Learn English – Podcast: The Prefabs

[odeo=23416774]

The only remaining prefabs in Birmingham. Near to where I live, there is a group of small houses. They are bungalows – that is, they are single-storey houses. There are gardens in front of the houses, and behind them; and most of the gardens are well-kept. There is something unusual about the houses, however. Most houses in this part of England are built of brick. These houses, however, are built of cement mixed with asbestos. They are what we call “prefabs”, or prefabricated houses, and they have an interesting history. At the end of the Second World War, there was a serious shortage of houses in Britain. Tens of thousands of homes had been destroyed by bombing. It was also necessary to find homes for all the servicemen returning from the war. The government decided to build 500,000 new houses to solve the problem. They thought it would be too slow and expensive to build proper brick houses, so they decided to build prefabricated houses instead. Prefabricated houses are made in sections in a factory. The house-builders then take the sections by lorry to the place where the houses are to be built, and fix them together. Houses of this sort are common in many other countries such as the United States. But they are very unusual in Britain. The government explained that the new prefabs would only be temporary. They would be taken down after 10 or 15 years, and proper houses would replace them. The prefab building programme started in the final months of the war. German and Italian prisoners of war built some of the first houses. Factories which had previously built military equipment were used to make the sections for the houses. In some cases, they used aluminium from old fighter planes. Things did not happen exactly as the government had planned. Prefabs turned out to cost more than normal houses, and in the end only about 167,000 of them were built. And they were not generally replaced with proper houses after 10 or 15 years; they had to last much longer. There were problems too about very poor insulation, which made the prefabs cold in winter, and leaking roofs. But for many working-class families, a prefab was like a dream come true. Previously, they had lived in cramped terraced houses in the centre of big cities, where they had little space or privacy. Their new prefab had a garden for the children to play in, and an indoor toilet, and a fitted kitchen with a refrigerator! Gradually, over the years, the prefabs were demolished. Often blocks of flats replaced them. The planners and architects liked the concrete tower blocks; but the people who had to live in them disagreed. The old prefabs – despite their problems – had been better, and closer to the sorts of homes that people wanted. Today, hardly any prefabs remain. Here in Birmingham they have all gone, except for the small group near my home. These have been refurbished, and they are now, happily, listed buildings, which means that they cannot be altered or demolished. They are a part of the social history of Britain, and it is good that they are still here. Quiz – how well did you understand the podcast? :: File Download (4:28 min / 2 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: Bank Holiday

[odeo=22478604]

We go to the seaside. We sit on the sand and eat ice-cream…. Photo by crunchcandy/flickr Irene, who lives in Germany, is a regular listener to these podcasts. She has sent me an e-mail to suggest that I make a podcast about “bank holidays” in England and the way that we celebrate them. Most countries have public holidays at various times of the year – that means, days when schools, offices and many businesses are closed, so that most people do not have to go to work. In England, our public holidays have the rather strange name “bank holidays”. The name comes from an Act of Parliament in 1871, which required the Bank of England to close on certain days during the year. The idea was that, if the Bank of England was closed, many other businesses would close as well, and that their employees could have a day off work. And that is in fact what has happened – the “bank holidays” have become general public holidays. Some of the “bank holidays” are at the times of the important traditional Christian festivals at Easter and Christmas. But the other holidays are not religious, they are secular. Unlike public holidays in many other countries, they are not on a fixed date every year. Instead they are all on Mondays, so that people can take a long weekend break if they wish. Tomorrow, for example, is the May Day Bank Holiday, which is on the first Monday in May every year. We have another bank holiday, the Spring Bank Holiday, on the last Monday in May; and another bank holiday on the last Monday in August. In Scotland and Ireland they have bank holidays on the feast days of their patron saints – St Andrew’s Day (30 November) in Scotland, and St Patrick’s Day (17 March) in Ireland. But although we poor English have a patron saint, St George, we do not get a holiday on St George’s Day on 23 April. This is not fair. So, what do we English do on our bank holidays? We visit friends and relatives. Or perhaps we stay in bed until lunch-time. We dig our gardens and we mow our lawns. We go to football or cricket matches. We go to huge out-of-town superstores to buy curtains and things for the kitchen. We do DIY jobs around the house, like painting the bedroom or putting up a new shelf in the bathroom. And if the weather is good, we get in our cars and we go to the seaside. There we sit on the sand and eat ice-creams. At the end of the day, we get back into our cars and drive home. We get stuck in enormous traffic jams on the motorways. The children argue and fight in the back of the car. We arrive home tired but happy late in the evening. A perfect bank holiday! It’s such a pity we have to get up in the morning and go to work. Grammar and Vocabulary Note :: File Download (3:59 min / 2 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: Sorry…

[odeo=23531253]

I think that there was a problem with the last podcast “Better”. Some people have told me that they cannot download it in iTunes. Here is another copy of the audio file. I hope it works for you! File Download (3:57 min / 2 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: The Great Train Robbery

[odeo=23663290]

This was the engine which pulled the train in the Great Train Robbery. The picture is signed by Bruce Reynolds, who planned and led the robbery. I think you know the English word “famous”. If someone is famous, it means that everyone has heard of them, that they are well-known. So, Beethoven was a famous composer, and the Eifel Tower is a famous landmark in Paris. But, suppose that someone is well-known for bad things and not for good things. Can we still say that they are “famous”? There are two words which we can use to describe someone or something which is famous for bad things – “infamous” and “notorious”. So, we would probably not say that Hitler for example was “famous”, we would say that he was “notorious”. This is a long way of introducing today’s podcast, which is about the most famous – or perhaps the most notorious – crime in Britain in the last 100 years. It happened 45 years ago, in August 1963. In those days our Post Office used to send mail from one part of the country to another in special mail trains called Travelling Post Offices. During the journey, the Post Office staff sorted the mail so that it was ready to be delivered the next morning. Some of the mail was valuable. For example, the banks used the mail trains to send banknotes around the country. In the summer of 1963, a group of criminals planned an attack on one of the Travelling Post Offices. They interfered with the railway signals in order to stop the train. Then they uncoupled the railway carriage which contained the banknotes, and used the railway engine to take it to a place where the railway crossed a bridge over a road. They threw 120 packages of banknotes over the bridge to other gang members, who loaded them into Land Rovers. The gang escaped with over £2.5 million pounds in used banknotes. This is equivalent to over £40 million today. It was at the time the biggest ever robbery in Britain. A few days later, the police found the gang’s hideout, in an isolated farmhouse. And in the weeks after that, the police found and arrested 13 of the 15 gang members. They were tried, and sentenced to long periods in prison. However, most of the stolen money has never been found. The story did not end there. Two of the gang members escaped from prison. Charlie Wilson fled to Canada. He was eventually brought back to England and to prison. Ronnie Biggs fled first to France, then to Australia, and then to Brazil. The British police found where he was, but they could not persuade the Brazilian courts to send him back to England. So Ronnie Biggs lived in Brazil for more than 30 years. He had a home and a family and friends there. But in 2001, when he was 71 years old, he returned to England. He said that he wanted to “walk into a pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter“. In other words, he was home-sick. I do not know if he was ever able to buy his pint of bitter in a pub, because he was arrested and sent back to prison, where he still is. The story of the Great Train Robbery has fascinated the British public over the years. Our newspapers reported every detail of the robbery, the capture of the gang, their trial, the escapes from prison and Ronnie Biggs’ return to England. Only a few weeks ago there were reports that Biggs, who is now old and ill, would shortly be released from prison. Why are we so interested in the Great Train Robbery? Some people sympathise with the robbers. They think that the Great Train Robbery was a clever, daring plan, and that the robbers were unlucky to be caught. Ronnie Biggs is the most famous (or the most notorious) of the train robbers, and many people therefore think that he was the mastermind behind the plan. The truth is more complicated, however. The robbery was not particularly clever. Ronnie Biggs was not the leader – in fact he played only a small part. The gang was too large – 15 people in all – which increased the chances that one of them would do something stupid. They had planned to drive the train themselves to the bridge where they unloaded the banknotes. But after they had stopped the train, they realised that they did not know how to drive the engine, so they made the real train driver drive it for them. And they left their fingerprints all over the train, and the farmhouse where they went after the robbery. So, was the Great Train Robbery Britain’s most famous crime? Or the most notorious crime? What do you think? Quiz – how well did you understand the podcast? :: File Download (6:10 min / 3 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: Eddie the Eagle

[odeo=22191982]

Every four years, the Olympic Games are held. This year – 2008 – is an Olympic year. The games are to be held in Beijing in China. As well as the main Olympic Games, there are also the winter Olympics. The winter Olympics are for snow sports – things like ski-ing, ice-skating and bob-sleighing. Like the main Olympic Games, they take place every four years. They used to be held in the same year as the main Games; but now they are held in the year mid-way between the main Games. The last winter Olympics were in 2006; the next winter Olympics will be in 2010, in Vancouver in Canada. Naturally, most of the winners in the sports at the winter Olympics are from countries with mountains and lots of snow – countries like Austria, Norway, Finland and Switzerland for example. In Britain, our mountains are quite small, and we do not have a lot of snow, so generally there are only a few British winners at the winter Olympics. But 20 years ago, in 1988, when the winter Olympics were held in Calgary in Canada, one of the British competitors became world famous. It happened like this. Michael Edwards was 13 when he first when ski-ing on a school ski trip. He loved it. He also had a childhood ambition to be a stuntman. A stuntman is someone who acts the really dangerous bits in films – where people fall through windows, for example, or drive a car over a cliff. So Michael decided that ski-jumping should be his sport. In ski-jumping, the competitors ski very fast down a long, straight slope and onto a ramp. They then take off and fly though the air, and land 100 or 200 meters further on. It is slightly less dangerous than jumping out of an aeroplane with no parachute. You have to be very brave or very stupid to do ski-jumping. It is not easy to be a ski-jumper in Britain. There are, to start with, no ski jumps where you can practice. Michael went to some of the top French and Austrian ski-jumping coaches to ask them for advice. However, as he did not speak any French or German, this did not help him much. Also, Michael was short-sighted. He had to wear thick glasses, that often steamed up as he went down the ski slope, so that he could hardly see where he was going. But he kept on practising and training, and in 1987 he entered the world ski-jumping championships in Obertsdorf. There were 98 competitors. Michael came 98th. The press started to call him “Eddie the Eagle”. Eddie (as we will now call him) then asked the British Olympic Committee whether he could represent Britain in the ski-jumping event at the winter games in Calgary. There were no other British ski-jumpers. So the Committee agreed that he could go. He borrowed some skis, and set off for Calgary. In Calgary, Eddie was in competition with some of the finest ski-jumpers in the world. His best jump was 73.5 meters. To me, this seems a very long way to fly through the air with skis on one’s feet. But top-class ski-jumpers regularly jump 200 meters and more. So Eddie did spectacularly badly in the Games, but he became one of the best known people in Calgary. Everyone laughed about him; and wondered whether he would be taken away in an ambulance after his next jump. He waved to the television cameras, and shouted “Hello Mum, it’s me” before he set off down the ski slope. We British love a brave loser, so we loved Eddie. The International Olympic Committee, the men in suits who run the Olympic Games, did not find Eddie amusing however. They changed the rules to make it much more difficult for someone like him to compete in future Games. The International Olympic Committee must be some of the most boring people in the world. So, at the next Winter Olympics in 2010, there will be some magnificent ski-ing, but there will be no-one like Eddie the Eagle. Eddie the Eagle on YouTube :: Quiz – how well did you understand the podcast? :: Vocabulary note :: File Download (6:03 min / 3 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: Up up up

[odeo=22409404]

Up! Photo by ezu/flickr When you learn English, you learn about phrasal verbs. What are phrasal verbs? They are verbs which are formed, not of one word, but of two or more words. For instance, if I come home from work and want to watch a TV programme, I go into my sitting room and I switch the TV on. “Switch on “ is a phrasal verb. And when I have finished watching the programme, I switch the TV off, or I turn the TV off – “to switch off” and “to turn off” are both phrasal verbs. We have thousands of phrasal verbs in English, and I could make podcasts about different phrasal verbs for the next year ( but don’t worry, I won’t!) However today, we are going to have a podcast containing lots of phrasal verbs with the word “up”. You know what “up” means, of course. “Up” is the opposite of “down”. You can climb up the stairs, and you can climb down the stairs again. However, lots of phrases and expressions containing the word “up” have nothing to do with “up” in the sense of “not down”, and this is very confusing. I am sure that you already know several phrasal verbs containing “up”. In the morning, you wake up. Then you get up. After that, perhaps you have some breakfast. When you have finished eating breakfast, you stand up, and clear the table, and wash up the dishes. And then perhaps you notice that your room is in a terrible mess – there are clothes and books and CDs on the floor. So you tidy up your room. Yesterday you spilled some coffee on the table. Now you clean it up, and you sweep up some cake crumbs that are on the floor. Then you set off for school. Today there are some roadworks near your house – some workmen are digging up the road, to repair a broken water pipe. The roadworks hold the traffic up, and you are nearly late for school. In your English lesson,your teacher asks the class to make up a story about a family going on holiday. First you make some notes about words and phrases which you might use. Then you start to write up your story. You have to look up some of the words in the dictionary. At the end of the lesson, your teacher says, “The time is up – please give me your stories and clear up your things before you leave.” It is time for lunch. Your friend calls out to you, but there are so many people making so much noise that you cannot hear what he says. “Speak up,” you shout, “I can’t hear you”. “Hurry up”, he says, “I don’t want to be late.” You are hungry, and you eat up all your lunch. After school, you have just got home when your cousin turns up. She has recently broken up with her boyfriend. You never liked her boyfriend – in your opinion he was silly and immature and needed to grow up. You don’t understand why she put up with him for so long. You try to cheer your cousin up by telling her all this, but it just makes your cousin more upset. You decide to shut up and change the subject. You suggest a trip to the cinema together. But your cousin says she is hard up and can’t afford to go. So you end up offering to pay for her cinema ticket. And now I am fed up with finding phrases containing the word “up”. I am sure there are many, many more of them. If you want to tell me, and all the other visitors to the Listen to English website, about your day, using phrasal verbs containing “up”, then please post a comment on the website. On the website, you will also find a short grammar and vocabulary note. Grammar and Vocabulary note :: File Download (5:16 min / 2 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: How much does the Queen cost?

[odeo=23038342]

Queen Elizabeth II Thank you all for your e-mails, and for your suggestions about subjects for future podcasts. A listener in France has asked, can I make a podcast about the Queen? And several other listeners have said that they would like some help with listening to numbers (which is always one of the most difficult things in any foreign language). I am going to kill two birds with one stone, as we say in English. This podcast is about the Queen, and also about listening to numbers. I have left gaps in the script where there are numbers,. Try to fill in the numbers as you hear them. You can check on the website whether you have heard them correctly. Queen Elizabeth (a)….. came to the throne in (b)….., following the death of her father, King George©…… She is now (d)….. years old, and she has been Queen for (e)….. years. She is the (f)….. monarch (that is, king or queen) since the Norman Conquest of England in the year (g)…… What sort of things does she do? The Queen has all sorts of official engagements in this country – visits to towns and cities, to schools and hospitals, to open new buildings and to attend official dinners. Last year she had (h)….. official engagements, which is (i)….. more than in (j)…… The Queen makes official visits to other countries too. Since she came to the throne, the Queen has made over (k)….. visits to about (l)….. different countries. Last year , she visited the United States, Uganda, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Queen sends messages of congratulations to everyone in Britain who reaches their (m)….. birthday. Since (n)….., she has sent (o)….. of these messages. She has also sent more than (p)….. messages of congratulation to married couples who are celebrating their “diamond wedding”, that is the (q)….. anniversary of their wedding. Last week, her office published the royal accounts for®…… The accounts show that the cost of the Queen’s official duties last year was £(s)…… This was £(t)….., or (u)…..% more than in (v)…… However, officials at the palace want everyone to know that in real terms, that is after allowing for inflation, the cost of the Queen has fallen by (w)…..% in the last (x)….. years. How much is £(y)…..? Well, there are about (z)….. people in Britain, so £(aa)….. is about (bb)….. pence for each of us. Palace officials, who try very hard to keep up with new technology and new fashions, have pointed out to the newspapers that (cc)….. pence is about the cost of a download from the iTunes music store. An important part of the cost of the Queen’s official duties is the cost of travel. Travel, in Britain and overseas, cost £(dd)….. pounds last year. The Queen has a special royal train. Our newspapers love to tell us how much the royal train costs. Last year the royal train was used only (ee)….. times. One of these trips was a visit which Prince Charles made to a pub in the town of Penrith – the cost was £(ff)…… However, palace officials have told the press that there are serious problems because several of the royal palaces need to be repaired. Altogether an extra £(gg)….. is needed for this. The roof at Windsor Castle needs to be replaced – this will cost £(hh)…… Many parts of Buckingham Palace in London have not been redecorated for over (ii)…..years, and the electrical wiring is over (jj)….. years old. It will cost £(kk)….. to rewire the palace, and replace the plumbing (that is, the water pipes and the drains), and to remove dangerous asbestos from the building. In fact, Buckingham Palace seems to be such a mess that I am surprised that the Queen still lives there. If you know of somewhere else where she could live temporarily, until Buckingham Palace is repaired, perhaps you could telephone her office and tell them The number is (ll)….. The Queen has her own web-site…. :: …and YouTube channel. :: Exercise and answers :: File Download (6:02 min / 3 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: Swimming the Channel

[odeo=22191979]

This week we meet the verb “to swim”; and we also meet a famous swimmer, called Captain Webb. The verb “to swim” is one of a very small group of English verbs where there are three different vowel sounds in three different tenses, like this: I swim I swam I have swum The other common verb which is like this is “to sing” (I sing, I sang, I have sung). A few weeks ago, I watched a television programme. A woman who was on the programme said that, when she was younger, she had swum the Channel. What does that mean? “The Channel” is the sea which lies between England and France. Its proper name is “The English Channel” but normally in English we talk about “The Channel”. We talk about “crossing the Channel”, which means that we are going to visit France or Belgium or another country on the mainland of Europe. The Channel is about 22 miles or 36 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, between Dover in England and Calais in France. There are regular ferries across the Channel, and a huge number of ships pass through the Channel on their way to ports in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. And some people swim across the Channel. Speaking personally, I do not enjoy swimming very much and I think that people who swim the Channel must be either very brave or very foolish. The English Channel is cold. It is also not very clean, and there are lots of ships which might hit someone swimming. But the distance across the Channel is about as far as it is possible for someone to swim in the sea. So it is a bit like Mount Everest – it is the big challenge, the final goal, for people who are keen on long-distance swimming. The first person to swim across the Channel was Captain Matthew Webb. He was 29 years old when he swam from England to France in August 1875. The crossing took him rather under 22 hours. His swim across the Channel made Captain Webb famous. There is a picture of him on the website, and – I hope – on your iPod screens. The Victorians liked their heroes to be tall, upright and handsome, and to wear a moustache; and you will see that Captain Webb is indeed tall, upright and handsome, and that he has a moustache. I think incidentally that the photographer who took the photo was working in a studio, and that the waves and the sea behind Captain Webb are painted and not real. Fifty years after Captain Webb’s great swim, only about 10 other people had managed to swim the Channel. It is interesting that nearly always they swam from England to France, and not the other way. Why? I have no idea! Since the 1920s many more people – about 1000 altogether – have made the great swim, including some who have swum from England to France and then back again. Modern swimmers swim much faster than Captain Webb – the fastest swim, by Petar Stoychev in August last year, took under 7 hours, only a third of Captain Webb’s time. A woman called Alison Streeter has swum the Channel a record 43 times; in fact, in 1992 alone she swam the Channel 7 times. And what happened to Captain Webb? Did he live to an old age, so that he could tell his grandchildren all about his great swim to France? I am afraid not. He became a professional swimmer, and wrote a book about – can you guess? – How to Swim. A brand of matches was named after him – there is a picture of a box of Captain Webb matches on the website. He did stunts like floating in a tank of water for 128 hours. And in 1883, 8 years after his Channel swim, he decided to swim across the Niagara River, between Canada and the USA, just below the Niagara Falls where the water is dangerous and fast flowing. Within a few minutes he had disappeared; his body was found four days later. It was a sad end for a very remarkable man. It is a long time since we had any music on this podcast. So here is a song by Amy Kohn called “1977 Swimming Lessons”. She is I think remembering swimming lessons in a swimming pool when she was a child. I hope you enjoy it. Music from the Podsafe Music Network :: An animation of this podcast by Renee Maufroid :: File Download (9:15 min / 4 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator

Learn English – Podcast: Stonehenge

[odeo=23531255]

A rainbow behind Stonehenge. This remarkable photo was taken by Lucille Pine/flickr In today’s podcast, we talk about some theories. We talk about things which may be true, or may not be true. We use words like “perhaps” and “maybe” and “it could be that..”. See how many examples you can find. We English have not lived in England for long. Our ancestors, the Saxons, came to England from northern Germany in the fifth century. They spoke a language which we call Anglo-Saxon or Old English. Over the centuries, Anglo-Saxon changed to become modern English. Before the Saxon invasions, people called the Celts lived here. The modern Welsh language is descended from the languages of these Celtic people. But the Celts had not lived in Britain for long, either. There were people here before the Celts came. These people had no written language, so they left us no manuscripts or inscriptions to tell us about them. However, they left us plenty of archaeological evidence – burial places, pottery, tools and so on. And they left us a remarkable and mysterious monument called Stonehenge. If you drive by car south-west out of London, along a road with the romantic name A303, you will reach Stonehenge after about an hour and a half. You will see a circle of great stones, with other stones placed carefully on top of them. There are other, smaller stones – called “bluestones”. Around Stonehenge, there are other ancient places – burial places, for instance, and ancient paths. The archaeologists tell us that Stonehenge was not all built at one time. The oldest parts of Stonehenge are about 5,000 years old. The “bluestones” came about 1000 years later, and the great circle of stones a few hundred years after that. The great stones probably came from a place about 40km away. They each weigh about 25 tonnes. Experts say that perhaps 500 men pulled each stone, while 100 more placed logs on the ground for the stone to roll over. The “bluestones” are even more remarkable – they are much smaller, about 4 tonnes each, but they come from Preseli in south Wales, a distance of nearly 400 km. How did they get to Stonehenge? Maybe people carried them on small boats, over the sea and along rivers. The big question is “Why?” Why did these people, four or five thousand years ago, build Stonehenge, and what did they use it for? Here are some of the theories: – Perhaps Stonehenge was a religious temple. Perhaps priests sacrificed animals or even human beings here. – Maybe Stonehenge was a centre of political power, a place built by a great and powerful king. – Possibly, it was a place to celebrate the dead, a place to send them on their way to the next world. – Or it could have been a place where sick or injured people came to be cured, like Lourdes in France is today. – Or Stonehenge might have been a place to watch the movement of the sun, moon and stars, and to forecast important events like eclipses. – Or, conceivably, it was all of these things, or it had different purposes at different times. Today, Stonehenge is an important tourist site, and a place for people who like to believe in magic. At the summer solstice (that is June 21st, the longest day of the year) people go to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise. This year, about 30,000 people were there. And, because this is England, it rained. Stonehenge website :: Pictures of people gathering to watch the summer solstice at Stonehenge :: BBC report Quiz – how well did you understand the podcast? :: File Download (5:14 min / 2 MB) Less

Learn English for free with podcasts.
Listen to English – learn English!

Copyright: All rights reserved by creator