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0938 Learning to Ride the Subway

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 938 – Learning to Ride the Subway.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 938. 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. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialogue between Donny and Cayla about riding on a subway. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Donny: Come on, we need to buy our subway tickets at that ticket machine.

Cayla: Why can’t we just get them at the ticket window? I’m not sure what the fare is.

Donny: There’s a long line and we need to catch a train right now.

Cayla: I’ve never taken the subway before. I don’t know how it works.

Donny: Just follow me. Here, take this card and walk through the turnstile. Put your card in this slot and then retrieve it as you pass through.

Cayla: Okay, now where do we go?

Donny: Let’s look at this subway map showing all of the lines. That’s the station we want.

Cayla: Don’t we need to get transfers?

Donny: We don’t need transfers to take connecting trains. Let’s see, we want the express, not the local train . . .

Cayla: Are you sure we shouldn’t just ask somebody, like a station agent?

Donny: Good luck finding one. And plus, I don’t need one. I can figure it out. Follow me. I think that’s the right platform.

Cayla: Are you sure that’s the right train?

Donny: Yes, and if you ask me another question, you can continue this conversation with those tracks!

[end of dialogue]

This episode is all about subways. A “subway” (subway) is a system of underground trains in a large city that transport people from one part of the city to another. Many large cities have subways, all around the world. Here in the United States, the most famous subway system would probably be in New York City. But other cities, such as Washington D.C., have subway systems. Los Angeles kind of has a subway, not really. It's a very small section of our transportation system. We do have other types of public transportation, but subways aren’t very popular here in Southern California, where everyone drives a car.

But our dialogue is about subways, and we begin with Donny saying, “Come on, we need to buy our subway tickets at that ticket machine.” “Come on” is just a way of getting someone's attention – getting them to come with you, in this case. A “ticket machine” is a machine that sells, usually, little pieces of paper that give you permission to enter into something. In this case, they give you permission to go on the subway train.

Cayla says, “Why can't we just get them at the ticket window? I'm not sure what the fare is.” A “ticket window” would be a place where there is actually someone working – a real human being that you can talk to and, in this case, buy a ticket from. We might call this place a “ticket window.” We might call it a “ticket counter.” There are other names that you could give this particular place where someone is working with whom you can speak and from whom you can buy your ticket.

Cayla says she's not sure what the fare is. The “fare” (fare) is the amount of money that you have to pay to take a certain kind of transportation. We can talk about “bus fare.” We can talk about “subway fare.” We could talk about “train fare.” In all of these cases, we’re talking about the amount of money it takes to travel from one place to another. On a subway in an American city nowadays, you probably have to pay $1.50 or $2.00 for each ride. Maybe it's more. I don't know; I don't ride the subways.

Cayla doesn't know what the fare is, and that's why she wants to go to a ticket window to ask someone. Donny however says, “There's a long line and we need to catch a train right now.” “Train” here refers to the vehicles that are in a subway system that move you from one place to another. We also use the word “train” to talk about transportation that may take you from one city to another. Cayla says, “I've never taken the subway before.” When she says she's never “taken” the subway, she means she's never ridden on the subway. She's never actually been on a subway train. “I don't know how it works” – I don't understand how it functions, how it operates, what the system is.

Donny says, “Just follow me,” meaning do what I do. “Here,” Donny says, “take this card and walk through the turnstile. Put your card in this slot and then retrieve it as you pass through.” There are a couple of different ways that a subway system can function, especially when you are getting on the subway, when you are entering into the subway system. Usually there is some sort of card that you buy that you can use for a number of different rides. You can typically put on a certain number of rides on your card so you can use that card for 10 rides, for example.

When you walk up to enter into the subway system, usually there is a machine called a “turnstile” (turnstile). The “turnstile” is a small device or machine that allows one person to go through at a time. In the turnstiles on the subway systems that I've been on, you have to put in your ticket into the machine. The machine will then check to make sure that you have paid, and if you have, then it will allow you to go through this turnstile – to go through the machine so that you can get on the actual subway train. Sometimes you put the ticket in the machine and it comes out on the other side or on top of the machine. Sometimes you just take the card and you slide it through – you pass it through a certain part of the machine.

Donny is explaining to Cayla that she needs to put her card in this slot. A “slot” (slot) is a small opening for a coin or a ticket in a machine. In this case, it's the place where the ticket goes in the turnstile. “To retrieve” (retrieve) means to get something back. You put your ticket into the turnstile and then you “retrieve” it – the machine gives it back to you. Cayla says, “Okay, now, where do we go?” Donny says, “Let's look at this subway map showing all of the lines.” Most cities have more than one “line.” That is, they have more than one route, more than one direction that a train goes.

You may have one line that goes from downtown to a certain city. You might have another line that goes from the western part of the city to the northern part of the city. A “line,” then, is a route in a bus or a train system. Usually lines have either numbers, colors, or names, sometimes all three. You might take the “7 line” in New York City to go from Manhattan to Queens, which is another part of New York City. Some cities have colors and each line has a different color: the red line, the blue line, the green line. Some cities give names to the different lines related to where the line goes, typically.

Donny is looking at a subway map with Cayla. He says, “That's the station we want.” A “station” is a place where you get on and off the subway. In most cities that have subway systems, there are usually dozens of different stations – places where you can get on and off. The stations all have names associated with the place where the station is located. In some cities, stations will have symbols also. This is sometimes done in cities where you may have a large population that either doesn't read or write very well or doesn't speak the language of that city very well. The stations have symbols that you can look at, and even if you don't understand the language you know which station that is. In our dialogue, Donny is indicating to Cayla which station they want.

Cayla says, “Don't we need to get transfers?” A “transfer” is permission to go from one type of transportation to another. These are quite common in bus systems. Donny says, however, for the subway system “we don't need transfers.” He says, “We don't need transfers to take connecting trains.” A “connecting train” would be a second train that you would get on in order to get to the place where you want to go. You “transfer” or go from one train to another. Not when the train is moving, of course.

Donny says, “Let's see, we want the express, not the local train.” In some subway systems there are specific trains that only stop at a limited number of stations. This is to allow people to move more quickly from the more popular stations, often in the center part of the city, to areas farther away from the city or on the “outer edges,” we might say, of the city. “Express trains,” then, don't stop at every station. “Local trains” stop at every single station on that line. In the New York subway system, for example, if you get on a local train, you will stop at every station. That will take you a longer amount of time, of course. An express train is a lot faster, but it will only stop at some of the stations, not all of the stations.

Donny is saying that he and Cayla need an express train. They don't need to ride the local train. Cayla says, “Are you sure we shouldn't just ask somebody, like a station agent?” A “station agent” is a person who works for the subway system, whose job it is to help people find which train they should get on. Personally, I’ve been on many different subway systems all around the world, and I haven't seen very many station agents there to help people, but I guess they do exist.

Donny says, “Good luck finding one.” And that's exactly right. Donny is saying it's very difficult to find a station agent in most subway stations. That's why he says, “Good luck finding one. And plus, I don't need one. I can figure it out” – I can understand it. “Follow me. I think that's the right platform.” A “platform” (platform) is the area where people stand before getting on the train. It's where the train comes to a stop and people are able to get on and off the train. The platform is always part of the station. It doesn't move. The train moves.

Cayla says, “Are you sure that's the right train?” – that is, the correct train. Donny says, “Yes, and if you ask me another question, you can continue this conversation with those tracks.” “Tracks” (tracks) are the long parallel pieces of metal that the train actually rides on. We call those “tracks.” Donny is making a joke, saying that if Cayla keeps asking questions, she can have a conversation with the tracks because Donny won't be there anymore; he'll be on one of the trains that has already left.

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

[start of dialogue]

Donny: Come on, we need to buy our subway tickets at that ticket machine.

Cayla: Why can’t we just get them at the ticket window? I’m not sure what the fare is.

Donny: There’s a long line and we need to catch a train right now.

Cayla: I’ve never taken the subway before. I don’t know how it works.

Donny: Just follow me. Here, take this card and walk through the turnstile. Put your card in this slot and then retrieve it as you pass through.

Cayla: Okay, now where do we go?

Donny: Let’s look at this subway map showing all of the lines. That’s the station we want.

Cayla: Don’t we need to get transfers?

Donny: We don’t need transfers to take connecting trains. Let’s see, we want the express, not the local train . . .

Cayla: Are you sure we shouldn’t just ask somebody, like a station agent?

Donny: Good luck finding one. And plus, I don’t need one. I can figure it out. Follow me. I think that’s the right platform.

Cayla: Are you sure that’s the right train?

Donny: Yes, and if you ask me another question, you can continue this conversation with those tracks!

[end of dialogue]

I'd like to thank our wonderful scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse, for taking us on this subway trip today.

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

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr, Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
subway – a system of underground trains, usually in a large city

* Leona rides the subway to work every day.

ticket machine – a machine that sells tickets, especially tickets used to ride a bus, train, or boat

* Use the ticket machine to buy all-day passes: two for adults and three for children.

ticket window – a desk where people can purchase tickets from a cashier while the two are separated by a large piece of glass

* Why do movie theaters use ticket windows? Wouldn’t it be friendlier if the cashier and the customers were face-to-face?

fare – the amount of money paid for a ride or a trip on a particular type of transportation; the cost of being transported on one type of transportation from one place to another

* The city wants to raise the bus fare from $1.65 to $1.95, and people are really upset about it.

train – a vehicle with many cars connected together, where each car has wheels that rest on long metal strips on the ground, with a pre-defined route

* Sorry we’re late, but we had to stop while a really long train passed through town.

turnstile – a device that turns when pushed and allows only one person at a time to pass through an entry way, usually to control who can enter and/or to count the number of people who pass through

* The turnstiles are too narrow for people who have strollers and people who use wheelchairs, so they get to go around them.

slot – a small, flat opening, especially for a coin, a ticket, or a piece of paper

* Don’t forget to take your debit card out of the slot when you’re done using the ATM!

to retrieve – to get something back; to collect something that was temporarily somewhere else

* The computer crashed. Do you think I’ll be able to retrieve the document I was working on?

line – one of many routes in a bus or train system

* Take the purple line to the Main Square, and then take the orange line out to our neighborhood.

station – a place where people get on and off of busses or trains, and where they wait for the bus or train they need to take

* Is this the bus station where I can catch a bus to Cleveland?

transfer – permission to switch from one type of transportation to another without paying again

* Keep your bus ticket in your pocket, because you can use it as a transfer to another bus line for the next two hours.

connecting – a second bus, train, or airplane that allows one to continue one’s trip to the ultimate destination

* It looks like we’re going to have to be at the airport for more than three hours while we wait for our connecting flight.

express – faster than regular types of transportation, with few or no stops between the most important places

* I wish there were an express train connecting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle!

local – slower than some other types of transportation, with many stops every few blocks

* If we take the local bus, it could take up to two hours to get to City Hall. Can’t we just drive instead?

station agent – a person whose job is to give directions, help people purchase tickets, tell people which way to go, and maintain safety and cleanliness in the transportation system

* During the summer months, the city has to hire additional station agents to handle all the tourists’ questions.

platform – the flat, raised area where people sit and stand while waiting for a bus or train to arrive

* Please stay behind the yellow line on the train platform so that you don’t get hit by the side of the train.

tracks – the long, parallel pieces of metal that a train’s wheels travel upon

* If the engineer goes too quickly around that curve, the train could jump off its tracks.

Comprehension Questions
1. What do they need to put into the slot in the turnstile?
a) Their credit card.
b) Their ticket.
c) Their finger.

2. Which train would help Donny arrive at his destination more quickly?
a) A connecting train.
b) An express train.
c) A local train.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
train

The word “train,” in this podcast, means a vehicle with many cars connected together, where each car has wheels that rest on long metal strips on the ground, with a pre-defined route: “How long does it take to travel by train from Kansas City to Houston?” When talking about a wedding dress, a “train” is a very long piece of fabric that reaches from the bride’s head down to the floor: “Her dress had a beautiful train, but it was so long that she couldn’t even walk without help.” As a verb, to “train” means to teach someone to do something: “How long did it take you to train your dog to fetch the newspaper?” Sometimes the verb also means to learn to do something: “Kristen is training to become a nurse’s assistant.”

track

In this podcast, the word “track” means one of the long, parallel pieces of metal that a train’s wheels rest upon: “Always look both ways for trains before crossing the tracks.” The phrase “on track” means doing something the right way, or making progress in the right direction: “Let’s have weekly progress reports to make sure everyone is on track.” The phrase “a one-track mind” describes someone who can think about only one thing and is not easily distracted: “When Alberto is determined to get something done, he was a one-track mind.” Finally, the verb “to track” means to monitor something or to observe changes over time: “Scientists have been tracking the thinning of the ozone layer for many years.”

Culture Note
The Most Popular Transportation Systems in the U.S.

American cities “are not known” (are not often thought of in a certain way) for having great public transportation systems, but some major cities do have popular “metros” and “subway systems” (underground electric railroads). These systems have different names, depending on what part of the country they are in.

The “rapid transit system” (a system for moving many people quickly) with the greatest “ridership” (the number of people using a particular transportation system) in the United States is the “New York City Subway,” which is usually just referred to as “the Subway” by local residents. It has an annual ridership of more than 2.5 billion.

The next most-popular rapid transit system is the Washington Metro, usually just called “the Metro,” in Washington, DC, with an annual ridership of more than 280 million.

The third most-popular rapid transit system is the “L” (or sometimes “El”) in Chicago, Illinois. This is an “elevated” (raised; high up in the air, not on the ground) train system – “hence” (from that) the name, “L,” which represents the first syllable in “elevated.” The L has an annual ridership of more than 230 million.

The fourth most popular rapid transit system, “in terms of” (as measured by) ridership, is MBTA, which “stands for” (is an acronym for) the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Local residents sometimes refer to the system as “The T.” It has an annual ridership of 165 million.

Finally, the fifth-most-popular rapid transit system is the BART in San Francisco. BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, and it has an annual ridership of more than 123 million.

Other rapid transit systems in the United States have an annual ridership of less than 100 million.

Comprehension Answers
1 -b

2 - b