Follow the news (part I)


Follow the news (part I)

What do you think this painting has in common with bitcoin mania?

This unit is for those who plan to live their lives and probably work with information in English – future teachers, interpreters, journalists and even diplomats. But this would be very wrong to direct your aspirations, focusing only on professional goals - you are going to be well-educated people of the 21st century. Thus, there are two aspects to be discussed below: personal and professional development in the context of global awareness and international affairs. There will be no “ivory tower-style” academic talk - we will be focusing on the small details that you will most probably find useful and interesting. Let us start with the problems of understanding the content of the news. Watch and enjoy:

There is no doubt that you understand the first minute of this drill. The second part of this video contained a little puzzle for many of you. John Belfort , the author of the Wolf Of Wall Street novel likened bitcoin frenzy with the so-called tulipmania back in the 17th century: “Remember, in the tulip bubble the beginning of the end is when they started to sell futures on tulips.” 

The story from

What Was the Dutch Tulip Bulb Market Bubble?

The Dutch tulip bulb market bubble, also known as 'tulipmania' was one of the most famous market bubbles and crashes of all time. It occurred in Holland during the early to mid-1600s when speculation drove the value of tulip bulbs to extremes. At the height of the market, the rarest tulip bulbs traded for as much as six times the average person's annual salary. Today, the tulipmania serves as a parable for the pitfalls that excessive greed and speculation can lead to.

A couple of words about Jordan Belfort: he is the former stockbroker whose story inspired the film The Wolf of Wall Street. He spent 22 months in prison for crimes depicted in the movie. Just one episode from the movie:

The answer to the question above: it is a 1632 oil painting by Rembrandt named The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Who was this doctor? He was born into the family of a prosperous Amsterdam merchant Pieterszoon. An ambitious young man Claes Pieterszoon picked the tulip as his heraldic emblem and changed his name to Nicolaes Tulp. He probably regretted this later as you might have guessed because he considered himself not only as a talented doctor but also a savvy businessman. This is an example of how history and the modern world are interconnected. Of course, we can learn new words in many different ways. For instance, the adjective “savvy”:

If you cheat and fail, you’re a cheater. If you cheat and succeed, you’re savvy.

Let us now discuss this simple model of linguistic competence upon which the English Patient platform was initially founded:

Critics, though, call this model simplistic (others use the word “vulgar”). For instance, the author of this unit received this letter from one of his colleagues:

The platform's very concept was based on the intuitive idea that to learn a language, one must be interested in the history and culture of the people who speak this language and use various drills to master the skills. You may ask, “Where is the grammar?” Ok, let it be included in the rectangle with the word “phrases” on it (see the diagram). Please also keep in mind that humankind lived 99% of its “verbal” history without thinking about grammar rules. Enjoy the definition of linguistic competence from one of the world’s leading linguists: The term linguistic competence refers to the unconscious knowledge of grammar that allows a speaker to use and understand a language. (Chomsky). The keyword is “unconscious”! But this is not the main point for us here – to question the role of grammar. “Facts” is the most important factor among those mentioned in the diagram above. To understand the news we must learn the facts trying to focus on the audio and video materials because language is based on emotions, thoughts and ideas. By the way, we must extend “facts” to the realm of fiction. For instance, it’s impossible to understand the history and the present without the George Orwell’s ideas and even characters from his novels. Real facts, however, are much more critical. Did you understand what brought tulipmania to an end? Remember what Belfort said: when they started to sell futures on tulips. You may say that this is economics, not linguistics, but who cares if your brain cannot process this information when you translate or teach? You have “to feed” into your memory different facets of the word “derivative”, for instance:

Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction (Warrant Buffet).

A derivative is a contract between two parties which derives its value from an underlying asset. Types of derivatives: futures, options, forwards and swaps. Please find out how the tulips grow and you will get the meaning of the word “futures” in this contest. For the mathematicians, though, “derivative” has an entirely different meaning. Have you ever heard, by the way, about the abbreviation WMD? During the world’s critical periods you can come across this term watching the news very often:

Iraq had used WMD against its own people and against its neighbor Iran. The German intelligence certainly believed that this was WMD… Iraq, indeed, had weapons of mass destruction…Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction…The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

Abbreviations hinder your understanding of the news. Never stop asking questions and be complacent. If you know what EU is, why not ask yourself about AU

The escalating crisis in Darfur has now cost Sudan the chance to lead the African Union for the second time. The issue’s dominated the AU summit taking place in Ethiopia, -… non-Africans being included in the 26,000-strong planned UN-AU peacekeeping force. Most African nations now have elected governments, but there are deep divisions over Zimbabwe. African leaders respect Robert Mugabe for his stand on land rights and, for that reason are reluctant to side with the EU against him. 

This is a very natural thing – to analyze recent news in the light of events that were taking place 5 or 10 years ago. This is what makes it interesting because subconsciously people also try to predict the future. But there is one more pleasure accessible only for people who not only follow the news but keep the records for 10-20 years. Imagine that you watch the video like the one you just saw and you know everything that is going to happen to Muammar Gaddafi in 3-4 years when his 42-years long rule has ended. 

You may have noticed that the ruthless dictator was not even mentioned in this video, though the TV cameraman obviously tried to focus viewers’ attention on this colorful figure. The TV reporter managed to stay “objective” using the word “most” before the phrase “African nations.” The thing is, Gaddafi managed to establish cooperation with some key members of the EU (2004-2008). Earlier, he admitted to Libya’s participation in shooting down Pan American airliner and paid compensations to the victims’ relatives. It would not be appropriate to criticize him this time. So, we cannot talk about BBC impartiality in this case but at least they did not lie. Knowing the future brings color to the “news” of the past, doesn’t it? If you follow the link above you will learn that the dictator was later sodomized and shot by the rebels supported by the US-led coalition of European countries. Rebels used US-made combat knife to torture the dictator, who often used rape to terrorize his political opponents. The weird backdrop for storing in memory events phrases and words…

One more useful abbreviation that triggers “blackouts” while watching the news – IMF:

It’s a legal case facing the former IMF chief. No bailouts for the head of the IMF. - …for the 10 bn EU-IMF loan. – The International Monetary Fund.

Quote from IMF’s website: The IMF's primary purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system—the system of exchange rates and international payments that enables countries (and their citizens) to transact with each other.

Let us focus for a while on purely academic issues though expressed in a very simple way. Look what happens when the blackouts are too frequent when you watch the news:

Black areas are the moments when your brain cannot process the meaning of the phrases due to different reasons. Grey areas inevitably follow after black ones since brains cannot “switch on” instantly because the understanding of the speech is based on the chain of words. Note that no one cares if the triggers that switch your brain off belong to “professional fields” (politics, economics) or seemingly unimportant names of the reporters and anchors. Example:

Well, right now he is in Greenland, so kids keep watching, keep waiting. I’m Isha Sesay…- Get the global picture of the day’s news in 30 minutes. 

It is not easy to recognize this name in the middle of the sentence or even in the end of it: Back to you, Isha. This split second when the name is pronounced is a typical example of the mentioned above triggers that “switch off” your perception. The legendary British rock band Pink Floyd created the album called Momentary Lapse Of Reason. We will use the abbreviation MLR. When the number of MLR per second exceeds the threshold, the watching stops, and the news is declared boring and irrelevant. The threshold varies from individual to individual. Did you notice in one of the previous videos the word “bailout”? It is the typical example of MLR

200 million dollars government bailout. – bailout the Irish government.

People create excuses very fast. For instance: “I don’t care about economics” protective philosophy. But how about the pilots who manage to bail out in time?

The two crew members bail out.

Someone may say that he or she is not interested in both economics and wars, but they should be prepared to extend this philosophy of ignorance to jurisprudence too:

But he’s free on 16-thousand-dollars bail. 

The word “ignorance” used in the previous paragraph refers to those who ignore and try to justify their lack of knowledge. There is nothing wrong in not knowing the facts, words, idioms etc. when you learn something new every day and never get complacent. Do you know this word, by the way?

Complacency = a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder

Watching news is the best way to garner useful words that you would hardly encounter in the movies or songs. 

We can’t be complacent, we have to stand out and say “enough is enough”. – People get complacent. It’s a natural instinct: you just won and now you’re happy, and you’re complacent. Don’t be complacent.

Two more examples of MLR phenomenon and complacency combined: imagine the hypothetical situation when you decided to study English and gain some experience washing dishes somewhere in New Orleans. It is a kind of “work and travel” adventure. You wash your dishes and keep the radio on. Then you hear that “The landfall is expected in 30 minutes and the levees will most probably not hold”. The problem is you never watched the news and you hated the unit on the English Patient platform when its author begged you to pay some attention to a couple of new words:

Isaak made landfall in Louisiana Tuesday night as a category one storm with winds of up to 130 kilometers per hour. Officials in New Orleans hope that billions of dollars in improvements made to the levee system will hold up against the power of Isaak. – When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans five years ago, the levees broke flooding the city.

Now we return from our hypothetical “work and travel” tour and immerse into the ocean depths to learn more about its inhabitants and experience some new MRLs:

It is no longer politics, economics, mereology or construction engineering, which some folks consider irrelevant. If you do not share their endless excuses and permanent lapse of reason (PLR), try to decipher the last video. We break it down so that you could concentrate your attention on the keywords.  

It is relatively easy to find out that the fish is GROUPER simply browsing the dictionary – окунь. The word before “grouper” is more difficult to identify. But those watching the news regularly come across this idiom quite often:

They saw him as a David who could stand up to the Goliath of America. – Yeah, this seems like a real David and Goliath battle. 

There is, however, one more sort of groupers. If you remember the European capitals, you can easily can pick up the word before “grouper” at the end of the video. It is one of these:

Now we can get more information about this great catch: Two Florida men are celebrating the catch of a lifetime after they hooked a whopping 300-pound fish known as a Warsaw grouper. The super-sized fish lives in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it’s known as one of the hardest creatures to hook — and even harder to reel in.

Why Warsaw? Let it remain a mystery. Simply because the author of this unit experienced here MLR

To understand the phrasal verb “to reel in” and probably memorize it forever, please try to grasp the meaning of the newspaper headline that you will see in the following video:

But Prince Charles can't hide or protect Diana anymore. The picture of them makes the front page. When she arrives at work Monday Morning, she finds her world turned...(unfinished sentence).

Watch the last video of this unit and make the right decisions if you are still in the grip of PLR.

This was the last call…

The next unit contains a lot of video fragments from the recent CNN and BBC news. They are meant to help you fight your MLRs.  

Специализируемся на развитии навыков говорения и понимания реальной речи на слух. Используем только оригинальные материалы.