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0674 Threatening Other Countries

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 674: Threatening Other Countries.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 674. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Go there to download a Learning Guide for this episode.

In this episode, we’re going to hear a conversation between Tania and Emilio about threatening other countries. When two countries are having difficulties, shall we say, and might even in fact start fighting each other. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Tania: Did you see the news today? Canada has been doing military exercises near the Canada-U.S. border. I think they’re trying to send us a message.

Emilio: They’re just saber-rattling. They think we’re amassing weapons near the border and they’re posturing.

Tania: I don’t think they’re just posturing.

Emilio: Canada is no real threat. No one in the government wants to bear the responsibility of violating Canada’s treaty with us.

Tania: How can you say that? All of this military aggression makes me nervous. If Canada decides to attack, we would have no choice but to retaliate. Things could escalate very quickly.

Emilio: That’s why I’m well prepared.

Tania: Well prepared? How?

Emilio: Haven’t you seen me building my underground bunker? I’ll be safe there if Canada, or anyone else, strikes.

Tania: An underground bunker?

Emilio: Yes, and if you ask nicely, I’ll save a place for you.

[end of dialogue]

Tania begins by saying to Emilio, “Did you see the news today (the news reports or the newspaper)? Canada has been doing military exercises near the Canada-U.S. border.” “Military exercises” are one way that the military – the army and the navy – use to train. It is sort of like a fake war; they test their systems to make sure that everything is working, that their soldiers know what to do, and so forth. Sometimes it’s called a “war game” in fact. The “border” is the line that divides two countries or states or provinces. It’s a geographic line that separates two pieces of land.

In the dialogue, Canada is apparently mad at the United States and their military – their army and navy – is doing military exercises near the border. Tania says, “I think they’re trying to send us a message.” “To send (someone) a message” means to make sure that the person understands exactly what you’re thinking without necessarily saying it directly to them. So, we’re communicating something but it isn’t necessarily in words.

Emilio says, “They (meaning the evil Canadians) are just saber-rattling.” A “saber” (saber) is a large sword that’s sharp that you could kill someone with. “To rattle” (rattle) is to make a noise. Often when you have pieces of metal that are next to each other they may make a noise like this: [rattling sound]. That wasn’t a saber, those were actually the pens that I have in this blue cup I keep here next my microphone that has a lot of pens and pencils and that sort of thing. I guess you use a pen to kill someone – possible. Anyway, “saber-rattling” is an old expression that means a certain country is trying to demonstrate or show someone else that they are militarily powerful. So, they may do military exercises or they may do things that show their military in action. That’s saber-rattling.

Emilio says, “They (the Canadians) think we’re amassing weapons near the border and they’re posturing.” “To amass” (amass) means to collect or gather as many items of a certain thing as you can and put them all in one place. I have amassed several pens and pencils in my blue cup here on the desk. A “weapon” is something that will hurt you, something physical typically, a tool, if you will, for hurting someone: a knife, a gun, that sort of thing – a pen. So Canada thinks the U.S. is amassing weapons near the border, and the Canadians, in response to this, are posturing. “To posture” (posture) as a verb means to present yourself in a certain way to convey a certain impression on the other person. It’s often used in the negative sense of someone who’s trying to be something they’re not, or someone who perhaps is doing this for no good reason.

Tania says, “I don’t think they’re just posturing.” They’re not just acting this way, they really are angry – because everyone knows, Canadians can get very angry! Emilio says, “Canada is no real threat.” A “threat” is a risk, something that can cause harm or damage. Emilio says, “No one in the government wants to bear the responsibility of violating Canada’s treaty with us.” “To bear (bear – just like the animal) the responsibility” means to admit when something has gone wrong and accept the consequences. Another expression we might use is “to be held accountable.” So no one in the government wants to bear the responsibility – wants to have the responsibility of “violating,” or breaking, not following Canada’s treaty with us. A “treaty” is a formal agreement between two countries to do something or not do something. The Treaty of Versailles ended World War I; the SALT, or Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, helped reduce the number of nuclear weapons between the United States and the then Soviet Union.

Tania says, “How can you say that? All of this military aggression makes me nervous.” “Aggression” is when someone is angry or mad and actually does something about it. Military aggression would be when the military is showing their power – is showing their strength because their country is angry. She says, “If Canada decides to attack, we would have no choice but to retaliate.” “To attack” means to begin a fight or a battle. Usually it’s something between two armies, but it could be two people. “He was attacked by a dog last night,” the dog tried to bite him. Or, “She was attacked by the mean cat that was in the neighbors’ yard.” These, of course, are our real threats: cats and dogs! But, going back to our back to our story – I’m kidding, of course. Going back to our story, Tania says, “we would have no choice (if Canada decides to attack) but to retaliate.” When we say “we have no choice but to (do something)” we mean we have no other option, we must do this. In this case, we must retaliate. “To retaliate” (retaliate) means to do something bad to another person after he or she has done something bad to you. It’s similar to another word: “revenge.” “Retaliate” usually is related to someone trying to hurt you – someone trying to hurt your country, and you then attack them back to defend yourself. Tania says, “Things could escalate very quickly.” “To escalate” (escalate) means to increase the importance or seriousness or intensity of something, to involve more people, to move something to a higher level, to make it more serious, to make it bigger perhaps. So when two countries start fighting with each other, sometimes the violence can escalate. They kill 5 people, and then you kill 10 of their people, and they retaliate and kill 25 of your people. That’s escalating violence; it’s getting worse and worse as we go forward in time.

Emilio says to this possibility of escalation (the noun of “to escalate”), “That’s why I’m well prepared (I’m ready),” Emilio says. Tania asks him, “Well prepared? How?” How are you well prepared? Emilio says, “Haven’t you seen me building my underground bunker?” “Underground” is something that is below the ground, in the earth. A “bunker” (bunker) is a strong, safe place where you are protected against some military attack; you are underground. So, an “underground bunker” is a place where you could be safe if you were attacked or your country was attacked, that’s the idea. There were some people, especially back in the 50s and 60s, that built bunkers in their houses because they were afraid of a nuclear attack on the United States. I’m not sure if the bunker would have helped very much! Anyway, Emilio says, “I’ll be safe there (in my bunker) if Canada, or anyone else, strikes.” “To strike” here means to hit someone or to attack someone; to send a bomb, that’s an example of striking. There was a movie, one of the Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back, meaning the Empire attacks after being attacked.

Tania says, “An underground bunker?” Emilio says, “Yes, and if you ask nicely (if you’re nice to me), I’ll save a place for you.” So that’s what some people are doing preparing for Canada’s attack on the United States!

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Tania: Did you see the news today? Canada has been doing military exercises near the Canada-U.S. border. I think they’re trying to send us a message.

Emilio: They’re just saber-rattling. They think we’re amassing weapons near the border and they’re posturing.

Tania: I don’t think they’re just posturing.

Emilio: Canada is no real threat. No one in the government wants to bear the responsibility of violating Canada’s treaty with us.

Tania: How can you say that? All of this military aggression makes me nervous. If Canada decides to attack, we would have no choice but to retaliate. Things could escalate very quickly.

Emilio: That’s why I’m well prepared.

Tania: Well prepared? How?

Emilio: Haven’t you seen me building my underground bunker? I’ll be safe there if Canada, or anyone else, strikes.

Tania: An underground bunker?

Emilio: Yes, and if you ask nicely, I’ll save a place for you.

[end of dialogue]

Our scriptwriter would never attack anyone. That’s because it’s the kind and wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
military exercise – war game; a way to train an army or navy group, or a way to test equipment for warfare, by testing systems as if an actual battle or war is happening

* Sometimes countries use computer simulations as military exercises to help officers develop the best ways to make decisions.

border – the line between two countries, states, or provinces; the geographic line separating or dividing two parts of a piece of land on a map

* Which states share a border with Nebraska?

to send (someone) a message – to communicate indirectly; to make sure someone understands what one is thinking without saying it directly

* Dan has bad breath, but nobody wants to tell him directly, so his co-workers are trying to send a message by putting a large bottle of mouthwash in the office bathroom.

saber-rattling – a display, demonstration, or show of strength and fighting power

* Are they really going to attack us, or is it just saber-rattling?

to amass – to collect and accumulate; to gather many items and keep them in one place

* It has taken ten years and thousands of dollars to amass this DVD collection.

weapon – a tool used to hurt or kill other people while fighting

* Which weapon would you prefer: a sword or a knife?

to posture – to present oneself in a particular way; to convey a certain impression

* Delia is always posturing as an expert in music, but she has never studied music in any serious way.

threat – risk; something that can cause harm or danger and may do so in the near future

* The conference speaker said that the personal automobile is a serious threat for the environment.

to bear the responsibility – to be held accountable for something; to admit that one has done something wrong and accept the consequences of it

* Who will bear the responsibility if this deal fails? Your company or mine?

to violate – to break a rule or agreement; to disobey or not follow a rule or agreement

* If you violate the terms of this agreement, you might have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines.

treaty – an official agreement between two countries

* According to the treaty, our country has to help if their country is attacked.

military aggression – for a nation’s armed forces (army, navy, air force, etc.) to show their power and strength against another country’s armed forces

* The members of this church believe that all military aggression is wrong, so they never serve in the army.

to attack – to initiate or begin a fight or battle; to begin to hurt or kill another person or group, without waiting for them to hurt one’s own group first

* That dog just attacked the little girl for no reason!

to retaliate – to take revenge; to do something bad to another person after he or she has done something bad to oneself

* If you read your sister’s diary, she might retaliate by doing something worse to you.

to escalate – to increase in intensity or importance; to become more serious or important, involving more people and authority

* When the teacher caught the student cheating on the exam, he escalated the situation by calling the principal and the student’s parents.

underground bunker – a strong, safe place where soldiers can find protection below the surface of the earth

* The soldiers were cold and wet in the underground bunker, but at least they were protected from gunfire.

to strike – to attack; to hit someone; to send a bomb

* If the enemy strikes tonight, will we be prepared to fight back?

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Emilio mean when he says, “they’re posturing”?
a) The Canadian military is trying to appear strong.
b) The army is marching in unusual formations.
c) The soldiers are standing very straight and tall.

2. What does Tania mean when she says, “Things could escalate very quickly”?
a) The army might move northwards very quickly.
b) The situation might become serious very soon.
c) The fighting will get very noisy in the future.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
border

The word “border,” in this podcast, means the geographic line separating or dividing two parts of land on a map: “The border between Oregon and Washington follows the Columbia river.” Or, “Do we need a passport to cross the U.S./Canadian border?” The word “border” can also refer to the division or separation between other things: “Biochemistry straddles the border between biology, chemistry, and genetic engineering.” The word “border” also refers to a line along the edge of an object: “The information would be easier to read if you put a border around the table.” Or, “What a beautiful lace border you’ve put on the tablecloth!” When talking about a yard or garden, a “border” is an area along the edge of the grass where flowers or other plants grow: “Lynn bought a lot of tulips to plant along the border.”

to strike

In this podcast, the verb “to strike” means to attack or to hit someone, or to send a bomb: “When the pilot made a mistake, the bomb struck a hospital instead of the military base.” The phrase “to strike a match” means to move a match against a hard surface to create a fire: “Shannon tried to strike the match, but it was wet and wouldn’t light.” The phrase “to strike a deal” means to reach an agreement: “Let’s strike a deal: I’ll wash your car if you’ll help me with my essay.” Finally, the phrase “to strike a balance” means to spend the right amount of time or give the right amount of attention to two or more things: “Many people struggle to strike a balance between work and family.”

Culture Note
The border between the United States and Canada is the longest border in the world. Including the part between Canada and Alaska, the “terrestrial” (land-based, not water-based) border is more than 5,500 miles (almost 8,900 kilometers) long.

The border was created by the Treaty of Paris in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War (the War fought to separate the American colonies from Great Britain) and the Convention of 1818. The eastern end of the border follows the 45th “parallel” (a line of latitude; one of the horizontal lines circling the globe, parallel to the equator), and the western end of the border follows the 49th parallel. There are also water borders along the Great Lakes.

There is “relatively” (comparatively) little “security” (law enforcement) along the U.S.-Canadian border, but people crossing the border are expected to “present themselves to” (report to and speak with) an “immigration officer” (a person whose job is to examine passports and visas to determine whether someone should be allowed into a country).

To enter Canada, travelers need to provide proof of citizenship and proof of identity, such as a driver’s license and birth certificate. However, to re-enter the United States, travelers must have a U.S. passport book or a passport “card” (a smaller, passport-like document that is less expensive than a passport, but valid only for land border crossings). Travelers who are less than 16 years old can cross the U.S.-Canadian border with just a birth certificate. The rules “governing” (mandating; controlling) which documents are needed to cross the border have changed many times in recent years due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b