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1167 Birth Order and Sibling Rivalries

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,167 – Birth Order and Sibling Rivalries.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,167. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and become a member of ESL Podcast. When you do, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode. While you’re there, take a look at our ESL Podcast Store with additional courses in Business and Daily English.

This episode is a dialogue between Nancy and Yasmani about what order you were born in your family – what number you were among your brothers and sisters – and if that’s really important. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Nancy: Isn’t this a great time of year? Families get together over the holidays.

Yasmani: Maybe it’s nice for some families, but I dread my family get-togethers.

Nancy: How come?

Yasmani: I have a big family and there has always been a lot of sibling rivalry.

Nancy: I’m sure that was true when you were growing up, but you’ve all grown out of it, haven’t you?

Yasmani: Not us. The firstborn still thinks he’s in charge, the middle children still act up to get attention, and the baby of the family is still rebellious.

Nancy: That’s true in a lot of families.

Yasmani: Yes, but when we get together, we compete to show up the others. We brag, argue, and nitpick. It’s rather pathetic, actually.

Nancy: How do your parents handle all that?

Yasmani: They’ve always left us to our own devices. We just fight it out amongst ourselves.

Nancy: So, there’s no loving bond between the siblings.

Yasmani: Oh, we love each other, but we compete with other, too. It’s complicated.

Nancy: Then I should be glad to be an only child?

Yasmani: That’s right. Count your blessings!

[end of dialogue]

Nancy says to Yasmani, “Isn’t this a great time of year? Families get together over the holidays.” The “holidays” in the United States is a term we use to refer to November and December, when there are two major holidays in the U.S. – or three major holidays in the U.S. – Thanksgiving at the end of November, and then Hanukkah, and Christmas in December.

Yasmani says, “Maybe it’s nice for some families, but I dread my family get-togethers.” “To dread” (dread) means to be worried about something, to not want something to happen. “To dread” is the opposite of “to look forward to.” If you “look forward to” something, you want something to happen. You desire something to happen. “To dread” is the opposite. “To dread” is to be afraid that something will happen or worried about something that might happen.

A “get-together” is a informal gathering of people, usually for some social reason – a birthday party, a Christmas celebration, or simply time for people to come together and relax, talk, and have a good time. The noun “get-together” comes from the phrasal verb “to get together.” Yasmani dreads his family get-togethers. Nancy asks, “How come?” “How come” is another way of saying, “Why?”

Yasmani responds, “I have a big family and there has always been a lot of sibling rivalry.” Your “siblings” (siblings) are your brothers and sisters. “Sibling” is a general term for brothers and sisters. It’s not that common in conversational English. Normally someone will refer to his brothers or his sisters, or say simply, “my brothers and sisters.” But if you want a single term for that, it would be “sibling.” Your “siblings” are your brothers and sisters. When you say “sibling,” you’re not specifying if it’s a brother or a sister.

Yasmani says there has always been a lot of “sibling rivalry.” “Rivalry” (rivalry) refers to competition. We talk about rivalry between two sports teams. There is a rivalry between the San Francisco Giants baseball team and the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. When those two teams play, there’s a lot of emotion involved in the crowd and among the players because they have always played each other and tried to be the best team, tried to beat the other team. Yasmani says there is rivalry among his siblings, his brothers and sisters.

Nancy says, “I’m sure that was true when you were growing up,” meaning I’m sure that there was sibling rivalry when you were younger, “but you’ve all grown out of it, haven’t you?” “To grow out of” something means because you’re older, to no longer do something or like something or have something.

When I was in high school, sometimes, though not very often, I liked to play video games. But eventually I grew out of it. When I got to college, it no longer interested me anymore. I “grew out of” playing video games. Usually we use the expression “to grow out of” something when we’re referring to an activity that we associate with children or teenagers or younger people.

Nancy is saying that surely Yasmani and his siblings have grown out of all of this rivalry they had when they were children. Yasmani says, however, no. He says, “Not us,” meaning no, we have not. “The firstborn still thinks he’s in charge, the middle children still act up to get attention, and the baby of the family is still rebellious.” The “firstborn” is, unsurprisingly, the oldest child – the first child to be born in a family.

“The firstborn still thinks he’s in charge,” Yasmani says. “To be in charge” (charge) means to be in a position of authority or control – to be the person who’s, in effect, the boss, the one who is responsible for telling other people what to do. The “middle children” would refer to the children in a family that has at least three children, who are neither the oldest nor the youngest.

So, in a family of four children, there is an oldest child, the youngest child, and then the two other children would be, I guess, the middle children. In my family, where there are 11 children, there are nine middle children, although in my family, we divide our family into the oldest four, the youngest four, and the middle three.

I, of course, am in the youngest four, and in fact am the “baby” of the family. The “baby” of the family doesn’t refer to someone who is actually still under two years of age, but rather to the youngest child in the family. It’s often said, however, as a way of indicating that perhaps that youngest child has certain privileges or that he’s treated somehow differently – more special, perhaps – than the other children. This was never the case for me, of course.

Yasmani mentions how the middle children in his family “act up” to get attention. “To act up” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to behave in certain ways, to behave badly so that someone will pay attention to you or will notice you. The baby of the family in Yasmani’s family is “rebellious” (rebellious). “Rebellious” comes from the verb “to rebel” (rebel). “To rebel” means to resist someone else’s authority – to refuse to do what someone else says you should do, especially someone else in power. Nancy says, “That’s true in a lot of families.”

Yasmani says, “Yes, but when we get together,” when my family comes together and is in the same room at the same time, “we compete to show up the others.” “To show up” someone is a – say it with me – two-word phrasal verb meaning to do or say something to show that you are better than another person, you are superior to another person. So, if your son comes home from school and says, “I got a B on my test,” and your daughter says, “Well I got an A on my test,” your daughter may be trying to show up your son – to demonstrate that she is superior to your son.

Yasmani says, “We brag, argue, and nitpick. It’s rather pathetic, actually.” Yasmani says he and his siblings “brag” (brag). “To brag” means to say something about yourself that makes you look better than everyone else or to say something that you have done that is wonderful that will make other people think that you are wonderful or successful. There are, of course, always people who like to brag, who like to talk about how wonderful they are. Some people think all Americans like to brag. I think that might have a little bit of truth in it.

“To nitpick” (nitpick) means to criticize other people for very small mistakes or faults or errors. To say something is “pathetic” (pathetic) in this case means that it’s so bad you almost feel sorry for the people that they are so, perhaps, insecure or mean or miserable that they have to act that way. Sometimes we use this adjective “pathetic” to mean “inadequate” in such a way that it’s almost laughable or you almost feel sorry for the person.

If someone tries to throw a ball 50 feet and the ball only goes 10 feet because the person doesn’t know how to throw a ball, you might say, “Well, that was pathetic.” That was really so terrible you almost feel sorry for the person. Nancy asks, “How do your parents handle all that?” meaning how do your parents react, how do they view or take care of the situation?

Yasmani says, “They’ve always left us to our own devices.” “To leave someone to his own devices” (devices) means to let someone do something without interfering, without doing anything to influence his actions or decisions. Often this expression is used when someone does something that you don’t think is a good idea, or when someone shows bad judgment or makes a bad decision.

You might say, for example, “Children, when left to their own devices, will watch television all day instead of studying for school.” We’re saying there that if we don’t do anything to influence them or to control them perhaps, children will make bad decisions. I’m not saying that’s true, but that’s one possible use of that expression, and it is typically used when you’re describing a situation in which someone doesn’t make a very good decision.

Yasmani says, We just fight it out amongst ourselves,” meaning we just fight and our parents don’t do anything about it. Nancy says, “So there’s no loving bond between the siblings.” A “bond” (bond) here would mean a close relationship or connection between people. Yasmani says, “Oh, we love each other, but we compete with each other, too. It’s complicated,” he says, meaning it’s a situation that’s difficult to explain, perhaps.

Nancy says, “Then I should be glad to be an only child?” If you are an “only child,” you are the only child that your parents had. You do not have any brothers and sisters. You have no siblings. Yasmani agrees with Nancy. He says yes, you should be glad you are an only child. “Count your blessings!” he says. The expression “to count your blessings” (blessings) means to be grateful for, or appreciative of, the good things that you have.

Now, interestingly enough, I don’t think anyone who comes from a larger family would actually say what Yasmani says. I’ve never met anyone who comes from a family of more than three or four children who thinks that it would have been better had his family only had one child. But of course, I’m the youngest of eleven, so maybe I’m thinking if my parents only had one child, it wouldn’t have been me.

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

[start of dialogue]

Nancy: Isn’t this a great time of year? Families get together over the holidays.

Yasmani: Maybe it’s nice for some families, but I dread my family get-togethers.

Nancy: How come?

Yasmani: I have a big family and there has always been a lot of sibling rivalry.

Nancy: I’m sure that was true when you were growing up, but you’ve all grown out of it, haven’t you?

Yasmani: Not us. The firstborn still thinks he’s in charge, the middle children still act up to get attention, and the baby of the family is still rebellious.

Nancy: That’s true in a lot of families.

Yasmani: Yes, but when we get together, we compete to show up the others. We brag, argue, and nitpick. It’s rather pathetic, actually.

Nancy: How do your parents handle all that?

Yasmani: They’ve always left us to our own devices. We just fight it out amongst ourselves.

Nancy: So, there’s no loving bond between the siblings.

Yasmani: Oh, we love each other, but we compete with other, too. It’s complicated.

Nancy: Then I should be glad to be an only child?

Yasmani: That’s right. Count your blessings!

[end of dialogue]

We count our blessings that we have the wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse to write these wonderful scripts for us.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan, the baby of the family. Thanks for listening. Comeback 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
dread – to be scared, afraid, or worried about something that might or will happen; to not look forward to something

* Many people dread going to the dentist’s office.

get-together – a gathering; when many people meet to spend time together

* The sociology graduate students have a get-together at a local restaurant the first Thursday each month.

sibling rivalry – disagreements, fighting, and competition between brothers and sisters

* Their sibling rivalry never ends! Now they’re arguing about who does a better job of brushing their teeth!

to grow out of (something) – to no longer like, have, or do something, typically as a results of simply becoming older

* I liked playing with dolls when I was a little girl, but I grew out of it years ago.

firstborn – the oldest child in a family; someone’s first child

* In some cultures, the firstborn son receives the greatest inheritance.

in charge – in a position of power, authority, and control; responsible for someone or something

* Who is in charge of new product development?

middle children – the children in a family who are not the oldest and not the youngest

* In my family, I’m the oldest. Then there are three middle children, and our baby brother Henri.

to act up – to behave in inappropriate ways that gets attention; to behave badly in order to receive attention

* James has started acting up at school. Is something happening at home that I should know about?

baby of the family – the youngest child in a family

* Sharon is the baby of the family, and our parents let her do almost anything she wants.


rebellious – resisting or refusing to recognize or accept authority and control; asserting one’s own power and independence

* The new employees seem rebellious. They don’t want to follow our rules and procedures.

to show up (someone) – to do or say something to demonstrate that one is better than another person or superior in some way

* Some people view their high school reunion as a way to show up their former enemies by showing them how handsome, rich, and successful they are now.

to brag – to say something in a boastful or arrogant way; to talk about how good or successful one is

* During an interview, you want to talk about your accomplishments confidently, but without bragging.

to nitpick – to criticize very minor faults, shortcomings, or errors; to focus on negative, but relatively unimportant, things

* Stop nitpicking about punctuation and misspelled words. Instead, focus on the logic, flow, and organization of the essay.

pathetic – very poor or weak, with little or no value; not inspiring admiration

* Buying flowers for his girlfriend was Blake’s pathetic attempt to apologize for cheating on her.

to leave (someone) to (one’s) own devices – to let someone do something alone, without interfering or influencing his or her decisions or actions

* If left to their own devices, most children would rather play than do homework.

bond – a close relationship or connection between two people; a feeling of closeness to another person

* Do mothers who carry their babies have a stronger bond with their children than mothers who push their babies in a stroller?

only child – a person with no brothers or sisters; a person who is the only child of his or her parents

* Growing up as an only child, Yuki often dreamed of having a younger brother or sister.

to count (one’s) blessings – to be grateful for the good things that one has, or the good things that one has experienced

* At Thanksgiving, we all count our blessings and tell each other what we are most grateful for.

Comprehension Questions
1. In Yasmani’s family, who is least likely to follow the rules?
a) The firstborn
b) The middle children
c) The baby of the family

2. What do Yasmani’s siblings do when they spend time together?
a) They spread rumors about each other.
b) They try to demonstrate that they are better than the others.
c) They get into physical fights and shouting matches.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to show up

The phrase “to show up (someone),” in this podcast, means to do or say something to demonstrate that one is better than another person or superior in some way: “The competitors showed us up with better and more professional sales presentations.” The phrase “to show up” also means to arrive at a particular place: “What time did Togul show up for the meeting?” The phrase “to show off” means to behave in ways so that other people will notice one’s talents, abilities, or possessions: “Heather had a big smile on her face as she showed off her new sports car.” Finally, the phrase “to show (someone) the door” means to ask someone to leave, making it clear that he or she is not welcome anymore: “The bartender had to show some customers the door, because they were being too loud and annoying.”

bond

In this podcast, the word “bond” means a close relationship or connection between two people, or a feeling of closeness to another person: “They’ve been dating for years and have an incredible bond, but they still don’t want to get married.” When talking about finance, a “bond” is a document that promises that a bank or institution will pay back a certain amount of money, plus interest: “Gerald is too worried about losing his money to invest in high-risk stocks, but he does hold a lot of bonds.” A “bond” can also be a strong physical connection between two things: “Apply the glue and then wait for it to dry to get a strong bond.”

Culture Note
Famous Sibling Rivalries in Sports

Most sibling rivalries are limited to the home or “schoolyard” (the place where children play during the school day), with few “observers” (people who watch something) other than the parents. But a few famous sibling rivalries are being “played out” (shown for people to see) “in the public eye” (in the public; with the knowledge of many people), particularly in sports.

The sibling rivalry between tennis “stars” (someone who is very successful and well-known) and sisters Venus and Serena Williams is probably the best-known sibling rivalry in sports. They played their first professional “match” (one game in tennis) against each other in 1998, and have played against each other in many important tournaments, including at Wimbledon. Each woman has been named the top female tennis player and they play very “intensely” (with a lot of energy and concentration). Yet they also maintain a close relationship as sisters.

The Williams sisters are unusual, because they are both “at the top of their game” (playing very well). In most other sibling rivalries in sports, one sibling is better than the other. For example, brothers Michael and Ralf Schumacher are racecar drivers, but Michael is clearly a much stronger competitor than Ralf. This would seem to “exacerbate” (make worse) their sibling rivalry, but they continue to have a good relationship, and Ralf even joined his brother’s team.

Finally, brothers and football players Peyton and Eli Manning both play the “quarterback” position in the NFL (national football league). Peyton is considered to be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the sport, but he has won only one Super Bowl Championship, while Eli has won two.

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - b