Great American Cities – Washington, D.C.

Posted on 21. Nov, 2014 by in Uncategorized

As promised, we’re going to start exploring some “Great American Cities” here after finishing up a long series on the national parks. It makes sense to start with the capital, so our journey around America will begin in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to the capital.

Welcome to the capital.

Name: The city was named after the first American president, George Washington. The “D.C” part of the name stands for the “District of Columbia.”

Location: Washington is not actually located in a US state. Rather, it is a federal district. It is located on the east coast in the mid-Atlantic region, and it borders the states of Maryland and Virginia. It was formed by land ceded from both of these states, but the land was eventually returned to Virgina. As such, all of Washington, D.C. was once part of Maryland.

The location of America's capital city.

The location of America’s capital city.

Nicknames: Many nicknames have been used for Washington throughout history. Some common ones include: The District, D.C., and The Nation’s Capital. It has also been known as “Chocolate City” for its large black population, although the demographics have been changing leading some to call it “Vanilla City.” Finally, some people call it “Hollywood for Ugly People” – a reference to the politicians who may want to be famous but aren’t exactly good-looking enough for the big screen.

Year Founded: July 9, 1790 marked the signing of the Residence Act by Congress, approving the creation of a capital city along the Potomac River. George Washington chose the location, and the city was eventually named after him on September 9, 1791. Congress began its first session there in 1800.

Population: As of 2013, the population of Washington, D.C. is just under 650,000. It is the 23rd largest city in America. It’s part of the Washington metropolitan area, which is home to 5.8 million people.

Someone famous lives here...

Someone famous lives here…

Main Industries: Not surprisingly, the government is the largest industry in DC, accounting for almost 30% of the jobs. Tourism is the #2 industry, as DC attracts millions of visitors every year. Other large industries include education, scientific research, and public policy.

Transportation: As the nation’s capital, Washington is a major transport hub. A few highways go into the city, but most simply go around. You can get to the city by air, train, or bus. Three airports serve Washington, D.C. – Ronald Reagan, Washington Dulles, and Thurgood Marshall. Union Station is the second-busiest train station in the country, behind New York’s Penn Station. In the city, you can take the Washington Metro, a rapid transit system. There are also a few bus systems operating here, and you can always find a cab.

Some of DC's most famous landmarks.

Some of DC’s most famous landmarks.

Famous Places: Many of America’s most iconic landmarks are in D.C.: the White House, US Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial are all located here. You’ll also find the World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War Veterans Memorials along with plenty of museums and galleries in the central part of the city.

There are a few War Memorials in the city.

There are a few War Memorials in the city.

Culture: D.C. is definitely a national center for the arts. On just about any night, you could see an orchestra, opera, ballet, and a variety of other performing arts. Some of the country’s best museums are also here, including the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. There’s a vibrant music scene in D.C., including the “best big room” in the country according to Rolling Stone magazine – the 9:30 Club.

Some of the many museums in DC.

Some of the many museums in DC.

Sports: Washington has professional teams in all four major men’s sports (baseball, basketball, hockey, and football) – one of only 12 cities in the country. The teams are as follows:

Washington's pro sports teams.

Washington’s pro sports teams.

  • Washington Redskins – NFL
  • Washington Wizards – NBA
  • Washington Nationals – MLB
  • Washington Capitals – NHL

The city also has a WNBA team – the Washington Mystics, and an MLS team – D.C. United.

Travel Experience: Like many other young Americans, I took a class trip to Washington, D.C. when I was in middle school. Alongside a few of our teachers, we visited many of the famous sights of our nation’s capital. Of course, being 12-13 years old, we were more concerned with goofing off and having a good time with our friends than learning. I have returned to D.C. twice since then – once with friends in college to see a concert at the 9:30 Club, and once again last year to visit a friend on our way to Hampton, Virginia. With only half a day of free time, we did a speed-walk around the National Mall. We started at the US Capitol, and walked along the Mall past the museums. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit any of them on our short trip. Instead, we took in the Washington Monument (which was under construction), the WWII and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial. Finally, we paid a short visit to the White House just to snap a few photos. Some visitors to the United States may be surprised to see protestors outside of the White House. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees free speech, and no matter how crazy you are you can set up in front of the place where the president lives and voice your opinions.

Some protestors in the capital.

Some protestors in the capital.

Discussion: We’d love to hear from you, our readers, about Washington D.C. Feel free to answer these questions and leave a comment to practice your English!

  • Have you been to Washington, D.C.?

  • If yes, what did you do there? How was your trip?

  • If no, would you like to visit someday? Why/why not?

  • Which place would you most like to see in Washington?

For some good listening practice and more information about Washington, watch this interesting BBC travel video about the “Real Washington”:

YouTube Preview Image

Let’s go ‘down under’ and learn some Kiwi-English slang

Posted on 20. Nov, 2014 by in English Vocabulary

The flag of New Zealand

Image by Jane Nearing on

Many English language learners travel to countries like Australia or New Zealand to learn English rather than traveling to England or America and so I thought it was time we looked at some slang from one of these countries from “down under.” First of all let me tell you about the term ‘down under’, this is a way to refer to Australia or New Zealand or both. This term comes from the fact that both New Zealand and Australia are countries that are located in the Southern Hemisphere and therefore, ‘down,’ ‘under,’ or ‘below’ most other English-speaking countries. In fact they are geographically below almost all other countries in the world!

Today, I have a list of slang (or local vocabulary) that is particular to New Zealand. If you want to learn more about Australian slang, check out the post I wrote about this a while back.

angus – a name for someone who has an anger problem or gets very angry often
buggered – to be very tired
chilly bin – a cooler used for keeping drinks cold
chocka clock – this means that something/some place is ‘crowded’ or ‘busy’
cuppa – a hot drink, this word is short for “a cup of coffee” or “a cup of tea”
dairy – a supermarket, convenience store, or corner store
fizzy drink – a soda
hot chips – French fries
jandals – flip flops or thongs
kai – a word for food; this word comes from the native Maori language
Kiwi – this is a word that is used to refer to a person who is from New Zealand ( a native New Zealander); it is also the name of the country’s national bird
Macca’s = McDonald’s
pissed – drunk
the wops – a really far away place, out in the middle of nowhere
togs – swimsuit

Now, why don’t you test yourself and see how much of this Kiwi slang you remember. Fill in the blanks below with words from above, then check your answers by scrolling to the bottom of the post.

1. Can you grab me a cold __________ ______________ from the _____________ _______________ .
2. James was __________________ after a long day at work.
3. Don’t forget to pack your ____________ and ______________ for the beach.
4. My favorite place to get a __________ _____________ and a hamburger is at __________________ .
5. Jill went to the _________________ to pick up a few items of food for dinner.


A Kiwi bird from New Zealand.

A Kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand.
Image by James St. John

1. fizzy drink & chilly bin; 2. buggered; 3. jandals & togs; 4. hot chips & Macca’s; 5. dairy.

November Numbers: English numbers know-how and tips

Posted on 18. Nov, 2014 by in English Vocabulary


Image by Robbie Sproule on

Today I have some tips for you for tricky aspects of numbers in English. I want to start by looking at English ordinal numbers. Ordinal numbers are the numbers we use to talk about something’s position, such as first place, second place or third place, in a competition. You might have noticed that ordinal numbers don’t always end with the same suffix or ending, i.e. first, second, and third, fourth. In these, four numbers you can see the four suffixes that English ordinal numbers end in: -st, -nd, -rd, and –th. Now, here is my tip for knowing which of these suffixes to use, with what numbers.

If the tens digit of the number is ‘1,’ always use the suffix –th.

Examples: thirteenth (13th), one hundred and seventeenth (117th), two thousand four hundred and fifteenth (2,415th)

If the tens digit of the number is not ‘1,’ then look at the ones digit of the number to figure out which ending to chose, and use this chart:

0 = th
1 = st
2 = nd
3 = rd
4 = th
5 = th
6 = th
7 = th
8 = th
9 = th

one hundredth (100th)
one hundred and first (101st)
twenty-second (22nd)
fifty-third (53rd)
five thousand one hundred and twenty-fourth (5,124th)
fifty-fifth (55th)

My next tip about number is related to spelling. There is definitely some tricky spelling when it comes to numbers in English. Take a look at these numbers that are commonly misspelled and be careful next time you write them out.

twelfth – although this number comes from the root number twelve instead of being spelled with a ‘v’ it is spelled with an ‘f’
ninth – although this number comes from the root number nine there is no ‘e’ in this number
fifteen and fifty – although both of these numbers come from the number ‘five’ neither of them have a ‘v’ in them, instead they have an ‘f’ (note “f”, not “v”)
eighteen and eighty –both of these numbers come from the number ‘eight’ and when they are spoken it sounds like we are saying eight-teen and eight-ty, but there is only one ‘t’ in the spelling of these words
forty – although this number comes from the number four, there is no ‘u’ in it like its base number

Lastly, here are some helpful number adverbs for talking about how often something happens:

one time = once
two times = twice
three times = thrice
four times = four times
five times = five times
six times = six times
etc. – Only the first three numbers have a special adjective for talking about number of times.

Gail thinks seeing the dentist once a year is enough.
I have gone to see the new Brad Pitt movie twice.
Katelyn has been back to the store thrice today.
He checked his email four times before lunch.

That is the end of my number know-how tips for today. Check back soon for my last post in this November Numbers series!