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上一篇:006 Topics: Healthcare in the United States; Johnny Cash; as if; to get (one’s) ya-yas; to put an animal to sleep

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007 Topics: Television in the US, Spelling Bees in Schools, Policy versus Politics, Pronunciation in Minnesota

时间:2018-05-01   访问量:2940   View PDF
Complete Transcript
You’re listening to English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café number 7.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 7. 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

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the system of television channels and stations in the United States. We’re also going to talk about an interesting American custom, or tradition, called the “spelling bee.” And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café talking a little bit about television in the United States. There are lots of television stations in the U.S., especially in our larger cities. A “television station” (station) is a company that broadcasts, or sends out, television signals to people located in a certain area. For example, here in Los Angeles we have probably 15 or 20 television stations. These are companies that broadcast television signals to people who have televisions here in Los Angeles.

We need to distinguish between a television station and a television channel. A “television channel” (channel) is a group of television stations that all broadcast or play the same programs, or many of the same programs, on their individual television stations. A “television channel” is usually operated by, or run by, a television network.

In the United States, there are four large television networks: “ABC,” which is the American Broadcasting Corporation; “CBS,” the Columbia Broadcasting System; and “NBC,” the National Broadcasting Company. There's also a fourth network called “Fox” (Fox). These four television networks are some of the largest and most well-known. In almost every large city, you will be able to find a television station that plays programs from one of these four major television networks.

The most common type of television until recently was “broadcast television.” “Broadcast (broadcast) television” refers to television stations that send out the television signals electronically over what we call the “airwaves.” Broadcast television works by putting an antenna on the top of your house or on the top of your television in order to receive the electronic signals. Normally, the television antenna goes on what's called the “roof” (roof), which is the top of your house.

More recently, however, television has changed significantly. Now there is a way of getting television signals without an antenna. One of these ways is called “cable television.” A “cable” (cable) is basically a long wire that connects to your television on one end, and to the equipment of the cable television company on the other end. The company actually runs, or puts, a long wire through your house and into your television set. Sometimes the cable plugs into, or goes into, a special box. Sometimes it goes directly into your television. In either case, we would call this way of getting television “cable television.”

The advantage of cable television is that there are a lot more television channels – a lot more television networks. In fact, there are hundreds of television channels on cable television systems in the United States, which means in almost any city in the United States you can get cable television and get 100, 200, even 300 television channels. Of course, all of them have the same garbage, but if you want 300 channels of garbage, you can get them now on cable television.

The other way of getting television into your house – not counting, or not including, the Internet – is through “satellite television.” “Satellites” (satellites) are machines that go around the earth – far, far above the earth – and basically broadcast signals down to a special kind of antenna called a “satellite receiver” or a “satellite antenna.” The “satellite antenna” receives its signal from this machine high above the earth and then sends the signal down to the satellite box, or satellite machine, that you then use to select the television channel you want to watch.

In the United States, there are currently two large satellite television companies. One is called “Dish TV.” Why “Dish TV”? Well, that special satellite antenna I mentioned a minute ago is called a “satellite dish” because it actually looks like big round dish that you put on top of your house. I have a satellite dish on my house. The other large satellite television company is called is called “DirecTV.” Both Dish TV and DirecTV have very similar channels. One of the advantages of having DirecTV over Dish TV is that you are able to get certain sporting events, especially baseball games. But Dish TV also has a lot of different sporting events as well.

There is one more U.S. television network I want to talk about that has many different broadcast stations affiliated with it, or connected with it, which is “PBS,” the Public Broadcasting System. PBS, unlike most television stations and networks, is a nonprofit organization. When we say something is “nonprofit” (nonprofit), we mean that they're not trying to make money – not trying to make a profit.

It is called the “Public Broadcasting System” because it receives some money from the U.S. government, but only a very small amount – much less than the amount of money given to public television networks and channels in other countries. For example, in Great Britain they have the “BBC” – the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC gets a much higher percentage of its money from the government than PBS does here in the United States. Most of the money that PBS receives is from large companies or from individuals who send in donations to their local station.

There’s usually one public television station – one station that has the PBS programs – in a large city. Sometimes, as is the case here in Los Angeles, there’s more than one public television station. PBS, like other television networks, produces, or makes, its own television shows or programs. However, many of the most popular programs on PBS in the United States are not made by PBS itself, but rather by other companies, especially by the BBC.

One very popular program on PBS in the U.S. is a BBC drama series once known as Masterpiece Theater. The word “Theater” was dropped from its name in 2008, so it is now known simply as Masterpiece. A “masterpiece” (masterpiece) is something that is of a very high quality, one of the best of its kind. We might refer to a great work of art as a “masterpiece.” The BBC series Masterpiece often features stories based on famous novels in English, although sometimes they’ll show programs based on novels or stories from other languages. Masterpiece is one of the most popular programs on PBS. I watch it quite frequently, because the programs are usually of a very high quality.

Our next topic is something which you won't find in most countries, I don't think, but which has been very popular in the United States for more than a hundred years: the spelling bee. Normally when you think of the word “bee” (bee), you think of a small black and yellow insect that makes a buzzing sound and makes honey. That's one kind of bee. However, a “spelling (spelling) bee (bee)” is very different. A spelling bee is a contest, a competition in which usually schoolchildren must spell various English words correctly in order to win.

The teacher or the person who's running the contest gives a word to the student, and the student then has to spell the word out loud correctly. In many languages, spelling is not that difficult, because the sounds and the letters have a very close, what we would call, “correspondence” – whenever you see a certain letter, it's almost always pronounced the same way. But in English, as you know, that's not true. Words can be spelled in many different ways, with many different combinations of letters, and so spelling is considered by many to be more difficult in English than in other languages.

So, spelling bees are competitions, most often among school-age children, to see who can spell the most words correctly. Spelling bees first became popular in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century. The first spelling bee was sponsored by a national teacher’s group, the “National Education Association,” in 1925. Also in 1925, there was a newspaper called the The Courier-Journal in Louisville which organized a spelling bee for the state of Kentucky. Kentucky is located in the eastern central part of the United States.

This newspaper got the idea of inviting other newspapers in other states to have spelling bee competitions in their areas, with the winners of those competitions going to a national spelling bee. The efforts of The Courier-Journal to organize a national spelling bee were extremely successful, and more than two million students participated in the contests leading up to the National Spelling Bee competition. There were, of course, spelling bee competitions long before 1925, but this is when it became especially popular and became something that was done as a national competition.

In 1925, there were nine student finalists, each representing one of the nine newspapers that had participated in this contest. The children were all sent to Washington, D.C., for this first national spelling bee. The first winner was an eleven-year-old boy. His prize was $500 dollars, which was a lot of money back in 1925. It’s a lot of money today. The spelling bee increased in popularity after the first contest in 1925. By 1941, another newspaper company, The E.W. Scripps Company, took over organizing and running the spelling bee. Later, in the late 1950s, the Merriam-Webster dictionary company became the official source of words for the spelling bee.

By the late twentieth century, spelling bees had become so popular that it was not uncommon for more than 200 finalists to travel to Washington to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In fact, spelling bees have become so popular that there are now children from other countries who speak English and participate in the American National Spelling Bee. The winners of the spelling bee receive $30,000 in cash and prizes. So, as you can see, the amount of money you can win from one of these spelling bees is quite large, although most children probably don't participate for the money so much as for the honor and recognition they receive by winning this competition.

I mentioned that there are now non-Americans who participate in the spelling bees, and in 1998, a girl from Jamaica won the National Spelling Bee here in the U.S. Spelling bees continue to be very popular even today, close to a hundred years after they were first organized on a national level. One of the largest national sport networks, ESPN, even broadcasts, or shows, the National Spelling Bee on its television channel every year. They’ve been doing that for close to 20 years.

The words in the spelling bees have gotten more difficult over the years, in part because more and more children are participating in the spelling bees, and in part because more children are literate – can read and write – than a hundred years ago. I won't even try to give you some of the words that these children try to spell. It is not necessary for the children to know the definitions of the words, however; they just have to know how to spell them.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Marat (Marat) in Moscow, Russia. Marat wants to know if people who live in different parts of the United States pronounce things differently. For example, do people who live in Minnesota, where I'm originally from, pronounce some words differently than do the people who grew up here in Los Angeles?

The answer is yes – there is definitely a difference. Sometimes I pronounce words more like they would be pronounced back in my home state of Minnesota than the way they are pronounced here in Los Angeles. I've lived in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, so my pronunciation is not as Minnesotan as it once was. However, as in many countries, you can often tell where people are from by listening to how they pronounce words – by listening to what we would call their “accent” (accent).

One of the most distinctive or unusual things about the way people pronounce words in Minnesota is the way they pronounce words that have an “o” in them. In Minnesota, the “o” sound is longer than it is in other parts of the country. People say “Minnesohta” instead of “Minnesota.”

Our last question comes from Nicole (Nicole), from an unknown country. Nicole wants to know the difference between the words “policy” (policy) and “politics” (politics). The word “policy” refers to any rule or regulation that is created by an organization. A policy is basically a rule about how something should run or operate in an organization.

Sometimes you’ll hear the word “policy” used to mean the same as “plan” or “program.” The government may talk about having a policy to help poor people. Here, a “policy” is really a plan or a program to help poor people. It's not so much rules and regulations as it is a program that they have, in this case, to help people who need money.

“Politics” is anything related to the way the government or large organization works. Usually when we talk about politics and government, we’re talking about people trying to get elected – trying to become president, trying to become a member of the U.S. Congress, and so forth. That's all part of politics.

“Politics” can also refer to certain situations that you would find in a large organization. In this context, it's usually used in a negative way. When someone says, “I don't like the politics of my office,” it means that person doesn't like the way people interact with each other in the office – maybe some people talk badly about their co-workers, or perhaps some employees are treated better or worse than others. That could all be considered part of “office politics.” However, “politics” is most commonly used to refer to things related to the government.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2006 by the Center for Educational Development.

channel – a television network; a number assigned to a group of television signals that belong to one station or one network

* Lynn’s favorite comedy show comes on at 8:00 p.m. on Channel 3.

station – a business that sends out television signals to people located in the same city or area

* When power went out at a local Indianapolis television station, no one could watch the news on that station that evening.

to broadcast – to send information through electronic signals; to send digital or electronic information through the air to televisions or radios

* Three different television stations broadcasted the governor’s speech, allowing thousands of viewers to watch it.

airwaves – the method used to send and receive electronic information, like radio and television signals; the atmosphere through which invisible electronic information is sent

* It’s amazing that our little local radio program travels through the airwaves to reach radios located throughout the Miami area.

network – a company that sends and receives television signals from different stations in different cities

* The major news networks compete for viewers across the country, and some networks are more popular in certain parts of the country than others.

roof – the top covering of a house; the outside surface of the top of a building

* There is a small hole in the roof of the garage, causing water to leak inside whenever it rains.

cable television – a type of television service that one pays for, which is sent to individual homes through the use of a special wire that goes into house and plugs into the television

* Jake needs to move his TV set near a cable outlet so that he can get cable television.

public television – a television station that is paid for in part or in full by the government and/or the public

* Romelia enjoys the drama, travel, and educational shows on public television.

non-profit – a group or organization whose purpose is not to earn money, but to provide a service or assistance

* Mr. Hartwick wanted to raise awareness and money to support cancer research, so he started a non-profit organization.

masterpiece – a great work of art, music, writing, or other form of entertainment; a wonderful product or result created using expert skills

* Chau had already written several novels, but her latest novel is a true masterpiece.

spelling bee – spelling competition; a contest in which students take turns spelling out words from memory, and any student who fails to spell a word correctly loses the contest

* Ted won his third grade class spelling bee after correctly spelling the word “ferocious.”

bee – a flying insect, usually black and yellow, that has a stinger, makes honey, and makes a buzzing noise as it flies

* Kimberly swatted at the bee as it buzzed around her head, and the bee stung her.

pronunciation – the act of saying and forming the sounds of speech, including the way that letters are said aloud

* People often have trouble with the pronunciation of Marcellus’s name, and many people say it incorrectly.

accent – the unique manner of forming sounds influenced by the location one lives in; minor differences in speech between speakers of the same language who grew up in different areas

* People from the South think that Northerners speak in a strange way, but people from the North think that Southerners are the ones who have an accent.

policy – a rule or regulation created by an organization

* After a client complained that the office workers appeared unprofessional, the office created a new policy that employees were no longer allowed to wear jeans, t-shirts, or sneakers to work.

politics – the way a government or large organization works; the methods and plans used by people in an attempt to gain power or leadership in a government or organization

* Jean didn’t like office politics and having to cheat or play tricks in order to get promotions and pay raises.

What Insiders Know
“Jumping the Shark”

We get a lot of everyday expressions from TV and the television “industry” (business). One term that people use quite often is “to jump the shark.” We use this term to talk about something that was “once” (at one time) good or well respected taking a “swan-dive” (going down very quickly) in quality.

A “swan” is a beautiful, white animal that swims on the water and is considered “graceful” (with fine and beautiful movements). A “swan-dive” is what a swimmer does when he or she wants to fall into water from a high place, with his or her arms spread out on either side of the body until close to the water.

The phrase comes from an old TV show called “Happy Days.” The show was “on the air” (shown) for many years and it was well liked. However, in one of the last seasons, one of the main characters has to “water-ski” (wear metal sticks on his feet to ride on the water while a boat is pulling him) and jump over some “sharks,” some very big and dangerous fish. Most people watching thought it was “ridiculous” (silly) and a “sure sign” (indication) of a good TV show taking a swan-dive. That’s why this “phenomenon” (type of thing) is called “jumping the shark.”

We can use this phrase in other situations, too. For example, an old and respected company that is failing and is trying very hard to get new customers might jump the shark by using a “tasteless” (using poor judgment; offensive) advertising campaign. Used in this way, people usually jump the shark when they are “desperate” (feeling hopeless and willing to try anything) and will do anything to “stay on top” (remain popular or respected).

上一篇:006 Topics: Healthcare in the United States; Johnny Cash; as if; to get (one’s) ya-yas; to put an animal to sleep

下一篇:008 Topics: Charles Dickens, Night, Dr. Phil, Sundance Film Festival, Donald Trump, Very vs. Really, Pretty vs. Quite