All lessons
Browse the lessons at your listening/reading level and go practice now.

During a long day spent roaming the forest in search of edible grains and herbs, the weary divine farmer Shennong accidentally poisoned himself 72 times.
But before the poisons could end his life, a leaf drifted into his mouth. He chewed on it and it revived him, and that is how we discovered tea. Or so an ancient legend goes at least.
Tea doesn't actually cure poisonings, but the story of Shennong, the mythical Chinese inventor of agriculture, highlights tea's importance to ancient China.
Archaeological evidence suggests tea was first cultivated there as early as 6,000 years ago, or 1,500 years before the pharaohs built the Great Pyramids of Giza.
That original Chinese tea plant is the same type that's grown around the world today, yet it was originally consumed very differently. It was eaten as a vegetable or cooked with grain porridge.
Tea only shifted from food to drink 1,500 years ago when people realized that a combination of heat and moisture could create a complex and varied taste out of the leafy green. After hundreds of years of variations to the preparation method, the standard became to heat tea, pack it into portable cakes, grind it into powder, mix with hot water, and create a beverage called muo cha, or matcha. Matcha became so popular that a distinct Chinese tea culture emerged.
Tea was the subject of books and poetry, the favorite drink of emperors, and a medium for artists. They would draw extravagant pictures in the foam of the tea, very much like the espresso art you might see in coffee shops today.
In the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, a Japanese monk brought the first tea plant to Japan. The Japanese eventually developed their own unique rituals around tea, leading to the creation of the Japanese tea ceremony. And in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese emperor shifted the standard from tea pressed into cakes to loose leaf tea.
At that point, China still held a virtual monopoly on the world's tea trees, making tea one of three essential Chinese export goods, along with porcelain and silk. This gave China a great deal of power and economic influence as tea drinking spread around the world. That spread began in earnest around the early 1600s when Dutch traders brought tea to Europe in large quantities.
Many credit Queen Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese noble woman, for making tea popular with the English aristocracy when she married King Charles II in 1661. At the time, Great Britain was in the midst of expanding its colonial influence and becoming the new dominant world power. And as Great Britain grew, interest in tea spread around the world. By 1700, tea in Europe sold for ten times the price of coffee and the plant was still only grown in China.
The tea trade was so lucrative that the world's fastest sailboat, the clipper ship, was born out of intense competition between Western trading companies.
All were racing to bring their tea back to Europe first to maximize their profits.
At first, Britain paid for all this Chinese tea with silver. When that proved too expensive, they suggested trading tea for another substance, opium.
This triggered a public health problem within China as people became addicted to the drug. Then in 1839, a Chinese official ordered his men to destroy massive British shipments of opium as a statement against Britain's influence over China. This act triggered the First Opium War between the two nations. Fighting raged up and down the Chinese coast until 1842 when the defeated Qing Dynasty ceded the port of Hong Kong to the British and resumed trading on unfavorable terms. The war weakened China's global standing for over a century.
The British East India company also wanted to be able to grow tea themselves and further control the market. So they commissioned botanist Robert Fortune to steal tea from China in a covert operation. He disguised himself and took a perilous journey through China's mountainous tea regions, eventually smuggling tea trees and experienced tea workers into Darjeeling, India. From there, the plant spread further still, helping drive tea's rapid growth as an everyday commodity.
Today, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and from sugary Turkish Rize tea, to salty Tibetan butter tea, there are almost as many ways of preparing the beverage as there are cultures on the globe.
0:00
0:00
 
  |  9497 learners#Culture #Stories

How many times have you heard someone say they want to make a better world? It is a noble sentiment, but very hard to achieve, right?

Well, actually, it’s quite easy. All we have to do is increase just one human trait. This trait is so powerful that it alone can make people happier without working on their happiness, and make them better – and by “better,” I mean more generous, more honest, more kind, more everything good – without a single lesson in morality.

So, then, what is this one almost magical thing? Drumroll, please.

It’s gratitude.

You can’t be a happy person if you aren’t grateful, and you can’t be a good person if you aren’t grateful. Almost everything good flows from gratitude, and almost everything bad flows from ingratitude.

Let’s begin with ingratitude. Here’s a rule of life: ingratitude guarantees unhappiness. It is as simple as that. There isn't an ungrateful happy person on Earth. And there isn’t an ungrateful good person on Earth. There are two reasons.

Reason one is victimhood. Ingratitude always leads to or comes from victimhood. Ungrateful people—by definition—think of themselves as victims. And perceiving oneself as a victim or perceiving oneself as a member of a victim group may be the single biggest reason people hurt other people—from hurtful comments to mass murder. People who think of themselves as victims tend to believe that because they’ve been hurt by others, they can hurt others.

And the second reason ungrateful people aren’t good people is that ingratitude is always accompanied by anger. The ungrateful are angry, and angry people lash out at others. If ingratitude makes people unhappy and mean, then gratitude must make people happy and kind.

And so it does. Think of the times you have felt most grateful—were they not always accompanied by a feeling of happiness? Weren’t they also accompanied by a desire to be kinder to other people? The answer, of course, is yes. Grateful people aren’t angry and they also don’t see themselves as victims.

The problem, however—and it’s a big one, is that in America and much of the rest of the world, people are becoming less grateful. Why? Because people are constantly told that they are entitled to things they haven’t earned—what are known as “benefits” or “entitlements.” And the more things that people think they should get, the less grateful they will be for whatever they do get. And the more angry—and therefore unhappy—they will be when they don’t get them.

Here are two rules of life. Rule number one: The less you feel entitled to, the more gratitude you will feel for whatever you get and the happier you will be. Rule number two: The more you feel entitled to, the less happy you will be. That’s why, for example, children who get whatever they want are usually less happy children. We have a word for such children: spoiled. And no one thinks of a spoiled child as a happy child, and certainly not a kind one.

The more that you feel that life or society owes you, the angrier you will get, the less happy you will be. As a result, we are increasing the number of angry, unhappy, and selfish people. The other way we are making people unhappy, and even meaner, is by cultivating a sense of victimhood. People are constantly told that they are victims because of their upbringing, because of past prejudice against their group, because of material inequality, because they are female, and for many other reasons.

Next time you want to assess any social policy, ask this question first: Will this policy increase or decrease gratitude among people? You will then know whether it is something that will bring more goodness and happiness to the world—or less.

If I were granted one wish, it would be that all people be grateful. Gratitude is the source of happiness, and the source of goodness; and the more good people, and the more happy people there are walking around, the happier and better our world will be. If you have a way of achieving such a world without increasing gratitude, let me know what it is.
0:00
0:00
 
  |  9429 learners#Social #Essays

English learners can improve their listening skills by transcribing spoken English.

That advice comes from Pascal Hamon, the Academic Director for the English Language Institute at Missouri State University.

Students often study listening comprehension in less than interesting, even boring ways, he adds. Transcription, however, provides a fun way to improve one's listening skills.

At VOA Learning English, we often receive questions from English learners about how they can improve their listening skills.

Some learners want to build up general English skills, while others want to take exams that involve listening skills.

Take the TOEFL exam, for example. International students who want to attend an American college or university are often required to pass TOEFL, short for the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

This test has a listening section. It asks students to show their ability to understand short and long conversations in English. Those discussions are designed to test one's understanding of common vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and special grammatical constructions used in speech.

Whether you want to build general English skills or prepare for a test, being able to understand spoken English is a necessary skill. And you will not get better at this skill unless you practice!

Pascal Hamon says that listening exercises should force English learners to focus on turning the sounds that they hear into words. Then, learners must use their brains to turn these words into a message.

Many students try to learn listening skills by performing listening comprehension activities. Hamon believes that such exercises have value but do not force the student to decode individual sounds.

Worse, some English learners listen to television or radio programs in English, but do not actively try to study how native speakers say words and sentences.

Building listening skills does not have to be boring, says Hamon. There are fun, game-like activities that build listening skills.

One such activity, Hamon says, is to make transcriptions.

Transcribing is the act of writing down the words that have been spoken.

English learners should start working with transcriptions by finding audio or video material that has a transcript with it, Hamon says.

Then, he adds, English learners can start practicing.

They listen to a segment as many times as they need, and they try to write everything they hear without subtitles, without, just focusing on what they hear. And then they can check with the actual transcript to see what they got right, what they did not get right, if there are areas where they thought they heard two words but there is actually only one, or they missed a verb ending or plural or something.

Students should not stop the transcription exercise there, however. Hamon says that students should always try to learn from their mistakes. Students should think, Hamon adds, about what they could do better. By identifying problems, and repeating the exercise, English learners will improve their listening skills.

You can start practicing transcription on your own by following these steps. First, find audio that has a printed transcript, but do not look at the words. You should choose audio that is right for your level. One way you could do this on our website is to open a story and start listening to the audio before reading the story. All of our stories have audio below the headline of the story.

Second, listen to a short section of the audio many times. After you have listened many times, try to write down what you hear.

Third, compare what you wrote against the story.

Finally, think about, as Hamon suggested, where you had problems. Ask yourself the following questions. What do I need to improve? What words or sounds did I not hear?

Remember, when you transcribe something, you do not always have to choose a news story. You could choose a song or part of a movie that you like. Just be sure that you are able to find a transcript for it to check your work.

To get you started, let me give you something to transcribe. Listen to part of a song at the end of this story. The song is called, How Deep is the Ocean, and the singer is American Billie Holiday.
0:00
0:00
 
  |  10379 learners#Education #Speeches

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most famous people in American history. He was never a President of the United States, but he made great achievements in many areas of life, including business, literature, science, and politics. Benjamin Franklin was born in the city of Boston, during the year 1706.

In his early years, Franklin was very poor. As a young man, he worked for his older brother, who was a printer. However, the two brothers soon argued with each other. Benjamin decided to leave, and he moved to the city of Philadelphia. He worked very hard and soon became a successful printer. He published his own newspapers, and he also published books called almanacs, which contained many wise sayings. Many of the wise sayings in Franklin's almanacs are still repeated today. Franklin's printing business was very successful, but he was also very interested in science. He performed experiments on the topic of electricity. Some of these experiments were very dangerous.

In one experiment, Franklin was almost killed when he went outside during a lightning storm and flew a kite that had a metal key attached. However, Franklin was lucky enough to avoid injury, and he learned new facts about electricity. In addition to scientific research, Franklin was also an inventor. He invented a new kind of eye-glasses called bifocals. Bifocals are eye-glasses that allow people to see things that are far away, but also allow them to read things that are very close. Another invention was a new kind of stove for burning wood. This new stove was much more efficient than the older stoves had been. He also invented a lightning rod, which keeps houses safe from lightning.

Franklin was also interested in making his city a better place to live. He started a public library, and he helped to organize a hospital and a fire department. In addition, he supervised the postal service, which operated profitably under his command. In his later years, Franklin became heavily involved in politics. For most of Franklin's life, the United States was not yet a country. Instead, the United States were still colonies of England, but Franklin encouraged other Americans to become an independent country. When the United States became a country, Franklin became the American ambassador to France. The French people liked Franklin very much. Franklin later returned to the United States, and he died in 1790.

Today, many Americans still admire the brilliant achievements of Benjamin Franklin, who did so much to improve people's lives. The picture of Benjamin Franklin can be seen on the American hundred-dollar bill.
0:00
0:00
 
  |  9061 learners#Science #Biography

I'm guessing you've heard of the acclaimed TV show Game of Thrones. Seven kingdoms vying for power, plots within plots, watch your back or lose your head. It's great.

But you've probably never heard of a real life drama that I call the Game of Loans. That's a game Washington politicians play on young people, that is, college students, every day.

Just like Game of Thrones, the Game of Loans has plots within plots, big winners and big losers.

The winners are politicians and colleges. They fool students into thinking that by generously providing ever-larger college loans to cover ever-larger tuition costs, they have earned student's votes at election time. Why do I say students are fooled? Because it is thanks to the very politicians who promise students more and more aid in league with the colleges that college tuition became so expensive in the first place.

Here's how the game works. According to Bloomberg News, since 1978, the cost of a college education has gone up by over 1000 percent. Way past the rate of inflation. Tuition alone at many colleges is 20, 40, even 50 thousand dollars a year! So, how do you pay for it? Answer: student loans, loans that the government is happy to give you since they collect the interest. You don't have to be a finance major to figure out that all these student loans give colleges no incentive to cut costs. Instead, it gives them every incentive to raise costs. Higher tuition obviously means more money for the college.

Now students were going to college in record numbers to study engineering or computer science or biology professions with high employment rates maybe these crazy sums would make some sense. Maybe. But the most common majors are in the social sciences and communications in subjects like sociology, cinema history and gender studies. Not surprisingly these majors have very high unemployment rates, as in, they don't prepare you for a job. And these majors are mainstream! You can get a degree in storytelling, bag piping and puppet arts for your fifty thousand a year.

But here's the point: colleges are no longer primarily about preparing you for a career. Today's higher education is about teaching you what a terrible country America is, social activism and binge drinking. Hey, if college didn't cost so much the parties might be worth it, but it does.

The average student loan debt in America is 28400 dollar per borrower. Note that this is per borrower, not graduate! Big difference. A large chunk of the one point three trillion dollar student loan liability is held by ex-students who never graduated. For every 100 students who enter a four-year college only 59 exit with a degree.

But maybe you're one of the lucky ones. You got a business degree and you found a decent job. Chances are you're paying off your student loans and will be for the next 10, 20 or even 30 years! Good luck saving money for a down payment on a house or just about anything else.

Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs nicely summarized the issue this way: We are lending money we don't have to kids who can't pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.

So, am I saying that college is always a waste of time and money? Of course not. But I am saying this:

One, remember that if you take out a student loan, it's not free money. You actually have to pay it back. I know this sounds ridiculously basic but it's also ridiculously important. And since you owe this money to the federal government, you can't get out of it, even if you declare bankruptcy.

Two, whenever you hear politicians say they want to make college more affordable, what they're really saying is that they want to get the youth vote while making it easier for you to dig yourself into a deep hole.

These politicians don't have your best interest at heart. They have their own best interest at heart namely, getting elected. You don't owe them anything.

The Game of Loans is rigged and not in your favor. But if you're smart about your choices, you can beat the odds.

I'm Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA for Prager University.
0:00
0:00
 
  |  9586 learners#Economics #Speeches

I want to talk to you about a new feminism for the 21st century. There are three pillars to this new feminism: Dignity. The word no. And men. That's right, men.

But before I expound on these three ideas, you need to know something about me. I was very involved in the feminist movement, including being on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women. For this I feel much pride and some guilt. Pride because feminism has pushed forward some very important and needed changes; and guilt because it has also done a lot of damage. My work now is to reverse that damage.

So in that spirit, let's talk about the first pillar of this new feminism: dignity.

Dignity is at the core of what feminism should always be about. Dignity means that a woman should be able to freely choose her own path in life. That's what feminism once held. But does it still? Ask almost any female college student today what she aspires to be and she'll list any number of career choices. The one she won't list is wife and mother. In fact any time someone has the temerity to suggest that a woman might want to look for a husband while in college, as a very successful Princeton grad recently did in a letter to the school's newspaper, feminists go nuts. A new feminism will value and respect all responsible choices.

And while we're talking about dignity, I can't think of anything less dignified for women than the feminist belief that in the sexual arena, women are like, and therefore ought to act like, men. Is this what the truly liberated woman wants? To have casual sex and think nothing of it like men do? That's what feminism aspires to? Sad to say the answer has too often been yes.

So, let's add this up: Feminism has downplayed the desire for women to have a family while at the same time hyping the rewards of career and casual sex. Not exactly a recipe for success or happiness.

The second pillar of a new feminism is the word: no. It's very much tied in with the first pillar.

Throughout history women have made great use of the word: no. Of course many times women said: yes, when they should have said no, and that's the basis of more than a few classic stories and novels. But this was the exception, not the rule. There is great power in that word: no. And women, for the most part, knew how to wield that power. But in the last few decades they've lost it. And the consequences have been catastrophic.

Women, who fought not to be treated as sex objects, have become more objectified than ever. You see it everywhere: in music videos, on billboards, in the hookup culture on campuses. And now we have the tawdry spectacle of teenage girls sexually pursuing teenage boys the way boys pursued girls. How did this happen? Because feminism began to advocate that women should behave like men. Whatever men did and however they did it, that's what women should do. Feminists were angry at men, but they wanted to be like them at the same time. No wonder our society is so confused.

Women are robbing themselves of the ability to say no; the solution is to take that power back. This is especially true for young women. Saying: no, means, I will not be defined by anyone else, not by feminists, and not by men's sexual desires. That is female power.

This is a good segue to my third pillar of a new feminism, men. It is easy for feminists to forget this, but it was men who gave up their monopoly on political power and gave women the right to vote, men who invented birth control, the refrigerator, the washing machine, and so many other devices that liberated women.

And men are different from women. Academics like to speculate that men and women are basically the same, that they're only socialized differently, but as George Orwell famously noted: that's an idea that only an intellectual would be foolish enough to believe.

Moreover, the sexes need each other. For example, women civilize men. It's what we are supposed to do. But in order to accomplish this critical task, we must preserve our dignity.

Not be afraid to use the word no, and, see men as partners, not as competitors, let alone oppressors.

That's the way to a new feminism. And the way to a better world for both sexes.
0:00
0:00
 
  |  9272 learners#Politic #Speeches
Not completed (0 - 99%)  |   Passed (100%)  |   Failed (< 100%)  |   Not learned (0%)

The filters

Reset

New lessons

Trees in the Forest
Basic - American
Bird watching
Basic - Others
Growing roses
Basic - American
Let's recycle
Basic - American
A Picnic by the River
Basic - American
The history of tea
Advanced - American