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Lesson 34 English Small Talk Topics: What is ok and what is not?


"Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it," so goes an old saying. Perhaps the safest of all small talk topics is the weather. Whether good or bad, a comment about the temperature or sky condition (sunny day, cloudy day, rainy day, etc. ) never offends. Commenting on the crowded traffic or the late bus, or high prices in the department store (immediate conditions) is also always appropriate. Similarly, most people do not mind talking about their work, family, or school life, either, since for most people these are experiences held in common. Even so, asking whether someone is married or not crosses over into personal information and therefore should be avoided. If the speaker happens to mention that he or she has children or is married, however, it is all right to pursue the topic.

Asking such questions as "How much do you weigh? How old are you?" or "How much do you earn?" are taboo in English, at least as starters for conversation. Only when friends are close would they ask such questions of each other. Likewise, for most people, religious or political convictions or exual mores are considered private matters. These should not be discussed until one speaker offers his opinion first. It is not necessary, though, to respond in kind. The other speaker can change the subject to show that this is a taboo subject.

Foreigners are usually "forgiven" the "indiscretion" of asking others offending questions. Still, it is not a good idea to wear out one's welcome. When a subject has been turned down, only a tactless person would pursue it. Being sensitive to others' feelings and sense of privacy will win more friends and influence more people than a reckless line of questioning. When curiosity seems to be getting the upper hand, remember that "Silence is golden."


Lesson 35 Hot Aminals around the World: The Panda

Some countries have adopted an animal as a kind of national mascot. The bald eagle is often thought of as representing the United States, for example. New Zealanders proudly display their kiwi, a native flightless bird. Australians cannot seem to make up their minds whether the koala or the kangaroo should represent them. China also has two animals which often stand out in everyone's mind: the dragon and the giant panda. As the dragon is a mythological animal, that leaves the giant panda as the only real animal representative of China.

Although dragons have been associated with China for thousands of years, the panda's inclusion into the Chinese psyche is far more recent. The giant panda was not even discovered until 1869; it was already a rare animal at that time, living in the high bamboo forests of Sichuan province and neighboring parts of Tibet.Its more plentiful cousin, the lesser panda, is also referred to as the cat bear or bear cat; however, zoologically speaking, it is neither. The lesser panda is a member of the raccoon family, whereas the giant panda's classification is still a dilemma: some authorities consider it a member of the bear family while others maintain that it belongs to the raccoon family, too.

The giant panda is well named. Reaching a length of 1.5 meters and 160 kilograms, this gentle omnivore is among the largest land animals of China. Subsisting on a diet of bamboo and other plants, and even small animals, it can consume as much as 30 kilograms of food a day. Now that's a giant appetite! Its distinctive markings--broad, white bands of fur alternating with black, and small black circles around the eyes--have endeared the giant panda to animal lovers everywhere.

People may want to hug this huge "teddy bear," but giant pandas prefer to live a solitary life. This may account for their scarcity; these pandas are on all official lists of endangered animals. Estimates of the wild panda population are difficult due to the rugged terrain they live in, but most experts agree that fewer than 1000 remain free. As they give birth to only one or two cubs when mating is successful,the giant panda's survival in the wild is anything but a foregone conclusion. The Chinese government has set aside 11 nature preserves where pandas are known to exist, hoping to protect them from the rapid encroachment of man. Though poaching is still a problem, strict laws have reduced this senseless carnage.

Pandas in captivity number less than 100, the largest share, of course, in China. Those in Western zoos are treated as royalty and are the object of intense scientific interest and care. Recently, veterinarians have given male giant pandas Viagra, hoping to increase the animals' reproductive efficiency. Results are thus far inconclusive. Though births have been reported, they are few and far between it. It seems the panda's chance of survival is razor-thin.

Its extinction would be a sad day for all of mankind. These playful and gentle creatures never fail to amuse adults and children alike lucky enough to observe them in zoos. Every plant and animal that leaves the world due to human intervention and encroachment of habitat diminishes the world we live in. The richness of the Earth's original biodiversity is being attacked. Will future generations of humanity be left with only a few species of food plants, and zoos exhibiting cockroaches and rats?

Hopefully, men will learn the excesses of their ways and strive to protect the remaining natural habitats as an investment not only in the flora and fauna remaining but in the quality of life present and future, of all those on this planet. "Extinction is forever" and "There is only one world" need no longer be heard if everyone becomes conscious of preserving the beauty of the natural world around us.


Lesson 36 Vancouver: Asia's Newest City



What? Wait a minute! Did I read that right? I thought Vancouver was in Canada, not in Aisa. Why is the title of this article "Vancouver: Asia's Newest City"?

Relax, everyone. yes, Vancouver is still in Canada, North America's largest country, not in Asia. Over the past twenty years, however, Asians from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, and other countries across the ocean have flocked into this largest city on Canada's Pacific coast. By some accounts, as many as 30% of households in Vancouver speak Mandarin or Cantonese, making the Chinese there the largest minority by far. Just what is the attraction of this English-speaking city, however?

A visit to Vancouver quickly reveals her charms. Situated on the ocean and possessing a fine, deepwater port, British Columbia's largest city faces Vancouver Island to the west and mountains to the east and north. Most of the city is relatively new, having been rebuilt after a great fire in 1886. The completion of the Panama Canal in 1915 during World War I helped spur growth all along the West Coast of North America, as products from the western states of the United States and the western provinces of Canada could be profitably shipped to Europe. By the 1930s Vancouver had become Canada's third-largest city, a position it maintains today. Lumber from the extensive forested areas within the province, minerals, seafood, and assorted industries. including tourism, give the million-plus residents of metropolitan Vancouver a high standard of living.

The city itself is comfortable and attractive. A large central park called Stanley Park includes a zoo, gardens, arboretum, and aquarium! The University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University are located in the greater Vancouver area, as are many small and quaint farming and fishing villages within a few hours' drive. Scenic, unpolluted, and prosperous: who could ask for anything more?

Certainly not the Chinese. Although limited immigration from the Far East began as early as the 19th century, it was not until the 1970s that immigration to both Canada and the United States began to increase significantly. By the 1980s, the steady stream had become a flood. Today, Vancouver's Chinatown is said to be North America's second largest. Given the large numbers of Chinese living in the much larger cities of New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, that represents astonomical growth.

Vancouver's Chinatown is located within walking distance of the downtown area, as are most Chinatowns in North America. Here one can find both traditional Chinese herbal stores and fresh food markets as well as small retail and service businesses. From mid-May to September, Friday to Sunday evenings from 6:30 to 11:30, both Chinese and "foreign" visitors to this area might mistake themselves as being in Shanghai or Hong Kong. For daytime visitors, the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Gardens is a must, offering beautifully landscaped floral gardens. The nearby Chinese Cultural Center conducts walking tours of the historic district and even a slide show revealing the historic development of the area.

Of course, Vancouver has much more ot offer its residents and out-of-town and overseas visitors. Though--or perhaps because--it lacks the manic energy of East Coast cities of North America or those of modern Aisa, Vancouver continues to attract new residents with its serene, safe, and, well, sane lifestyle.


Lesson 37 The Germanic Languages



Most people have heard of the Tower of Babel story in the Bible. According to this story, long ago all people spoke the same language. Later, however, they were punished by speaking a great number of different tongues. Today, there are literally thousands of different languages (defined as mutually unintelligible tongues) around the world, though many are related to one another. Indeed, the two largest language families, the Indo-European (the language family with the largest number of speakers) and Sino-Tibetan (containing the Chinese languages, Thai, Vietnamese, and Tibetan) include hundreds of languages with over half the world's population.

Because there are so many languages within the above two super-categories of language families, linguists have further divided these linguistically rich and geographically diverse families into subgroups, one of which, the Germanic language group, has the second-largest number of speakers (Chinese being first). Within this groups of over 500,000,000 speakers is the world's foremost international language, English, foremost in terms of its geographic spread and number of second-language users. German, spoken by just over 100,000,000, people, is one of the world's ten-largest languages in terms of population. As English and German speakers constitute the majorities in several of the world's most economically, militarily, and technologically developed countries, it is important to be familiar with this particular language grouping.

Linguists further divide the Germanic languages into three groups, two extant and one extinct. East Germanic languages are no longer spoken; Gothic is an example of this small and historic grouping. Afrikaans, Dutch, English, Flemish, and German are the more important languages within the West germanic grouping. The Scandinavian languages of Danish, Lcelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish comprise the North Germanic grouping. Though these languages cannot be easily understood among their different speakers, the similarities in vocabulary are striking.

Take for example the two largest languages with this group, English and German. The word Haus in German is house in English, with nearly the same pronunciation. Some names of German family members are instantly recognizable to English listerners and readers: Mutter, Bruder, and Onkel for the English mother, brother, and uncle (all German nouns are capitalized in print). Other German family members are easily learned: Vater, Schwester, and Tante for the English father, sister, and aunt. Thus, those who know English and want to study German find their first year of learning vocabulary to be relatively easy. The same is true, of course, for those who want to learn Dutch or Danish from an English or German background; these many similarities are due to the single common parent language of all the Germanic tongues, even though this "grandfather" languages no longer exists.

Speakers and writers of the Germanic languages account for a great deal of the world's output in everything from economics to literature to military to science and technology. Hardly an aspect of modern life does not benefit from the contributions made by those using these languages, as in the Internet, Hollywood entertainment, Dutch (Phillips) and Scandinavian consumer goods design (Ericsson, maker of cellular phones, is a Swedish company, as are Volvo and Saab), and even the Nobel prizes (awarded by both Norwegian and Swedish Institutes). More than one-third of the world's economic production originates in these countries, too.

For any speaker of a language outside the Germanic language group preparing to choose a useful second language for the future, English is probably the best bet. German, too, is very useful in the fields of medicine, economics, military, and science and technology. Being able to communicate with others in this far-reaching linguistic group will offer the user immeasurable benefits.


Lesson 38 Learning how to apologize


What are the hardest words to pronounce in English? It seems that "I'm sorry" are the two most difficult words for most people to say. Perhaps this difficulty lies in the so-called "losing of face"; perhaps when a person apologizes, he lowers himself before another. Yet no one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. After making a mistake, people should apologize to set things straight with others.

Two phrases in English often confuse non-native users of this language. These phrases are "I'm sorry" and "Excuse me". The latter is used to ask for information, as in "Excuse me, (but) do you have the time?" or "Excuse me, (but) can you tell me whether there is a postoffice near here?" "Excuse me" is also used when it is necessary to disturb others, as when one person interrupts two others speaking: "Excuse me for interrupting, (but) I have to leave now." Another example of the proper usage of this phrase is when, as a stranger, you want to point something out of benefit to someone, as in "Excuse me, (but) I believe you dropped something out of your wallet." Another common instance of using "Excuse me" is in crowded elevators, stores, or lines when a person needs to get through or get out. "Excuse me, (but) this is my floor" is a very handy phrase to learn when in crowded elevators. In all these cases, "Pardon me" may also be used; however, it is more often used in British than in American English.

When is "I'm sorry" used? For more serious incidents. Stepping on someone's toes on a crowded bus, though not intentional, should elicit an immediate "I'm sorry." Bumping into someone even on a crowded street where it is difficult not to also calls for "I'm sorry." careless or late work in school or in the office requires out apology to teachers, colleagues, or employers. Being late for meetings or dates needs both an apology and often either a reason for the tardiness or an explanation of what course of action will be taken to eliminate any future possibility of recurrence. No one likes to be wronged, intentionally or otherwise. Saying "I'm sorry" can go a long way towards rectifying an awkward situation.

Even more importantly, saying "I'm sorry" is necessary when intentional harm has been done. The borrowing of an item without first informing the owner---who later discovers the "theft" ---can be quite embarrassing. A simple but sincere "I'm sorry" might repair the damage done. Careless comments or insults which offend others may be ameliorated with that simple phrase, though sincerity in voice and gesture make all the difference. Similarly, young lovers, often exaperated in unrequited love, may purposefully hurt each other, only later to profoundly regret what they had done. At these times, a heartfelt "I'm sorry" may redress the pain of the one inflicted by lover's arrows. Even better, "Pleave forgive me" may be used, as it is considered a stronger expression of remorse.

Learning to apologize in another language does not excuse speakers from practicing the same good manners in their mother tongue. So many people lament the coldness of modern society; human relationships have been worn thin from constant urban pressures. Part of this problem seems to be that people no longer use such simple words as "please," "thank you", and "I'm sorry". They cost nothing, but can bring a wealth of pleasure or relief to those who hear them. They require little effort, yet these few syllables can enliven someone else's day. So, why not use them whenever possible?



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