Daily English
Cultural English
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509 Topics: American Playwrights – Arthur Miller; Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; to evoke versus to invoke; fluently versus fluency; pronouncing bought and boat, late and let, and beer and bear

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 509.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 509. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to our website at ESLPod.com, or download a Learning Guide for this episode. You can download the Learning Guide when you become a member of ESL Podcast. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store with additional courses in English. And why not like us on Facebook? Go to facebook.com/eslpod. Follow us on Twitter at @eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about Arthur Miller, a famous American playwright –someone who writes plays, logically. We’re also going to talk about a popular children’s television show from my era when I was growing up. The show is called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York City. His father was a relatively rich man when he was born. His father owned a clothing company. However, during the economic problems of the late ’20s and 1930s, Miller’s father lost his company. He became someone who was poor instead of rich. Many people in the United States had economic difficulties during this period of time. Many of them were living in what we would call “poverty.” “Poverty” (poverty) is when you are very poor, when you don’t have any money or very little money, not even enough money to buy food or clothing.

Arthur Miller’s life before the economic problems of the 1930s – a period we usually call the Great Depression – had been quite comfortable. After his father lost his business however, Arthur’s life became much more difficult. The family had to move to a small house in a working-class neighborhood of New York City called Brooklyn. Well, it was a working-class neighborhood at that time.

What do I mean by “working-class?” The term describes a group of people who usually make money working in what we would call manual jobs, or “manual labor.” These are jobs that require a lot of physical activity – the use of your body, such as construction or working in certain kinds of factories. We talk about the “working class” as being those who have jobs, who aren’t completely without money. They are not living in poverty, but they don’t have a lot of money because they’re working in jobs that don’t pay a lot. And traditionally, manual labor has not paid as much as, say, an office job, although that has changed somewhat.

Miller would use this experience of living in a working-class neighborhood in many of his plays that he would later write. Miller graduated from high school, after which he did a number of different jobs including some that were manual labor. He worked in these jobs in order to save money to go to college. Now, this is back in the 1930s, when going to college was still something that the large majority of people didn’t do. In fact, the majority of people in the U.S. didn’t even graduate from high school in the 1930s.

So even though Miller grew up in a working-class neighborhood, he still was rather unusual in that he eventually went to college. In 1934, he was accepted at the University of Michigan. Michigan is in the northern part of the United States, between the East Coast and the Midwest. Miller studied in the journalism program at the University of Michigan. “Journalism” refers to writing for a magazine or a newspaper.

He began writing plays and stories while at the university, but his first successful book wasn’t published until 1945. That book was a novel – a fictional story – called Focus, and it was about the idea of anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitism” (anti-Semitism) is a feeling of hatred or prejudice against Jewish people. Miller himself was Jewish and had experienced anti-Semitism while growing up and working in New York.

When the novel was published, anti-Semitism was very much an issue. This is right at the end of World War II where, of course, the treatment of the Jewish people by the Nazis was becoming more well known. Miller’s work was one of the first to point out that anti-Semitism was also a problem in the United States. Miller’s next success was not a novel but a “play” – a dramatic performance that is usually seen in a theater.

Miller’s play was called All My Sons, and it was published in 1947. The play is about a man who owns a factory, a place where they make physical things. The factory is for making military airplanes during World War II. However, this man discovers that there are a number of faulty parts that are being used in the airplanes. A “faulty (faulty) part” would be a part of a machine that doesn’t work properly. Of course, you don’t want faulty parts in an airplane because the airplane could stop working and the people in the airplane would die.

The man in the play knew he would lose his business if he admitted that the parts were faulty so he just continued to make them. The play took Miller two and a half years to write and was a big success when it was published and then later produced as a play in New York City. It was Miller’s next play, however, that made him truly famous, the play that most people know Miller by. In 1949, Miller published Death of a Salesman.

The play is the story of a man named Willy Loman. Loman is an older gentleman, a salesman whose life is slowly falling apart because of his illusions about his success and the success of his two sons. When I say his life was “falling apart,” I mean that things were starting to go wrong in his life. “Illusions” (illusions) are false ideas or beliefs. Willy Loman had illusions about his own success, and that of his sons. Death of a Salesman made Arthur Miller famous. He won a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which is an award given to the best in American journalism, but also to the best play.

Miller continued to write plays that focused on social issues. In 1953, he published another play that was also very successful. It was called The Crucible. The Crucible was about a famous event in American history, the Salem Witch Trials. Salem is a city or a town in Massachusetts, on the eastern coast of the United States. In Salem during the late seventeenth century, when what is now the United States was still part of Great Britain, the town of Salem had a series of trials – of legal proceedings – of women who people thought were witches.

A “witch” (witch) is a woman with evil magical powers. Twenty people died as the result of the Salem Witch Trials. People talked about “hunting” witches. The verb “to hunt” (hunt) is normally used when we are referring to animals that we go out and kill for food. A “witch hunt” is a looking for, a searching for, witches. Nowadays the term “witch hunt” is used to describe someone or some group that goes out and tries to find people who are doing things that they disapprove of but that, in fact, aren’t actually happening. Witches are not real, and so a witch hunt is looking for something that doesn’t exist, that isn’t real.

Well there weren’t actual witch hunts in the 1950s, but there was a strong movement by some people in government and in business to try to identify – to hunt, if you will – people who were communists. In the 1950s, of course, the U.S. and the then Soviet Union were enemies, and many people feared that the political ideology of the Soviet Union, communism, would become popular here in the United States, and there was an attempt to try to limit the political influence of communism. And to do that, people began to look for people who were communists.

And so, there were people who were accused of being communists who weren’t actually communists, but whose lives were ruined because of the accusation – which is not to say that there weren’t actually communists in the United States at the time, including in government and business, but many people thought that the search for communists went too far and that people who were genuinely innocent were accused of being a communist.

Here in Hollywood, here in Los Angeles, this was particularly important, as there were many actors and actresses who were accused of being communists. Some of them were communists, but many of them weren’t. Miller himself was, in fact, accused of being a communist, or at the very least, he was called to come and talk to, give testimony to, a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives – the House Un-American Activities Committee, it was called, or HUAC. Miller was asked to give the committee names of people that he knew were communists or who might believe in communism.

Miller refused to give the committee any names, and for this he was found guilty of contempt. “Contempt” (contempt) is the offense of not being respectful or obedient to a legal authority, usually because you refused to do what a judge or a government committee tells you to do. However, in our legal system, if you don’t like what one judge says, it’s often possible to go to a higher-level court, a higher authority, to get the decision reversed or changed. That’s exactly what Miller did and was successful at doing.

Miller continued to write, but none of his plays did as well as Death Of A Salesman or The Crucible. I should mention, by the way, that the word “crucible” (crucible) comes from the word “cross,” and it means a cross. Of course, in the Christian religion the cross is an important symbol of Christianity and of the suffering of the founder of Christianity, Jesus.

Miller continued to write more plays, as I say, and more novels, and he won many different awards. One reason Miller is famous in American history is not just because of his plays, but because of the person he married. He was married briefly to the actress Marilyn Monroe. The two were married for five years, between 1956 and 1961. Marilyn Monroe, you may know, was one of the most beautiful and famous actresses of her time.

Monroe was actually Miller’s second wife. His first wife had given birth to two children. Miller married a third wife, and that lasted until his wife’s death in 2002, and that also was a marriage that produced two children. Miller himself died in 2005 in Connecticut. He died of heart failure at the age of 89. He continues to be considered one of the best American playwrights of the twentieth century, and you can still see his plays performed in the United States and in other countries.

Now let’s turn briefly to our second topic, which is a very popular television show from the 1960s up until the early 2000s. That show is Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. This was a program that was made for children. It aired from 1968 until 2001. When I say it “aired” (aired), I mean it was shown on television. “To air” can also be used to describe a radio program that you can hear.

What was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? Well, it was a 30-minute program that tried to teach children how to take care of themselves and how to be nice to other people around them. It was the brainchild of Fred Rogers, a man who wrote the scripts and the songs, and was the host or star of the show. When I say it was a “brainchild” (brainchild), I mean it was his creative effort. It was his invention. It came out of his brain.

A “script,” of course, is the words or the dialogue that is spoken during a show or a movie. Fred Rogers was the host of the show; he was the person in charge of the show. The show always began with Mr. Rogers coming in the door of his house while singing the theme song of the show, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

“Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?”

That’s how it ends. The show would always open with Mr. Rogers taking off his suit coat and hanging it up in the closet, and then he would put on a cardigan sweater. A “cardigan” (cardigan) sweater is a sweater that zips up in front or buttons up in front. The other kind of sweater would be a pullover sweater, where you pull it over your head and put it on you.

Mr. Rogers would always talk directly to the camera, sort of like a newscaster on a news program. He would talk about different things to his young audience, teaching them things, singing them songs, and also having guests – people who would come on the show to talk about whatever topic Mr. Rogers was going to talk about. The show also tried to teach children about other things in the world. There would always be a segment, or a part of the program, that would show how things were made and different parts of the world that the children might not be familiar with.

A third segment of the show took viewers into what was called the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe.” Something that is “make-believe” is something that is imagined, something that doesn’t really exist. And in this part of the show there would be puppets, movable models of a person or an animal, that were used for entertainment and for dialogue. The show always closed or ended with Mr. Rogers talking again directly to the children to help them understand how the different segments in the show were related.

The idea behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was to create an environment, a situation, where children could learn about the world from an adult whom they could trust. Mr. Rogers was always very kind, very gentle, very honest. Like another children’s show of this era of the late 1960s, Sesame Street, the show was very popular with young American children, and people who are now my age grew up with these programs, and many of the themes and ideas and particular aspects of the show became part of American culture – popular culture, you might say.

Now, interestingly enough, although I was only five years old when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began, I don’t remember watching this show as a child. I don’t know if I thought I was too old for the show. I don’t think that’s likely, since I was only five years old. I wasn’t really too old for anything. But I never did watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, or for that matter, Sesame Street. I don’t know, maybe it was just me. I hated the movie E.T., and I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people who are part of that group as well.

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

Our first question comes from Leonid (Leonid) in China. The question has to do with two words that sound similar but mean different things. The first word is “evoke.” The second word is “invoke.”

“To evoke” (evoke) means to cause some memory or feeling or image to come into your head, to bring it into your mind. For example, if you see an old picture of you in high school, that picture might “evoke” certain feelings – maybe it makes you happy, maybe it makes you sad, as my high school picture does. I didn’t really like high school. Did you? Most people would say no to that, but again, maybe I’m one of the only ones.

The word “invoke” (invoke) means to bring something up in support of an argument. “Evoke” has to do with memories and feelings that come to mind when you see something or hear something. “Invoke” has to do with bringing something up or referring to something or someone to support a particular argument – a particular point or position that you’re trying to make.

We also use “invoke” to refer to someone who makes use of a certain law or a certain right that the person has. Someone, for example, who doesn’t want to give evidence to the police that might make the person look guilty can “invoke” the Fifth Amendment. Actually, you can do that in a courtroom. It’s not something you would do with the police. You can “invoke,” however, your right to remain silent. So, you are calling upon, in a way, you are using to support your position, a certain law or rule.

A third meaning of “invoke” is to call on some sort of higher power – God or some sort of what we would call “deity” (deity), which is really just another word for God. You “invoke” a deity or a god, asking that god to give you something, to help you in some way. In Christian churches, for example, a common way of invoking God is to say “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – the “Trinity,” as it is called in Christian theology.

So, “evoke” has to do with something bringing to mind a certain feeling or image. “Invoke” has a couple of different meanings, but they are separate from “evoke.” Both words come from the Latin “vocare” which means to call or to name or to summon. Lots of English words come from this Latin root of “vocare.” We have the word “vocation,” which is your calling in life. It’s what you believe you are meant to be.

Jorge (Jorge) in Mexico wants to know the difference between “fluently” and “fluency.” “Fluently” (fluently) is an adverb – a word that usually modifies a verb. “Fluently” means able to speak a language easily or very well. “He speaks English fluently.” That means he doesn’t make any mistakes. He’s a perfect speaker, if you will, of English – although of course, no one is perfect. Other than my wife, of course.

“Fluency” (fluency) is a noun, and it refers to that same ability to speak easily and smoothly, but as a noun rather than as an adverb. So, we could say someone “has fluency in Russian,” or “has fluency in French.” They possess it, because we’re talking here now about a noun, not an adverb. How can you learn to speak and read and write English fluently? Well, you start, of course, by listening to ESL Podcast and reading the Learning Guide, but other ways are also effective, including doing a lot – and I do mean a lot – of reading.

Reading is actually good not just for reading fluency or reading proficiency. Reading gives you lots of things. It gives you grammar, it gives you vocabulary, and believe it or not, if you do a lot of reading and a lot of listening, both your speaking and your writing will get better. This is one of the things that we’ve learned over the last 40, 50 years in language acquisition research. But, I digress. When I say “I digress” (digress), I mean I’m getting off of the topic. I’m getting off of the main point here.

Our final question is from Christophe (Christophe) in France. Christophe has some pronunciation questions. He wants to know the difference in pronunciation between the following words, which I’ll spell first before I pronounce them. The first set of words is (bought), pronounced “bought.” The second word is (boat), pronounced “boat.” The “o” sound is different in each word: “bought,” “boat.” The second set of words is (late), which is “late” and (let), which is “let.” “Late” and “let” are pronounced differently. The final set of words is (beer), which is “beer” and (bear), which is a “bear.”

Now, this set is probably the most difficult for someone who is not fluent in English. It’s also sometimes difficult to hear this difference. “Beer” is something that you drink. “Bear” is something that you run away from. A “bear” is a large animal that could hurt you. So, if you see a “bear,” you should put down your “beer” and start running. If you had “bought” a “boat,” you could run to the “boat.” If you’re too “late” and the bear catches you, you might want to “invoke” your favorite “deity,” in the hopes the “bear” will “let” you go.

If you have a question or comment, it’s not too late. You can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. I promise that we’ll try to answer your question in a future Café, although we do get a lot of questions, many of which we’re not able to answer because we just don’t have enough time. Though maybe if I stop drinking so much beer, we could get through more of them. Hmm.

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

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

poverty – the state of being extremely poor and having almost no money or resources for basic needs, such as clothing, food, and a place to live

* The neighborhood showed many signs of poverty, from children wearing torn clothes or no shoes to broken windows and abandoned cars.

working class – the group of people in society who earn money working in manual or industrial jobs, such as doing construction or working in a factory

* I was raised in a working class neighborhood without fancy houses and expensive cars, but people were friendly and took care of each other.

anti-Semitism – feelings of hatred or prejudice against Jewish people

* For many years leading up to the Holocaust, there was a strong feelings of anti-Semitism in Europe.

faulty – describing something that doesn’t work properly, usually a machine or a mechanic device

* The light switch is faulty and the lights turn on and off by themselves throughout the day.

illusion – a false idea; a mistaken belief

* Kira thought she saw water on the road, but it was just an illusion.

contempt – the offense of not being respectful in a court, usually resulting from not doing what a judge or the court tells one to do

* The defendant was held in contempt for yelling at the witness, saying he was lying.

to air – to be shown on television or heard on the radio; to be broadcasted

* The television show Friends aired on Thursday nights and was one of the most popular comedy shows of its time.

brainchild – the product of a person’s creative efforts; one’s invention or creation

* The director had worked on his film for years and he cried when he saw his brainchild shown on the big screen for the first time.

script – the written words or dialogue spoken during a movie, television show, play, or other similar performance

* Once the actor read the script, he knew he had to play the lead role in the film.

to host – to be in charge of entertaining other people, often welcoming guests and introducing different parts of the entertainment

* Part of hosting an awards ceremony is making sure that the show stays on schedule and ends at the correct time.

cardigan – a sweater that zips or buttons up the front

* Simone found the breeze a little chilly so she wrapped her cardigan around her body for extra warmth.

segment – a small portion or part of something larger

* There was a small segment of the drive home that went quickly but the rest of the time was spent moving slowly in rush-hour traffic.

to evoke – to bring something, such as a memory, feeling, or image, into the mind

* Seeing these old photos of my childhood evokes images of the country life my family lived.

to invoke – to cite or to bring up someone or something in support of an argument; to mention someone or something in an attempt to make people feel a certain way or to have a certain idea in their mind

* Don’t invoke your father’s name to try to get special and better treatment.

fluently – able to speak a language easily and very well

* Juan speaks Hindi fluently because he lived in India as a child.

fluency – the ability to speak easily and smoothly, especially the ability to speak a foreign language easily and effectively

* Our school’s goal is for every student to have fluency in a second language by the time they graduate.

What Insiders Know
The Electric Company

The Electric Company is an American educational series that first aired on October 25, 1971. The show was produced by the Children’s Television Workshop for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the “non-profit” (not intended to earn money) television network available in most American cities.

Each episode of The Electric Company had “sketch comedy” (short comedy scenes, usually one to 10 minutes long) that was aimed at providing entertainment and helping elementary school children develop their reading, math, and science skills. At the time of its broadcast in the 1970’s, there was another popular children’s show in the U.S., which continues to be popular today called Sesame Street. The Electric Company was created for children who “graduated from” (were too old for) watching Sesame Street.

The show “ran” (was shown) from 1971 to1977. Popular sketches in the show include “The Adventures of Letterman” where a flying “superhero” (person with incredible skills no human has) named “Letterman” tries to defeat the Spell Binder, an evil “magician” (person who can make impossible things happen) who changes words into new words. There was also a popular sketch called “Five Seconds” where viewers are challenged to read a word within a five- or 10- second-limit.

Another popular segment was “Vi’s Diner,” where customers try and read simple “menus” (a list of dishes available in a restaurant) and place their orders. The Electric Company also featured popular celebrities in its original “cast” (group of actors in a TV show or movie) such as Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, and Rita Moreno.

The Electric Company stopped production in 1977, but many children watched the show in “reruns” (for a show to be shown again) from 1977 to 1985. In 1999, The Electric Company began airing again, but the show ended once again in 2005.