Episode 30 (formerly 1706): New York City

Transcript:

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 28 (formerly 1704): America’s Public Schools

Transcript:

Schools for children in America weren’t always available. It was only in 1852 that Massachusetts passed compulsory school laws. By 1918, all states required children to attend at least a few years of school.

You might guess from this fact that each state administers its own public school system. There is no federal school system in the United States. Because there are 50 states with 50 different systems, there are many variations for public schools. However, they all have some common characteristics.

In general, American children are required to attend school beginning at age six. School years are called “grades”. Therefore, a six-year-old attends grade one, or first grade. There are 12 grades in all. If a child finishes all 12 grades with satisfactory performance, he or she graduates.

In addition, a child might also attend kindergarten at the age of five, but it is not required. Kindergarten is very common, however, and the whole school system is called K-12.

Although the terminology and timeframes differ from state to state, in general, the first few years of school after kindergarten are called elementary, primary or grade school. It starts in grade 1 and goes through grade 5 or 6, depending on the state.

After elementary school is middle school, also called junior high school. It generally lasts two or three years. Then comes high school, which lasts four years, from grade 9 through grade 12.

Many public schools provide buses that pick the children up in the morning and take them back home in the afternoon. American school buses are yellow and are used only for students.

Some, but not all, schools require students to wear uniforms. Students attend school for about six or seven hours a day, usually going home around 3:00 p.m. Elementary school students usually have the same teacher all day. Junior and senior high students change classrooms every hour for each subject.

Upon graduating from high school, a student receives a diploma. After that, he or she may opt to go to college, which is also called university. There is no equivalent to the “A-levels” in the UK or the Abitur in Germany. However, colleges usually require a student to achieve a certain level on a standardized test such as the SAT.

K-12 is compulsory in most states up to the age of 16, which means a student can choose to drop out at age 16 or after. However, a dropout can have difficulty finding a good job without a high school diploma and cannot easily enter college. A dropout can choose to earn a GED (General Education Diploma) after quitting school, but it is not as desirable.

Most schools operate on a nine-month schedule, usually from September through May. Some states start earlier or end later. Some states allow schools to operate year-round, without a three-month summer vacation. The students don’t attend more days, they just have several long breaks during the year.

School years are divided into semesters, or terms. Mid-term exams (mid-terms) are exams that are taken by students halfway through a semester. Students take final exams (finals) at the end of each semester.

Teachers evaluate a student’s performance using a grading system. The evaluations are called grades, the same word used for school-year levels. Grades can be A, B, C, D or F, with A being the highest. In most cases, the letters stand for a rating on a percentage scale from 1 to 100. For example, a grade of A is near or at 100 percent. If a student scores on the high end of the scale for a letter, teachers can add a + to it, as in B+ or C+. Therefore, A+ is the highest score possible.

Public schools are primarily supported by state and local tax money, usually property taxes. Some federal money is granted, but very little. The teachers and administrators must follow the state-approved courses. Since 1992, some educators have established charter schools, which are a type of public school that offers a non-traditional or innovative way of teaching.

A state is divided into local school districts, and only students from a school’s own district are typically allowed to go there. Often, a family will choose to live in a certain area known to have good schools for their children. In addition, public schools called magnet schools allow anyone from anywhere to attend. A magnet school has a specialized area, such as art or science, to attract students from different locations.

In addition to public schools, many private schools exist in America. They are supported by money from private individuals and organizations, such as churches, and from tuition that each student must pay. Anyone can choose to go to private school if they can afford it and are accepted.

Another option is homeschooling, in which parents teach their own children at home using the state-approved curriculum. This is a good option for special needs children, such as those with physical, mental or emotional challenges. Many parents who consider the public school system to be substandard also opt for homeschooling.

While the American public school system used to be considered one of the best in the world, it has many problems today. There is not enough money in some districts to support the schools sufficiently. School violence is a problem in some places, and in many poor and urban areas there are few teachers willing to work in such bad conditions. Another problem is that there are standardized state tests that students must pass for the school to receive public funding. Many think that “teaching to the test” makes education lower quality.

Still, there are many people working very hard to improve education for America’s children. And there are some choices for children whose parents can afford an alternative to a bad public school. Overall, public schools in the USA rate about a C (average) globally. Not the best, but not the worst.

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Episode 27 (formerly 1703): Statue of Liberty

Transcript:

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 24 (formerly 1612): The President’s Cabinet

Transcript:

The President of the United States has a group of advisors that he depends on to run the country. This group of advisors is known as the president’s Cabinet. The Cabinet is established by the US Constitution. However, the Cabinet is only referred to indirectly in the Constitution as “executive departments” that advise the president. Its organization isn’t directly specified. Today’s Cabinet is a result of custom, necessity and tradition.

The Cabinet consists of the vice-president and the leaders, or secretaries, of 15 executive departments. Secretaries are appointed by the president and must be approved by the Senate. Only the president can fire them, and they are expected to resign when the president leaves office. The secretaries in the Cabinet are in the direct line of succession for the presidency if the president or vice-president cannot perform the duties of president.

The president meets almost every week with the Cabinet. Also included in the regular Cabinet meetings are the White House Chief of Staff and the secretaries of six additional Cabinet-level departments.

The first Cabinet meeting was held by George Washington, the country’s first president. However, the word “Cabinet” wasn’t used until the fourth president, James Madison, said it. It comes from an Italian word meaning small, private room.

Here is a list of the Cabinet executive departments in order of succession to the Presidency, along with their responsibilities:

  • Department of State (formerly Department of Foreign Affairs)
    Established 1789
    Responsible for international relations and international travel, including passports and visas. Hillary Clinton was Obama’s Secretary of State.
  • Department of the Treasury
    Established 1789
    Collects taxes, manages the country’s money; produces currency; promotes financial stability
  • Department of Defense (formerly National Military Establishment)
    Established 1947
    In charge of the military forces; headquarters are in the Pentagon building in Washington, DC
  • Department of Justice
    Established 1870
    Enforces laws via the court system; responsible for the Supreme Court
  • Department of the Interior
    Established 1849
    Deals with natural resources and cultural heritage, especially for Native Americans; manages national parks, geology, oceans, mining, rivers, dams and forests
  • Department of Agriculture
    Established 1862
    Regulates food safety, farms, nutrition standards and rural development
  • Department of Commerce
    Established 1903
    Creates conditions for economic growth and opportunity; helps business
  • Department of Labor (formerly part of the Department of the Interior)
    Established 1913
    Promotes workers’, job seekers’ and retirees’ rights; improves working conditions and benefits
  • Department of Health and Human Services (formerly Health, Education and Welfare)
    Established 1953
    Enhances and protects health and well-being, medicine, public health and social services, including “Obamacare” administration
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
    Established 1965
    Helps ensure affordable housing for all
  • Department of Transportation
    Established 1967
    Oversees the national transportation system, including air, rail and cargo transportation, as well as infrastructure for private automobiles and public transportation
  • Department of Energy
    Established 1977
    Conducts programs to find clean, efficient, renewable energy and manages the US oil reserves
  • Department of Education (formerly part of Health, Education and Welfare)
    Established 1979
    Deals with public education standards and statistics plus financial aid programs for university students
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
    Established 1930 (elevated to Cabinet level 1989)
    Deals with benefits and programs for veterans
  • Department of Homeland Security
    Established 2002
    Protects the country from terrorism

The following positions have the status of Cabinet-rank:

  • Environmental Protection Agency
    Concerned with environmental issues
  • Office of Management & Budget
    Largest part of the Executive Office of the President; helps implement presidential policies; concerned with national budget, procurement, IT, research for decision-making, communication review, Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda
  • United States Trade Representative
    Negotiates trade agreements with other nations
  • United States Mission to the United Nations
    The US delegation to the UN
  • Council of Economic Advisers
    Offers the President economic advice about domestic and international economic policy
  • Small Business Administration
    Helps small businesses via financial programs, training, technical assistance, and other areas

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Episode 23 (formerly 1611): President Barack Obama

Transcript:

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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Episode 22 (formerly 1610): The US Presidential Election Process

Transcript:

America holds a presidential election every four years. The date is in November on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month. In 2016, election day is November 8. Election day is not a federal holiday.

Election day is the end of a long process that begins with many candidates declaring their intention to run for president in the summer of the year before the election. After that they campaign with much advertising, debating and traveling around the country to meet voters.

Then, from January to June of election year, each state holds either a caucus or a primary election to choose a candidate to represent each political party. In most cases, only voters registered as members of a specific political party can participate in that party’s caucus or primary. The two major political parties in America are the Republican and the Democratic parties.

In a caucus, voters show their support for a candidate publicly. In a primary, voters use a secret ballot. It is up to the individual states whether to have a caucus or a primary. Most states hold primaries. Only 11 states use caucuses.

From July to early September in an election year, political parties hold conventions and select their official presidential candidates. The official candidates of any political party are said to be on that party’s ticket. The party’s official position on issues is called the party’s platform. Over the next two months, the official candidates choose their vice-presidential running mates, participate in presidential debates and continue to campaign right up until election day.

Now it gets a little complicated. Instead of choosing the president by the majority of the popular vote, the US uses the Electoral College.

  • The Electoral College consists of people called electors from each state. There are 538 electors in all. See the Slow American English blog at SlowAmericanEnglish.net for a diagram of the electors for each state.
  • The number of a state’s electors is based on the number of members of Congress each state has. For example, Florida has 29 electors (two members of the Senate + 27 members of the House of Representatives).
  • Each state counts its popular vote after the election. The candidate that wins the popular vote in that state receives all the electoral votes for that state. Therefore, the candidate with the most popular votes in Florida receives all 29 electoral votes, even though not all the people voted for that candidate.
  • A candidate must receive a majority of all the electoral votes, or at least 270, to win the election and become president. If no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses the president, and the Senate chooses the Vice-President.
  • Although everyone knows who will win the election, the electors don’t officially cast their votes until December of election year. Congress officially counts the electoral votes in January, and the chosen president is inaugurated on January 20th.
  • Because of the configuration of the Electoral College, it is possible for a candidate to receive the majority of the popular vote nationwide but still not be elected president. This has happened four times in the history of the United States.

Many consider the Electoral College process unusually complicated. However, the Founding Fathers included it in the US Constitution as a compromise between the group that wanted the president chosen by popular vote and the group that wanted the president to be chosen by Congress. To change the election system, America would have to go through the process of amending the Constitution, a long and difficult procedure.

The Constitution also stipulates that a president must be at least 35 years old, must be a natural-born American citizen and must be a resident of the US for at least 14 years. The Constitution’s 22nd Amendment imposes a two-term limit on the president, meaning a person can only be president for two terms, or eight years total. The only president who ever served more than two terms was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Constitutional amendment imposing term limits was added after he died.

Diagram of the number of electoral votes for each state (from USA.gov):

electoral-map

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Episode 8 (formerly 1508): Time Zones in the USA

Transcript:

The United States is a vast country. With its 50 states plus territories and commonwealths, some part of it occupies nine different time zones. To more effectively communicate with people in specific locations, it is helpful to understand time zones in general.

Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is the 24-hour worldwide time standard system. UTC divides the globe into 24 equal zones based on longitude lines, or meridians. Meridians are imaginary lines drawn from the North Pole to the South Pole. The distance between each time zone meridian is 15 degrees of longitude, or 15 degrees of an imaginary circle drawn around the earth parallel to the equator.

The Prime Meridian, which runs through Greenwich in the United Kingdom, is considered point zero on the circle. Fifteen degrees in either direction constitutes a time zone. Each zone has a designated time that is one hour earlier than its adjacent zone to the east.

The area from the Prime Meridian to 15 degrees to the east is designated as UTC. The next time zone to the east is UTC +1 and so on. The time zone to the west of UTC is UTC -1, etc. The meridian where UTC +12 and UTC -12 meet is known as the International Date Line.

Note that the global time zone system is entirely arbitrary. People have agreed to use the system in order to communicate time consistently from place to place. However, in many places, the actual lines separating time zones do not accurately follow longitudinal lines, mainly because of political reasons. That is, countries and states can change the time zone borders however they wish, resulting in very irregular time zone borders.

Because UTC is a standardization system, not a naming convention, time zones have more common names. For example, UTC is also known as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), UTC +1 is called CET (Central European Time), and so on. Furthermore, DST (Daylight Savings Time) is implemented in many places on Earth. Clocks are set one hour forward in the spring and one hour back in the fall, changing the time one hour on the clock.

The continental USA occupies four time zones in North America. The east coast falls under EST (Eastern Standard Time or UTC -5) for cities such as Miami, New York and Boston. One time zone to the west is CST (Central Standard Time or UTC -6), which has locations such as New Orleans, Dallas and Chicago.

People residing one more time zone further west live with MST (Mountain Standard Time or UTC -7), which contains Denver, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City. The West Coast, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, uses PST (Pacific Standard Time or UTC -8).

In addition to the “lower 48”, Alaska designates its time zone as AKST (Alaska Standard Time), which is UTC -9. Hawaii uses HAST (Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time), which is UTC -10.

The territories of American Samoa and the Midway and other islands use SST (Samoa Standard Time or UTC -11). The commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the territory of the US Virgin Islands enjoy AST (Atlantic Standard Time or UTC -4). The territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands employ ChST (Chamorro Standard Time or UTC +10).

Not every place observes Daylight Savings Time (DST), but in places that do, the time zone acronym designation changes the S to D. For example, EST becomes EDT, and so on. The word “Savings” in the common name of the time zone becomes “Daylight”, as in “Eastern Daylight Time”. Nevertheless, the UTC designation does not change.

Practical reasons to know time zone differences come into play when telephoning someone in a different time zone. The same applies to doing business with people in faraway time zones. If you live near a time zone border meridian, you may need to know where your local TV station broadcasts from to determine what local time you can see the program. For this reason, many television stations specify two time zones. For example, the announcer might say, “See this show at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Central.”

It can be confusing to know which time zone a location is in and whether Daylight Savings Time is in effect. However, numerous websites on the Internet can tell you what time zone, UTC designation and local time pertains to any given location.

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Episode 1 (formerly 1501): Overview of the USA

Transcript:

This Slow American English podcast is an overview of the USA. Of course, USA stands for United States of America. Often, the country is called simply America. The citizens are called Americans. The official language of the USA is English, although many other languages are spoken there.

The USA is located on the continent of North America, between Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The Atlantic Ocean creates the eastern border, and the Pacific Ocean creates the western border. There are 50 states in total and 48 of them are called contiguous because they are grouped all together. Two of the states are not contiguous. Alaska is very far northwest of the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii is a group of islands very far west in the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to the 50 states, America has three territories: American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Also, Puerto Rico used to be a US territory. Now it is a commonwealth. Territories and commonwealths are still parts of the USA, but they govern themselves and do not have full statehood.

The capital of the United States is Washington, D.C., which stands for District of Columbia. The district functions much like a state. The capital was established in a separate district so that no state would gain more power by having the seat of the national government there.

The area of the United States is 3.794 million square miles, or 9.827 million square kilometers, which is almost as big as the entire geographic continent of Europe. The largest state is Alaska at 3,537,379 square miles, or 9,181,859.76 square kilometers. The smallest state is Rhode Island at 1,045 square miles, or 2,706.54 square kilometers.

European settlers began coming to North America in 1492. By the late 1700s, Great Britain had 13 colonies there. In addition, France and Spain each had a few settlements as well. In 1776, a group of men called the Founding Fathers declared the 13 colonies’ independence from Great Britain. Thus the USA was born. The idea for the new country was no taxation without representation and religious freedom.

The 13 British colonies later became states, as did some of the other settlements and areas that would be settled later. Now, Independence Day is celebrated each year on July 4 with barbecues and fireworks. Most people call Independence Day the Fourth of July.

Today the United States is a world power in both military and commerce. The currency is the US dollar. The population is more than 317 million people, which is less than half of the population of the European continent. America is sometimes referred to as the Melting Pot because so many people of different backgrounds and cultures live there.

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