Learning Nugget September 2019

Greenwashing and the Grüne Knopf

Recently, the German Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller saw one of his initiatives become reality: the Grüner Knopf. This “Green Button” is a symbol that textile sellers can put on their products once they have been certified to meet standards set by Germany’s federal government. The standards relate to the physical, social, and economic welfare of the workers producing the textiles and the products’ environmental impact.

At first glance, this initiative seems hard to criticize. The Green Button is meant to help consumers more easily make choices that are better for the world. Also, the fact that the certification comes from the government gives it a lot of power and notoriety. More consumers will know about it and look for it, so more businesses will seek to earn it – seemingly a win-win-win for the textile workers, environment, and businesses.

As good as the initiative seems, though, it’s actually getting a lot of criticism. And the loudest objections are coming from groups who support sustainable and socially-responsible textile production. These groups’ objections relate to something called “greenwashing.” In this Learning Nugget, we’ll explore the meaning of that term and why some argue the new Green Button will only make it more common in Germany’s textile industry.

What’s greenwashing?

In Guardian article on greenwashing there’s a very clear example of what the practice looks like and why it’s done. In the 1980s the energy company Chevron – which deals largely in oil and was one of the worst polluters in the United States at the time – produced a series of ads showing what their company was doing to help the environment. One of those ads featured a butterfly garden the company supported. While the butterfly garden likely cost around five thousand USD per year to keep up, the company spent millions advertising it.

In other words, it appeared that making the world think of Chevron as a company that cared about the environment was far more important than actually protecting the environment at the time. That’s exactly what greenwashing is: A company heavily advertising a small, environmentally friendly initiative to distract people from environmentally damaging aspects of their business practices.

How could the Green Button help companies greenwash?

The main problem critics have with the Green Button certification seems to be that its rules are not strict enough. An article from Die Zeit describes two examples of this.

One is that though workers creating Green Button textiles have to be paid a minimum wage, that minimum wage often still isn’t enough to fully support workers. The article cites an example in Bangladesh where the workers receive a minimum wage of roughly 80 euros per month – enough to earn the Green Button – but would likely need double that to fully support themselves.

The second example is how the Green Button certification process only starts once the fabric is being worked on in factories and not from the very beginning. That means that textiles made from cotton taken from fields where hazardous chemicals and pesticides were used can still earn the Green Button if they are processed in an environmentally friendly way later on.

And how could these factors contribute to corporate greenwashing? Because the Green Button is getting a lot of publicity and its standards are relatively easy to meet, large companies are likely to seek it out. Case in point, Tchibo, Aldi North and South, Lidl, Rewe, and many others are already Green Button certified. These companies can now use their Green Button to advertise how environmentally and worker-friendly their products are, with few consumers understanding that the textiles sold by these companies could still be greatly harming the environment and not providing living wages to the workers producing them.

A hard call

So is the Green Button little more than a way for businesses to seem socially and environmentally responsible without needing to make major changes? The answer, of course, is complicated.

You could argue that if the Green Button makes large companies demand processes that are at least somewhat more environmentally friendly and better for workers, it’s overall a positive thing. However, you could also say that even if it does promote some positive changes, it could make consumers believe their purchases are better for the world than they truly are and make it harder for them to differentiate between Green Button products and those that reach an even higher standard.

Let us know what you think

With the Green Button being so new, it will be a waiting game to see how it affects the textile market or if the government changes standards for the certification based on current criticism. If you have your own thoughts or comments on this issue, we’d love to see them on our link to this Learning Nugget on our Facebook page.

Vocabulary

Federal Development Minister – Bundesminister für Entwicklung

becomes reality – Wirklichkeit werden

textile sellers – Textilwarenverkäufer, Textilanbieter

federal government – Bundesregierung

relate to sth. – etw betreffen

welfare – Wohlfahrt

environmental impact – ökologischen Einfluss

notoriety – Allbekanntheit

seek to earn – danach streben es zu bekommen

objections – Einwände, Beanstandungen

greenwashing – Grünfärberei

bad – worse – worst – schlimm, schlimmer, am schlimmsten

polluters – Verschmutzer

ads – Anzeigen

to distract from – ablenken von

damaging aspects – schädliche Aspekte

minimum wage – Mindestlohn

to cite – anführen, zitieren

receive – erhalten

would likely need – bräuchten wahrscheinlich

to fully support themselves – um sich vollständig selbst zu tragen

once the fabric is being worked on – sobald der Stoff verarbeitet wird

hazardous chemicals and pesticides – gefährliche Chemikalien und Pestizide

contribute to – zu etwas beitragen, etwas beisteuern

easy to meet – leicht zu erfüllen

case in point – typisches Beispiel

greatly harming the environment – sehr der Umwelt schaden

a hard call – eine schwere Entscheidung

differentiate between – differenzieren zwischen

waiting game – Geduldsspiel

to affect – beeinträchtigen

Tips for trips 4

 

Over the last three weeks, we’ve given you different ideas for three trips that could help you get the most out of the last warm weekends of the year. Something else you might have noticed is that each of the trips could also help you learn something. The Traumschleife Rheingold has signs all along the way that teach hikers about the areas they are walking through. The Pfalzgrafenstein and the Blücher Museum give visitors interesting perspectives on important historical events.

It’s no accident that you could learn something from each of the trips we suggested. TIP TOP is largely based on the idea that learning should be active and enjoyable. And recently we’ve created something that takes this philosophy outside the classroom: the TIP TOP Day Out.

If you’ve read our past Learning Nuggets, you’ve heard about the Day Out before. If not, the idea of the Day Out is that TIP TOP trainers lead a group on an outdoor excursion for an afternoon. Along the way, the group does activities with each other that help them practice their English while having a great time.

When we created the Day Out, we kept two important ideas in mind. Below you can find out what those ideas were and why we think following them is great for learning:

 

1. Create a casual atmosphere

No matter how comfortable you are with a teacher or other coworkers, there is always pressure when you speak a foreign language in a classroom or business situation. On the Day Out, we want that pressure to disappear. For this afternoon, the trainers and people in the group are just friends, and everyone is there simply to enjoy themselves while having a chance to practice a language they are learning.

Being outdoors also helps keep things casual. How? Think about how differently people usually are when you meet them outdoors instead of in a building. You are probably more likely to use the more casual “du” instead of “Sie” when meeting people for the first time on a hike rather than in an indoor situation. Another example is how in Norway people in town will rarely say “hello” or “good evening” when passing each other on the street, but as soon as they are hiking or cross-country skiing, it’s very normal to wave and say “hei hei!”. There just seems to be something about the outdoors or just being in nature that makes us more at ease.

With the pressure off and the relaxed atmosphere of the outdoors, we think our Day Out groups will find it much easier to speak with each other than in class, helping them gain confidence in their English-speaking skills.

2. Make sure it’s fun

This is a goal for almost everything TIP TOP does. We think fun is a key aspect of learning, and the Day Out is a part of that idea. Throughout the Day Out, participants take part in activities that not only let them practice English but let them do it in a way that is meant to be extremely enjoyable. You’ll learn things like what animal your groupmates would want to be turned into if they were changed into one by a witch, talk about stories you likely last heard as a child, and go around castle ruins both learning new words and taking funny pictures with new friends. The idea is that learning on the Day Out should feel like play, not work.

More information
We wanted to make sure you had enough warning to fit it on your calendar, so we’re telling you now that our last Day Out this year is on Sunday, November 10.

We’ll be taking a hike to the Rheingrafenstein in Bad Münster am Stein, and there’ll be plenty of interesting activities on the way there and back. You can learn more about what we have planned on our website. If you’re interested sign up by e-mail dayout@tip-top-english.de.

Spots are limited so let us know early enough in advance to make sure there’s enough space for you.

We hope to see you then, but no matter what you do, have a great weekend!

By the way, check out our Facebook page for daily tips and tricks.

Vocabulary

might have noticed – du wirst bemerkt haben

signs all along the way – überall Schilder entlang des Weges

hikers – Wanderer

no accident – kein Zufall

practice their English – üben ihr Englisch

keep in mind –  im Auge behalten

always pressure – immer Druck

foreign language – fremde Sprache

disappear – verschwinden

keep things casual – Dinge leicht, locker nehmen

instead of – anstelle von

on a hike – beim Wandern

passing each other on the street – sich auf der Strasse treffen

cross-country skiing – Langlauf

make us more at ease – macht uns entspannter

with the pressure off – ohne den Druck

gain confidence – Vertrauen gewinnen

extremely enjoyable – extrem spaßig

by a witch – von einer Hexe

Tips for trips 3

 

Welcome back! We’re excited to continue our series of travel tips to help the end of your summer not feel like the end of fun.

Last week we talked about the Pfalzgrafentstein, a castle in the middle of the Rhine near the town of Kaub. Today we’re talking about another attraction Kaub has to offer that makes it a destination worth going to.

 

The Blücher Museum

In 1813, much of the French emperor Napoleon’s power in Germany had been diminished, but not entirely. Those fighting his forces wanted his power completely gone, and one of the men with that mission was Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, a Field Marshall in the Prussian military.
That’s why on the last days of 1813 and the first of 1814 in the town of Kaub, Blücher crossed a pontoon bridge made over the Rhine by Russian allies with his army of 50,000 men, 15,000 horses, and all the equipment those men and animals needed. He was chasing Napoleon’s troops, en route to driving them completely out of Germany.

While running this operation, Blücher made his headquarters at the inn Zur Stadt Mannheim in Kaub. Today, that location is a museum dedicated to Blücher and his crossing. It has displays showing how the crossing likely looked and military items from the time period. Also, the rooms where Blücher stayed have been preserved and look almost exactly like they did when he was there over 200 years ago.

Additionally, the museum has recently expanded and renovated some areas, creating more to see and a better visitor experience. Currently, they have an exhibition related to the heritage of the Rhineland Palatinate, with artifacts from former residents of the area or important visitors to the region.

So, enjoy your visit there.

 

Vocabulary

destination – Zielort

French emperor – französischer Imperator

had been diminished – hatte an Macht verloren

entirely – vollständig, komplett

to fight forces – Truppen bekämpfen

Prussian military – preussisches Militär

pontoon bridge – Pontonbrücke, Schiffsbrücke

Russian allies – russische Verbündete, russische Alliierte

to chase – verfolgen, jagen

troops – Truppen

dedicated to – gewidmet

displays – Anzeigen, Bildschirme

how the crossing likely look – wie die Überquerung wahrscheinlich ausgesehen hat

have been preserved – sind (bis heute) erhalten, aufbewahrt

currently – zur Zeit

an exhibition – eine Ausstellung

heritage – Tradition, Erbe

Rhineland Palatinate – Rheinland Pfalz

artifacts – Artefakte, Werkzeuge

former residents – frühere Bewohner

Tips for trips 2

Nope, this isn’t a mistake. This is your second Learning Nugget in just two weeks.

As you may have read last week, we’re doing something special this August. We’re giving suggestions for fun day trips to help you enjoy the rest of the summer even if you’ve already taken your big vacation.

Today, our Tip for Trips focuses on a small castle in a place you wouldn’t expect see one: the middle of a river.

Pfalzgrafenstein in Kaub

The wide and mighty Rhine has many small islands in its center. They are usually filled with trees and the nests of water birds, but the island near the town of Kaub is different. There are a few trees, true, but it’s the small castle known as the the Pfalzgrafenstein that catches your eye.

Built in the 1300s, the Pfalzgrafenstein was built for one main purpose: to make money. It was a toll station used by the Holy Roman Empire to make sure that trade ships passing through that part of the Rhine paid for the privilege. It has never been destroyed, but it was expanded often up until the 1700s. Amazingly, it continued to take tolls from passing ships until 1866 – over 500 years after being built.

 

 

 

Today, you can visit the Pfalzgrafenstein by taking a ferry to it from Kaub. You can walk around the island and get a view of the Rhine from a unique perspective as well as enter the castle itself.
Though you can reach Kaub by car, it could make your day even more exciting to get there via a Rhine cruise, like those offered by Köln-Düsseldorfer. And for history buffs, Kaub is also home to the Blücher Museum, the headquarters of a military leader who led a Prussian army across the Rhine at the Pfalzgrafenstein to help drive Napoleon out of Germany.

 

 

Vocabulary

mighty – gewaltig

catch your eye – Aufmerksamkeit auf sich ziehen

purpose – Zweck

toll station – Mautstelle

make sure – sicherstellen

destroy – zerstören

expand – erweitern, ausbauen

amazingly – erstaunlicherweise

taking a ferry – die Fähre nehmen

history buff – Geschichtsfan

Prussian army – Preussische Armee

Tips for trips 1

The last of the summer holidays are over, and it’s likely that many of you have already taken your big vacations for the year. Maybe you’ve even found yourself lost in thought at your desk or in the warehouse while you remembered the fun you had during your time off.

While we definitely hope you made some great memories this summer, we also want you to know that just because vacation season is over, the good times don’t have to stop. That’s why we’re doing something a little different with our Learning Nugget in August. Instead of one Learning Nugget, we’re doing three with suggestions for exciting day trips that can help your days off feel like mini-vacations, not just short breaks between working days. The other two will arrive in your inbox next week and the week after.

Without further ado, here’s the first of our TIP TOP Tips for Trips.

 

Traumschleife

The Traumschleife are trails in the Saar-Hunsrück hiking area of Germany. If you translate “Traumschleife” directly into English, it means “dream loops”, and those two words point out the most important things to know about these trails.

The “dream” part of the name comes from how these trails have been tested by the German Hiking Institute (Deutsche Wanderinstitut) and certified to offer great experiences to hikers. Along with excellent signage so that you’re never lost, great sights like rocky cliffs, amazing views of the Rhine, beautiful forests, or historical sites are numerous on these trails. The idea is that your hike will be so wonderful, it will seem like a dream.

The “loop” aspect is simple. Every trail is a loop trail, meaning a trail that goes in a circle so you start and end at the same point.

 

TIP TOP recommends: Traumschleife Rheingold

There are quite a few trails certified as Traumschleife, but TIP TOP’s founder, Beatrice Müser, has done one herself – Traumschleife Rheingold – and has nothing but great things to say about it.

“There are amazing and astounding views from endless places,” Beatrice said. “I’ve never been to so many dreamlike and magical overlooks.”

The trail begins near Hirzenach between St. Goar and Boppard (you can find the exact starting point here), and its “amazing and astounding views” are often of the narrow, history-filled Rhine Valley, with its castles and picturesque towns. One of the overlooks on the trail was even used as a setting for a scene in the film Heimat by Edgar Reitz.

Along with the overlooks, the trail also has a lot of informational signs that inform you about the history and significance of the places you’re visiting, making your hike as educational as it is beautiful.

The trail is about 11 kilometers and takes around four hours to complete at a normal pace. However, with plenty of benches and great places for a picnic, you may want to plan on it taking a little longer.

See you next week!

 

 

We’ll be sending you another tip next week, but if these Traumschleife have caught your attention, you can find a list of them all here. Or if you want to learn even more about what it takes to be a Traumschleifethis page from Saar-Hunsrück Steig has everything you could want to know.

Have a fun weekend, and let us know if our advice helped you plan your weekend!

 
 
 
 
 

Vocabulary

found yourself lost in thought – gedankenverloren vorfinden

to make memories – Erinnerungen schaffen

instead of – anstatt, an Stelle von

suggestion for  – Vorschlag für

ado – Umschweife

trails – Wanderweg

hiking area – Wandergebiet

certified – zertifiziert

experience – Erlebnis, Erfahrung

signage – Leitsystem, Beschilderung

to be lost – verloren sein

great sights – tolle Sehenswürdigkeiten

historical sites – historische Stätten

loop trail – Rundwanderweg

astounding – erstaunlich, verblüffend

overlooks – Aussichtspunkte

narrow – eng, schmal

history-filled – geschichtsträchtig

picturesque town – malerische Orte

significance – Bedeutung, Tragweite

at a normal pace – bei normaler Geschwindigkeit

plenty of benches – viele Bänke

Learning Nugget June 2019

 

Our rocky relationship with lawns 

With a wet few weeks at the end of May and a sunny, warm start to June, conditions were just right for almost every green thing to grow like crazy. But, for those who have a yard, it’s likely you paid the most attention to the growth of your grass. 

For many decades in the Western world, it’s been almost a given that if you owned a house, you would have a lawn – some patch of land, no matter how big or small, with short, green grass. However, this norm has started to change in recent years. 
 
In this Learning Nugget we take a look at some of the new approachespeople are taking to their yards and the effects of those approaches on the environment. But first let’s dig a little bit into the history of how the idea of having a lawn entered Western society in the first place. 

Why are there lawns? 

Sometime around the 1600s, wealthy landowners in Europe – especially those in England and France – started creating large areas of grass around their estates. Before modern innovations in lawn care, it took many people a lot of time to cut these areas with scythes and keep them as free as possible of other plants.  

If you also consider how grass took up farmable space with something that couldn’t be eaten or sold, it’s pretty easy to see that lawns were status symbols. While most people either couldn’t afford land or had it solely to produce something profitable, a well-kept lawn showed you had no concerns about money. 
 
As more people became comfortably wealthy, lawns steadily grew in popularity. Today they’ve become so normal that it’s strange to see a home without a lawn.  

Though now lawns are most often thought of as places for children to play or adults to barbecue, the connection with status is still there. If most Westerners see a yard with high grass, it’s almost an instinct to believe that there’s something wrong with the people who the yard belongs to. 

 

New lawn trends 

Relatively recently, people have started questioning the usual idea of a lawn. Those who rarely do anything in their yards that requires grass don’t see the point of maintaining a lawn they never use. Also, many environmentalists say that the amount of water, artificial fertilizer, and pesticides used to maintain the “perfect” lawn create environmental hazards. 
 
So, what alternatives are these people finding, and what are their pros and cons? 
 
One option that’s becoming more and more common in Germany is replacing lawns with rocks or stones. For those concerned about water usage, rocks can definitely reduce that. Also, they can reduce yard work – for a little while, anyway.  

Even though there are mats under most rock yards meant to keep any plants from taking root, those mats wear out, and in time there will be either a need to pluck the weeds out or use pesticides to kill them. Additionally, rocks provide very little habitat for insects, notably important pollinators like bees and butterflies that Earth’s ecosystem depends on to survive.  

But perhaps the most troubling thing about rock yards for people who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists is that rocks gather heat during the day and release it at night. This means that as summers get generally warmer due to climate change, those who exchange grass for stones will also be dealing with heat longer into summer nights than ever before. 

Another possibility those seeking a lawn-free life are attempting is simply letting their yards grow with no or very little mowing or other interference. Again, this can eliminate the need for constant yard work, water, and pesticides. But unlike the stone solution, it is widely considered to be environmentally friendly.  

By allowing grass and whatever other plants visiting animals bring into the yard to grow, habitat for a wide variety of insects, birds, and other animals is created. Also, an unmown yard has a greater capacity to turn CO2 into oxygen.  
 
The main downside to the no-mow solution goes back to that instinctually negative response to long lawns mentioned before that is common in the modern-day West. Neighbors and even the law often look down on long, unkept grass. Though it does take more work than just letting grass grow, some avoid this issue by replacing their grass with native plants and wildflowers that are beneficial to the local ecosystem, low-growing, and pleasant to look at.  

 

Getting a grasp on gras

From a luxury of the rich in the 17th century to an environmentalist question mark today, lawns and their place in Western society have evolved greatly over time. That change is still ongoing as people rethink the lawn as it relates to their personal needs and/or the world’s ecosystems.

Hopefully this Learning Nugget has helped you think about lawns in a way you haven’t before, and the next time you’re at a barbecue wondering what to make small talk about, the answer will be right under your feet. 

Reminder
And we just want to remind you of our next Day Out on Sunday 14 July from 1:00 – 4:00pm. Last places are available at: dayout@tip-top-english.de

 

Excite Your Senses

 

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

 

 

Vocabulary

lawns – Rasen

to grow like crazy – wie verrückt wachsen

yard – Garten, Hof

to pay the most attention – die größte Aufmerksamkeit geben

decades – Jahrzehnte

to be almost a given –  wird nahezu vorausgesetzt

some patch of land – kleines Stück Land

approach – Ansatz, Konzept

take to – übernehmen, ergreifen

effect on sth. – Auswirkung auf etw. haben

environment – Umwelt

dig a little bit into – in bisschen tiefer eintauchen in

wealthy – wohlhabend

landowner – Landbesitzer

estate – Anwesen

modern innovations in lawn care – moderne Innovationen der Rasenpflege

scythe – Sense

took up farmable space – einen bebaubaren Platz einnehmen

status symbols – Statussymbole

afford land – Land leisten können

solely – ausschließlich

to have no concerns about – keine Bedenken haben mit…

comfortably wealthy – gut betucht

to grow in popularity – an Popularität gewinnen

Westerners – Westländer

relatively recently – relativ neu

don’t see the point of – etw. nicht einsehen

to maintain – etw. aufrechterhalten, warten, erhalten

environmentalist – Umweltschützer

artificial fertilizer – Kunstdünger

pesticides – Pestizide, Pflanzenschutzmittel

environmental hazards – Umweltbelastungen

pros and cons – Vor- und Nachteile

mats – Matte

taking root – Wurzeln schlagen, sich bewurzeln

pluck the weeds out – Unkraut zupfen

habitat – Lebensraum

notably important pollinators – sehr wichtige Bestäuber

survive – überleben

rocks gather heat – Felsen/Gestein speichern die Hitze

release – freigeben

lawn-free life are attempting – ein rasenfreies Leben wird angestrebt

little mowing – ein bisschen mähen

turn CO2 into oxygen – CO2 in Sauerstoff umwandeln

interference – Eingriff

no-mow solution – die Lösung nicht zu mähen 

law – Gesetz

look down – herabblicken, hinuntersehen

unkept grass – ungepflegter Rasen

low-growing – niedrig wachsend

to evolve – entwickeln, entfalten 

Learning Nugget May 2019

A short look at tall tales 

Sometimes work can be fun. At TIP TOP, it certainly has been as we’ve prepared for our first Day Out on May 19th. The theme is castles and fairy tales, and we’ve had a great time learning more and more about these topics to share with those who join us. 
 
Our research has put fairy tales and folklore on our minds. Thoughon the Day Out we’ll be focusing on the Brothers Grimm and the German tales they collected and retold, this Learning Nugget is going to take a look at folk stories that are important to US culture: “tall tales.” 
 
For those raised in the USA, answering questions like “What’s a tall tale?”, “Who’s Paul Bunyan and what type of big blue animal is his best friend?”, and “What type of machine did John Henry beat in a contest?” would be relatively easy. For those who weren’t, the questions probably seem like nonsense. Today you’ll find out the answers to those queries and a few others – and probably end up knowing more about tall tales than most Americans. 

What’s a tall tale? 

Tall tales are thought to have gained popularity in the USA through frontiersmen (think of a typical image of someone in the old “wild west” and add some explorers and lumberjacks). As the young country expanded westward throughout the 19th century, these frontiersmen lived in rough, lonely territory, and tall tales became things they told each other to keep their spirits up.  
 
The main feature of tall tales is exaggeration. The characters can do things or have traits and abilities that are impossible. Despite this, the stories are always told as if they are true, and some of them are even based on real people. 

Paul Bunyan 

One of the most famous tall tale characters is the giant lumberjack, Paul Bunyan. Bunyan is believed to have originated from stories 19th and early 20th century loggers across the US told of a giant man who could cut down trees faster than any person alive. It’s unknown whether he was based on one real person or a mixture of different well-known loggers of the time. What are some of the things Paul Bunyan is said to haveaccomplished?  
 
Well, in one telling of the story, Bunyan is said to have logged all of the Dakotas with just himself, a small team of men, and his giant blue ox named Babe. Babe – another important part of the Bunyan tales – was also said to have wandered away from camp into Minnesota, where his footprints became that state’s thousands of lakes (one mother and child were said to have fallen into one of Babe’s footprints, and the child was 57 by the time he was able to climb out again).  
 
Bunyan also used Babe to pull the crooked logging roads straight so that travel could be faster, which was good because sometimes Babe would drink whole rivers and logs couldn’t be transported on them anymore. 
 
The Northern Lights were also Bunyan’s doing. They were an experiment to see if he could let loggers work at night, too, but he stopped that because the lights were too inconsistent. 
 
These details of Bunyan’s deeds – and plenty of others – were recorded by W.B. Laughead, who wrote them as a way to advertise Minnesota’s Red River Lumber Company. The pamphlets he created with these stories became extremely popular, and many historians believe that without this advertising campaign, Paul Bunyan never would have become a national icon.

Copyright: Lorie Shaull; license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

 John Henry 

The story of John Henry has many similarities to that of Paul Bunyan. He was said to have been the biggest, strongest man around. Also, his job was one that required a lot of physical strength: building railroads. One of the biggest differences is that John Henry was African American and a freed slave. 
 
Another difference is that the tale of John Henry mainly focuses on one heroic feat rather than Bunyan’s countless fanciful deeds.  
 
The story goes that Henry was helping to build a railroad in the late 1800s. The company Henry was working for got told by a salesman that there was a steam-powered machine that could drive the giant steel nails needed to build railroads into the ground faster than a whole team of men. To save his job and those of his fellow workers, Henry entered a contest against the machine. If he could drive a nail faster than the machine, the company wouldn’t buy it to replace workers. 
 
In the end, Henry won the contest, but he worked so hard that his heart gave out, and his victory cost him his life. 
 
This story grew in fame through songs and retellings. Its message of humans being able to overcome machines spoke to many people at the end of the 19th century whose jobs were being taken over bynew inventions. It is also a story important to the African American community, with Henry offering a role model of strength, determination, and resilience in the face of impossible odds. 

Come Along 

If you’ve enjoyed learning about these American tales and like getting outside in the fresh air, you’ll love what we have planned for the Day Out. There are still a few places available, and if you’re interested in reserving one, e-mail dayout@tip-top-english.de. More details about the day’s events can be found here

 

 

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

 

Vocabulary

prepare for sth. – auf etwas vorbereiten
though – obwohl
fairy tales – Märchen
folklore – Folklore, Volkskunde
folk stories – Volksgeschichten
tall tales – Lügengeschichten
raised – aufgewachsen
nonsense – unsinnig
answers to those queries – Antworten zu den Fragen
to be thought to have gained popularity – es wird angenommen, dass … bekannt wurden
frontiersmen – Grenzbewohner
explorer – Forscher
lumberjacks – Holzfäller
westward – westlich
to keep spirits up – um bei Laune zu bleiben
exaggeration – Übertreibung
traits – Chraktereigenschaften
despite sth. – trotz
logger – Holzfäller
it’s unknown whether – es ist nicht bekannt, ob…
to cut down trees – Bäume fällen
is said to have accomplished – wird gesagt, dass er es geschafft/erreicht hat
Dakotas – Bewohner Dakotas (Nord oder Süd)
ox – Ochse
footprints – Fußabdrücke
to climb out – herausklettern
crooked logging roads – krumme Forststraßen
logs – Stämme
The Northern Lights – Die Nordlichter
lights were too inconsistent – Lichter waren zu unbeständig
pamphlets – Flugblatt
similarities – Ähnlichkeiten
railroad – Eisenbahn(strecke)
freed slave – ein befreiter Sklave
heroic feat – Heldentaten
countless fanciful deeds – unzählig gute Taten
steam-powered machine – Dampfmaschine
victory – Sieg
grow in fame – zu Ruhm kommen
being taken over by – übernommen werden durch/von
new inventions – neue Erfindungen
resilience – Belastbarkeit
in the face of impossible odds – angesichts scheinbarer Unmöglichkeiten

Learning Nugget April 2019

Spring has sprung!

Two spring traditions you’ve likely never heard of

In the Western world, this time of year brings traditions like spring cleaning and decorating Easter eggs to mind. However, it’s less likely that you’ve had a recent desire to chase a wheel of cheese down a very steep hill or attend a festival dedicated to a single wild plant that tastes like a mixture of garlic and onion

Today, we explore places where those last two experiences are much-anticipated spring events. We also give you some information on new traditions TIP TOP is starting this year and how you can join in on the fun.

The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll: Brockworth, England

Every last Monday in May, the United Kingdom takes a day off and celebrates the Spring Bank Holiday. On this day, people from all over the world descend on Brockworth, England to chase roughly 3.5 kilogram wheels of Gloucester cheese down an extremely steep hill. What do the winners get?

The wheels of cheese, of course.

No one is sure when the tradition began. There is written evidence  that it certainly existed in the 1800s, but that evidence suggests that the cheese roll is much older, perhaps even going back to the Romans.
 
What is certain, however, is that the tradition isn’t the safest in the world. Though private citizens have kept the event going, the city has actually stopped sponsoring it due to the danger it puts participants in. Racing down a hill so steep that the cheese wheels can reach speeds around 110 kilometers per hour (a competitor doesn’t have to beat the cheese down the hill, just be the first one to pick it up at the bottom), competitors unsurprisingly often break bones and dislocate joints.

Still, despite these risks, people from the world over come to participate in or watch the cheese roll. In an article from Time magazine, one competitor from Australia even called the event
“the most exhilarating thing you can do.”

 

Ramp Festivals: Eastern USA

If you know the word “ramp,” it’s probably the type you would find in sports like skateboarding or snowboarding. However, a “ramp” is also a type of plant. It grows wild in the Eastern half of the US and Canada, but it is particularly loved in areas near the Appalachian mountains, a range that runs around 3,500 kilometers from Maine to Georgia.

A ramp is usually described as tasting like a mixture of onion and garlic, and they look a lot like scallions when harvested (and even more like the Bärlauch beloved by many Germans). Also like scallions, you can eat both the green shoots that grow above ground and the small, onion-like tuber that grows under the earth.

Ramps are ready to be harvested in the spring, so many places throughout the Appalachians have developed spring festivals around the plant. They cook various foods flavored with ramps, invite musicians to entertain the crowds, and craftspeople set up stalls to sell their goods. In many places, the distinct smell of ramps spreads throughout whole towns for days on end.

While this is all in good fun, some experts have raised concerns about the amount of ramps harvested for these festivals. Currently, most ramps are harvested from the wild, and with demand for them increasing, those harvests are getting bigger and bigger. Because ramps are harvested roots and all, it can take years before ramp populations recover. This has caused a push in some areas in recent years to farm ramps rather than pluck them from the wild.

 

New season, new chances

This year TIP TOP is hoping to create some new traditions of its own that’ll offer fun new ways for you to sharpen your English skills.

One of these new opportunities is Free English Fridays. Starting on May 24, TIP TOP will be opening its doors in beautiful Bad Münster am Stein every last Friday of the month to anyone who wants to drop by. We’ll have TIP TOP trainers running activities and games that’ll assure you have a great time while you get to practice your English in a very casual environment.

And in case you didn’t notice it in the name: Free English Fridays are free. Bring friends and/or family and get in on the fun!

Another new offering is a chance to practice English out in the open air. On Sunday, May 19th, you can join the first-ever TIP TOP Day Out. This first trip focuses on the theme “fairy tales and castles,” features coffee and cake to start, a hike to Rheingrafenstein Castle and its breathtaking views of the Nahe region, and wine and cheese to finish off the day. Throughout it all, you’ll be thinking and speaking English, remembering the fairy tales of your childhood, and, in the end, creating your own.

Spots for the Day Out will be limited. To get more details (price, exact times, etc.) and/or reserve a spot, send an e-mail in English or German to info@tip-top-english.de.

 

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

 

 

 

Vocabulary

a recent desire – einen letzten Wunsch
garlic and onion – Knoblauch und Zwiebel
much-anticipated – mit Spannung erwartet
join in on the fun – bei diesem Spaß mitmachen
to take a day off – sich einen Tag frei nehmen
bank holiday – Feiertag
descend on – herbeiströmen
chase – verfolgen
written evidence – schriftlicher Beweis
certainly existed – existierte mit Sicherheit
racing down a hill – einen Hügel hinunterrennen
steep – steil
break bones – Knochen brechen
dislocate joints – Gelenke auskugeln
despite – trotz
most exhilarating – am aufregendsten
Appalachian mountains – Appalachen
participate in – an etwas teilnehmen
scallions – Frühlingszwiebeln, Charlotten
onion-like tuber – zwiebelartige Knolle
flavored with ramps – gewürzt mit der zwiebelartigen Knolle
craftspeople set up stalls  – Handwerker bauen Stände auf
to spread throughout – überall verbreitet
for days on end – tagelang
raised concerns about – Bedenken über etwas äußern
demand for – Nachfrage für etwas 
ramp populations recover – bis sich die Kulturen der zwiebelartigen Knolle erholen
in recent years – in den letzten Jahren
rather than – anstatt
pluck from – ausrupfen
to sharpen – etwas schärfen, schleifen, hier: verbessern
in a very casual environment – in sehr lockerer Atmosphäre
get in on the fun – bei dem Spaß mitmachen 

Learning Nugget March 2019

Knowin’ in the wind

Last weekend you may have found yourself doing something unexpected, like snatching a lawn chair out of the air or making sure your chihuahua wasn’t blown up into the clouds. This was because as storm Eberhard blew its way across Germany, it brought winds that topped the 100 km/h mark in some places and wreaked havoc on highways, public transport, and personal property.

Though it’s calmer than last weekend, it’s still plenty gusty out there. So when thinking about topics for this month’s Learning Nugget, taking some time to learn a little bit about wind seemed like the perfect choice. However, this isn’t going to be a boring science lesson. Yes, we fill you in on the basic facts about how wind is created, but we also take a look at the highlights of wind energy’s over 5,000-year-old history among humankind as well as some fun English idioms that deal with the wind.

What makes wind?

Wind is a movement of air from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure.  

High pressure is created when a surface is cool. Cold air is heavier, so it stays near the ground, increasing the pressure near the surface of the cold area. As you might expect, warmth creates low pressure because warm air is lighter and rises. Wind occurs because places on Earth don’t heat evenly and air is continuously moving from colder to warmer surfaces.

Probably the easiest way to understand this is to think about land near the sea or a lake. Land heats faster than water, so by the time it’s afternoon on a sunny day, land is a place with very low pressure compared to the cooler water, and air moves quickly from water to land. That’s why it’s so often windier in the afternoon when you’re near water. At night, the land often cools down while the water retains its heat, and the wind changes direction. Air begins rushing from the cooler, higher pressure land to the warmer, lower pressure water. 

Of course, there are many other factors that determine where wind will be and how strong it is but underlying it all is the constant migration of air from high pressure to low pressure areas.

The history of wind energy  

Whether we understood where it came from or not, humans have been using wind energy to accomplish a huge range of tasks for thousands of years. Some of these uses have been briefly summed up by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

People used wind energy to propel boats along the Nile River as early as 5,000 BC. By 200 BC, simple wind-powered water pumps were used in China, and windmills with woven-reed blades were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East.  

And those windmills in Persia (modern-day Iran) and the Middle East would inspire Europeans to build their own. The most famous European example is in the Netherlands, where windmills were used not only for processing grains, but also other goods, like pigments for dyes.   

Today, wind energy is most closely connected with its ability to create electricity and is growing in popularity as nations seek renewable, clean energy sources. But even this use of wind has a longer history than you might expect.  
In 1887 a professor in Scotland by the name of Andrew Blyth built and used one of the first electricity-generating windmills to light his cottage. In the same time period, an important figure in the early days of US electricity named James Brush had a giant windmill built to power his Ohio home.  

Over time, the design of electricity-generating windmills has been made more efficient, allowing them to power not just individual houses, but become an important energy generator for whole countries. A huge step in this process was Paul la Cour’s discovery in the early 20th century that if a turbine had fewer blades, it could spin more quickly and produce more energy than turbines with many blades.   

In fact, some of the first turbines designed for major power production in Denmark had only two blades. Though the design generated a very fast movement of the blades, it also was unstable, causing turbines to wobble and quickly fall into disrepair and be less efficient. Today, three-bladed turbines are the norm because they are stable but have few enough propellers to produce large amounts of energy.   

However, a company called Vortex Bladeless in Spain is designing a bladeless turbine that is receiving lots of funding and attention. It could be that this invention will soon make the rotating propellers that have become fixtures along highways throughout Europe disappear.

Because of their reputation for high use of fossil fuels, it may surprise you that the top producers of wind energy in the world are China and the USA (less surprisingly, Germany is #3). Recently, China produced 12.2 gigawatts of power over a year through wind. One gigawatt is enough to power roughly 700,000 homes.   

That means China produced enough energy through wind to supply around 8.5 million homes with electricity, or roughly enough for both the Netherlands and New Zealand combined.  

Wind idioms

Clearly, wind has been a constant for humanity, so it’s no surprise that it’s used in many idiomatic expressions in various languages. English is no different, and here are three interesting English idioms that mention wind and their meanings:  

Here are a few examples: 

Spit into the wind

​When you spit into a strong wind, the spit doesn’t go anywhere or, worse, hits you in the face as it blows back. That’s exactly the meaning of this idiom. If you do something pointless or something that is only going to cause needless difficulties for you, you’re spitting into the wind.  

Example: Trying to shovel snow off your driveway during a blizzard is just spitting into the wind. 

Three sheets to the wind

For this one, we’re back to windmills. Dutch windmills traditionally have four blades, and millers would attach sails or “sheets” to the blades of the windmill to catch wind. The number always had to be even (two or four), or the windmill would become unbalanced. If a windmill had only three sheets, it would shake and wobble looking just like…a very drunk person. So, someone who is “three sheets to the wind” has had quite a bit to drink and isn’t walking in straight lines anymore.    

Example: On his birthday, Paul drank three bottles of wine by himself and he was three sheets to the wind. 

Knock the wind out of someone’s sails 

When a ship has wind in its sails, it is moving quickly to its destination, making everyone aboard happy that they’ll see land again as soon as possible. On the other hand, when there’s no wind and a ship isn’t moving, the mood is the exact opposite. So, when you “knock the wind out of someone’s sails,” you’re making someone who is feeling great suddenly feel bad.  

Example: The soccer team thought they had scored a goal and won the game, but the wind was knocked out of their sails when they saw that the referee had called their player offsides.  

Before we turn into blowhards

We could keep talking about wind for pages and pages, but we’re going to stop here for now. And even though we don’t want to see winds as destructive as those that came with Eberhard again any time soon, we hope you’ve enjoyed learning about how wind is made and some of its functions in human society and the English language. 

Keep a lookout for next month’s TIP TOP Learning Nugget to continue expanding your knowledge of the world around you and, most importantly, to have some fun facts to impress your friends and family with. 

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

Vocabulary

unexpected – unerwartet
to snatch – schnell nach etwas greifen
lawn chair – Gartenstuhl
chihuahua – kleiner mexikanischer Hund
making sure – sichergehen
blown up – gesprengt, aufgeblasen
blew its way across – der Wind blies/bahnte sich seinen Weg durch…
wreaked havoc – verheerenden Schaden angerichtet
plenty gusty – ziemlich stürmisch
fill sb. in on – jemanden einweihen, auf den neusten Stand bringen
humankind – Menschheit
area of high pressure, low pressure area – Hochdruckgebiet, Tiefdruckgebiet
surface – Oberfläche
heavier (heavy, heavier, heaviest) – schwer
stay near the ground – bleibt nahe am Boden
you might expect – dürften Sie erwarten
wind occurs – Wind tritt auf
heat evenly – gleichmäßig erhitzen 
to retain – behalten, hier: speichern
determine – bestimmen, festlegen
underlying – zugrunde liegen
constant migration of – stetige Abwanderung
accomplish a huge range of tasks – eine Fülle von Aufgaben erfüllen
sum up – zusammenfassen
propel boats – Boote antreiben
Nile River – Nil
wind-powered – windbetriebene
water pumps – Wasserpumpen
woven-reed blades – aus Reet gewebte Flügelblätter
to grind grain – Korn mahlen
process grain – Korn verarbeiten
pigments for dyes – Pigmente zum Färben
growing in popularity – wächst an Popularität
renewable – erneuerbar
electricity-generating – Strom erzeugend
to light – beleuchten
over time … has been made – im Laufe der Zeit wurden… (immer mir present perfect benutzt)
discovery – Entdeckung
turbine – Turbine
fewer blades – weniger Flügelblätter
spin more quickly – sich schneller drehen
though – obwohl
unstable – instabil
to wobble – wackeln, flattern
fall into disrepair – verfallen, verwahrlosen
bladeless – flügellos 
to receive funding – finanzielle Förderung erhalten
invention – Erfindung
become fixtures along – Vorrichtungen werden entlang…
independent – unabhängig
fossil fuels – fossile Brennstoffe
to power – antreiben, mit Energie versorgen
to supply homes – Haushalte versorgen
wind idioms – idiomatische Redewendungen mit Wind
spit – spucken
do to something pointless – etwas Sinnloses machen
needless difficulties – überflüssige Schwierigkeiten
shovel snow off – Schnee wegschaufeln
destination – Ziel
aboard – an Board
referee – Schiedsrichter
call a player offsides – Abseits pfeifenturn into blowhards – Wichtigtuer werdendestructive – zerstören
most importantly – am Wichtigsten
impress sb. – jemanden beeindrucken

Learning Nugget February 2019

Clogs were made for walking

A trip to Amsterdam

 

Besides teaching people that they “do” their homework (and not “make” it), there’s little that the TIP TOP team loves more than seeing new places and learning new things. Case in point, one of our trainers just got back from an excursion to one of Europe’s top destinations: Amsterdam, Holland.

So we thought that for this month’s Learning Nugget we’d give you some interesting and fun facts about that thriving and historic city. You’ll learn about its famous canals, a piece of little-discussedcultural history, and the marks Amsterdam and its surrounding areas have left on the largest English-speaking city in the world.

The Canals

The canals of Amsterdam are known throughout the world. Amsterdam’s Canal Ring (a series of connected canals over 14 kilometers in total length) even achieved the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Today these canals are used largely for pleasure cruising, and perhaps their most frequent users are boats filled with tourists taking in the city from the water. However, while they may seem all for fun today, they played a serious role in Amsterdam’s growth into one of Europe’s most famous cities.

The canals are manmade, and while some were originally dug as defense measures, most were dug for the purpose of commerce. Having the canals throughout the city allowed for goods to be easily delivered to warehouses. Such accessibility helped make Amsterdam one of the most important and richest port cities in Europe by the 17th century, the era called the Dutch Golden Age. This time period of great prosperity for the city is the one in which artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer worked.

One interesting sight visitors can see by the side of a canal called Oude Schans is the clock tower known as Malle Jaap (Silly Jack). It was formerly a part of a defensive wall, but it was eventually converted to its current form. Silly Jack got its nickname because its engineer made some mistakes when building it, and its bell would sound at random times instead of on the hour.

The Surinamese in Amsterdam

If asked to say where Surinam is on a map, many Westerners would have little clue. You might also be scratching your head about why we’re bringing up Surinam in a piece about Amsterdam. Explaining that takes a little retelling of history, but we promise it’ll make sense eventually.

Surinam is located on the northeastern coast of South America, and it became a Dutch colony in the 16th century. It was a place where cash crops like indigo, cotton, sugar, and coffee were grown.

As you might have guessed, it wasn’t the European merchants who worked the fields to tend those crops. They used slaves and – after the abolition of slavery – underpaid laborers to complete the backbreaking jobs associated with growing and processing such crops for transatlantic shipment.

That history has left its mark on Surinam, and its current population represents a fascinating conglomeration of African, Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian cultures, along with others. Though it became fully independent in 1975, Surinam is the only country outside of Europe that uses Dutch as its official language.

Because of their country’s connections to the Netherlands, many Surinamese have immigrated there, with large numbers making the move from the 70s through the 90s. Many of these immigrants moved to cities like – you guessed it – Amsterdam.

The easiest way to experience the Surinamese influence in the city is to visit one of the many Surinamese restaurants there. With its interesting mix of influences, Surinamese cuisine is something any adventurous eater should try. Though the history it reminds us of may not be savory, the flavors created by the intermingling of cultures in Surinam certainly are.

I  love New Amsterdam?

Before New York City was New York City, it was called New Amsterdam. It was established as a trading post by the Dutch West India Company in the 17th century. Though the settlement came under the control of the English within the same century, the names of many places in the city in use today derive from Dutch roots.

Here are a few examples: 

  • Harlem: An NYC neighborhood often associated with African American history and culture was formerly a Dutch village named after Haarlem, a town just outside of Amsterdam.
  • Brooklyn: The famous borough is named after the Dutch town Breukelen.
  • Coney Island: A place of games, hot dogs, and the world’s first roller coaster, all on a place the Dutch called Conyne Eylandt, which means “rabbit island.”
  • The Bronx: Another borough, this one named after Jonas Bronck, a wealthy man who lived in New Amsterdam in the 17th century.

 

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

 

 

 

Vocabulary:

case in point – typisches Beispiel
excursion to – Exkursion, Ausflug
thriving – florierende, blühende
little-discussed – wenig beachtete
marks have left on – hat seine Spuren hinterlassen
is known throughout – ist überall bekannt
in total length – mit einer Gesamtlänge
achieved – erreichen
World Heritage Site – Weltkulturerbe
pleasure cruising – Vergnügungsfahrt
taking in the city – die Stadt einnehmen
play a serious role – eine wichtige Rolle spielen
manmade – vom Menschen erschaffen
dug (dig, dug, dug) – graben
defense measures – Abwehrmaßnahmen
deliver goods to – Waren anliefern
warehouse – Lager
accessibility – Erreichbarkeit, Zugänglichkeit
port city – Hafenstadt
era – Ära
Dutch Golden Age – Goldenes Zeitalter der Niederlande
prosperity – Wohlstand, Erfolg, Reichtum
interesting sight – interessante Sehenswürdigkeit
defensive wall – Mauer, Schutzwall (also read our Learning Nugget about walls here)
eventually – letztendlich, schließlich
converted – umwandeln
bell sounds at random times – Glocke erklingt zu willkürlichen Zeiten
to have little clue – wenig Ahnung haben
scratching your head – am Kopf kratzen
explaining that – das zu erklären
Dutch colony – Niederländische Kolonie
cash crops – Ernte, die für den Verkauf angebaut wird
merchants – Händler, Kaufmann
to tend crops – Felder bestellen
slaves – Sklaven
abolition of slavery – Abschaffung der Sklaverei
underpaid laborers – unterbezahlte Arbeitskräfte
backbreaking – erschöpfende
processing crops – Feldfrüchte verarbeiten
conglomeration – Anhäufung, Ansammlung
independent – unabhängig
70s through the 90th – während der 70er bis 90er Jahre
you guessed it – Sie haben es erraten
adventurous – abenteuerlich
may not be savory – nicht gerade glorreich
savory – pikant, herzhaft
intermingling – vermischen
to establish – einführen
settlement – Siedlung
derive from – abstammen
root – Wurzel
roller coaster – Achterbahn
borough – Bezirk