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

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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.

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

Episode 26 (formerly 1702): Muhammad Ali


Boxer Muhammad Ali is one of the most notable American athletes in the world. When he died in 2016, he was considered one of the most influential people in the USA. He was known not only for his superior boxing ability, but also for his convictions and activities in the civil rights movement for African Americans.

When Muhammad Ali was born in 1942, his parents gave him the name Cassius Clay. He won his first professional boxing match in 1960. During the next three years, his boxing record was 19 wins and no losses, defeating well-known boxers of the time. Fifteen of those 19 wins were knockouts.

Cassius Clay was famous for an unusual boxing style, which consisted of avoiding punches instead of defending against them. He was also famous for being arrogant and vocal, and he often rhymed his speech, much like rappers do today. In 1964 during a pre-match weigh-in for a fight with Sonny Liston, he said he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. This phrase is still famous in American English.

Other well-known quotes from him:

  • I am the greatest!
  • I’m so pretty!
  • Don’t count the days; make the days count.
  • I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
  • I’ve wrestled alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning and throw thunder in jail.

In 1966, Clay was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war. However, Clay had joined the Nation of Islam, an extreme African-American political and religious group. When ordered to go to war, Clay refused as a conscientious objector on the grounds that it was forbidden by his religion.

It was during this time that he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He refused to respond to the name Cassius Clay and refused to allow other people to refer to him that way. Because of his refusal to go to war and his name change, he grew even more controversial than before.

Because of this controversy and many other reasons, Ali was banned from boxing in the USA for most of 1966. Instead, he fought abroad, continuing to win. In 1967, he was sentenced to five years in prison because of his refusal to go to war. That year, the professional boxing commission stripped Ali of his championship title and did not allow him to fight for more than three years afterward.

During the ban, Ali continued to speak out against racial injustice and to fight overseas. Although his conviction was overturned and he did not have to go to prison, his professional boxing career was permanently damaged. Many believe that Ali could have had an even greater boxing record if not for the ban.

He was again allowed to fight in the USA in 1970. In 1971, one of the most famous boxing matches was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Ali fought against Joe Frazier, who was the boxing champion at the time. Frazier beat Ali and remained champion.

Three years later, Ali boxed against George Foreman in another famous match called Rumble in the Jungle because it was held in Zaire, which is now the Congo, in Africa. Ali won this match, which gave him the right to fight Joe Frazier again.

The rematch with Frazier was held in Manila in the Philippines, and thus dubbed ‘The Thrilla (thriller) in Manila’. Ali won this fight and regained his world championship title.

Muhammad Ali retired in 1981 with an overall record of 56 wins and 5 losses. Thirty-seven of the wins were knockouts.

Doctors diagnosed Ali with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1980s, a chronic, degenerative nerve disease. It was caused by his boxing. However, Ali continued to be an active public figure and devoted himself to world humanitarian issues. In addition to his boxing awards, he earned dozens of other awards, both in the USA and abroad. They include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a non-military person in the United States; the BBC Sports Personality of the Century Award; and the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold from the United Nations Association of Germany. He also lit the Olympic torch for the games in Atlanta in 1996.

Filmmakers have produced numerous documentaries about Ali, and actor Will Smith played him in a 2001 biographical film.

Muhammad Ali died in 2016 of complications of his Parkinson’s. However, he continues to have influence through his non-profit Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as through many other projects he supported during his life.

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Episode 23 (formerly 1611): President Barack Obama


You may know that Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. He is America’s first African-American president. He served two terms, or eight years, and accomplished many things in his political career.

However, you may not know much about his life before the presidency. Today I will give you some facts. His full name is Barack Hussein Obama II, and he was born on August 4, 1961, in Hawaii. His mother was white and from Kansas. His father was black and from Kenya. They met while attending the University of Hawaii.

Barack’s father left the family when he was two years old. The father attended Harvard in Massachusetts then returned to Kenya. In 1971, Barack saw his father only one more time in his life. Barack Sr. died in Kenya in 1982.

Barack’s mother’s second husband was a man from Indonesia. Therefore, Barack lived in Indonesia from age six through ten. While there he attended a Catholic school and a Muslim school. He claims that he benefited from such a cultural multiplicity during his childhood: Hawaiian, Indonesian, white, black, Catholic, Muslim. While growing up, Barack often struggled with his identity as a black man in America because he had no strong black male role models.

Obama’s mother sent him to live with her parents in Hawaii when he was ten years old. He attended the prestigious Punahou School from fifth grade through the end of high school. His grades were good and he played for the varsity basketball team.

Barack went to college in Los Angeles for two years, then switched to Columbia University in New York City. He graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s in political science. He took a job as a researcher for a global business-consulting firm in New York for a year after graduation.

After that, he moved to the South Side of Chicago, an area well known for its mostly poor, black population. His job there was a community organizer. Here, Obama became part of the African-American community he had been missing throughout his life. He worked with local churches and the people in general to improve the community through public service work and politics.

Because of this work, he realized he could get more things done if he were a lawyer. So, in 1988 he went to Harvard Law School and became an outstanding student. He was elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review from 1990-91, the first African-American to hold that position. He graduated magna cum laude in 1991.

During a summer internship in Chicago after his first year at Harvard, he met Michelle Robinson, herself a Harvard Law School graduate. They dated for the next four years and married in 1992. She is now our First Lady, Michelle Obama. They settled in Chicago and had two daughters: Malia, born in 1998, and Sasha, born in 2001.

While in Chicago, Barack Obama published his first book, Dreams from My Father in 1995. He directed a voter-registration drive to increase black voter turnout in the 1992 election. Then he had a job as a civil rights lawyer and as a teacher at a law school.

His first political campaign was in 1996, after which he became an Illinois state senator. He was very successful in passing laws regarding finance reform and crime legislation. In 2000 he ran for US Representative but lost. He returned to the state senate and then helped pass laws benefiting children, seniors, workers and poor people.

In 2004 Obama ran for US Senate and won. He published his second book, The Audacity of Hope, in 2006, which became a national bestseller. And, as you know, he ran for president in 2008 and won. He took office in January of 2009; he was reelected for a second term in 2012.

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Slow American English Shop