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0944 Working as an Intern

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 944 – Working as an Intern.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 944. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California . . . even though that wasn't very beautiful.

Our website is beautiful. Go to ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialogue between Jonas and Crystal about working as an intern in a company. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Jonas: How’s your new job?

Crystal: It’s not a job exactly. It’s an internship.

Jonas: Oh, so you’re working as somebody’s lackey and getting paid a pittance.

Crystal: No, not exactly. I’m doing a lot of scut work and I’m not getting paid a lot, but I’m getting very valuable on-the-job experience.

Jonas: Sure you are. You’re learning how to fetch coffee and run errands. Yippee! You don’t have to tell me any more. I know all about it. It’s slave labor.

Crystal: No, it’s not! I’m shadowing one of the managers part of the day and I sit in on important meetings all the time. My mentor shows me how things are done in the business world and gives me great career advice.

Jonas: Well, then you’re lucky. Most interns who work for our company learn diddly-squat and spend their time doing menial work. Some of them are even unpaid. What a racket!

Crystal: In that case, I’m glad I don’t work for your company!

[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Jonas asking Crystal, “How's your new job?” Crystal says, “It's not a job exactly. It's an internship.” When we say something isn't “exactly this” or “exactly that,” we’re saying that it doesn't quite meet the full definition of whatever it is that we are trying to describe it as. Sometimes, we even use it with a little bit of sarcasm, trying to make a joke: “Exercise isn't exactly fun, but it's good for your body.” Here, it's being used more in the sense that the word that Jonas uses is not precisely or completely correct. Jonas asked Crystal how her new job is, and Crystal says, “It's not a job exactly.” That means it doesn't meet the definition of a job.

Instead, she says, “It's an internship.” An “internship” (internship) is a temporary position, typically in a business or an organization, usually one that you don't get paid for. The purpose of internships is to give people who don't have a lot of experience, especially students in college, a way of learning more about the area that interests them, the kind of business that interests them. Internships are very popular for college students and for those who recently graduated from college.

Jonas says, “Oh, so you're working as somebody’s lackey and getting paid a pittance.” A “lackey” (lackey) is an older term for a servant, someone who performs tasks for another person, usually things that aren’t very difficult or that don't require a lot of intelligence. A “lackey” is always someone who works for another person. It's definitely an insulting term. “To get paid a pittance” (pittance) is to receive a very small amount of money. A “pittance” is a very small amount of something, almost nothing. We often use that when talking about how much someone gets paid or how much money they got from a certain activity. If it's a very small amount, we might call it a pittance.

Crystal says, “No, not exactly,” meaning, once again, she's not exactly a lackey and getting paid a pittance, although there might be some truth to that description. She says, “I'm doing a lot of scut work and I'm not getting paid a lot, but I'm getting very valuable on-the-job experience.” The expression “scut (scut) work” is used to describe work that is boring – work that is repetitive, that doesn't change. It's the same every day, every hour, even. “Scut work” is definitely the kind of work that you don't want to do but someone has to do.

“On-the-job experience” is professional experience you get working at a job, not studying in school. “On-the-job” simply means “while you are working.” Jonas says, “Sure you are.” Jonas is joking here. He's being sarcastic. Crystal is saying that she's getting valuable on-the-job experience, even though she doing a lot of scut work and not getting paid very much. Jonas doesn't really believe what Crystal says when she says she's getting this on-the-job experience.

Jonas says, “You're learning how to fetch coffee and run errands.” “To fetch” (fetch) means to go get something for someone and bring it back to them. “To fetch” means to obtain. It's often used when talking about a dog going and fetching something, some object, and bringing it back to his owner. The classic example of this would be having the dog fetch your newspaper. When your newspaper is delivered to your house in the morning, you could send your dog out to fetch it. I don't have a dog, so I fetch my own newspaper.

Jonas is talking about “fetching coffee,” meaning getting coffee for the bosses, and he also mentions the task of “running errands.” An “errand” (errand) is something you have to do away from your house or where you are working. “To run an errand” means to go to, for example, somewhere like the post office or a grocery store or the pharmacy, when you have, usually small things that you need to do, at some place away from where you are working or living. “Errands” are usually things that aren’t very important and don't take that much time to complete. We use the verb “to run” with the noun “errands.” We talk about “running errands” – that means going and doing different things outside of your house.

“Yippee!” says Jonas. “You don't have to tell me any more. I know all about it. It's slave labor.” Jonas uses the word “yippee” (yippee). This is a word that is used to show excitement, to show joy, to show happiness. However, nowadays it's used mostly by people who are joking, who are being sarcastic. “I went to Las Vegas and gambled and I won ten dollars. Yippee!” I'm being sarcastic there, since winning ten dollars isn't something you would normally celebrate or be really happy about, although I guess it's better than losing ten dollars. Most people lose a lot more when they go to places like Las Vegas to gamble.

But in our story, there's no gambling. There is just what Jonas calls “slave labor.” A “slave” (slave) is a person who is owned by another person, who is treated as property, as a thing that you would own. “Slave labor” would be work done by slaves. Once again, Jonas isn't saying that Crystal is literally – actually – a slave, but she is working under conditions like a slave. She is working basically for little or no pay.

Crystal disagrees. She says, “No, it's not!” – it's not slave labor – “I'm shadowing one of the managers part of the day, and I sit in on important meetings all the time.” “To shadow” (shadow) here means to follow a person around to see what they do during the day. This is popular in some companies with some internships. Young college students are allowed to come into the building and follow a boss, follow an executive, around during the day to see what he or she does. They probably don't shadow them to the bathroom . . . I don't think.

Crystal says she sits in on important meetings. “To sit in on” means to go to a meeting but not actually be a participant – to go to a meeting or an event but not actually participate in the event. You’re just observing. Crystal says that her mentor shows her “how things are done in the business world” and gives her “great career advice.” Her mentor gives her suggestions about what to do in her future life as an employee or as a worker.

Jonah says, “Well, then you're lucky. Most interns who work for our company learn -squat.” “Diddly (diddly) -squat (squat)” is an old, somewhat funny term meaning little or nothing. “I didn't do diddly-squat today.” That means I didn't do hardly anything. Don't tell my boss. Jonas says that the interns at his company “learn diddly-squat” – that is, nothing – “and spend their time doing menial work.” “Menial” (menial) is something that is not very important, that doesn't require very much skill. Jonas says, “Some of them” – some of the interns – “are even unpaid,” meaning they don't receive any money for working at the company.

Finally, he says, “What a racket!” The expression “What a racket” (racket) is used to talk about something that is either illegal or unethical, something that involves cheating another person, typically. Jonas is saying that his company is cheating the employees by making them work and do things that aren’t very important and not paying them. Crystal says, “In that case, I'm glad I don't work for your company!” Crystal says if what Jonah says is true about his company, she's glad she doesn't work for his company. She's glad that she's an intern at a different company.

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

[start of dialogue]

Jonas: How’s your new job?

Crystal: It’s not a job exactly. It’s an internship.

Jonas: Oh, so you’re working as somebody’s lackey and getting paid a pittance.

Crystal: No, not exactly. I’m doing a lot of scut work and I’m not getting paid a lot, but I’m getting very valuable on-the-job experience.

Jonas: Sure you are. You’re learning how to fetch coffee and run errands. Yippee! You don’t have to tell me any more. I know all about it. It’s slave labor.

Crystal: No, it’s not! I’m shadowing one of the managers part of the day and I sit in on important meetings all the time. My mentor shows me how things are done in the business world and gives me great career advice.

Jonas: Well, then you’re lucky. Most interns who work for our company learn diddly-squat and spend their time doing menial work. Some of them are even unpaid. What a racket!

Crystal: In that case, I’m glad I don’t work for your company!

[end of dialogue]

Our scriptwriter doesn't sit around doing diddly-squat. She's working. She's writing scripts. Thank you, Dr. Lucy Tse, for your wonderful scripts.

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
exactly – precisely; fully meeting a definition; just so

* Exercise isn’t exactly enjoyable, but I know it’s good for me, so I keep doing it.

internship – a temporary position with a business or organization, usually unpaid, performed by a student or a recent graduate to get more experience in a field or industry

* All business students in this program are require to complete a two-month internship with a local business during the summer after their first year.

lackey – servant; a person who performs basic tasks for another person

* Does Sheila really pick up her boss’s dry cleaning? She’s such a lackey!

pittance – a very small amount of money; almost nothing

* This would be the perfect job if it paid more than a pittance.

scut work – boring, repetitive work that is not challenging

* Bryan has been looking for a job for more than one year, and at this point he would accept anything, even scut work.

on-the-job experience – professional experience obtained while performing job duties, not by studying

* This job provides a lot of on-the-job experience, so even if you’ve never used the software before, you’ll be an expert by the end of the first six months.

to fetch – to retrieve; to get something and bring it back; to bring from somewhere

* Kyle is trying to teach his dog to fetch his slippers and the newspaper.

to run errands – to perform a lot of tasks that require going to many different place

* Phuong spent all afternoon running errands at the bank, the pharmacy, the dry cleaners, the library, and the grocery store.

yippee – hooray; a phrase used to show excitement and joy, sometimes used sarcastically

* It’s going to be sunny tomorrow! Yipee!

slave labor – work performed by people who are not paid for their work, and who work because they do not have a choice

* Slave labor was responsible for much of the economic growth of the early United States, particularly in the south.

to shadow – to follow a person around, observing what he or she is doing as a way to learn from those experiences

* Our program tries to get your girls more interested in science by having them shadow professional female scientists for a day.

to sit in on – to attend a meeting or event, but mostly as an observer, without actively participating

* Geoff is hoping to sit in on the product development meeting and get some ideas for his own invention.

mentor – a person who provides professional guidance and advice to a younger, less experienced individual who hopes to have a similar career in the future

* The university tries to pair students up with mentors from the local business community.

diddly-squat – little or nothing

* That conference was such a waste of time! We didn’t learn diddly-squat.

menial – unimportant, not challenging, and not requiring special skills

* Why don’t you hire an assistant to do all of the menial tasks, so you can focus on making the important decisions?

unpaid – without receiving payment for one’s work; with volunteer labor

* These volunteer projects are unpaid, but they’re really great to list on your resume.

racket – an unethical or illegal way to make money; a scam

* If you get an email asking you to help make an international bank transfer in exchange for a percentage of the amount, don’t believe it. It’s a racket.

Comprehension Questions
1. What is scut work?
a) A pittance.
b) Menial tasks.
c) Diddly squat.

2. What does Jonas mean when he says, “What a racket!”
a) The work environment is too noisy.
b) Companies are making a lot of money by not paying interns.
c) Internships are a great opportunity.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to shadow

The verb “to shadow,” in this podcast, means to follow a person around, observing what he or she is doing as a way to learn from those experiences: “Could I shadow an employee for a day to learn more about the job before deciding whether or not I should accept the offer to work here?” A “shadow” is the dark images on the ground made when a person or object blocks the light: “Our shadows are tallest at the beginning and end of the day, when the sun is low on the horizon.” Finally, when talking about makeup, “eye shadow” is a colored power placed over the eyelid to make someone more beautiful: “That green eye shadow matches your dress so perfectly!”

racket

In this podcast, the word “racket” means a scam, or an unethical or illegal way to make money: “These marketing programs are such a racket, and thousands of people have lost their savings by participating.” When talking about sports, a “racket” is a tool with a round or square net on a handle, used to hit balls: “Venus swung the tennis racket really hard and scored the winning point of the game.” Or, “To serve, just reach up in the sky with your racket and hit the ball over the net.” Finally, a “racket” is a very loud noise: “The neighbor’s cats were fighting all night, making a terrible racket.” Or, “How can you call that music? I can’t handle all this racket!”

Culture Note
The Legality of Unpaid Internships

For years, many students and “recent graduates” (people who finished school not very long ago) have completed unpaid internships to gain professional experience, to learn about their chosen industry, and “network” (build professional relationships) with industry leaders. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 55 percent of the “class of 2012” (the students who graduated in the spring of 2012) had internships, almost half of which were unpaid.

The “general view” (what most people think about something) is that, although working without pay is a “hardship” (something that is difficult and challenging and creates problems), it is “counterbalanced” (outweighed; made up for) by the intern’s greater “potential for employment” (likelihood of being hired) after completing the internship. Supporters of unpaid internships believe that a good internship is an “incredible” (unbelievable) opportunity to “gain” (earn; get) on-the-job experience that would “otherwise” (under other circumstances) be difficult to get or would require getting an expensive advanced degree or additional training.

However, other people argue that unpaid internships allow large companies to “exploit” (take advantage of and treat unfairly) young workers. They believe that companies “pocket the profits” (save additional money) by having an intern complete “entry-level” (a job for individuals with relatively little experience) tasks instead of hiring a new employee to do the job.

Recently, an unpaid intern “sued” (took to court) a film production studio for having “violated” (broken) laws related to “minimum wage” (the minimum amount that must be paid to a worker by law) and “overtime” (hours worked beyond one’s regular schedule). The court agreed, but people are still “debating” (discussing with different opinions) the “legality” (whether something is allowed under the law) of unpaid internships.

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - b