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67 segments Intermediate Male
The Copperpod tree was in full bloom. Vibrant and vivacious it swayed gracefully from side to side, sending down a shower of copper yellow petals.

“Gosh, you’re beautiful!” exclaimed the other trees.

The Copperpod tree stood up straight and rustled its leaves, clearly enjoying the attention.

A gust of wind blew through the forest causing all the trees to bend westwards.

“Oh no…my flowers!” cried the Copperpod tree, trying its best to stand still.

Another gust of wind sent the trees swaying the other way.

“That’s enough!” said the Copperpod tree, as a bunch of flowers fell from its top most branches, “I’ve just about had enough!”

All the other trees turned to look.

“Now look here Mr. Wind, I refuse to dance to your tunes anymore! I wish to sway by myself! Not the way you want me to!” said the Copperpod tree firmly.

A gentle whisper broke out among the trees.

The wind stopped blowing. The din of dead silence rang through the forest.

A moment later the wind swept through the air again. It circled around the trees and made a whooshing sound. But it never touched the Copperpod tree.

The Copperpod tree watched the other trees giggle as the wind tickled their branches. Then it turned the other way and admired its flowers. Out of the corner of its eye it looked to see if any tree was watching. But they were all dancing with the wind.

The Copperpod tree tried to ruffle its flowers. But it couldn’t. It tried to shake its branches. But it couldn’t. It tried to lean closer to the other trees. But it couldn’t. All it could do was stand still.

“Gosh, you’re beautiful!” said the trees.

A few days later, the Copperpod tree opened its tired eyes with a glimmer of hope. But the other trees were looking elsewhere. They were looking at the Gulmohar tree, which was ablaze with fiery red flowers. It was scattering its petals in the air like tiny sparks of fire. The wind blew around it; tousling its branches and making its flowers flush an even brighter red.

Nobody paid any attention to the Copperpod tree which was all bent now. There wasn’t a single copper yellow flower on it. Dried flowers and leaves still clung to its branches.

The Copperpod tree let out a groan. Its trunk was hurting from standing so still. It longed to sway at least once! But the wind refused to even come near it.

“Alright, Mr. Wind, I’m sorry! The truth is that I need you,” sighed the Copperpod tree. It felt a slight waft of air near its side. The wind had come closer to listen.

“I know I’m a big beautiful tree, with lovely flowers and healthy branches and a nice strong trunk. But all that doesn’t matter, if all I can do is be still!” said the Copperpod tree.

“I want to sprinkle my petals over the little children that sit beneath me. I want to reach out my branches and kiss the sky. I want to stretch and protect the people that take shelter under me. I want to dance again. I want to be a living, breathing tree that sways with the wind!” the Copperpod tree hunched lower, unable to even stand up straight anymore.

A gentle breeze floated over the Copperpod tree. It started out at its roots, awakening them from their slumber. It travelled upwards wrapping itself around its trunk and permeating through its gnarled branches. It gave the tree a little shake, causing its dried flowers and leaves to fall away. It nuzzled the little flower buds which started blooming. The wind encompassed the Copperpod tree in a giant hug and swayed with it in a soft gentle dance.

The Copperpod tree threw its branches around the wind and danced like it had never danced before!
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  |  10276 learners#General #Stories

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.
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  |  10522 learners#Education #Speeches

Halloween is a popular festival in many countries all over the world, and every year it seems to get bigger. It's getting dark earlier and it's starting to get cold. Christmas is still a long way away. We need something to cheer us up and take our minds off the fact that winter is nearly here. Find out some more about the traditional festival of Halloween.

The festival of Halloween has its roots in Celtic and Roman traditions. Over 2000 years ago the Celts in Britain, Ireland and parts of France celebrated Samhain to mark the beginning of winter. When the Romans invaded, they merged this with Feralia, their celebration of the passing of the dead. As Christianity spread, the Church tried to replace these pagan feasts with official Church holy days. One of these was November 1. It was called All Saints Day, or All Hallows, and October 31 was known as All Hallows Eve, and then Halloween.

In the past there was a tradition called souling. Poor people went around houses asking for food. In exchange, they promised to say prayers for the dead. People no longer go souling, but the habit has been transformed into a modern Halloween game for children in America, who dress up as ghosts, witches and monsters and go around people's houses, asking for sweets. This game is called Trick or Treat.

Halloween wouldn't be fun without witches. Witches have always been part of popular folklore. Shakespeare's play Macbeth opens with three witches. A witch was someone, usually a woman, who had special powers and had dealings with the devil. The American town, Salem, in the state of Massachusetts, is famous for the witchcraft trials, which took place there in 1692.

The pumpkin has become a symbol of Halloween. People empty a pumpkin, cut a face into the side, and put a candle inside to make a lamp. It's known as a Jack-o'-lantern, from an Irish legend about a man called Jack, who made a deal with the devil.

Black cats, frogs, mice and spiders are just some of the animals associated with Halloween. Generally, the more unpleasant the animal, the stronger the Halloween connection. Nocturnal animals like bats are particular favourites, and if, as is the case with vampire bats, they like drinking blood, they are high on the Halloween list.
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  |  10380 learners#Culture #Essays

In modern society, many people find that they do not get very much exercise. They travel by bus, train, or car, and they can move up or down in elevators. They have machines that do most of the heavy work that was once done by people.

However, exercise is important for staying healthy. A person who exercises frequently will be physically fit. There are different aspects of physical fitness. One important element of being physically fit is called cardio-vascular fitness. The word cardio-vascular refers to the heart and lungs. If one's heart and lungs are in good condition, then one can exercise at a steady pace without soon getting tired.

To develop cardio-vascular fitness, it is important to perform some exercise that makes one's heart beat quickly. For example, a person can improve cardio-vascular fitness by riding a bicycle, by running, by swimming, by rowing, or even by walking quickly. Some people go to special places, called health clubs or gyms where they can use different exercise machines to develop their cardio-vascular fitness. But many people improve their cardio-vascular fitness by playing recreational sports, such as tennis or soccer, or by dancing vigorously.

By having good cardio-vascular fitness, one is less likely to suffer from heart disease. Of course, there is one way to improve cardio-vascular fitness that does not involve exercise-stop smoking! Another important aspect of physical fitness is called flexibility. Flexibility refers to one's ability to stretch comfortably. For example, a healthy person should be able to touch his or her toes without bending the legs. People can perform various stretching exercises to improve flexibility. By being flexible, a person can avoid injuries that might otherwise affect their body. Yet another important aspect of physical fitness is the strength and endurance of one's muscles.

Many people suffer from injuries that result, in part, from weakness of the muscles. Muscular strength and endurance can be improved by a variety of exercises. Some of these exercises involve lifting a weight, but other exercises simply involve pushing or pulling against the weight of one's own body. One example is an exercise called the push-up. In this exercise, a person lies on the floor, with the face pointing down. The person bends his or her arms, so that the palms of the hands are on the floor, next to the shoulders. The person then pushes with his or her arms, lifting the upper part of the body above the ground until the arms are straight. Before starting to do any exercises, it is a good idea to have a medical check-up. Some people do not want to exercise because they think it will be too much work However, many people find that they feel very good when they exercise. Exercising can be an enjoyable and fun way to maintain health and fitness.
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  |  10451 learners#Sport #Essays

One of the most tragic parts of the history of North and South America is the period of African slavery. For hundreds of years, many people were taken from Africa, by force, to work in the fields of many different countries in North and South America.

When Europeans first came to the Americas, some of them realized that they might make money by growing crops and selling them in Europe. However, in order to make money, they would need a cheap source of labor. Few Europeans would come to the Americas to work for low wages, so instead, the landowners looked for slaves. In the areas of the great farms, or plantations, there were few Indians, so they used another source of slaves, Africa. The plantation owners usually obtained slaves by buying them from local kings in western Africa. This led to many wars between rival kings within Africa, who tried to capture each other's people in order to sell them as slaves. A few kings tried to avoid the slave trade, but this was very difficult.

During a period of several hundred years, from the 1500s to the 1800s, about 12 million people were taken from western Africa to the Americas. Many more people died as slaves before leaving Africa, and many more died on the ships that took them to the Americas. This was because the conditions on the ships were extremely unhealthy! the ships were far too crowded, and there was little food and water.

When the African slaves arrived in the Americas, the plantation owners made them work on farms that produced goods such as cotton and sugar. In many places, the work was very hard, and many of the slaves died from overwork. They were then replaced by other slaves who arrived from Africa. However, many slaves survived despite the brutal conditions.

In some places, the African slaves were able to revolt against the plantation owners. However, this was difficult because the slaves who had recently arrived spoke many different languages. Some slaves escaped into wilderness areas and were able to remain free from the plantation owners. As time went by, many people in Europe and in the Americas realized that slavery was wrong. By the 1830s, slavery had been ended, or abolished, in islands owned by the British, and in parts of the United States. In the southern United States, slavery was ended in the 1860s, during the Civil War. In some countries, such as Brazil and Cuba, slavery only ended in the 1880s.

Today, many millions of people in North and South America are the descendants of slaves who were brought from Africa. The effects of slavery have lasted for many generations, and there was much racial prejudice against African people when slavery ended. However, some have achieved success despite these disadvantages Today, the people of African background in North and South America are a very important part of the population in many countries.
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  |  9293 learners#Politic #Lectures

One of the most popular sports in northern countries is the game of ice hockey. Each winter, this sport is played by hundreds of thousands of children and adults in North America and in Europe. Ice hockey is a fast and exciting game that can make winter much more enjoyable.

The game of ice hockey is played on a flat surface of ice called a rink. The rink is about 60 metres long, and about 25 or 30 metres wide. At any time, each team has six players on the ice. On their feet the players wear skates, whose thin metal blades allow fast movement along the ice surface. Learning to skate requires time and practice, but many people can skate very quickly and smoothly.

In many ways, ice hockey is similar to soccer. However, unlike soccer, there is no large ball used in hockey. Instead, the players use a hard, black, rubber disk, which is called a puck. The players skate around the ice, trying to get the puck. They do not use their hands or feet to control the puck. Instead, they carry long wooden sticks, which are shaped in such a way that it is easy to push the puck along the ice. The players can pass the puck to each other by sliding it across the ice. To score a goal, a hockey player must shoot the puck into the net of the opposing team, but this is a difficult task. The net is less than two metres wide, and it is protected by a player called the goaltender. However, some players can shoot the puck very suddenly and with great power.

Sometimes, the sport of ice hockey can be quite rough. Players try to take the puck from their opponents by bumping into them at a high speed. This is called a body check. Players are not allowed to hit each other with their sticks. If a player does this, then that player may be given a penalty by the referee, who enforces the rules of the game. Naturally, the sport of ice hockey is most popular in countries that have cold winters. In addition, many people play hockey in the United States. In previous generations, ice hockey was considered a sport for men and boys only. However, in recent years, women and girls have been playing hockey much more frequently than in the past. Not only do many girls enjoy playing hockey for fun, but now women's hockey is officially a sport at the winter Olympics.
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  |  9314 learners#Sport #Essays

I have to get my tonsils out. I'm not really happy about it, but I'm tired of being sick and having sore throats. I have to go to the hospital two hours before my surgery. My mother will go with me. The nurses will take my temperature and check my blood pressure. They will make sure that I am ready for my operation. I will be dressed in a white gown, and I will be wheeled down the hall to the operating room. I can't have anything to eat or drink for a long time before my surgery. My mother will walk down the hall with me, then she will wave goodbye as they wheel me into the operating room.

The doctor and the nurses will be busy in the operating room. They will be getting ready to perform my surgery. The doctor will say hello to me and tell me that he is going to put me to sleep. He will put something into my arm. He will tell me to count backwards from ten. I think that I will only say ten, nine and then I will be fast asleep I won't be awake for the surgery.

When I wake up, I will be surprised that the surgery is over. My throat will hurt, and I probably won't feel very good. My mother will be there with me. The nurses will give me a drink and try to make me comfortable. I won't be in the hospital overnight. I will go home later in the day. My parents will have to make sure that I have a lot to drink. I can't eat any hard foods or they will hurt my throat. I will sleep a lot, because I will not feel very well for a couple of days. It won't take long before I recover from my surgery. Sometimes, we need surgery to make us feel better. Hospitals can be a bit frightening, but the doctors and nurses are very nice, and their job is to make you better.
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  |  9700 learners#Social #Stories

Most people know that the English language is spoken by millions of people around the world. However, few people are aware of the history of the English language. Today, English is one language, but in some ways it is a mixture of many different languages.

The English language is most closely related to a group of languages called the Germanic languages. This group also includes languages such as German and Dutch. About 1500 years ago, these languages were not yet distinct from each other. Some of the people of Germany and the Netherlands then moved to England. Those people were called the Anglo-Saxons, and their language then evolved into English.

Most of the basic words of the English language are derived from these very old Anglo-Saxon languages. For example, words for the parts of the body, for numbers, and for animals are mostly Anglo-Saxon words. Some new words were brought to England over 1000 years ago by people who came from the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe. Many words that begin with the letters sk, such as skin and skill, are Scandinavian words.

A major change happened in the English language after the year 1066. In that year, England was conquered by a king from the northern part of France. He and his followers spoke French, so French became an important language in England. During the next few hundred years, the English language absorbed a very large number of French words. In fact, today's English dictionaries contain more words of French origin than of Anglo-Saxon origin. Part of the reason why the English language has so many words is that it often has two words for each idea-one word of Anglo-Saxon origin, and one word of French origin.

Many more words entered the English language a few hundred years ago, when science and technology became more widespread. Most scientific and technical words are derived from words of the ancient languages of Latin and Greek. Because there are so many of these scientific and technical words in the English language today, the influence of Latin and Greek has been quite large. Other languages have also contributed many words to the English language. Some words have come from the Celtic languages, spoken in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Many words have been added to the English language by immigrants who came to North America from various countries of Europe. Also, many more words have been adopted from the Native languages of North America, Australia, and the Pacific, and from the languages of peoples of Africa and Asia. All of these words have made English a very interesting language.
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  |  9501 learners#Education #Essays

There have been many great writers in the history of English literature, but there is no doubt about which writer was the greatest. Many people consider William Shakespeare to have been the best writer who ever lived.

William Shakespeare was born in the town of Stratford, England, in the year 1564. When he was a young man, Shakespeare moved to the city of London, where he began writing plays. His plays were soon very successful, and were enjoyed both by the common people of London and also by the rich and famous. In addition to his plays, Shakespeare wrote many short poems and a few long poems.

Like his plays, these poems are still famous today. Shakespeare's most famous plays include Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Julius Caesar. Usually, Shakespeare did not invent the stories that he told in his plays. Instead, he wrote his plays using stories that already existed. However, Shakespeare's plays told these stories in a more interesting way than ever before. Some of the stories were tragedies, some were comedies, some described historical events. In his plays, Shakespeare revealed a very wide knowledge of many areas of life.

The characters in his plays discuss many different topics, often with the knowledge of experts. But what is even more impressive about these plays is Shakespeare's use of the English language. His vocabulary was very large, and Shakespeare seems to have introduced many words to the language. Also, many of the phrases that are said by Shakespeare's characters are now used in everyday conversation.

Today, writers often use quotations from Shakespeare's plays in their own works. But perhaps even the most impressive features of Shakespeare's plays are the characters within them. The many characters in his plays seem very different from each other, but they seem very realistic. The emotions they feel, the words they say, and the actions they perform are all easily understood.

Many people who watch one of Shakespeare's plays will find that they know people who remind them somewhat of the characters in those plays. Shakespeare died in the year 1619, but his writings are still popular today, 400 years after they were written. The poems and plays are greatly admired by experts in literature, but also by people in general. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy attending performances of Shakespeare's plays. No other writer in the English language has remained so popular for such a long time.
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  |  9193 learners#Culture #Biography

About a thousand years ago, people known as the Vikings were known and feared throughout Europe. The Vikings were the people of the northern part of Europe, called Scandinavia, which includes the modern countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Vikings made their living by farming and fishing.

However, by about the year 700, they began making attacks, or raids, upon towns along the coasts of Europe in order to steal the wealth of those towns. The Vikings made their attacks very quickly and without any warning. They were very cruel to the people of the towns they attacked, and they sometimes destroyed the towns by burning down the buildings. In some parts of Europe, the local kings would often fight against the Vikings. Sometimes, however, the kings would pay the Vikings in order to persuade them not to attack.

Although the Vikings were known as fierce warriors, they also built excellent ships. The wooden Viking ships, called longboats, were able to sail even in very bad weather. Many Viking longboats were about 20 metres long, but some were nearly 90 metres long. The Viking sailors used both sails and oars to move their ships. The Vikings travelled across a large area. They made many of their attacks in Britain, France, and Germany, but sometimes sailed south, into the Mediterranean Sea. Other Vikings moved to the east, and then sailed along the rivers of Russia. Some even went as far as the area that is now the country of Turkey. In some places, the Vikings decided to stay. Many Vikings settled in England and in France, and eventually they mixed with the local people. Other Vikings settled in Russia and also mixed with the people there. The most famous travels of the Vikings were in the Atlantic Ocean. Vikings sailed westward to the island of Iceland where many of them stayed.

Today, the people of Iceland are descended from the Vikings. Some Vikings sailed farther west to the cold island of Greenland. Vikings lived in Greenland for several generations, but eventually they died out. Some Vikings had gone even further west and reached the Canadian island of Newfoundland. The Vikings only stayed for a few years, but they had reached North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Gradually, the Vikings became converted to the Christian religion. They also stopped raiding the towns of Europe, and instead of fighting, they began trading with their neighbors. Today, the Scandinavian countries are known as very peace loving nations.
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  |  9545 learners#Culture #Essays
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