Saturday, January 29, 2011

"The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide" from VOA news.

FAITH LAPIDUS: This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: And I'm Christopher Cruise. Winter has brought cold weather to many areas in Earth’s northern hemisphere. With the cold comes a danger as old as man’s knowledge of fire -- death or injury by carbon monoxide poisoning. Today, we tell about this ancient and continuing danger.


FAITH LAPIDUS: An eight year old boy died earlier this month in his home near Boston, Massachusetts. His mother reportedly had burned charcoal in the home. Police believe the boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Also in January, carbon monoxide killed four members of a poor family in central California. A ten-year-old girl, her eight-year-old sister and two of their relatives died from the poison gas. It is said to have come from a gas-powered generator being used to heat the home. They were using the device because they had failed to pay their heating bill, and the company had turned off their heat.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Carbon monoxide poisoning causes many deaths and injuries to people and animals around the world. The gas has been a problem since people first began burning fuels to cook food or to create heat. It is a problem in all parts of the world that experience cold weather.

America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has studied deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. It found that the average number of carbon monoxide deaths in the United States was greatest in the month of January.

The CDC also found that carbon monoxide kills more than four hundred Americans each year. And, it said, more than twenty thousand people are taken to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of health problems linked to the gas. Four thousand of them had to stay in the hospital to be treated.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer because people do not know it is in the air. The gas has no color. It has no taste. It has no smell. It does not cause burning eyes. And it does not cause people to cough. But it is very deadly. It steals the body’s ability to use oxygen.

Carbon monoxide decreases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to body tissues. It does this by linking with the blood. When the gas links with the blood, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen to the tissues that need it. Damage to the body can begin very quickly from large amounts of carbon monoxide. How quickly this happens depends on the length of time a person is breathing the gas and the amount of the gas he or she breathes in. Another consideration is how much alcohol the person might have to drink.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Carbon monoxide poisoning has warning signs. But people have to be awake to recognize them. Small amounts of the gas will cause a person’s head to hurt. He or she may begin to feel tired. The person may feel sick. The room may appear to be turning around. The person may have trouble thinking clearly.

People develop severe head pain as the amount of gas continues to enter their blood. They will begin to feel very tired and sleepy. They may have terrible stomach pains.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Carbon monoxide is measured in parts per million in a normal atmosphere. Breathing in two hundred parts per million of carbon monoxide will cause the first signs of poisoning. It will result in head pain, stomach problems and a feeling of tiredness after two to three hours.

A level of eight hundred parts per million will cause a person to lose consciousness. Victims will not know what is taking place around them. This will happen within two hours of breathing in this amount of carbon monoxide. Twelve thousand parts per million of the gas will cause death in one to three minutes.

A patient poisoned by carbon monoxide receives treatment at a hospital in China's Jilin province in 2006
A patient poisoned by carbon monoxide receives treatment at a hospital in China's Jilin province in 2006

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Medical experts say carbon monoxide affects people differently. For example, a small child will experience health problems or die much quicker than an adult will. The general health of the person or his or her age can also be important.

An older adult with health problems may suffer the effects of carbon monoxide more quickly than a younger person with no health problems. People with heart disease may suffer chest pains. They may begin to have trouble breathing.

Carbon monoxide does not always cause death. But it can cause many medical problems. Breathing low amounts of the gas for long periods of time can lead to permanent damage in the heart, lungs or brain. Experts say small amounts of carbon monoxide over a long period of time can greatly harm an unborn baby.


FAITH LAPIDUS: What causes carbon monoxide gas? Any device that burns fuels like coal, gasoline, kerosene, oil or wood can create the gas. Water heaters that burn natural gas create carbon monoxide. Fireplaces and stoves that burn wood create the gas. Natural gas stoves and gas dryers or charcoal grills also create carbon monoxide. Automobiles create it.

Experts say the leading cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is damaged or misused equipment that burns these fossil fuels. Many people die or are injured by the gas because they do not use these devices correctly. Any device used to heat a home should be inspected to make sure it is working correctly. And cooking equipment like a charcoal grill should never be used to heat an enclosed area.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Fuel-burning devices can create carbon monoxide gas because not all of the fuel is burned. Most devices used for home heating have a way to expel the gas from the home. For example, a fireplace has a chimney. Natural-gas stoves or gas water heaters are usually connected to a device that safely expels the gas from the home. Automobiles also have a system for releasing unburned fuel.

Anyone who uses a device that burns fossil fuel must inspect the equipment carefully to reduce chances of carbon monoxide escaping. Companies that produce the devices usually provide directions about using the device correctly. These directions should be read and understood before using any equipment that burns fuel inside a home.

A small, portable generator used to create electricity during a power outage can be dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that such a device can kill within minutes when not used correctly.


FAITH LAPIDUS: You can do a number of things to protect yourself from the effects of carbon monoxide. First, immediately leave the area if you recognize the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in yourself or others.

Seek emergency medical services after you leave the area where you suspect the gas might be. Usually, the treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning involves breathing in large amounts of oxygen. However, a doctor will know the best method to treat the effects of such poisoning.

Carbon monoxide does not quickly leave the body, even after treatment has begun. It can take several hours before the gas disappears. If you suspect carbon monoxide is a problem in your home, call your local fire department. Many firefighters have the necessary equipment to find or identify the gas.

A Montpelier, Vermont, firefighter shows a device used to test if a person is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoningA Montpelier, Vermont, firefighter shows a device used to test if a person is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: In many countries, it is possible to buy and use a special device that will warn when harmful levels of carbon monoxide are in the area. These devices can be linked to a home’s electric system. Others are battery-powered. Experts say these devices should be placed near sleeping areas in the home and they should be tested at least twice a year.

The most important weapon against carbon monoxide poisoning is the safe use of materials to heat any enclosed area. Safety directions that come with heating equipment must be followed. Older equipment powered by fossil fuels should be inspected every year to make sure it continues to be safe. Knowledge about the dangers of carbon monoxide could be the most important information you ever learn.


FAITH LAPIDUS: This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach and Christopher Cruise. Our producer was June Simms. I’m Faith Lapidus.

CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: And I’m Christopher Cruise. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at And you can find us on Twitter and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.


1. Carbon Monoxide has been called the silent killer because people _____________ .
a. don't pay attention
b. don't pay their heating bills
c. don't know it's in the air
d. don't know they're burning coal

2. Carbon Monoxide is deadly because it steals the body's ability to _____________ .
a. digest food
b. use oxygen
c. smell the deadly gas
d. defend against the cold

3. The following is not a warning sign of carbon monoxide poisoning: ____________ .
a. headache
b. tiredness
c. dizziness
d. feeling cold

4. Carbon monoxide poisoning __________ causes death.
a. seldom
b. always
c. sometimes
d. never

5. A fuel burning device such as a charcoal grill should never be used ______________ .
a. on a patio
b. in an enclosed space
c. in a backyard area
d. in a campground or park

6. If suspect that you're suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, you should first __________ immediately.
a. leave the area
b. call the fire department
c. take an aspirin
d. drink cold water

7. After treatment, the carbon monoxide in the body ______________ .
a. leaves very quickly
b. does not leave very quickly
c. builds to a more dangerous level
d. becomes oxygen

8. Firefighters have the necessary equipment to ___________________ .
a. rescue carbon monoxide victims
b. re introduce oxygen to the home
c. detect the presence of the gas
d. reduce the presence of the gas

9. Another name for this selection could be ________________ .
a. "Dangerous Fuels"
b. "Broken Equipment"
c. "The Killer Gas"
d. "The Diagnosis of Sickness"

10. This story is mainly about _______________ .
a. the causes of carbon monoxide
b. the threat of carbon monoxide
c. the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning
d. the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"1920s America. Black Americans Moving On" from VOA.

BOB DOUGHTY: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

The early years of the twentieth century were a time of movement for many black Americans. Traditionally, most blacks lived in the Southeastern states. But in the nineteen twenties, many blacks moved to cities in the North.

Black Americans moved because living conditions were so poor in the rural areas of the Southeast. But many of them discovered that life was also hard in the colder Northern cities. Jobs often were hard to find. Housing was poor. And whites sometimes acted violently against them.

This week in our series, Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe tell about the life of black Americans in the nineteen twenties and how they helped form traditions.


KAY GALLANT: The years just before and after nineteen twenty were difficult for blacks. It was a time of racial hatred. Many whites joined the Ku Klux Klan organization. The Klan often terrorized blacks. Klan members sometimes burned fiery crosses in front of the houses of black families. And they sometimes beat and murdered blacks.

The Ku Klux Klan also acted against Roman Catholics, Jews, and foreigners. But it hated blacks most of all.

Ku Klux Klan members, around 1922
Ku Klux Klan members, around 1922

HARRY MONROE: The United States also suffered a series of race riots in a number of cities during this period. White and black Americans fought each other in Omaha, Philadelphia, and other cities.

The worst riot was in Chicago. A swimming incident started the violence. A black boy sailing a small boat entered a part of the beach used by white swimmers. Some white persons threw stones at the boy. He fell into the water and drowned.

Black citizens heard about the incident and became extremely angry. Soon, black and white mobs were fighting each other in the streets.

The violence lasted for two weeks. Thirty-eight persons died. More than five-hundred were wounded. The homes of hundreds of families were burned.

The violence in Chicago and other cities did not stop black Americans from moving north or west. They felt that life had to be better than in the South.

KAY GALLANT: Black Americans left the South because life was hard, economic chances few, and white hatred common. But many blacks arrived in other parts of the country only to learn that life was no easier. Some blacks wrote later that they had only traded the open racism of the rural Southeast for the more secret racism of Northern cities.

Blacks responded to these conditions in different ways. Some blacks followed the ideas of Booker T. Washington, the popular black leader of the early nineteen hundreds.

Washington believed that blacks had to educate and prepare themselves to survive in American society. He helped form a number of training schools where blacks could learn skills for better jobs. And he urged blacks to establish businesses and improve themselves without causing trouble with whites.

Other blacks liked the stronger ideas of William Du Bois.

Du Bois felt that blacks had to take firm actions to protest murders and other illegal actions. He published a magazine and spoke actively for new laws and policies to protect black rights. Du Bois also helped form a group that later became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP became one of the nation's leading black rights organizations in the twentieth century.

Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington

HARRY MONROE: Probably the most important leader for black Americans in the nineteen twenties did not come from the United States. He was Marcus Garvey from the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Garvey moved to New York City in nineteen sixteen. He quickly began organizing groups in black areas.

His message was simple. He said blacks should not trust whites. Instead, they should be proud of being black and should help each other. Garvey urged blacks to leave the United States, move to Africa, and start their own nation.

Marcus Garvey organized several plans to help blacks become economically independent of whites. His biggest effort was a shipping company to trade goods among black people all over the world.

Many American blacks gave small amounts of money each week to help Garvey start the shipping company. However, the idea failed. Government officials arrested Garvey for collecting the money unlawfully. They sent him to prison in nineteen twenty-five. And two years later, President Coolidge ordered Garvey out of the country.

Marcus Garvey's group was the first major black organization in the United States to gain active support from a large number of people. The organization failed. But it did show the anger and lack of hope that many blacks felt about their place in American society.


KAY GALLANT: Blacks also showed their feelings through writing, art and music. The nineteen twenties were one of the most imaginative periods in the history of American black art.

Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen were three of the leading black poets during this time. McKay was best known for his poems of social protest. Hughes produced poems about black life that experts now say are among the greatest American poems ever written.

Black writers also produced longer works. Among the leading black novelists were Jessie Faucet, Jean Toomer, and Rudolph Fisher.


HARRY MONROE: The nineteen twenties also were an exciting time for black music. Black musicians playing the piano developed the ragtime style of music. Singers and musicians produced a sad, emotional style of playing that became known as the blues. And most important, music lovers began to play and enjoy a new style that was becoming known as jazz.

Jazz advanced greatly as a true American kind of music in the nineteen twenties. Musicians Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Eubie Blake played in gathering places and small theaters. White musicians and music experts from universities came to listen. Soon the music became popular among Americans of all kinds and around the world.

KAY GALLANT: Blacks began to recognize in the nineteen twenties their own deep roots in the United States. They began to see just how much black men and women already had done to help form American history and traditions.

The person who did the most to help blacks understand this was black historian Carter G. Woodson. Woodson received his training at two leading universities: Harvard in Massachusetts and the Sorbonne in France. He launched a new publication, the Journal of Negro History, in which he and other experts wrote about black life and history. Historians today call Woodson the father of the scientific study of black history.

HARRY MONROE: The nineteen twenties also were a period in which a number of blacks experimented with new political ideas and parties. The difficult social conditions of the period led many blacks to search for new political solutions.

Two leftist parties -- the Socialists and the Communists -- urged blacks to leave the traditional political system and work for more extreme change. Two leading black Socialists, Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, urged blacks to support Socialist candidates. However, they gained little popular support from blacks.

Communists also tried to organize black workers. But generally, black voters showed little interest in communist ideas.

The most important change in black political thinking during the nineteen twenties came within the traditional two-party system itself. Blacks usually had voted for Republicans since the days of Abraham Lincoln. But the conservative Republican policies of the nineteen twenties caused many blacks to become Democrats.

By nineteen thirty-two, blacks would vote by a large majority for the Democratic presidential candidate, Franklin Roosevelt. And blacks continue to be a major force in the Democratic Party.


BOB DOUGHTY: Our program was written by David Jarmul. The narrators were Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and images at You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"The Origins of English, Part One" from Voice of America

STEVE EMBER: This is Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we present the first of two programs about the history of the English Language.


STEVE EMBER: More people are trying to learn English than any other language in the world. English is the language of political negotiations and international business. It has become the international language of science and medicine. International treaties say passenger airplane pilots must speak English.

English is the major foreign language taught in most schools in South America and Europe. School children in the Philippines and Japan begin learning English at an early age. English is the official language of more than seventy-five countries including Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.

In countries where many different languages are spoken, English is often used as an official language to help people communicate. India is good example. English is the common language in this country where at least twenty-four languages are spoken by more than one million people.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Where did the English language come from? Why has it become so popular? To answer these questions we must travel back in time about five thousand years to an area north of the Black Sea in southeastern Europe.

Experts say the people in that area spoke a language called Proto-Indo-European. That language is no longer spoken. Researchers do not really know what it sounded like.

Yet, Proto-Indo-European is believed to be the ancestor of most European languages. These include the languages that became ancient Greek, ancient German and the ancient Latin.

Latin disappeared as a spoken language. Yet it left behind three great languages that became modern Spanish, French and Italian. Ancient German became Dutch, Danish, German, Norwegian, Swedish and one of the languages that developed into English.

STEVE EMBER: The English language is a result of the invasions of the island of Britain over many hundreds of years. The invaders lived along the northern coast of Europe.

The first invasions were by a people called Angles about one thousand five hundred years ago. The Angles were a German tribe who crossed the English Channel. Later two more groups crossed to Britain. They were the Saxons and the Jutes.

These groups found a people called the Celts, who had lived in Britain for many thousands of years. The Celts and the invaders fought.

After a while, most of the Celts were killed, or made slaves. Some escaped to live in the area that became Wales. Through the years, the Saxons, Angles and Jutes mixed their different languages. The result is what is called Anglo-Saxon or Old English.

Old English is extremely difficult to understand. Only a few experts can read this earliest form of English.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Several written works have survived from the Old English period. Perhaps the most famous is called Beowulf. It is the oldest known English poem. Experts say it was written in Britain more than one thousand years ago. The name of the person who wrote it is not known.

Beowulf is the story of a great king who fought against monsters. He was a good king, well liked by his people. Listen as Warren Scheer reads the beginning of this ancient story in modern English.


So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by

and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,

a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.

This terror of the hall-troops had come far.

A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on

as his powers waxed and his worth was proved,

In the end each clan on the outlying coasts

beyond the whale-road had to yield to him

and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.

STEVE EMBER: The next great invasion of Britain came from the far north beginning about one thousand one hundred years ago. Fierce people called Vikings raided the coast areas of Britain. The Vikings came from Denmark, Norway and other northern countries. They were looking to capture trade goods and slaves and take away anything of value.

In some areas, the Vikings became so powerful they built temporary bases. These temporary bases sometimes became permanent. Later, many Vikings stayed in Britain.

Many English words used today come from these ancient Vikings. Words like “sky,” “leg,” “skull,” “egg,” “crawl,” “ lift” and “take” are from the old languages of the far northern countries.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The next invasion of Britain took place more than nine hundred years ago, in ten sixty-six. History experts call this invasion the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror led it.

The Normans were a French-speaking people from Normandy in the north of France. They became the new rulers of Britain. These new rulers spoke only French for several hundred years. It was the most important language in the world at that time. It was the language of educated people. But the common people of Britain still spoke Old English.

Old English took many words from the Norman French. Some of these include “damage,” “prison,” and “marriage.” Most English words that describe law and government come from Norman French. Words such as “jury,” “parliament,” and “justice.”

The French language used by the Norman rulers greatly changed the way English was spoken by eight hundred years ago.

English became what language experts call Middle English. As time passed, the ruling Normans no longer spoke true French. Their language had become a mix of French and Middle English.

STEVE EMBER: Middle English sounds like modern English. But it is very difficult to understand now. Many written works from this period have survived. Perhaps the most famous was written by Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet who lived in London and died there in fourteen hundred. Chaucer’s most famous work is “The Canterbury Tales,” written more than six hundred years ago.

“The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of poems about different people traveling to the town of Canterbury. Listen for a few moments as Warren Scheer reads the beginning of Chaucer’s famous “Canterbury Tales.”


Whan that aprill with his shoures soote

The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heath…

Now listen as Mister Scheer reads the same sentences again, but this time in Modern English.


When April with his showers sweet with fruit

The drought of March has pierced unto the root

And bathed each vein with liquor that has power

To generate therein and sire the flower;

When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,

Quickened again, in every holt and heath,

The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun…

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: English language experts say Geoffrey Chaucer was the first important writer to use the English language. They also agree that Chaucer’s great Middle English poem gives us a clear picture of the people of his time.

STEVE EMBER: The prologue you just heard describes a group of religious travelers going to Canterbury. To entertain themselves, they agree to tell stories while they travel.

The Knight’s Tale is about two men who compete for the love of a beautiful woman. The Miller’s Tale is a funny story that tells about a young man who is in love with a married woman. The two play a mean trick on the woman’s old husband.

One of the most famous characters in the series of stories is the Wife of Bath. She is a strong, and opinionated woman who likes to talk about her many adventures in life and marriage.

Some of the people described in “The Canterbury Tales” are wise and brave; some are stupid and foolish. Some believe they are extremely important. Some are very nice, others are mean. But they all still seem real.

The history of the English language continues as Middle English becomes Modern English, which is spoken today. That will be our story next time.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week to hear the second part of the History of the English Language on the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS.


1. William the Conqueror ___________________ .
a: fought a monster in the book named in Beowolf.
b: led the Norman Invasion of 1066.
c: wrote "The Canterbury Tales"
d: was a chieftain of the Vikings

2. The English Language is _______________________ .
a: based exclusively on Latin
b: mainly a Germanic language
c: has many influences that include Germanic tribes, Latin, and French
d: has remained the same for 1, 500 years

3. The reason English is very important in India is that _________________ .
a: it is the only common language for the entire country
b: it is the language of science and medicine
c: it is the only language taught in the schools
d: it is the only language spoken in large cities

4. The words "egg", "lift", "leg", "take", "crawl", and "sky" come from ______________ .
a: the Jutes
b: the Celts
c: the Vikings
d: the Normans

5. The original inhabitants of Britain 1500 years ago were the _______________ .
a: Celts
b: Germans
c: Jutes
d: Normans

6. "_______________" is the most famous book written in Old English.
a: The Canterbury Tales
b: Beowulf
c: The Knight's Tale
d: The Miller's Tale

7. "Shoures soote" is " ____________________ " in Middle English.
a: certain soot
b: south shores
c: sweet showers
d: soiled clothing

8. A "prologue" is ________________________ .
a: the beginning of the story
b: the middle of the story
c: the translation of the story
d: the conclusion of the story

9. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Middle English __________________ .
a: about 1000 years ago
b: during the 14th Century
c: before the Norman invasion
d: before the Viking invasions

10. English is not the official language in _____________________ .
a: Canada
b: South Africa
c: New Zealand
d: The Philippines

The History of the English Language, Part Two