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0114 Writing a Thank You Note

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 114: Writing a Thank You Letter.

You’re listening to English as a Second Language Podcast episode 114. Welcome back. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Today’s podcast is going to be about writing a thank you letter. Let’s get started!

[start of story]

Dear Jake,

I wanted to thank you for all of the help you've given me over the past several weeks. Being laid up with pneumonia really caught me off-guard, but you went above and beyond in taking care of me. Before I got sick, we had only known each other as neighbors and only for a short time. That's why it's so amazing that when I called you, you came running. You pulled out all the stops to help me in every way. You ran my errands, kept me company, and made sure I had everything I needed. Being on my own in L.A., I'm so grateful to have a good friend like you. You're truly one in a million.

Have a wonderful holiday and I'll see you when you get back.

Kate

[end of story]

Today we listened to a personal thank you letter. A thank you note that you might write someone who has done you a favor – that is who has helped you. It begins with “Dear Jake,.” If it’s an informal note or a letter, we usually – or email – we usually use a comma. If it’s more formal such as “Dear Mr. Johnson,” and it’s a business letter, we would use a colon (:) – two dots. But here, as an informal letter, it is a comma.

Well, Kate, the person writing this note, says that “I wanted to thank you for all the help you’ve given me over the past several weeks. Being laid up with pneumonia really caught me off-guard.” The expression “to be laid-up” means that you are usually in your bed, you’re sick or maybe you broke your leg and you say, “Yeah, I’m laid-up” – means I can’t get out of my bed. I need someone to take care of me. In this case, Kate is laid-up with “pneumonia.” And “pneumonia” which is spelled (pneumonia) is a kind of sickness that you get – often causes you to cough, have problems breathing sometimes, and can be very serious. In this case, it wasn’t too serious. We’re never very serious here on ESL Podcast, anyway.

And Kate says that this “pneumonia” really “caught her off-guard.” “To catch someone” or “to catch you off-guard” – and “off-guard” is hyphenated – (off)-(guard) – “to be caught off guard” – means that you weren’t expecting it and that usually it’s something that causes you a problem. So, for example, I was driving today on the freeway here in Los Angeles, and suddenly, it started to rain and I didn’t have a coat. I was caught off-guard. I was surprised and was not prepared.

Well, Kate was caught off-guard, but her friend, Jake, went “above and beyond” in taking care of me. The expression “above and beyond” is actually a short form of a longer expression “above and beyond” the call of duty (duty). “Above and beyond the call of duty” or simply, “above and beyond” means that you did more than what one would reasonably expect. So, you helped me more than you had to or more than I could have expected you to. The expression “the call of duty” – “duty” (duty) here means your obligation. So, you did more than what you had to. That word “duty” is also used as a tax on things that you bring in to another country. So, if you come to the United States and you bring, I don’t know, several boxes of cigars – expensive cigars. Well, you probably will have to pay a tax when you come here and that’s called a duty. But here, “duty” is obligation – something you have to do.

Kate says that before she got sick, she and Jake had only known each other as neighbors and only for a short time. But it was amazing, she thinks, that when she called him, he “came running.” When someone – you say someone “comes running” they don’t really mean they’re actually running. They mean that you came to my assistance – you came to help me very quickly. I saw a woman trying to open a door with her young baby. And I came running and opened the door because I’m such a gentleman. Well, that’s what happened here – Jake came running.

And Kate says that he “pulled out all the stops” to help her in every way. The expression “to pull out all the stops” means to help someone, do everything you can to help someone. I believe the expression originally comes from when you play an organ like in a church. The “stops” are what controls the sound – the loudness of the sound in part. So, to pull out all the stops of the organ would be to make it play as loud as you could. It’s another way of saying to do as much as you can – “to pull out all the stops.”

Well, that’s what Jake did here. He ran errands, kept Kate company, and made sure she had everything she needed. “To run errands” (errands) means to go to the grocery store and buy food, to go to the post office and mail a letter – anything that you – any small thing that you have to do as part of your daily life. You have to get your car washed or you have to get gas for your car – these are all “errands” – things that you have to do, usually requiring you to leave our house. And the expression we use is to “run errands.” So, in the story, Jake “runs errands” for Kate. He also keeps her company. “To keep someone company” means that you stay with someone who may be lonely and you talk to them. So, the boy sees the girl sitting by herself and crying. He goes over and he “keeps her company.” Kate says that since she is “on her own,” meaning she’s by herself, she doesn’t have probably very many families – or I’m sorry, many friends or family with her in Los Angeles. “To be on your own” just means to be by yourself – to be alone.

Since she’s on her own, she was grateful to have a good friend like you. “To be grateful” (grateful) means that you are thankful, that you appreciate something. I am grateful that the rain stopped before I had to get out of my car. It’s the same as saying, “I’m thankful for.” So, to be “grateful” – in this case, she’s grateful to Jake.

She ends – towards the end of the letter, she says, “You’re truly one in a million.” “You’re” – “you are” – “You’re truly one in a million.” “Truly” (truly) here means you are – in truth – It’s absolutely true that you are one in a million. And so, we use that adverb “truly” when we’re trying to emphasize something. We’re trying to really tell the person that we really believe this. Well, “you’re truly one in a million” – the idea here is that you’re very rare. That people who are so nice and so generous with their time, that’s very unusual. So, the expression “one in a million” means it’s very rare. It doesn’t happen very often.

Well, Kate ends her letter by saying, “Have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you when you get back” – probably Jake has left – signed, Kate. Now, she doesn’t have a closing. You could say, if it were an informal note, you might say “Yours” (yours) comma, or you might just say something like “Thanks” comma. Or you might want to say, “Take it easy,” meaning hope everything is okay. People have different ways of closing their letters. But here, she just signs it “Kate.”

Now let’s listen to the letter this time at a native rate of speech.

[start of story]

Dear Jake,

I wanted to thank you for all of the help you've given me over the past several weeks. Being laid up with pneumonia really caught me off-guard, but you went above and beyond in taking care of me. Before I got sick, we had only known each other as neighbors and only for a short time. That's why it's so amazing that when I called you, you came running. You pulled out all the stops to help me in every way. You ran my errands, kept me company, and made sure I had everything I needed. Being on my own in L.A., I'm so grateful to have a good friend like you. You're truly one in a million.

Have a wonderful holiday and I'll see you when you get back.

Kate

[end of story]

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time on ESL Podcast.

ESL Podcast is a production of the Center for Educational Development in Los Angeles, California. This podcast is copyright 2005. No part of this podcast may be sold or redistributed without the expressed written permission of the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to be laid up – to be unable to leave one’s bed or home because of illness or injury; to be limited to one’s bed because of one’s bad physical state or condition

* Rodrigo was laid up for two months after the car accident and had difficulty getting out of bed.


pneumonia – an illness or infection one gets that hurts the lungs (body parts one uses to breathe), causing the lungs to fill with fluid (liquid) and making it difficult to breathe

* Daria thought she might have pneumonia when she started coughing frequently and struggling to breathe.


to catch (someone) off-guard – to surprise someone; to do something that others does not expect one to do

* Dewayne thought the building was empty, so Marquitta caught him off-guard when she walked into the room.


to go above and beyond – to do more than one was expected to do; to do something better or greater than one must do, showing a larger amount of care than one was expected to have

* His mother asked Ricardo to clean his room, but Ricardo went above and beyond by cleaning the rest of the house.


to come running – to rush to someone or something; to come to someone quickly when he or she needs help

* When Elsa called her brother after her car stopped working, her brother came running to help her.


to pull out all the stops – to do or use everything one can; to not stop or quit when trying to reach a goal, until that goal is reached

* The team pulled out all the stops to finish their project on time.


to run (someone's) errands – to do tasks for someone else that he or she does every day or often; to do chores or common tasks for someone else that he or she normally does for himself or herself

* Tanner wanted to do something nice for his girlfriend, so he ran her errands for her, like going to the bank and the grocery store, and told her to spend the day relaxing.



to keep (someone) company – to be with someone so that he or she won’t feel lonely; to stay by someone when that person cannot leave the place he or she is

* Felicia needed to stay late so that she could clean up, and Josiah decided to keep her company instead of leaving to go to the party.


to be on (one's) own – to live alone; to live in a place, like a house or city, without any family or friends

* Addie was on her own for the first time, and she worried about who she could ask for help in an emergency.


grateful – thankful; happy to have something or to have received something

* Brad’s friend was grateful for the gift that Brad brought back from his trip to London.


one in a million – unique; different; unlike most people or things

* Betsy is truly one in a million, and her friends all say that they have never met anyone who is as happy or kind as she is.

Culture Note
Salutations in Letters and Emails

What do you do when you don’t know the person’s name to whom you are sending a letter or message? Or, you don’t know what “gender” (male or female) of that person?

For a formal or business letter, you can use “Dear Sir or Madam.” “Sir” is a very polite term for a man and “madam” is a very polite term for a woman. This is useful no matter which gender the person reading your letter may be. Perhaps 50 years ago it was acceptable to only use “Dear Sir” if you didn’t know the gender of the person you’re writing. However, it is not considered acceptable today. The woman reading your letter, especially if you’re applying for a job, scholarship, or anything else, may not have a “favorable” (good; positive) opinion of you “right off the bat” (immediately; right away). She may think you’re “sexist” (think women are less important than men) or “presumptuous” (don’t know what is appropriate or socially acceptable), and that’s probably not the impression or impact you’re trying to make.

Some people use the greeting “To whom it may concern:” when they don’t know the name or gender of the “recipient” (person receiving something). This greeting is useful when, for example, writing a letter to the telephone company because there is a mistake in your bill. However, it is not considered the most respectful or courteous for formal business “correspondence” (letters and written messages). Instead, use “Dear Sir or Madam” or the job title of the person you are writing, such as:

“Dear Recruiter” (the person accepting applications for a job or position)

“Dear Claims Adjuster” (the person who takes care of your insurance matters)