreign language. The next most common language was French, followed by German, Latin, and Mandarin Chinese. There’s also a growing interest, and has been for the past 20 years or so, in what are called “immersion programs” in the schools. “To immerse” (immerse) means, normally, to put something into a liquid like water, so that it is completely surrounded by it, it’s completely underwater, we might say. You might immerse a dirty cup into your sink, into soapy water – water that has soap in it – in order to clean it.

When we talk about languages, however, “immersion” means being surrounded by people who speak that language. Of course, the easiest way to have an immersion experience is to live in another country where that language is spoken. Some schools, however, are trying to have an immersion experience in the school themselves. So the teachers all speak that language, the signs are in that language, the children are asked to speak only or primarily in that language.

There can be immersion programs in any language. Spanish, once again, is the most popular immersion language – immersion program language, we could say. But others are also increasing in popularity. There are Japanese immersion programs. Now in recent years, Chinese has become very popular as a language that parents want their children to learn.

What about students who go to college? Well, in a 2010 study by the Modern Language Association, a group that studies the teaching of languages, it was shown that Spanish is by far the most popular language in terms of the number of college students studying that language. The phrase “by far” means a lot, far more than anything else. There are almost 900,000 college students studying Spanish in the United States. French, which is second, has a little more than 200,000 so you can see the difference is quite dramatic.

Although Chinese has become more popular in recent years, it’s still a very small number of students compared to the other languages – the other European languages such as French, German, and Spanish. One language that has become very popular, in fact, one of the fastest growing languages in terms of foreign language study in the U.S. is Arabic. In fact, Arabic has been growing even faster than Chinese in the last few years.

American Sign Language is another popular language, even though it is not a language that we traditionally think about when we think about foreign language instruction. ASL or American Sign Language is, you probably know, the language that deaf people – people who cannot hear – use, and it involves the use of your hands and your arms and other parts of your body. There are actually quite a few people who study American Sign Language. I think my nephew studied American Sign Language. The most recent statistics I could find show that about 90,000 students in the U.S study American Sign Language. Remember, French is just a little more than 200,000. So, that’s a lot of students.

In fact, if we look at the number of people who speak a language in the world versus the number of people who study a language in the world, not including English here in the U.S., American Sign Language is the most popular foreign language taught in the United States, if we just look at the ratio of people who study versus people who speak the language. For example, there are a little over five speakers of American Sign Language for every student of American Sign Language. Spanish has only one student for every 578 Spanish speakers in the world. So, in terms of the relative popularity, we might say that American Sign Language is the most popular language. We haven’t talked about how languages are actually taught in the U.S and whether this has gotten better or not. We don’t really have time to cover that topic – maybe on another Café.

Now let’s answer some of the questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Joerg (Joerg) – I apologize for the mispronunciation – from Germany. The question has to do with the meaning of three words: “repair,” “fix,” and “mend.” All three of these words have similar meanings but there are slight differences in how we use them.

Let’s start with “repair (repair).” “To repair” is to fix something that has been damaged or broken, to bring it back to good condition. If your car stops working, you may have to go and have someone repair it, make it better, make it so that it works again. Repair usually requires a certain amount of knowledge and skill, more than what the other two verbs that we’re going to discuss – “fix” and “mend” – do. We, in fact, have a noun – a “repairman” or a “repairwoman.” We might say “repairperson,” nowadays. That’s someone who has special skill or training in order to fix, usually, some kind of machine, some kind of mechanical device.

The verb “fix (fix)” also means to – well, can mean – to get something working again that has been broken or damaged. More generally, however, it can mean simply to arrange or adjust something. “The mother tried to fix her son’s hair before he went out on his first date.” “To fix” here doesn’t mean that it’s broken or damaged, but rather that the hair needs to be adjusted or arranged somehow.

“Mend (mend)” means to fix something that has been broken or damaged in some way, but usually we’re talking about something like clothing. If your jeans have been ripped, if there’s a hole in them, you might ask someone to mend the. Or if you have perhaps a small wooden frame and the frame, which holds a picture, drops on the floor and breaks. It’s made of wood and you decide you are going to get it mended. You are going to get it fixed. That’s usually how we use the verb “mend,” when we’re talking about either clothing or cloth or something small.

“Repair” usually involves something like a car or a computer, or a heater. “Fix” can be used usually for big objects and small objects, although we typically wouldn’t use it in describing clothing or cloth.

Tony (Tony) in Australia – mate! – wants to know how we express direction, the direction of an object or a placement of an object. What’s the difference, for example, between “to the north” and “north of”? “To the north” is the direction in which you are travelling. If you are going from Los Angeles, in Southern California, and San Francisco, in Northern California, you would, or could describe yourself, as travelling “to the north, five hours.” How do you get from Los Angeles to San Francisco? Well, you get in your car and you drive five hours to the north.

When we say “north of something,” we’re referring to the location of a place. “New York is north of Washington D.C.,” or “What country is north of Mexico?” (The United States is the answer.) France is north of Spain. Spain is south of France. Spain is west of Italy.

That’s another way of using directions with the preposition “of.” You’re talking about its location relative to something else. “The state of Oregon is north of California.” Minnesota is south of the country of Canada. We can also say something is “to the north,” “to the east.” “Spain is to the south of France.” That means the same as Spain is south of France.

Finally, Heyadr (Heyadr) from Iran wants to know the difference in the meaning of the following words: “food,” “meal,” and “repast.” “Food” (food) is anything that you eat that provides energy to your body. Food, usually, is something solid. If it’s liquid like soda or milk, or beer, that would be called “drink” – food and drink. But in general, food is anything you eat and take into your body through your mouth that gives you energy that helps your body survive.

“Meal” (meal) can be thought of as the collection or combination of the food you eat in one sitting; that is, when you sit down at a certain time – breakfast, lunch, dinner – those are three meals. One you eat in the morning, one you eat in the middle of the day, and one you eat in the late afternoon or early evening. Those are meals. “I had a meal with my friend John last night. We went out to dinner.” That’s how we would use meal. We ate food at our meal or I could say our meal consisted of food.

“Repast” is a very old-fashioned word; that is, a word that we don’t use in normal English conversation, at least, American English conversation, anymore. It means the same as “meal.” However, I have never heard anyone use that word in conversation and I don’t even know if I’ve seen it in writing very often. So, you could probably forget about that word, at least when it comes to American English. “Meal” and “food” would be much more useful to you.

All this talk about food is making me hungry. But before I go, let me remind you that you can email us your questions. 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 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

to emulate – to copy another’s style because one admires it; to try to achieve what someone else has done because one admires that achievement

* Miyung has always emulated his older brother, but now he is setting his own goals for college.

Fahrenheit – a scale for measuring temperature where water freezes (becomes solid) at 32 degrees and boils (becomes vapor) at 212 degrees

* Do you know what 75 degrees Fahrenheit would be on the Celsius scale?

to spontaneously ignite – to catch on fire suddenly, without any reason

* It’s very hot in the desert, but not hot enough for people to spontaneously ignite.

science fiction – a type of writing that presents stories about things that might happen in the future, especially based on changes in technology

* This science fiction film presents a future where robots are the masters.

fantasy – a type of writing that presents stories about things that are not possible, and usually includes magic and adventure

* Milo likes fantasy novels about dragons and monsters.

to embrace – to welcome something openly and be happy about it or eager for it

* We were all surprised when Grandma embraced the idea of selling her large house and moving into a much smaller apartment.

hesitant – slow to do something or agree to something, usually because one is unsure or unwilling

* Geena was hesitant to move out of the city, but she now fully enjoys living in the country.

asteroid – a rock that goes around the sun

* If we flew a spaceship into space, would we hit a lot of asteroids?

a move in the right direction – making progress toward a goal, although not enough to accomplish the goal unless one continues to work toward it

* Buying a house costs a lot of money, but saving a little money for it with each paycheck is a move in the right direction.

immersion – when speaking of language learning, being surrounded by people speaking the language one is trying to learn

* Frances learned Chinese through a one-year immersion program in Shanghai.

by far – by a large margin; much more than; much greater than

* Charlene is by far the best singer in the family.

American Sign Language – the language that deaf people in the U.S. use to communicate with each other by moving their hands and fingers to represent words and ideas

* Learning American Sign Language allowed Melissa to speak to her new mother-in-law, who has been deaf since the age of 8.

to repair – to return to good condition after having been damaged; to fix

* If we’re not able to repair the bicycle tire, we’ll need to buy a new one.

to fix – to return to good order after having been damaged; to repair; to adjust

* The air conditioner is broken again and needs to be fixed.

to mend – to make something whole or usable again after it has been torn, broken, worn, or damaged in some way

* Leona tore a hole in her jacket, but her mother mended it.

to the north – a direction of travel, with the compass (a device that shows which direction one is traveling) pointing forward, with east to the left, west to the right

* The only gas station in this small town is next to the courthouse, to the north of the general store.

north of – the location of a place or an object, with the compass (a device that shows which direction one is traveling) pointing forward, with east to the left, west to the right

* These dolls were made in a town north of Madrid.

food – something that is eaten to provide energy for the body

* It’s hard to keep food in the refrigerator with three hungry teenagers!

meal – food that is eaten together, usually at a regular time and with family

* Jo believes that it’s important for his family to eat one meal together every day.

repast – an old-fashioned term for food that is eaten at one time; meal

* In the movie, the sheriff made his announcement after the noontime repast.

What Insiders Know
Bradbury 13

Before television, there was radio. The stories we see today on television, in the1930’s through the 1950’s, were “acted out” (with actors performing) for a radio audience. Because listeners could not see what was happening, these stories required a lot of background noises for the stories to seem real. People listening on their radios heard these noises in addition to the voices of the actors reading the “script” (written words that actors say during a filming or performance). These sounds in the background are what made radio programs so popular and believable, and what led to Bradbury 13.

In 1984, a young man named Mike McDonough decided to “adapt” (change for a certain purpose) some of Ray Bradbury’s short stories into a radio drama “series” (several radio shows that are similar in style). The series was called Bradbury 13 because there were 13 “episodes” (individual programs) in the series. The number 13 was a common number of episodes for radio series to have when radio dramas were popular.

Each show was a half-hour long and was based on one of Ray Bradbury’s short stories. Since Bradbury wrote over 500 science fiction short stories, there were many to choose from. McDonough chose stories that had the possibility for interesting sounds, such as stories with a lot of action. Because so much attention was given to the background sounds in the stories, they are often considered the best part of the shows.

The shows began with a “voice-over” (a short speech that is read at the beginning of each show to introduce the listener to the series) that was done by Ray Bradbury himself. The “narrator” (person who is not a character in a story, but who gives information to listeners) and actors read their lines and there was dramatic music, many “screams” (long, loud sound one makes when one is frightened), and interesting “sound effects” (noises made in the background to convince listeners that what they are hearing is real).