Episode 43: New Orleans

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 43: New Orleans

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The port city of New Orleans, Louisiana, was founded by the French in 1718. It occupies the mouth of the Mississippi River and part of the delta where the mighty river flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

The city passed into Spanish hands in 1763. The French regained possession of New Orleans in 1803 and sold it to the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase. After this, there was a large influx of Americans, French and other Europeans, Africans and Creoles. Creoles were descended from Europeans, Africans and Native Americans, but were born in Louisiana. Today, the greater New Orleans area has about 1.167 million people.

Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, causing major destruction. Because about half of New Orleans actually lies below sea level, when the levees and flood-control mechanisms failed, 80% of the city flooded. The local, state and federal governments have been strongly criticized for their lack of preparation before the storm and their failures in the aftermath. Many people died and the city is still rebuilding. The population dropped significantly after the storm because many people did not return after evacuation.

Things to Do

New Orleans has all the typical big-city features, but here are some sites unique to New Orleans:

  • Historical mansions from the 1800s in the Garden District

  • Above-ground tombs in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1; bodies are not buried underground because the city is at or below sea level

  • Shops, galleries and restaurants in the famous French Quarter district directly on the Mississippi River

  • Bourbon Street; probably the most famous street in the French Quarter; well known for a place to drink alcohol and party to excess

  • Paddlewheeler steamboat tours on the Mississippi River

  • Original art by artists on Jackson Square near St. Louis Cathedral

  • Horse-drawn carriage rides through streets with Spanish architecture; listen to the driver telling legends about the town

  • Famous streetcars on St. Charles Avenue

Mardi Gras

Every year, just before Ash Wednesday, the giant Mardi Gras celebration takes place in New Orleans and surrounding cities. People come from all over the world to experience dozens of parades over two and a half weeks. Groups called krewes dress in elaborate costumes and dance through the streets to lively music, throwing strings of plastic beads to the spectators. It’s a wild time!


Jazz originated in New Orleans, and there is no shortage of it today. It seems like there is music pouring from every doorway in the French Quarter. You’ll hear all kinds of live music, from street musicians to organized concerts, including Cajun music and Creole zydeco. The famous Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to preserve jazz heritage, with over 350 concerts a year.


Because of the diversity of New Orleans throughout history, the food there is unique. You can dine on Creole and spicy Cajun food. You can even find alligator meat at many restaurants. Here is some traditional New Orleans food:

  • po’ boy – overstuffed sandwich on a French baguette

  • gumbo – seafood stew served over rice

  • boudin – sausage

  • jambalaya – thick stew cooked with rice

  • crawfish – small, lobster-like shellfish

  • etouffee – crawfish, shrimp or chicken stew served over rice

  • pralines – candy made with pecans and brown sugar

  • beignets – square, fried donuts at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter

  • cafe au lait – a coffee-chicory combination mixed with hot milk, served with beignets

  • Oysters Rockefeller – invented at Antoine’s in the French Quarter

  • French-Creole cuisine – specialty of Arnaud’s in the French Quarter

  • sazerac – world’s very first cocktail, invented in New Orleans

Language Note

A large part of the population of New Orleans is Cajun. Cajuns are descended from French settlers who lived in Canada in an area named Acadia. They were forced to leave in 1713 and settled in Louisiana. The word ‘Cajun’ evolved from the word ‘Acadian’.

Because of New Orleans’ diversity, fascinating dialects and accents have evolved. There are even several pronunciations of the city’s name. You can say New Orleans like me, or ‘noo OR lee uns’, ‘noo or LEENS’ or ‘NOO orluns’. Often, people write the name as NOLA, which stands for New Orleans, Louisiana (LA is the official postal abbreviation for the state). You may also see and hear N’awlins, but don’t use this. It tells the locals you don’t know anything about their city.

New Orleans is called the Big Easy because of its easy-going, laid-back atmosphere. It’s called the Crescent City, too, because of the arced path the Mississippi River takes through it.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.