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Practical English

1153 Getting Advice from Mothers-in-Law

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,153 – Getting Advice from Mothers-in-Law.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,153. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Yes, today. Become a member of ESL Podcast. When you do, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode. Are you on Facebook? Well, so are we. Go to facebook.com/eslpod and like us. You can also follow us on Twitter at @eslpod, of course.

This episode is a dialogue about getting advice, getting suggestions, from the mother of your spouse – your mother-in-law. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Marc: Who was that?

Carla: It was your mother – again. She wanted to give me another piece of unsolicited advice about housekeeping. She’s called five times this week already.

Marc: She’s just trying to be helpful.

Carla: I wish she’d do it without being so critical. I feel like she enjoys finding fault with everything I do.

Marc: She’s a little overeager to help, that’s all. Don’t think of it as her interfering. Think of it as her giving you support. She isn’t like your mother.

Carla: What do you mean?

Marc: What do I mean?! She’s constantly giving me advice on how to be a better husband.

Carla: Well, we just got married and she wants our marriage to be the best it can be.

Marc: I know, but your mother has a really sharp tongue and she doesn’t hold back. She butts in whenever I’m trying to do something to tell me how to do it better.

Carla: Just like your mother, she’s only trying to help.

Marc: With her constant sarcastic comments?

Carla: That’s just her sense of humor. She doesn’t mean anything by it. She likes you.

Marc: She has a strange way of showing it.

Carla: All of this talk about mothers-in-law is getting our blood up. At this rate, we won’t be able to follow the best piece of marriage advice we’ve received so far.

Marc: Which was?

Carla: Don’t go to bed angry.

Marc: Who’s angry?

[end of dialogue]

Marc begins our dialogue by saying to Carla, “Who was that?” Carla says, “It was your mother – again.” Apparently, the two of them had been talking on the phone. Carla continues, “She wanted to give me another piece of unsolicited advice about housekeeping.” Notice the somewhat interesting phrase – well, interesting to me – “piece (piece) of advice (advice).”

“Advice” is guidance or suggestions that you give someone on how to do something. We don’t use the plural of advice. We don’t say “advices,” but we do say “pieces of advice,” or sometimes “some advice.” Someone may to you, “Let me give you a piece of advice” – let me give you a suggestion. Here, Carla is talking about “unsolicited advice.” “Unsolicited” comes from the verb “to solicit” (solicit) which means to ask someone for something.

Someone who comes to your house, knocks on your door, and asks for money for some political cause or some other reason is “soliciting” money from you. You can also “solicit advice.” You can ask other people to give you suggestions. However, when you don’t ask someone for advice and he gives it to you anyway, that’s what we would call “unsolicited (unsolicited) advice” – unasked-for advice.

Most people don’t want unsolicited advice, but apparently Carla’s mother-in-law likes to give it. The term “mother-in-law” refers not to your biological or legal mother, but to the mother of your wife or husband. Carla is getting unsolicited advice from her mother-in-law, from Marc’s (her husband’s) mother. What is it about? It’s about “housekeeping” (housekeeping) – all one word. “Housekeeping” refers to the things you do to keep your house clean and organized.

There’s a popular magazine called Good Housekeeping. It is a magazine all about keeping your house clean and orderly – and, I suppose, cooking. I don’t know. I’ve never read it before. It’s a magazine that traditionally has been very popular among women, especially women who are at home cleaning up their houses. That’s changed somewhat over the years. Men now, I’m told, help in cleaning the house more than they used to. I’m not sure how much that’s really true in most marriages, but there you go.

Carla says, “She’s called five times this week already.” Marc says, “She’s just trying to be helpful.” Carla says, “I wish she’d do it without being so critical.” “To be critical” (critical) here means to tell someone what she is doing wrong in a negative way. As an adjective, “critical” has a couple of different uses. But here, it just means to point out to or to let someone know about something he is doing wrong, but in a negative way.

Carla says, “I feel like she,” meaning her mother-in-law, “enjoys finding fault with everything I do.” “To find fault” (fault) with someone means to identify or to point out problems with something – to find what’s wrong with the situation or the way someone is acting. Marc says, “She’s a little overeager to help, that’s all.” “To be overeager” (overeager) is to be too enthusiastic about something, to be too interested in doing something. The word “eager” describes someone who wants to do something. “To be overeager” means to want to do it a little bit too much.

Marc says that his mother is just overeager to help poor Carla. He continues, “Don’t think of it as her interfering. Think of it as her giving you support.” “To be interfering” (interfering) means to become involved in something that isn’t really your business, to want to get involved in or give advice about something that isn’t something you should be concerned with – that “isn’t your business,” we would say. Marc is saying his mother is not interfering. She just wants to give Carla support. “Support” (support) just means here assistance or help.

Then Marc says something really interesting. He says that his mother isn’t like Carla’s mother. Well, now, of course, Carla isn’t going to be very happy. Carla says, “What do you mean?” Marc says, “What do I mean?” He can’t believe that Carla doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. Then he goes on to describe what Carla’s mother is like.

He says, “She’s constantly giving me advice on how to be a better husband.” “Constantly” means frequently and repeatedly, continuously without stopping, or simply all the time. Marc thinks that his mother-in-law – that is, Carla’s mother – is always giving him advice on how to be a better husband. Carla says, “Well, we just got married and she wants our marriage to be the best it can be.” So now Carla is defending her own mother, saying, “Oh no, my mother isn’t that bad.” Marc says, “I know, but your mother has a really sharp tongue and she doesn’t hold back.”

“To have a sharp (sharp) tongue” means to be very honest with someone, but in a way that is very critical, in a way that can often be very mean. “To have a sharp tongue” usually means to be very direct with someone, but in a way that can seem hurtful, can hurt another person’s feelings. “To hold back” is a phrasal verb meaning not to do something that you might want to do or you might want to say. “Not to hold back” means that you say what you want. You don’t worry about hurting someone else’s feelings.

Marc describes Carla’s mother as someone who “doesn’t hold back.” “She butts in whenever I’m trying to do to something to tell me how to do it better,” says Marc. “To butt (butt) in” is an interesting two-word phrasal verb, meaning to interfere. It’s an informal expression, however. “Please don’t butt in” means “Please don’t interfere.” Please don’t get involved in this situation, or perhaps simply in this conversation.

It’s a somewhat rude thing to say to someone. You wouldn’t tell your boss not to butt in. You might tell a friend or a family member not to butt in. It is, however, a criticism of the person who is doing the interfering. Carla says, “Just like your mother, she’s only trying to help.” So now Carla is defending her mother, comparing her to Marc’s mother. Marc says, “With her constant sarcastic comments?”

“To be sarcastic” (sarcastic) means to use words that have the opposite meaning of what you are really trying to say in a way that is supposed to be funny. So, for example, someone comes in and they’re very cold and they want you to turn up the heat. You might say, “Wow, pretty hot out there, huh?” You’re saying something to be funny. You’re saying that it’s hot out there when you know of course it’s actually very cold out there. That’s being sarcastic.

Carla says her mother is not sarcastic. She says, “That’s just her sense of humor,” meaning that’s just her way of being funny. “She doesn’t mean anything by it.” If you say someone “doesn’t mean (mean) anything by it,” you mean that the person isn’t trying to be hurtful, isn’t trying to be mean, isn’t trying to hurt your feelings. Usually we use this phrase when someone says something that is hurtful to someone else and you are saying that the person didn’t have that intention, didn’t have that desire to hurt you.

Carla says that her mother likes Marc. Marc says, “She has a strange way of showing it.” That expression – he or she “has a strange way of showing it” – means that you think the person’s actions aren’t matching the person’s intentions or desires, or perhaps you’re saying that you don’t really believe the person doesn’t mean it. You think the person was trying to be cruel or mean.

If you see someone, for example, I don’t know, always kicking cats, and that person says, “Oh, actually I love cats,” you might say, “Well you have a strange way of showing it.” If you really love cats, that is, you wouldn’t kick them all the time. Marc says his mother-in-law has a strange way of showing that she likes him, because she’s always criticizing him. Carla then says, “All of this talk about mothers-in-law is getting our blood up.”

“Mothers-in-law” is the plural of “mother-in-law.” You might think you would add the “s” at the end of this term – you might think the plural would be “mother-in-laws” – and in fact, in conversational English many people probably would say that, including native speakers. But technically, the plural of “mother-in-law” is “mothers-in-law.” You put the “s” after the word “mother,” not after the word “law.” Carla says, “All this talk about,” meaning this conversation that we’re having about, “mothers-in-law is getting our blood up.” “To get your blood up” means to become upset or angry about something.

Carla says, “At this rate,” meaning if we continue doing this, “we won’t be able to follow the best piece of marriage advice we’ve received so far.” Carla says if we continue talking about our mothers-in-law, we won’t be able to follow another piece of advice, another suggestion, that we’ve received about married life. Marc says, “Which was?” meaning, “What was that piece of advice? What was that suggestion?” Carla says, “Don’t go to bed angry.”

This is an old piece of advice for people who are married. “Don’t go to bed angry” means resolve your fight or find a solution to the problem you’re having before you go to sleep, otherwise you’ll continue thinking about it and most likely continue the argument the next day. This is usually good advice, I think. Sometimes there are problems, of course, that are small and that, if you go to sleep and wake up the next day, you’ve forgotten about or you realize they are no longer very important – certainly not worth fighting about.

However, there are some problems that you are probably best advised to resolve before going to sleep. Here I am giving you advice about your marriage. Well, I have been married for, oh, what, 18 years. So, here in Los Angeles that’s considered a really long time. I mean, most people here in Los Angeles, especially celebrities, they marry for like, what, five years? three years? two years? – something like that

Back to our dialogue, Carla says, “Don’t go to bed angry.” That’s the piece of advice. Marc says, “Who’s angry?” Perhaps Marc is saying here that he doesn’t think he has gotten angry over this, or perhaps he’s agreeing with Carla. He’s saying, “Yeah, I’m not angry if you’re not angry. Let’s forget about it.

Now listen to the dialogue at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Marc: Who was that?

Carla: It was your mother – again. She wanted to give me another piece of unsolicited advice about housekeeping. She’s called five times this week already.

Marc: She’s just trying to be helpful.

Carla: I wish she’d do it without being so critical. I feel like she enjoys finding fault with everything I do.

Marc: She’s a little overeager to help, that’s all. Don’t think of it as her interfering. Think of it as her giving you support. She isn’t like your mother.

Carla: What do you mean?

Marc: What do I mean?! She’s constantly giving me advice on how to be a better husband.

Carla: Well, we just got married and she wants our marriage to be the best it can be.

Marc: I know, but your mother has a really sharp tongue and she doesn’t hold back. She butts in whenever I’m trying to do something to tell me how to do it better.

Carla: Just like your mother, she’s only trying to help.

Marc: With her constant sarcastic comments?

Carla: That’s just her sense of humor. She doesn’t mean anything by it. She likes you.

Marc: She has a strange way of showing it.

Carla: All of this talk about mothers-in-law is getting our blood up. At this rate, we won’t be able to follow the best piece of marriage advice we’ve received so far.

Marc: Which was?

Carla: Don’t go to bed angry.

Marc: Who’s angry?

[end of dialogue]

Our scriptwriter is constantly giving us the very best scripts on the Internet. I speak, of course, of our own wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse.

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 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
unsolicited advice – guidance and comments that one did not ask for

* I’ve done this before, but you haven’t. May I give you some unsolicited advice?

housekeeping – the activities involved in keeping a house clean, orderly, and running smoothly

* In this house, the children participate in the housekeeping. They are responsible for setting the table, taking out the garbage, and folding the laundry.

critical – pointing out what is wrong with someone or something in a negative way

* The manager was really critical of my report. I don’t think he liked anything about it.

to find fault – to identify problems with or in something; to identify the error or flaw in something

* This painting is perfect! I’m sure no one could ever find fault with it.

overeager – too excited and enthusiastic; with too strong a desire to have or do something

* They seemed overeager to help us move. Do you think they expect us to do something for them now?

to interfere – to become involved in something that is not really one’s business; to be an unwanted intruder in another person’s affairs

* No matter what happens, please don’t interfere. Lorna is an adult now and she has to make her own mistakes.

support – assistance; help

* Thank you for your donation! We really appreciate your financial support.

constantly – continuously; frequently and repeatedly; without stopping; all the time

* The new employee is constantly making personal phone calls and checking his personal email account.

sharp tongue – a tendency to use very direct, often harsh or hurtful words because one is very straightforward and maybe a little bit mean

* Grandma has a sharp tongue and her words often make people cry at family gatherings.

to hold back – to minimize or avoid saying what one really feels, or to avoid expressing it fully, especially to avoid hurting someone’s feelings

* I could have said some really cruel things to Jacques, but I managed to hold back and leave without saying anything I might regret later.

to butt in – to interfere; to become involved in a conversation or situation that one does not really need to be part of; to interrupt

* The CEO hates it when people butt in during meetings without being asked to share their opinions.

sarcastic – using words that have the opposite meaning of what one really means, usually in a slightly funny, mean way

* A: Do you like the movie so far?

B: Oh, yeah, this is the best movie I’ve ever seen. I want to see it again and again until my eyes fall out.

A: You don’t have to be so sarcastic. You could have just said that you don’t like it.

to not mean anything by it – to not intend to hurt someone’s feelings; to not have evil or mean intentions

* It was a thoughtless comment, but I don’t think she meant anything by it. She didn’t want to hurt your feelings.

mother-in-law – the mother of one’s spouse (husband or wife)

* Jared’s mother-in-law asked him to call her “Mom.”

to get (one’s) blood up – to become upset or angry, ready to argue or fight; to become agitated

* Reading news stories about child abuse really gets my blood up.

Comprehension Questions
1. What kind of advice does Mark’s mother give to Carla?
a) Advice about how to manage their bank accounts
b) Advice about how to keep the home clean and ordered
c) Advice about how to save up money to buy a home

2. What does Marc mean when he says, “she doesn’t hold back”?
a) She says everything that is on her mind.
b) She doesn’t remember what she has said previously.
c) She apologizes for interfering in their marriage.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
support

The word “support,” in this podcast, means assistance or help: “Thank you so much for your support at last week’s fundraiser. We couldn’t have done it without you.” The phrase “technical support” describes the assistance that a company provides to consumers who use its product or service: “I had to call technical support to get some help installing the software.” The phrase “child support” refers to payments that one parent makes to another parent after a divorce in order to help pay for the expenses of raising the child: “Gerald is paying child support for his three children until they reach the age of 18.” Finally, a “support group” is a group of people who meet to discuss their shared experience recovering from a difficult situation or addiction: “His overeating support group meets every Tuesday.”

constant

In this podcast, the word “constant” means continuous or frequent and repeated, without stopping, or all the time: “Their constant arguing is driving me crazy!” Or, “Do you think the constant noise of living in a big city affects our sleeping habits?” The word “constant” can also mean unchanging: “Our predictions assume constant sales growth of 15% per year, but actual sales figures may be different.” Or, “Why can’t this new heating system keep the home at a constant temperature?” Sometimes “constant” means faithful and loyal: “That dog was his constant companion.” Finally, as a noun, a “constant” is something that always stays the same and does not change: “His love for her was a constant throughout her life, no matter what happened.”

Culture Note
Multi-generational Living Arrangements

As people live longer, American families are “increasingly” (more and more) “turning to” (deciding to have, use, or rely on) “multi-generational living arrangements” in which members of more than one generation of a family choose to live together. Sometimes this is because the families want to “foster” (develop) close relationships, but often, it is for more practical reasons, such as needing assistance with childcare or simply “living expenses” (the cost of all the things one needs for daily living).

Some families just invite the other generation to live in a “spare bedroom” (a guest room; a bedroom that is not used by the family members). However, because Americans value their independence, they often want “separate” (independent) “living quarters” (the rooms where one spends one’s time). So “developers” (people who design and build homes and communities) are exploring new housing options.

Some new homes are being built with “in-law suites,” or small apartments within a “single family home” (a home designed for one family to live in). This allows the “in-laws” (the mother and father of one’s spouse) to have their own bedroom, bathroom, living area, and even kitchen, but still have easy access to the “common areas” (shared spaces) of the rest of the family.

Some families “prefer” (like more) to have a little more space, so they might build a separate “unit” (housing structure) on their existing property. This is usually a building that has all the “features” (characteristics) of a small apartment, but is just a few feet from the main home.

Comprehension Answers
1 -b

2 -a