Monday, January 14, 2013

A Menu of Links

"Blue Water Lillies" by Claude Monet, 1916

These are some links to important indexes for convenient reference.

1. Pronunciation: Listen and fill the blanks.

Index of the Vowel Sounds

Index of the Consonant Sounds

2. Grammar Practice: Basic to High Intermediate

Basic English Grammar

Grammar Practice

3. Conversation Practice: Listen, repeat, practice.

Exchanges Index

Grammartalk Index

Dialogue Workout

4. Reading and Listening: Listen and read. Then, try your listening comprehension skills by just listening without looking at the text. These are links to many articles and stories on a variety of subjects.

American Short Story Index

American History Index

Explorations Index

Art and Architecture Index

Music and Musicians Index

Biography Index

5. Improve your English by learning new words and idioms.

Vocabulary and Idioms

6. Special help and guidance using the Mission Language Lab system of websites

EFL Sessions

7. Student Writings

New Mission Journal

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Treating Hypothermia" from VOA

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report in Special English.

Last week, we talked about ways to avoid cold-weather injuries. This week, we are going to talk about emergency treatment of hypothermia.

Hypothermia can be mild, moderate or severe. Mild hypothermia is something that most people have experienced if they live in cold climates. You feel so cold that your body starts to shake -- not very much, but uncontrollably.

The treatment for mild hypothermia starts with getting out of the cold and, if necessary, changing into dry clothes. Drinking warm, non-alcoholic liquids and eating something sugary can stop the shivering.

Taking a warm bath or sitting by a fire or doing some exercise can also help the body warm up. These are all common sense treatments.

But treatment needs change when people enter the moderate or severe stages of hypothermia. In that situation, their body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius. They lose the ability to think clearly. Their muscles become stiff. They might bump into things or fall over objects.

We got advice from a park ranger experienced in search-and-rescue for the National Park Service. She explained that rescuers will first try to prevent additional heat loss. They will place extra covering around the chest, head and neck of hypothermia victims to keep them warm.

It is important to work fast to get people out of the cold. Hypothermia victims need medical help as soon as possible. But it is equally important to move them slowly and gently.

Any rough or sudden movement can force cold blood from the arms, legs and hands deep into the warmer middle of the body. The sudden flow of cold blood can create shock, a serious condition. It can also cause a dangerously abnormal heartbeat.

The process of “rewarming” a person needs to be done slowly, in a hospital setting. Members of search-and-rescue teams have a saying, that victims are not dead until they are warm and dead.

An extremely low body temperature can cause the heart to beat so slowly that a pulse may be difficult to find. In other words, a person who is suffering from the effects of severe cold may seem dead, but still be alive.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Christmas in the 19th Century" from VOA


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith with THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English. Today we present a special program on Christmas traditions in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century.


A German postcard.
Christmas trees were
small in the 19th Century.
During this period, Christmas was a very different kind of holiday than it is today. There was no set way of celebrating the day, which was not yet an official holiday. Communities around the country honored the day in different ways. Some observed Christmas as an important Christian religious day honoring the birth of Jesus. Others celebrated the day with parties, music, drinking and eating. And, some communities did not celebrate the day at all.


But, it was during this period that Americans began to reinvent the holiday by combining ancient Christmas traditions from different cultures with modern American influences. You can think about the historical people we have been talking about, Andrew Jackson, Martin van Buren and others, and the ways they too might have celebrated Christmas.



Geoffrey Crayon and Guests
In eighteen nineteen, the popular American writer Washington Irving wrote a series of five essays published in a book called "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent."


The essays describe a wealthy British landowner who invites his farm workers into his home to celebrate Christmas. The landowner recreates a traditional Christmas as it would have been celebrated in the distant past. Irving praised this looking back to ancient traditions. He liked the idea of different levels of society coming together to enjoy a festive and peaceful holiday. Washington Irving seemed to express concern about the lack of such unifying Christmas traditions in modern America.


Penne Restad wrote a book "Christmas in America: A History." It shows how Americans began to slowly shape Christmas into a unifying national holiday during the first half of the nineteenth century. She describes how Christmas had different meanings for Americans who came from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Many immigrants brought Christmas traditions from their own countries.


Religion played a big role in how an American might celebrate the holiday. Calvinist Christians banned the celebration of Christmas. But groups such as Episcopalians and Moravians honored the day with religious services and seasonal decorations.


By mid-century, Christian groups began to ignore their religious differences over the meaning of Christmas and honored the day in special ways.



Christmas became an important time for families to celebrate at home. More and more Christian Americans also began to follow the European traditions of Christmas trees and giving gifts. Christians believed that the tree represented Jesus and was also a sign of new beginnings. German immigrants brought their tradition of putting lights, sweets and toys on the branches of evergreen trees placed in their homes.


This tradition of setting up a Christmas tree soon spread to many American homes. So did the practice of giving people presents. As these traditions increased in popularity, the modern trade and business linked to Christmas also grew.


Louisiana Snowless
Sleigh Ride
As Christmas became more popular, some states declared the day a state holiday. Louisiana was the first state to make the move in eighteen thirty-seven. By eighteen sixty, fourteen other states had followed. It was not until eighteen seventy that President Ulysses Grant made Christmas a federal holiday.


Americans already knew old Christmas songs that came from England and other areas of Europe. But many new American Christmas songs started to become popular. For example, in eighteen forty-nine, a religious leader from Massachusetts wrote the words to "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." The song "Jingle Bells" appeared seven years later. And, a year later, a religious leader in Williamsport, Pennsylvania wrote the song "We Three Kings of Orient Are."



Santa, napping on the job
And of course, no discussion of Christmas would be complete without talking about of one of the holiday's most famous representations, Santa Claus.


This character is based on the story of Saint Nicholas, a Christian holy person believed to have lived in the third century. Saint Nicholas became known as a protector of children. In his role as a Christmas hero, different cultures have given him different names. These include Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle and Father Christmas. But for most Americans his most popular name would become Santa Claus.


In the nineteenth century, many Dutch immigrants living in the United States celebrated the feast of Saint Nicholas on December sixth. Saint Nicholas was especially important to New Yorkers because of their history as a Dutch colony. In eighteen-oh-nine, Washington Irving published his "History of New York." It lists Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of New Yorkers. He describes the saint wearing a low hat, large pants, and smoking a pipe. Does this description sound familiar?


Clement Clarke Moore
In eighteen twenty-two, an American professor named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem that redefined the image of Saint Nicholas. It was called "Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas." He did not expect it to be published. He wrote it as a Christmas present for his young children. In recent years, experts have questioned whether Moore actually wrote the poem.


Some believe it was written by Henry Livingston, a map maker in New York who wrote and published funny poems in his spare time.


But whoever wrote this classic poem, it has since become a favorite around the world. This poem combines the traditions of Santa Claus, seasonal decorations and gift-giving that have come to define Christmas in America. We leave you with Clement Clarke Moore's poem, popularly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."



'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and Saint Nicholas, too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"



Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. Jim Tedder read the poem. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online at Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION. And happy holidays from all of us in VOA Special English.


1. Saint Nick says, "Now dash away, dash away, dash away all". Who is he talking to?
a: the people in the house
b: the man who is spying on him
c: the objects below
d: his eight reindeer

2. The new American Christmas song "Jingle Bells" was written in ____________.
a: 1849
b: 1856
c: 1870
d: 1860

3. Saint Nicholas, a Christian holy person from the 3rd Century AD is the basis for today's famous mythic figure: ____________________ .
a: Sinterklaas
b: Kris Kringle
c: Father Christmas
d: Santa Claus

4. Washington Irving, in "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent" applauds a wealthy British landowner who _____________________ .
a: creates the first Christmas tree farm
b: gives his farm workers the day off
c: invites his farm workers into his home to celebrate a traditional Christmas
d: turns on electric Christmas lights to make his mansion look festive

5. In 1870, President _________________ made Christmas an official national holiday.
a: Ulysses Grant
b: Abraham Lincoln
c: Woodrow Wilson
d: Franklin Roosevelt

6. From this article, you can probably conclude that, in the 19th Century, Christmas was more ________________ it is today.
a: popular than
b: religious than
c: expensive than
d: important than

7. The tradition of putting up a Christmas tree with lights and decorations comes from immigrants from _________________ .
a: Spain
b: Italy
c: Germany
d: Ireland

8. "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was probably written by ____________________ .
a: Santa Claus
b: Michael Jackson
c: Clement Clarke Moore
d: Henry Livingstone

9. Penne Restad wrote a book called "Christmas in America: A History". In it, she tells how in the first half of the 19th Century ________________________ .
a: many immigrants brought Christmas traditions from their own countries
b: Americans decided Christmas shouldn't be a national holiday
c: Christmas had the same meaning for everyone, regardless of their backgrounds
d: Most Americans didn't celebrate Christmas

10. "The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below" means that ______________________________________
a: the moon was not full so that objects outside were not clearly visible
b: snow covered everything so, even though there was a full moon, nothing could be seen
c: the combination of the full moon and the white snow made it seem like noon outside, so that it was easy to see anything on the lawn as though it were daytime
d: the strange light from the moon reflected by the snow made objects appear to be different from what they really were

'Twas the Night Before Christmas from Youtube. This recording by Milton Cross was one of the most popular recordings in the 1950s:

Christmas Traditions

Welcome to the Mission Language Lab Network of websites.

For the story you're looking for, click on Christmas Traditions.

Please remember our website. Think of it as your personal library and school. If you're an English learner, there is a lot do here. It is a fine supplement to whatever class you're taking in English. If you cannot attend an English class, you get practically all that you need right here. Mission Language Lab is designed by an experienced ESL teacher who understands exactly the process of learning English. John Robinson has taught thousands of students from many different countries. Throughout his 30 year career, he has paid careful attention to the needs of his students and taken very seriously their ideas and input. From this information and based on his knowledge, he has assembled a large storehouse of exercises and articles. Here you will find a quantity of conversation practices in the form of dialogues. They all called Grammar Talk, Dialogue Workout, and Exchanges. For pronunciation, you will find Consonant Practice and Vowel Practice. For grammar, you'll discover every point of grammar in the English language. First, there is Basic English and then Grammar Practice for intermediate and high intermediate English.

John Robinson has gathered and written articles and stories for the Mission Language Lab Network of websites. For many of these articles, there is a comprehension check to test your understanding of the article you're reading. This activity is very helpful in learning reading. For each article, there is an audio player so that you can listen and read at the same time. Since 2009, students have found these articles very helpful in their learning progress. Then, there is the content. It is very important for your mind to experience a diversity of content. That's why the articles cover a wide range of subjects: history, science, art and architecture, music, biography, and literature. These subjects reflect a Liberal Arts education. For the entire thousand year history of the University the Liberal Arts were prominent. It is only recently that higher education training has shifted to greater emphasis on specialization and courses in art and music have been cut or greatly diminished. This is an unfortunate trend because many studies have confirmed that a broad Liberal Arts background can make you a more well rounded person and a better and more creative worker. Liberal Arts gives you the joy of discovery and the happiness that can result for honoring your curiosity and exploring new worlds and at the same time, you're learning more English. This is known as a "Win-win situation".

WELCOME TO MISSION LANGUAGE LAB. Hope you enjoy the article you wanted to read and that you'll explore more articles and exercises here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Early Native Americans" from Voice of America

This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Sarah Long with THE MAKING OF A NATION, a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States. Today, we tell about early Native Americans.

Scientists believe that the native peoples of America came here thousands of years ago during the last ice age. These people settled the land from the cold northern areas to the extreme end of South America.

As the groups of people settled different parts of the land, they developed their own languages, their own cultures and their own religions. Each group's story is important in the history of the Americas. However, it is perhaps the tribes of the central part of the United States that are most recognized. They will be our story today.

In 1804, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark led a group of explorers to the Pacific Ocean. They were the first educated Americans to see some of the native tribes of the Great Plains.

And they were the first white people these Native American people had ever seen.

When the group of explorers neared the eastern side of the great Rocky Mountains, they met with a tribe of Indians called the Shoshoni. Merriwether Lewis was the first to see them.

Shoshoni Village
after the first snowfall
Let us imagine we are with Merriwether Lewis near the Rocky Mountains almost two hundred years ago. Across a small hill, a group of sixty Shoshoni men are riding toward us.

The first thing we see is that these men are ready for war. Each is armed with a bow and arrows. Some carry long poles with a sharp knife on the end.

They are riding very fast. Some horses seem to be without riders. But a closer look shows that the men are hanging off the sides, or under the horse’s neck. They are using the horses' bodies as protection.

The horses are painted with many different designs that use blue, black, red or other colors. Later we learn that each design has a special meaning for the man who owns the horse. Each one tells a story.

For example, the man riding one horse is a leader during battle. Another has killed an enemy in battle. One of the designs protects the horse and rider.

As they come nearer, the Shoshoni group sees that we are not ready for war. They slow their horses but are still very careful. Merriwether Lewis holds up a open hand as a sign of peace. The leader of the Shoshoni does the same. They come closer.

The Shoshoni are dressed in clothes made from animal skin. Most of these skins are from deer or the American buffalo. The shirts they wear have many designs, and tell stories like the designs on the horses. One shows a man has fought in a battle. Another shows a man has been in many raids to capture horses. Still another shows the man saved the life of a friend.

Shoshoni Medicine Man
Captain Lewis smiles at these men. He again makes a hand sign that means peace. The signs are now returned. Lewis and the Shoshoni chief cannot speak each other's language. They can communicate using hand signs.

One young Shoshoni man comes near. He drops to the ground from his horse. He is tall and looks strong. His hair is black in color and long. He wears one long bird feather in the back of his hair. Some of his hair is held in place by animal fur.

His arms have been painted with long lines. We learn that each line represents a battle. There are many lines. But we leave the Shoshoni without him adding another one.

The Shoshoni were only one of many tribes of native people who lived in the Great Plains area. The life, culture and society of these tribes developed because of the land that was their home.

The Great Plains today is still huge. Even in a car, traveling at one hundred kilometers an hour, it can take two long days of driving to cross the Great Plains. The plains reach from several hundred kilometers north in Canada across the middle of the continent to Mexico in the south.

In the East, the Great Plains begin near the Mississippi River and go west to the huge Rocky Mountains. It is the center of the United States. There are big rivers here, deserts and mountains. Other areas are so flat that a person can see for hundreds of kilometers. Millions of kilometers of this land were once covered by a thick ocean of grass.

The grass provided food for an animal that made possible the culture of the Indians of the Great Plains. The grass fed the bison, the American buffalo.

The buffalo was the center of native Indian culture in the Great Plains. The huge animal provided meat for the Indians. But it was much more than just food. It was an important part of the religion of most of the native people in the Great Plains.

The Lakota tribe is one of the people of the Great Plains. The Lakota are sometimes called the Sioux. They believed that everything necessary to life was within the buffalo. Another Plains tribe, the Blackfeet, called the animal "My home and my protection."

The back of the huge buffalo provided thick skin that was used to make homes for the Plains Indians. Other parts were made into clothing. Still other parts became warm blankets. Buffalo bones were made into tools. Nothing of the animal was wasted.

No one knows how many buffalo were in North America when Merriwether Lewis first met the Shoshoni. But experts say it was probably between sixty million to seventy-five million.

Another animal also helped make possible the Indian cultures of the Great Plains. Native Americans first called these animals mystery dogs, or big dogs. They had no word for this animal in their language. We know it as the horse.

No horses existed in North America before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s in what is now the southern part of the United States. Native peoples hunted, moved and traveled by foot. Traveling long distances was difficult, so was hunting buffalo.

The horse greatly changed the life of all the people of the Great Plains. It gave them a method of travel. It provided a way to carry food and equipment. It made it easier and safer to follow and hunt the buffalo. The horse made it possible to attack an enemy far away and return safely. The number of horses owned became the measure of a tribe's wealth.

Spanish settlers rode horses to the small town of Santa Fe in what is now the southwestern state of New Mexico. They arrived there in about the year 1609.

Sioux Chiefs on Horseback
It is not known how native peoples in Santa Fe got the first horses in the country. Perhaps they traded for them. Perhaps they captured them in an attack. Many tribes soon were trading and capturing horses.

By the 1750s, all the tribes of the Great Plains had horses. They had become experts at raising, training and riding horses. They became experts at horse medicine.

Each Indian of the Great Plains could ride a horse by the age of five. As an adult, a young man would have a special horse for work. Another horse would be trained for hunting. And another would be trained for war. An Indian warrior's success depended upon how closely he and his horses worked together.

George Catlin was an artist who traveled a great deal in the early American west. He painted many beautiful pictures of American Indians. Mr. Catlin said the Plains Indian was the greatest horse rider the world has ever known. He said the moment an Indian rider laid a hand on his horse he became part of the animal.

Plains Indians ledger art.
They used paper from ledger books
to make paintings and drawings
The buffalo and horse were extremely important to the Plains Indian. Because the horse made hunting easier, more time could be spent on things like art. The Plains Indians began to make designs on their clothing, and on special blankets their horses wore. Even common objects were painted with designs.

The coming of white settlers to the Great Plains was the beginning of the end of the buffalo and horse culture of the American Indians. Settlers did not want buffalo destroying their crops. The buffalo were killed. By the year 1885, the Indians of the Great Plains were mostly restricted to area of land called reservations.

Many of the Great Plains tribes that survive today work hard to keep their traditional cultures. They produce art, music, and clothing. They keep alive the memory of these people who added greatly to the history of America.

This MAKING OF A NATION program was written by Paul Thompson. This is Sarah Long. And this is Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.


1. White settlers in the Great Plains killed the buffalo because ______________ .
a: the farmers didn't want the buffalo to destroy their crops
b: the buffalo provided the settlers with a very good source of meat
c: the buffalo skins helped the settlers to make convenient shelters
d: the buffalo supported the Native Americans who were the enemies of the whites

2. The horse made hunting easier for the Plains Indian. Therefore, more time could be spent ___________________ .
a: drinking and dancing
b: creating art
c: planning war strategies
d: redesigning reservations

3. For the Shoshoni, the colorful designs on their clothing __________________ .
a: were for the purpose of frightening enemies
b: were used to attract the opposite sex
c: told important stories about the life of the wearer
d: were for the purpose of eventually making money

4. Merriwether Lewis greeted a Shoshoni using an open hand. The best meaning for this gesture is "___________________."
a: I want to ask a question
b: I'm lost. Tell me where I am.
c: I come in peace.
d: I want to buy your horse

5. The Plains Indians became experts with the horse. They probably got the horse from __________________ .
a: tribes in Canada
b: Spanish settlers around 1609
c: the painter, George Catlin
d: Merriwether Lewis and other explorers of the west

6. Scientists believe native peoples came to America ___________________.
a: Two and a half million years ago
b: during the last Ice Age
c: soon before the American Revolution
d: soon after the Declaration of Independence

7. The Shoshoni people who Merriwether Lewis met lived _______________________ .
a: in what is now the state of Oregon
b: in California
c: near the Mississippi River
d: east of the Rocky Mountains

8. "Mystery Dog" is one of the first names Plains Indians gave to the ________________ .
a: horse
b: buffalo
c: whites
d: wolves

9. Another name for the American Buffalo is the ______________________ .
a: mystery dog
b: Lakota
c: bison
d: Blackfeet

10. "My home and my protection" is the Blackfeet description of _____________ .
a: Saint Louis, Missouri
b: the buffalo
c: the horse
d: the United States Cavalry

This is a beautiful video celebrating the Sioux with images and music: