Episode 49: President George Washington

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

This is episode number 49: President George Washington

Before we begin, did you know that you can buy Slow American English workbooks? Each workbook contains the Exercise Worksheets, answer keys, Bonus Material and transcripts from each podcast episode. There are three workbooks so far. Each contains a year’s worth of podcast episodes. Volume 1 has episodes 1 – 12, Volume 2, episodes 13 – 24, and Volume 3, episodes 25 – 36. You can buy all the workbooks on Amazon. The link is on the podcast website at www.slowamericanenglish.net.

And very soon there will be a new workbook, Volume 4, with episodes 37 – 48. I will announce it when it is published.

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Contact me directly via email at info@slowamericanenglish.net. Now for the podcast:


George Washington was born in Virginia in 1732. His family had a successful plantation, which he later owned. During the Revolutionary War for independence against Great Britain, Washington was commander of the American army. He became a national hero because of this. He was one of America’s Founding Fathers. They wrote the Constitution of the United States. He was the first to sign it, too.

The electoral college elected George Washington as the first president in 1789 and again in 1792. He is the only president to be elected unanimously. For this and many other reasons, Washington is called the Father of Our Country.

He decided not to be president for a third term, although everyone wanted him to. This tradition was followed by all other presidents for 150 years. In 1947, this two-term limit was made into law.

Washington knew that everyone was watching everything he did as the first US president. He knew his actions would be examples for all other presidents to follow. Therefore, he was very careful to be a very strong leader. For example, he organized the president’s Cabinet well. He also allowed the other branches of government to balance the power of the president.

Of course, you can look up all this history if you are interested. However, I want to tell you some of the things about George Washington that Americans learn as children:

  • There is a story about George Washington which is probably not true. It says that, when he was a child, George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree. It was a terrible thing to do. When his father asked who did it, George replied, “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.” This legend shows how honest he was.

  • Another story says that, as a boy, George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River in Maryland. This can’t be true. There were no silver dollars then and the river was too wide.

  • A true fact about George Washington: He had false teeth made of wood!

  • George Washington’s wife’s name was Martha.

  • Washington’s plantation and home was Mount Vernon, VA. You can visit it today.

  • When he led the army during the Revolution, Washington and his soldiers crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776. They went into New Jersey for a surprise attack on the enemy. There is a famous painting by George Cableb Bingham called Washington Crossing the Delaware.

  • Also during the Revolutionary War, Washington and his soldiers camped in Valley Forge, PA. It was the hard winter of 1777-78. They survived and trained there to become a strong army. They were able to defeat the British soldiers in the spring.

Today, George Washington’s face is on the US dollar bill and the quarter coin. In addition, many parks, streets, schools and even people have been named after him. The state of Washington and Washington, DC, are also named after him. In addition, the very tall Washington Monument stands in front of the nation’s capitol building in Washington, DC.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

For free transcripts and to subscribe to the podcast, visit www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net. You can also subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and any other podcast feed reader.

Theme music for this podcast is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at www.Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

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

Episode 40: The Mississippi River

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

This is episode number 40: The Mississippi River

But first, are you a regular listener to the Slow American English podcast? Do you think it is helpful? Show your support and become a patron. Patrons get free Natural-Speed Recordings and Exercise Worksheets for each episode. To become a patron, visit www.Patreon.com/SlowAmericanEnglish.

Also, you can buy Slow American English workbooks on Amazon.com. Workbooks contain all the transcripts and Exercise Worksheets for each episode for an entire year; 12 episodes in each workbook.

In addition, you can become a website subscriber for free at www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net. Find free transcripts there PLUS links to become a patron and to buy workbooks.

Subscribe to the podcast feed via Apple Podcasts, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn and any other RSS feed reader.

And, as always, you can contact me directly via email at info@slowamericanenglish.net. Now for the podcast:


For this episode, I recommend listening to the United States Regions episode of the podcast. Also, you can visit www.patreon.com/slowamericanenglish for a FREE downloadable map of the Mississippi River river basin. The map is helpful when considering the information in this podcast.

The Mississippi River


The Mississippi River is the second longest river in the United States, but it’s the most well known. From its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota, water flows about 2,300 miles south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It flows through or next to 10 states. The river is narrowest at Lake Itasca, only about 20 or 30 feet wide. It is widest, about 11 miles, at its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.

Smaller rivers and streams that flow into a river are called tributaries. All of the tributaries together are known as its watershed or river basin. The Mississippi River’s watershed is the third largest in the world. It covers about 1.2 million square miles, which is about 40% of the continental United States. Water from all or part of 31 states plus two provinces in Canada drains into it. The eastern boundary of the watershed is the Allegheny Mountains; the western border is the Rocky Mountains.

The Mississippi is a slow-moving river and it is very muddy. It flows about 1.5 miles per hour (mph) on the surface as it leaves Lake Itasca. Even at the Gulf of Mexico, the water flows only about 3 mph, a little slower than most people walk. It takes about three months for water leaving Lake Itasca to reach the Gulf.

The muddy Mississippi River deposits all the sand and silt that it carries over its great distance into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, Louisiana. Over time, this sand and silt has built up into low-lying land. This land is called the Mississippi Delta.


Oral histories of Native American tribes and some archaeological evidence show that Native Americans lived near the Mississippi River as long as 12,000 years ago. Unfortunately, there is no existing written history about the lives of these people, so it is difficult to know much detail.

Then, in the 1500s, Europeans began exploring the river. The first one, Hernando De Soto from Spain, led an expedition from the Gulf of Mexico northward up the river from the delta. His plan was to plunder the tribes living there. His group encountered floods and hostile Native American attacks. De Soto was killed in an attack near the present-day city of Memphis, Tennessee, and his body was left in the river.

Next came the French expedition of Marquette and Jolliet in 1673. They came from Canada southward. A few years later a French explorer named La Salle traveled all the way from the north to the delta. He claimed the entire Mississippi River basin for France, even though Native Americans were living there long before he arrived.

In the 1700s, Spain took control of the lower Mississippi south of Cairo, IL. Eventually, France regained control of the river then sold it to the young United States as part of a land-transfer deal called the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. For many years the Mississippi River was considered the western border of the United States.

Because the river is so shallow, boats with flat bottoms were used to carry goods in the early days. These boats had no engines and were propelled by people using small paddles, sails or long poles. In the early 1800s, steam-powered riverboats with wheel-shaped paddles were used to travel both ways. These paddle wheelers could operate in shallow water and were like floating hotels with restaurants, bars and casinos. The Mississippi riverboat gambler is a common stereotype. Today tourists can still ride on a historical paddle wheeler on the Mississippi.

Because of its shallowness, the river floods often and the channel changes. Therefore, modern flood-protection was engineered to control it, especially on the lower Mississippi. These controls include locks, dams, spillways and levees, which still exist today. Some of the dams help generate electricity, and the river’s channel is dug out regularly to allow ships to carry goods up and down the river. However, these controls have changed the environment drastically, and many groups are fighting now to remove them and let the river become its natural self again. This would greatly affect those living near the river because the unpredictable floods would return.

American Culture

The Mississippi River, especially the lower part, was a popular topic in blues, jazz, gospel, folk and country music. Even today, songwriters mention the river in their lyrics.

In addition, the river has been the subject or setting of much American literature. For example, Langston Hughes, an African-American poet, wrote a famous poem in 1921 called “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” which features the Mississippi. Tennessee Williams wrote plays and poems involving life on the river. William Faulkner is a famous author whose work reflects life near the river, too.

Probably the most famous author to write about the Mississippi River was Mark Twain. One of his books is even titled Life on the Mississippi. It contains stories about his experience as a steamboat pilot and what the river was like in the late 1800s from St. Louis, Missouri, to New Orleans.

There are many more examples of literature that is based on, mentions or features the Mississippi River. Just do an online search and you’ll see what I mean.

Language Notes

Certain Native American tribes near St. Louis, Missouri, called the river misi sipi, which literally means ‘big water’ or ‘father of water’. From this Native-American name we get ‘Mississippi’. The idea of the river as father continues in American English: the river is known as “Old Man River” in literature, songs and informal conversation.

In addition, the Mississippi River is so big and is such an important river to North America and US history that it is often called the Mighty Mississippi.

Lastly, remember that Mississippi is not only the name of a river, it is also the name of a state. Mississippi state lies to the east of Louisiana and has the Mississippi River as most of the border between them.

Episode 30 (formerly 1706): New York City


The original inhabitants of what is now New York City were the members of the Lenape native tribe. Early in the 16th century, European explorers began to arrive in North America and set up trading posts and forts. They founded their first permanent civilian settlement in 1624. Its name was New Amsterdam because the settlers were sent there by the Dutch West India Company, a trading company from the Netherlands.

In 1626, New Amsterdam’s governor purchased Manhattan Island from the Lenape for a small selection of tools, cloth, farming equipment and shell beads called wampum. Although not entirely accurate, this is where the saying that ‘Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of beads’ comes from. When the New Amsterdam settlement moved to Manhattan Island then, it numbered about 300 people.

In 1664, British forces seized New Amsterdam and renamed it New York City. Over the next hundred years or so, the city grew quickly. New York and the other trading posts and forts in the area would all eventually combine to form the colony of New York. It was one of the original 13 colonies that became the United States. The colony later became New York State in 1788.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, British forces quickly seized control of the city again despite the resistance. They used it as a military base until 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended. Then, in 1785, New York City became the capital city of the USA. It was the national seat of government until 1790 when it moved to Washington, DC. And, just so you know, the capital of New York State is Albany.

Throughout the 1800s, New York City grew quickly. Thousands of immigrants from all over the world poured into the city. The Statue of Liberty opened in 1886. The port continued to be very important to the new nation. City streets, a water system, subways and other infrastructure were built. Municipal agencies such as a police department were established, too.

Up til now, New York City was located just on the island of Manhattan. In 1898, four other surrounding cities, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn, combined with Manhattan into one giant New York City. Today, these five former cities are called the boroughs of New York City. At the time of combining, the city’s population was about 3.3 million. Today, its population is more than eight million people. About one-third of the city’s residents were born outside of the USA.

New York has always been a trade and culture capital of the world, with many diverse, ethnic neighborhoods, which are mainly the result of immigration. It is well known as a tourist destination for sights such as the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and the Empire State Building.

Here are some language and cultural notes about New York City:

  • New York City is also known as the Big Apple or abbreviated NYC. The borough of Manhattan is known as “the City”.

  • Only residents of New York City, not New York State, are known as “New Yorkers”.

  • American children often tell the story that a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building can kill someone on the sidewalk below or will embed itself in the sidewalk when it hits. However, this is not true.

  • Broadway is a New York City street famous for stage plays and musicals. Because of the lights of the theaters there, it is also known as the Great White Way.

  • Times Square is the commercial and tourist center at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. This is where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

  • The underground public transportation train in New York City is called the subway, not the metro or underground.

  • Because New York City is so high-energy, the phrase “in a New York minute” means very, very fast.

  • The area of Manhattan SOuth of HOuston Street is called SoHo. It is known for its trendy shops and galleries. And remember to pronounce the name of the street “HOW-ston”, not Houston, like the city in Texas.

  • A neighborhood in Manhattan called Greenwich Village (note the pronunciation) is also called just “the Village”. It’s famous for artistic trends, Bohemian lifestyle and many countercultural movements, as well as being the location of New York University.

  • The location of the former World Trade Center twin towers, destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is now a memorial to the people killed in those attacks. It’s known also as the Ground Zero Memorial.

  • Any place north of New York City is called upstate. For example, Albany is in upstate New York. No other state in the USA uses this word in the same way.

  • When giving directions within New York City, people use the word “uptown” instead of “north” and “downtown” instead of “south”.

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Episode 27 (formerly 1703): Statue of Liberty


The Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Often, the statue is referred to as “Lady Liberty” and represents the ideals of freedom and democracy in the minds of many. She stands in New York Harbor at the tip of Manhattan on an island. Her skin is made of copper, which has turned green in the weather. She wears a crown and holds a torch in her right hand and a tablet in her left.

Her full name is “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World”, and the sculpture was a gift to America from France. The idea of giving the US a monument from France was conceived by Eduard de Laboulaye in 1865. He and many French people admired the concepts of America’s freedom and democracy. He wanted to commemorate the friendship between the nations. His idea was to build the statue in time for the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876.

So, the French people raised money for the sculpture, and American people raised money for the pedestal it would rest on. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue. As it was built, the designer of the Eiffel Tower was hired to design the inner structural part of the statue.

In the US, architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the pedestal. When the statue was finished in France, it was dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, then reassembled in New York. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 29, 1886, ten years after the centennial celebration.

The island on which the statue stands is called Liberty Island. Before that it was known as Bedloe’s Island, and there was an army fortress there called Fort Wood. Nowadays the whole island is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and is under the supervision of the National Park Service.

A famous poem by Emma Lazarus was written as part of the fundraising project for the pedestal. The poem is called “The New Colossus”. The most famous lines of the poem are as follows:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

A bronze plaque of the poem now resides inside the pedestal in the museum there. Because of the liberty of America and this poem, the Statue became an important symbol of freedom to millions of immigrants who passed by the Statue on their way to make new lives in America.

Here are some more interesting facts about the Statue of Liberty:

  • The pedestal is made of granite.

  • During shipment, the Statue was dismantled into 350 pieces and packed into 214 crates.

  • It took four months to reassemble the Statue in New York.

  • Nearby Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants were processed into the country, is now also part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

  • The Statue was restored beginning in 1982. An international team of architects, engineers and conservators directed the project of repairing holes in the copper, replacing rusted iron parts of the inner structure and completely replacing the torch, which is now covered in gold. The Statue reopened in 1986, in time for her own centennial celebration.

  • The height of the pedestal plus the Statue is 305 feet, 6 inches; from her heel to the top of her head is 111 feet, 6 inches.

  • She weighs 225 tons.

  • The seven rays on her crown stand for each of the seven continents.

  • Her face is over eight feet tall.

  • The tablet in her left hand is 23 feet, 7 inches by 13 feet, 7 inches. The inscription is the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals.

  • At the Statue’s feet lie broken chains representing freedom from oppression and tyranny.

  • There are 154 steps from the pedestal to the head of the Statue.

  • There are webcams in the torch and crown of Lady Liberty.

Tourists can visit the Statue of Liberty by ferry and tour the Liberty Island Museum in the pedestal. With a reservation and additional fee, tourists can climb the inside of the Statue to the crown and enjoy a wonderful view. For more information and photographs of the Statue of Liberty, try libertyellisfoundation.org.

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Episode 25 (formerly 1701): Blues Music

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Blues music (also called ‘the blues’) originated in the USA in the mid-to-late 1800s. Its birthplace was in the Mississippi River Delta, just upriver from New Orleans, where jazz originated.

Like jazz, the blues evolved from the music and songs of African-American slaves and their descendants.

Many people claim to have discovered the blues, most famously W.C. Handy, an African-American musician, songwriter and composer. Even if he wasn’t the first to discover the blues, W.C. Handy was definitely one of the first to publicize the blues and bring it to the public. In 1912 he wrote and published the first commercially successful blues song, “Memphis Blues”. Because of his career of spreading the blues to the rest of the world, he is now called the Father of Blues. One of his most famous songs is “St. Louis Blues”.

Eventually, the blues traveled up the Mississippi River to Chicago. Just like jazz, it spread to all areas of the United States and the world. Also just like jazz, the blues has morphed into many different styles. Here is a list of blues styles and a bit of information about each one:

  • Delta Blues:
    one of the earliest styles
    originated in the Mississippi Delta
    guitar and harmonica are the main instruments
    famous for this style are Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton and R.L. Burnside
    Dockery Farms near Cleveland, MS, is said to be the birthplace of the Delta blues
    the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival is held annually near Dockery Farms
  • Chicago Blues
    has been described as Delta blues amplified or electrified
    originated on the West Side of Chicago
    features high-energy guitar music
    famous for Chicago blues: Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and Otis Rush
  • Boogie-Woogie Blues
    a piano style that evolved from a jazz style called “stride” in the early 1900s
    became a craze in the USA during WWII
    famous for this style are Clarence “Pine Top” Smith, Pinetop Perkins and Big Joe Turner
  • Country Blues
    a hybrid category including components of R&B, gospel, country and other types
    interestingly, early Delta blues musicians could qualify for this modern category
  • Jump Blues
    a fast-tempo popular in the 1940s
    originated in Kansas City
    a swing style combining honking saxes and shouted vocals
    notable artists include Cab Calloway, Smiley Lewis and Sam Taylor
  • New Orleans Blues
    also called Louisiana Blues
    consists of many different types of rhythms, even Latin rhumba and zydeco beats
    notable artists include James Booker, Fats Domino, Guitar Slim, Smiley Lewis, Little Richard and Steamboat Willie
  • Piedmont Blues
    musicians pick the guitar strings in a unique way
    originated in the Carolinas and Georgia
    musicians include Etta Baker, Blind Boy Fuller, Peg Leg Sam and Bumble Bee Slim
  • Soul Blues
    more commonly called Rhythm and Blues (R&B)
    developed in the 1960s and ’70s
    combines soul and urban contemporary music
    record companies that produced R&B include Motown, Stax and Atlantic
    artists include Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, Robert Cray, Etta James, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush and Ike Turner
  • Texas Blues
    a hard-driving swing style with repetitive segments
    has more swing than Chicago blues
    famous musicians in Texas blues are Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Freddie King, Lonnie Mack, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmie Vaughan, T-Bone Walker and Edgar Winter

This list is not complete, for there are many sub-genres and hybrid styles of blues music. However, it gives you an idea of the diversity of the blues and how popular it is. Many rock-and-roll and pop artists, including Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, have been influenced by the blues. Even the Rolling Stones took their band name from a song by Muddy Waters.

If you are ever in Memphis, Tennessee, be sure to visit the Blues Hall of Fame.

Language note:
You might know that the English phrase ‘to have the blues’ means to have a sad feeling. The name of the blues may be related to this phrase because many blues songs are about bad luck and a life of struggle, especially in love relationships. However, lots of blues lyrics also tell about happiness and even make jokes.

So, how exactly did the blues get its name? I have read at least five different stories about why the blues is called that. The real reason remains unclear, but the stories are very entertaining. Do some internet searching if you are interested.
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