Washington DC Video Tour

Posted on 28. Nov, 2014 by in Uncategorized

While I’m sure you all enjoyed reading about the capital city of the USA last week, you’d probably like to see a bit more of Washington, D.C. See what you can do on a half-day walking tour of the National Mall in this short video. Featuring the US Capitol, Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, White House, and so much more. A great video for ESL students interested in America and/or American ESL teachers looking to show their home country to students.

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“Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States. Let’s enjoy a day of sightseeing in this famous city. Most places of interest are located in the National Mall. Our trip begins at the US Capitol. This is the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the government. Stop to enjoy the views in the reflecting pool.

There are many government buildings here, such as the Department of Education and the National Archives. The Smithsonian Institution is the largest group of museums and research centers in the world, including the Museum of the American Indian, Air and Space Museum, Museum of Natural History, and Museum of American History. The National Gallery of Art is located in two large buildings. If you don’t have time to go inside, you can enjoy a walk in the Sculpture Garden. Opened to the public in 1999, this is the most recent addition to the gallery. There are many interesting things to see here.

Continuing on your walk, you’ll see the Washington Monument, built to honor the country’s first president. There are many war memorials in DC, including the World War II Memorial. Opened in 2004, this is dedicated to the many Americans who served during the war. There are 56 pillars, representing the 48 states of 1945 plus other American territories. The Freedom Wall has 4,048 gold stars – each one representing 100 Americans who died in the war. You can also see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, honoring the men and women who served in this controversial war.

Walk along the 2,000 foot Reflecting Pool and take in one of the most famous scenes in American history. At the end, you’ll find the Lincoln Memorial. Inside is an impressive statue of the 16th president. You can also read the text of his most famous speech – the Gettysburg Address.

There are some nice gardens you can walk through in DC. Don’t be surprised to see protestors out and about, as they are everywhere in the capital. There’s plenty of interesting architecture, such as the Eishenhower office and the Renwick Gallery. Your walking tour of DC ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, site of the White House and home to the President of the United States.”

Happy Thanksgiving: Let’s give thanks for the American Cranberry

Posted on 27. Nov, 2014 by in Culture


A picture of cranberries by Andrew Morrell on Flickr.com.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Instead of writing specifically about this holiday, I am going to write about a very American fruit that is customarily eaten on this day. I’m talking about the cranberry. If you don’t know what a cranberry is, you need to read this post; if you don’t know why cranberries are important on Thanksgiving, you need to read this post; and if you just want to something interesting to read, you should read this post!

Cranberries are tart, red berries, which grow on a shrub (shrub = a kind of bush). Cranberries are a fruit that is native to America, so they are considered a “new world” food. They grow best in cooler northern environments.  They also grow in wet environments called “bogs.” A bog is wet muddy ground, similar to a swamp. Bogs occur on their own in nature, but they can also be made for farming purposes, such as for growing cranberries or rice.

When they are fresh cranberries have an acidic, bitter, or tart taste that most people don’t like very much on its own. They are very tart indeed, and usually need sugar to make them edible. Cranberries are often eaten in sauces or jams, which are usually made for Thanksgiving! Cranberry juice, which is sweetened with a lot of sugar is also popular. One of the most popular ways to eat cranberries today though is dried and sweetened. Dried cranberries are called Craisins.  This word is a mix between the word cranberry and raisin (craisin), because dried cranberries look a lot like raisins.

robot reating craisins

A picture of a robot eating Craisins by Morgan on Flickr.com.

One of the reasons that cranberries are traditionally eaten with Thanksgiving dinner in the United States is because cranberries are harvested in the fall (not the summer) around the time of Thanksgiving. It is believed that cranberries were eaten at the first Thanksgiving dinner had by Native Americans and American pilgrims in the state of Massachusetts in 1621.

You might also be interested to know that cranberries are considered a “super fruit,” because they are full of antioxidants. They are also high in Vitamin C.  Native Americans used cranberries to help heal wounds (i.e. cuts) and infections.

Although cranberries are native to North America, they are now grown in other countries, usually cold Northern Hemisphere countries. It may be hard to find cranberries near you if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, but if you are able to find cranberries, here is a very simple recipe for “cranberry sauce.” Cranberry sauce is sure to be on most Thanksgiving tables today in America and I for one will be thankful to eat it!

Cranberry sauce


1 ½ cups (or 12-ounce) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest (zest = peel)
2 tablespoons water


1. Put half of your cranberries into a saucepan with the sugar, orange zest, and water.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
2. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 10 more minutes, until the cranberries burst (burst = break open).
3. Reduce the heat to low.  Stir in the other half of the cranberries to cook for 3-4 minutes.
4. Let cool before serving.
5. Enjoy!

November Numbers: What are ‘empty numbers’ in English?

Posted on 25. Nov, 2014 by in English Language, English Vocabulary

empty numbers

Image by Janet Ramsden on Flickr.com.

This is the last post in a series of four posts that have looked at numbers in English. So far we have looked at some special numbers (i.e. the number 7), different names for certain numbers, and tips for remembering how to use ordinal numbers and spell some tricky numbers. Now, we are going to look at “empty numbers” or numbers that don’t even exist!

In everyday English there are a few suffixes and a prefix that can be combined to indicate “empty numbers.” Empty numbers are non-specific numbers. We use them when there is uncertainty about what the number is or when the exact number is not important. Empty numbers indicate a range of possible numbers. In English there are three empty number suffixes and one empty number prefix, which I have listed below.


-teen: used to talk about non-specific numbers between 10 and 20

-ty: used to talk about non-specific numbers between 20 and 100

-illion:  used to talk about non-specific numbers above 1,000,000 (or just to indicate that something is very large)

The prefix:

ump-: This prefix is added to either of the suffix –teen or –ty. It is not ever added to the suffix –illion. Other prefixes are added to -illion, which I’ll tell you about below.

Now, let’s look at how these suffixes and prefixes fit together to make empty numbers.

Here are some examples:

“I called the store umpteen times before someone answered the phone.”

“There were umpteen people in front of her in line when she started waiting.”

In both of these sentences we know the number the speaker is talking about is between 10-20, but we don’t know what the exact number is, and we don’t need to know.

“There are umpty some ways to get there from here.”

The word “umpty” is used very rarely in English; it is used much less compared to the use of umpteen. I wanted to introduce it here, but I would recommend you focus more on using “umpteen” as an empty number when it is appropriate.

Now, let’s look at the suffix –illion. This suffix is often used to indicate really, really big numbers or the idea of really big numbers. It is also used to exaggerate something and it is used emphatically. The suffix –illion is used to talk about some real numbers as well, such as ‘billion’ and ‘million.’ It is also used with the number ‘zillion,’ which usually means anything greater than a billion.  The -illion suffix is also used with some made-up prefixes, which people create to indicate really large amounts.  Words with –illion at their end are used as adjectives, i.e. modifying nouns.  The indefinite article “a” is always used right before an a word ending in –illion.

Here are some examples:

“I swear there are a babillion people here!”

“There must be a gazillion stars in the sky.”

Usually when people use the suffix –illion to create an empty number they just make-up a prefix (i.e. gag-, baz-, tr-) to put in front of the suffix –illion, just like in the examples above.

Here is one last example, which uses two empty numbers at once:

“There were umpteen zillion people at the concert.”

In this example you can be sure the speaker is trying to let you know there were a lot of people. Also, note ‘a’ is not used in front of ‘zillion’ because it immediately preceded by the empty number umpteen, which does not need to have the article ‘a’ preceding it.

Lastly, another way to create nonspecific numbers in English is to say the word “some” before or after a rounded number. A rounded number is one that ends in 0 (i.e. 30, 100, 2,000, 120,000). When using the word some in this way, it usually comes after a rounded number that is less than 1,000 and before a rounded number that is more than 1,000. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good generalization.

Here are some examples:

“After 30-some years I am reuniting with my best friend from elementary school.”

“I attended high school with some-1,000 other people.”

“James has 400-some friends on Facebook.”

In summary, empty numbers are used to talk about a non-specific range of numbers; they are generally used informal and emphatically; and they are fun to play around with!

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of posts on English numbers. If you have any questions about this or any other posts in this series, please ask them by posting a comment below.