Mon, 30 April 2012
Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on(1) a vast reservoir of groundwater. They say that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. The British Geological Survey and the University College London team has produced the most detailed map yet(2) of the scale and potential of this hidden resource. Across Africa more than 300 million people are said to (3) not have access to safe drinking water, and the demand is growing because of population growth and the need for agriculture. "Where there is the greatest ground water storage is in northern Africa, in Libya, Algeria and Chad," said Helen Bonsor from the BGS. In fact, according to the studies, there are aquifers even across sub-Saharan Africa. Water, over many years, can collect in the spaces between rocks underground, and even in the tiny spaces inside sandstone. This watery, wet stone area is an aquifer. The water found in these reserves(4) is usually cleaner than surface water. These huge bodies of water are equivalent to(5) a quarter of the Mediterranean Sea, or three times the Red Sea. The British experts caution (6) that drilling for water should be done carefully, and with a lot more research. The UK's secretary of state for international development, Andrew Mitchell said, "This is an important discovery which the British Government has funded, and could have a profound effect on some of the world's poorest people, helping them become less vulnerable."(7)
1. 'To sit on' can be used to say "He sits on the chair", but it can also be used figuratively with words like 'a fortune' or 'a time bomb'.
a. That boy comes from an extremely wealthy family; he's sitting on a fortune, and doesn't even know it.
b. That situation is like sitting on a time bomb; any day disaster can strike.
2. 'Yet' can be used in many instances. In this particular case, it means 'so far'. Here are 2 similar examples:
a. I have had fifteen job interviews, and the last one was the best one yet.
b. I have tried this new cookie recipe a few times, but this batch (collection of cookies) is the best one yet.
3. 'To be said (to)' can be followed by a positive or negative verb, or the verb 'to be' followed by an adjective.
a. The whole population is said to be musical.
b. Now, after the disaster, the ground, the river, and the plants are said to be radioactive.
4. 'A reserve' means a place where something is conserved, either naturally or deliberately.
a. Because the bird is so vulnerable, an island in the very south of New Zealand has been dedicated as a reserve for the kiwi.
b. Poland, apparently, has some of the biggest reserves of salt in the world.
5. 'Equivalent to' basically means 'equal to' or 'the same as'.
a. My son and his grandmother are equivalent in height.
b. The time we spend sleeping is equivalent to a quarter of our lives.
6. 'To caution' is a verb that means to warn. Note the difference in these two following sentences.
a. We cautioned him about driving fast.
b. We cautioned him that driving fast in icy weather would be a mistake.
7. 'Vulnerable' is another way of saying easily affected, weak, or exposed. The pronunciation is a bit tricky, as the 'l' isn't always silent.
a. He feels vulnerable without his glasses on.
b. Hopefully, as Africa utilizes its vast water reserves, its people will no longer be vulnerable to drought or famine.
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Wed, 25 April 2012
Today's podcast is going to test your knowledge of ethanol. What is it? How is it made? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of using it? I asked myself these questions recently, when I drove past a gas station that had a sign saying 'No ethanol in our gas'. I asked myself why it would be good to not have ethanol in petrol? I remember hearing about large amounts of the stuff being produced in this country, and how some people are for it, and others are against it. So, what exactly is ethanol, and what are the issues surrounding it(1)? Ethanol is a fuel that, for a long time has been produced from corn. In the U.S., the government subsidized (2)corn growers for many years specifically for the production of ethanol. But, why would they do this? First of all, a desire to be self sufficient was at the heart of this project. If you can produce your own energy, then there is no longer any need to rely(3) on other countries. Secondly, some believe that the cost would be less than petrol. Thirdly, ethanol reduces greenhouse gases(4) by 18%-29%. Ethanol is easily mixed with petrol, so all cars can use gas (petrol) that is 10% ethanol. There are some cars that can use 85% ethanol with 15% gas. Continuing research has raised questions(5) about ethanol. If we are using millions of acres of agricultural land to produce corn that nobody eats, surely this will raise food prices globally. Also, farming corn is costly, and uses a lot of gas and gas products when you think of the heavy machinery, the transportation, and the petrol-based chemicals used on the plants. How much cleaner is this biofuel than traditional gas? And, should the government be spending tax payers' money on subsidies for a process that isn't overwhelmingly (6) beneficial? Well, as I continued to research ethanol, I found that globally, research has improved its production, and removed the two major problems: using food for fuel, and only reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a small percentage. Apparently, a new ethanol, called cellulosic ethanol is now produced from nonfood crops, such as bark, corn stalks and leaves, and switchgrass. These are agricultural and industrial leftovers, and switchgrass is a rapidly growing weed that is used to prevent erosion. So, instead of expensively growing corn, we can use by-products. Just think of the savings. The carbon footprint(7) is tiny compared to that of growing, transporting, and processing corn. And, talking about our carbon footprint, cellulosic ethanol reduces greenhouse emissions by 85%. Now, that is substantial. Don't you think that collaborative(8) research is always our best route to good ideas? Globally, this is already believed, because research into improving ethanol and making its production efficient and highly beneficial is continuing. Facilites for production are all over the globe, the biggest one being in Italy. People want a home-based, clean alternative to fossil fuels; it will improve global health and national economies. So, on our list of cleaner energy sources, we can add cellulosic ethanol.
1. 'The issues surrounding ..' means the important questions or problems that are linked to something. The phrase gives a good visual of a central idea or thing being surrounded.
a. There are lots of issues surrounding the government's political agenda.
b. There are a lot of questions surrounding his proposal.
2. 'To subsidize' is when money is given to a project to protect and enourage it.
a. The corn growers of the U.S have been subsidized for many years.
b. Tax payers' money is often used to subsidize projects.
3. 'To rely on' is the same as to depend on.
a. I rely on him to tell me the truth.
b. We rely on email to keep in touch with family and friends.
4. 'Greenhouse gases'
a.Greenhouse gases are the gases produced by burning fossil fuels, such as coal or petrol.
b. Greenhouse gases can be reduced by using clean energy sources.
5. 'To raise a question' is slightly different from 'to ask a question'. It is less specific; the question might not have been vocalized yet. It might just be in someone's mind.
a. His actions raised a few questions in my mind: is he fit for the job? Does he need more training?
b. I'm sure questions will be raised when the employees hear about him leaving the company.
6. 'Overwhelmingly' here is used as an adjective, but of course, it comes from the verb to 'to overwhelm'.
a. The votes show that she is overwhelmingly the most popular singer.
b. I was overwhelmed by your act of kindness.
7. 'Carbon footprint' is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we cause on a personal level.
a. This year, I'm going to do all that I can to reduce my carbon footprint.
b. There are some simple ways to reduce our carbon footprints, like recycling, and turning off lights that don't need to be on.
8. 'Collaborative' comes from the verb to collaberate, meaning to work together and share ideas.
a. The project was a collaborative effort; many experts were involved.
b. If we collaborate, we will probably find the best solutions to our problems.
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Remember, the app of A Cup Of English is available in iTunes.
Tue, 17 April 2012
Waiting, waiting, waiting. It's difficult to do sometimes. I found myself waiting a couple of weeks ago at Seattle International Airport. My sister and my two nephews were coming for a two week visit, so I made the three hour drive over the mountains to pick them up. I don't often go to Seattle, but I love to. It's a gorgeous place, if you like forests, the sea, and modern buildings. So, I take any opportunity I can to drive there. The airport is actually outside of Seattle, half way between Seattle and Tacoma, and is therefore called Sea-tac airport. It is a smart, modern facility that, believe it or not(1), smells of coffee. How wonderful! You might think that I'm joking, but it's true. You know that Seattle is where Starbucks started, and Seattle is known for being the coffee capital of the U.S. In fact, it has more coffee houses per 100,000 residents than the U.S. has overall(2). So, even the airport is fully equipped with coffee all over the place. While I waited for my sister to arrive, I found myself(3)at one of the many coffee shops. I bought my soy latte, and wandered around a magazine shop. The plane had come in on time, there was no delay(4). However, because the flight was an international one, my sister and her boys had to go through immigration(4) and customs(4). That is a time consuming necessity. Also, the flight was full, so the two hundred or so sleepy passengers took extra long to arrive at baggage claim. I kept on returning to the arrivals escalator, to see if anyone from the flight had turned up. Nope(5). It took about an hour and a half for the travelers to arrive. It was interesting to stand back and see the different people step off the escalator. There was a real mix of shapes and sizes, ethnicities, and demeanours(6). Some people were dressed professionally, pulling behind them small, black cases on wheels, and obviously focused on business. Others were more casual, looking for family or friends, and openly emotional. There was a tall, military man returning from service abroad(7), who was greeted by his young wife and three year old daughter. She had stood at the top of the empty escalator and called "Daddy, daddy!" impatiently. When he finally arrived and picked her up, she stared at him for a long time with an unsure, curious expression. Then came the stragglers(8): a very hairy man carrying a large, framed picture, a tall African lady with tons of luggage, and a skinny young man with a huge cello case. What a variety of people! Then, last but not least(9), my sister and her two boys came up the escalator with big smiles. Finally, they were here. We hugged and kissed, and immediately started chatting and giggling about the journey. We picked up the luggage and were in the car before we knew it.
1. 'Believe it or not' is not an essential phrase. It is light hearted and introduces the idea that something interesting or unusual will be mentioned:
a. My daughter has, believe it or not, joined a traveling circus.
b. Believe it or not, that very small shop grossed half a million dollars last year.
2. 'Overall' is another way of saying 'all together' or 'in general' or 'added up':
a. There were some imperfections, but overall the performance was a success.
b. The population, overall, prefers coffee to tea.
3. To find oneself can be used with any person:
a. We found ourselves pennyless, out of petrol, and in the middle of nowhere.
b. So, you met the prince in the party, and before you knew it, you found yourself in the palace! Unbelievable!
4. 'Delay, immigration, customs' are all useful words to do with international travel.
a. The plane was delayed, I had trouble in immigration, and customs confiscated my Elvis toothbrush!
b. The plane was on time, thank goodness. My visa was still valid, so I got through immigration quickly, and then I had nothing to declare in customs.
5.'Nope' is basically 'no' but with attitude. It is used frequently in the U.S.
a. Do you want to go out tonight? Nope!
b. I've lost the receipt for the bookshelves. Could you look for it? Nope!
6. 'Demeanor' means the manner or behavior of someone:
a. She looked elegant and formal, but her demeanor was unsure.
b. I can tell by his demeanor that he is confident.
7. 'Abroad' is often used instead of 'overseas'. The two are interchangeable:
a. She will study abroad for six months to learn a different language.
b. They had studied overseas all year, and had decided to stay longer.
8. 'Straggler' describes the odd, few people who are the last to arrive, either from a journey, trip, or race:
a. At the end of the Tour de France we see the stragglers coming in. Some are well known cyclists who unfortunately fell off their bikes, and others are less known riders.
b. The displaced villagers got to the shelter by nightfall, the stragglers arriving by midnight.
9. 'Last but not least' is a quick way of saying "I'm mentioning this person last (on the list) but he is just as important as anybody else".
a. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Princess Sofia, Prince Filipo, and, last but not least, their little sister Princess Angelica.
b. Here we have to crown your dinner tonight, last but not least, a pineapple chocolate bomb for dessert.
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Thu, 5 April 2012
Science can be so exciting. I was listening to the BBC World Service the other day while I was driving in my car. Their series called Science in Action, which, by the way, comes out in podcast form, is a lively presentation of the most up-to-date science innovations(1). I don't always listen to it, but the other day I was on my way to pick up the kids from school, when I turned on the radio just at the right time. By the time I reached the Middle School, I was bursting to(2) tell my boys the latest scientific news. They were impressed. Since then, I have told everyone I have been around. Well, you shouldn't keep good news to yourself, should you? There were two main points that I managed to catch(3). The first discovery was made by an Australian scientist who has been involved in genetically engineering plants. He and his team have successfully managed to grow and harvest from a salt tolerant(4) wheat plant. It can grow in salty soil, which up until now has been impossible for many kinds of grains. Changing its genetic makeup allows the plant to keep the salt at its roots, so it doesn't get into the plant and affect it at all. Just think what that could mean for global production. That kind of wheat could be grown in many more areas, and perhaps even be watered with sea water! The next discovery is also something to do with salt. An Irish scientist is finding a way to make the leftovers(5) of desalinization(6) profitable and practical. After salt water is processed so it can be used for drinking water, there is a super salty solution left over. He has found that if you add naturally occurring (7)bacteria, plus natural food for them, they begin to give off an electrical charge. When this happens, particles of metals from the salty water stick to the bacteria. The more they eat, the more metal sticks to them, until they get so heavy that they sink(8) to the bottom of the container, and can be easily separated. Metals such as Magnesium which are expensive and really useful, can be gathered in this way. By doing this, scientists will be able to use the waste product of desalinization, and offset(9) the cost of producing clean water by harvesting metals. I was blown away by all of this(10). It seems that, in spite of what the general media tells us, science may be innovating just in time to keep up with our global needs.
1. Innovation means a new idea, method, or device. It is often used in the fields of science and technology. We also use it in its verb form 'to innovate'.
a. These scientific innovations will improve our daily lives.
b. You have to be creative and have a vision to innovate.
2. To be bursting to tell someone something. This means that you are so excited that you can hardly wait to spread the news.
3. Catch is sometimes used when we talk about hearing the remainder of a conversation, perhaps the last part, or something that is hard to hear.
a. Did you catch what he said at the end? I'm not sure if he said that the bank is to the right or to the left.
b. I'm so glad that I caught the news summary when I turned the tv on; I really want to keep up with the daily events.
4. Tolerant means that you put up with, you cope with, you can manage something. You can be tolerant of people, conditions, or elements. We use the word tolerant a lot when we talk about peoples ability to digest food.
a. She is wheat tolerant, but lactose intolerant. She has to be careful with her diet.
b. I planted drought tolerant plants in the area of my garden that I don't water.
c. They are so intolerant of people who are different from themselves.
5. Leftovers are one of my favorite things. They are different foods that are left over, or have not been eaten by the end of a meal. You can also have leftovers of a process, similar to by-products.
a. Thanksgiving leftovers are yummy. There are usually enough to feed us for a whole day.
6. Desalinization, as you probably know, is the process of getting clean, drinking water from sea water. As it's a long word, let's repeat it a few times.
7. Naturally occurring is often used in science or natural history arenas.
a. There are naturally occurring minerals in that water.
b. The naturally occurring process of photosynthesis keeps our planet alive.
8. To sink is to fall down in water, to go down, to do the opposite of float. It is the same word and pronunciation as the kitchen and bathroom sink. The verb has an irregular preterite.
a. The ship crashed on the rocks and sank out of sight.
b. When I woke up at the end of the math exam, I had a terrible sinking feeling when I realized that I had slept through the whole thing.
9. To offset is to make up for, or to counteract.
a. The company's profits this month offset its losses from last month.
b. Planting hundreds of trees on the mountainside will offset the risk of erosion.
10. To be blown away by something means to be completely surprised. It can be used negatively and positively.
a. When he opened his mouth and started to sing, I was blown away.
b. I was shocked at his ignorant comments; infact, I was blown away by them.