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Episode 5
Louvre museum opens in Abu Dhabi; China’s Singles Day sets a global shopping record
Plus English phrases 'shore up', 'spill into', and 'throw weight behind'

The Louvre, one of the most famous museums in the world, opens a second location in Abu Dhabi and will tell the stories of eastern and western civilization through artwork. In China, shoppers spent a record $25 billion on Singles Day; what was originally a light-hearted protest of Valentine’s Day has become the world’s biggest shopping day. We review English phrases “shore up”, “spill into”, and “throw weight behind.”

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Transcript

  • Hi, welcome to Plain English for the week of November 23, 2017. Plain English is a new podcast that goes at the right speed for English learners—just a little bit slower than the speed of a native speaker. In each weekly episode, we talk about two current events and then review some key words and phrases. A full transcript is available online at PlainEnglish.com as soon as each episode is released. If you’re listening on an iPhone or iPad, you can click on the episode link right from the Podcasts app, which takes you right to the transcript. I think you’ll find that reading along as you listen is a real help. And great news if your first language is Spanish—the transcripts come with instant translations of key words into Spanish so you can understand every word without pressing the pause button.

    So here’s what’s in store this week. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf, opened a branch of the Louvre museum this week, ten years after striking an agreement with the French government to establish a second location of one of the world’s greatest museums. And, in a totally unrelated topic, Chinese consumers went crazy for Singles Day—the biggest shopping day of the year worldwide. In the second half of the program, we review three English phrases: “short up”, “spill into”, and “throw weight behind.” Now let’s get going on our first topic.


    Louvre Abu Dhabi opens

    One of the world most famous museums now has a new home—or, I should say, a new second home. French president Emmanual Macron was among the dignitaries present for the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi on November 8, the culmination of a decade-long process to bring the iconic French museum to the desert.

    The new Louvre museum is located in Saadiyat Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, a small, oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf. The museum has a dramatic web-like dome that covers a cluster of waterfront galleries and cost over $650 million dollars to build.

    The museum opening was ten years in the making—and at times, they were rocky years. The agreement to bring the Louvre to Abu Dhabi was brokered between the governments of France and the Emirates in 2007. The basics of the agreement are as follows: Abu Dhabi would pay 400 million euros, or about $464 million dollars, to rent the Louvre brand for 30 years. They would also pay France for museum expertise, ranging from advice on what to display to expertise on security and care of the museum pieces. A total of seventeen French museums have agreed to lend pieces from their collection to the new branch of the Louvre. These include paintings by van Gogh, Monet and Leonardo da Vinci, among others. In the months leading up to the opening, private planes shuttled back and forth bringing about 300 museum pieces from all seventeen participating French museums in preparation for the opening of the new Louvre.

    Not everyone was in favor of the deal at the beginning. Critics worried about lending some of France’s most valuable cultural treasures to a government in such a volatile region of the world. They worried about whether security would be adequate, whether there would be sufficient expertise on the care of the artwork, and about the potential for damage in transportation. Some have also criticized the low wages and working conditions of the construction workers who worked the facility. At a more basic level, many wondered about the morality of essentially renting a nation’s cultural treasures for money.

    Still, it appears that many in the museum community have accepted the new Louvre museum. French museum experts have given their assurances that the facilities are adequate to protect and care for the pieces. And back in France, the museums are using the proceeds to shore up their own collections or improve their facilities, so many now see this as a net benefit to France’s cultural heritage.

    For its part, the UAE sees the Louvre as critical to its national diplomatic strategy. In addition to economic and military power, many countries are now seeking to project soft power, meaning that they seek to promote their culture and values to the global population. The UAE in particular is trying to use the new Saadiyat Island cultural district to project an image to the world of a tolerant, global city. Government officials there have said they would like this effort to ease tensions in the region and project a positive image of Islamic nations, in contrast to the common images of conflict and tension. For this reason, the UAE is investing heavily in education and culture. The Louvre, for example, is just one early element of what the government envisions will be a rich cultural district on Saadiyat Island.

    They also have plans to construct a national museum of the United Arab Emirates and a branch of the famous Guggenheim Museum, which will be designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the famous Guggenheim museum in New York City.

    The new Louvre’s collections will aim to tell the stories of both eastern and western civilizations. The museum curator said the new Louvre’s collections will be “a narrative of humankind from the beginning of knowledge, using art as a witness of the times.”


    China celebrates Singles Day on 11/11

    Have you ever had to spend Valentine’s Day alone while the world celebrates romance and couples all around you? Have you ever thought that instead of a holiday celebrating couples, there should be a holiday for all the singles out there? If so, your dream has come true—at least in China. Singles Day, which is celebrated on November 11—I’ll tell you why in a minute—has become the world’s biggest shopping day.

    If you live in America or, increasingly other parts of the world, you have probably heard about “Black Friday” shopping, where Americans hit the stores the day after their Thanksgiving to get started on their holiday shopping. The sales continue through the weekend and often spill into the next week with online sales. It’s the biggest shopping weekend in the country. But if you add up all the shopping Americans do this whole holiday weekend, it only totals about half of what China spent on Singles Day in 2017.

    So what is this Singles Day? Before this year, I had heard about it, but didn’t know too much, so I decided to do some research. A playful holiday called Bachelors Day originated in the early 1990s, when some students at Nanjing University decided to celebrate their bachelorhood—or, the fact that they were unattached men. It was kind of a revolt against Valentine’s Day. They selected November 11 for their new holiday. When written out, 11/11 looks like four sticks or four bare branches, which is what single people are called in China. Over the years, what was originally Bachelors Day became Singles Day, a more general, but still light-hearted celebration of the single life.

    That all changed in 2009 when Alibaba decided to get into the mix. Alibaba is like China’s version of Amazon.com, the online retailing giant. Alibaba doesn’t actually sell anything—it’s just a marketplace where other retailers can sell their goods online. But Alibaba decided to throw their weight behind Singles Day and make it a nationwide shopping experience.

    Fast-forward to today, and Alibaba has single-handedly turned Singles Day into the world’s biggest shopping day. This year the day kicked off with a star-studded opening ceremony in Shanghai featuring the actress Nicole Kidman, rapper Pharell Williams, and tennis star Maria Sharapova; the gala was televised on three television networks in China. When it was all over, Alibaba had tallied $25 billion dollars in sales in just 24 hours, they processed up to 250,000 orders a quarter of a million orders per second during the frenzy; And 90 percent of those were done by mobile phone. Alibaba sold 40% more this year than they had done on Singles Day in 2016, flying in the face of potential concerns about an economic downturn in China. Alibaba flooded the postal system with 700,000 orders, some of which were delivered in just a matter of hours.

    So what did everyone buy on Singles Day this year? How about, lobster, iPhones, refrigerators, diapers, fashionable clothes—even a lifetime supply of liquor was offered to a limited number of lucky customers for just 1,111 yuan, or about $1,600 dollars.

    Singles Day is now a frenzy of mostly online consumerism, but it also offers us a glimpse into Alibaba’s plan to change the retail industry in China. Up until now, in most countries, retail is divided into two categories—online or bricks-and-mortar (meaning, physical stores). Sure, some retailers like Walmart and Best Buy allow you to place orders online and pick up your order in stores, but nobody has really cracked the code of how to blend the best of in-person shopping with the best of online shopping. But that’s what Alibaba is trying to do at least in China. This Singles Day, for example they signed up 600,000 local convenience stores to store and ship products in their neighborhood. They also installed new technology in 100,000 other in-person stores that let consumers pay for their purchases with just facial recognition, for example.

    If you like the sound of Singles Day but you don’t live in China, you might be in luck—Alibaba plans to aggressively promote Singles Day around the world in the future.


    And you probably thought the United States was the world’s capital of consumerism not China! We are in the second half of the program, so that means we’re going to take a look back at some expressions or phrases you heard earlier. This week, those three expressions are “shore up”, “spill into”, and “throw weight behind” something.

    Shore up

    Let’s start with shore up. Here’s what you heard initially: France’s museums are using the proceeds of their agreement with the United Arab Emirates to shore up their own collections. What this means is that they’re using the proceeds or the money they are receiving to enhance or improve their collections back home. They’re lending some of their works to the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, and in exchange they’re getting money that they can use to buy more artwork for their home collections. In that sense, they are shoring up their collections. You can often use this phrase when you know something needs to be improved or enhanced. For example, if you have to spend a lot of money you weren’t planning on spending, you might have to shore up your savings in the next couple of months. You need to save more, or improve your savings because you just spent so much. After the financial crisis in the late 2000s, governments around the world tried to shore up their banking systems—that is, they tried to make them stronger. Another common use of this phrases is to say someone is trying to shore up support for a person or an idea. In the United States right now, Republicans in Congress are trying to shore up support for their tax reform bills. That means they’re looking to establish and enhance the support they have in Congress and in public. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats will be trying to shore up support to win a majority in Congress in 2018.

    Spill into

    Our second expression this week is “spill into.” The big Thanksgiving shopping weekend spills into the following week, meaning that it extends into the next week. We say something spills into another day, another week, or another year when something extends beyond the original timeline. It used to be that most people did their shopping on the weekend during their free time, so the holiday shopping was confined to the Friday and the weekend after Thanksgiving. But now that we can all shop from our computers or our phones 24/7, the Thanksgiving sales have started to spill into the following week. They’re not confined to the weekend any longer. I think it’s more common to use “spill into” when you’re referring to an original timeline or deadline that won’t be met. For example, imagine you have some household chores you need to get done on a Saturday. By the end of the day, you’ve done most, but not all of your chores. So, your errands will spill into Sunday. I was hoping to paint my whole apartment in 2017, but I have a feeling that’s going to spill into 2018 because I’m not going to be able to finish between now and the end of the year.

    Throw weight behind

    I wanted to talk about one more expression this week. This one is less common, but it’s a good one to know. In the story about Singles Day, I said that Alibaba threw its weight behind the holiday in 2009. That means it lent its support to something, or it promoted something. Prior to 2009, Singles Day was just a light-hearted celebration, but after Alibaba threw its weight behind the holiday, after Alibaba started promoting it, it’s now a huge global shopping day. You might also say that the French government threw its weight behind the deal with the United Arab Emirates to establish the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Without the support of the French government, the museum probably would never have worked. But since political leaders in both countries threw their weight behind the idea, it gained public support.


    That’s it for this week’s episode of Plain English. I hope you enjoyed the topics; if you have any feedback on how the episodes are going, don’t hesitate to connect with the show on either Twitter or Facebook. We are PlainEnglishPod on both. And remember the transcripts are available online at PlainEnglish.com. If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, you can find a link to the show transcript from right inside the Podcasts app on your iPhone or iPad. Until next week thanks for listening to Plain English.

  • Hi, welcome to Plain English for the week of November 23, 2017. Plain English is a new podcast that goes at the right speed for English learners—just a little bit slower than the speed of a native speaker. In each weekly episode, we talk about two current events and then review some key words and phrases. A full transcript is available online at PlainEnglish.com as soon as each episode is released. If you’re listening on an iPhone or iPad, you can click on the episode link right from the Podcasts app, which takes you right to the transcript. I think you’ll find that reading along as you listen is a real help. And great news if your first language is Spanish—the transcripts come with instant translations of key words into Spanish so you can understand every word without pressing the pause button.

    So here’s what’s in store this week. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf, opened a branch of the Louvre museum this week, ten years after striking an agreement with the French government to establish a second location of one of the world’s greatest museums. And, in a totally unrelated topic, Chinese consumers went crazy for Singles Day—the biggest shopping day of the year worldwide. In the second half of the program, we review three English phrases: “short up”, “spill into”, and “throw weight behind.” Now let’s get going on our first topic.


    Louvre Abu Dhabi opens

    One of the world most famous museums now has a new home—or, I should say, a new second home. French president Emmanual Macron was among the dignitaries present for the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi on November 8, the culmination of a decade-long process to bring the iconic French museum to the desert .

    The new Louvre museum is located in Saadiyat Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, a small, oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf. The museum has a dramatic web-like dome that covers a cluster of waterfront galleries and cost over $650 million dollars to build.

    The museum opening was ten years in the making —and at times , they were rocky years . The agreement to bring the Louvre to Abu Dhabi was brokered between the governments of France and the Emirates in 2007. The basics of the agreement are as follows : Abu Dhabi would pay 400 million euros, or about $464 million dollars, to rent the Louvre brand for 30 years. They would also pay France for museum expertise , ranging from advice on what to display to expertise on security and care of the museum pieces. A total of seventeen French museums have agreed to lend pieces from their collection to the new branch of the Louvre. These include paintings by van Gogh, Monet and Leonardo da Vinci, among others . In the months leading up to the opening, private planes shuttled back and forth bringing about 300 museum pieces from all seventeen participating French museums in preparation for the opening of the new Louvre.

    Not everyone was in favor of the deal at the beginning. Critics worried about lending some of France’s most valuable cultural treasures to a government in such a volatile region of the world. They worried about whether security would be adequate, whether there would be sufficient expertise on the care of the artwork , and about the potential for damage in transportation. Some have also criticized the low wages and working conditions of the construction workers who worked the facility . At a more basic level, many wondered about the morality of essentially renting a nation’s cultural treasures for money.

    Still , it appears that many in the museum community have accepted the new Louvre museum. French museum experts have given their assurances that the facilities are adequate to protect and care for the pieces. And back in France, the museums are using the proceeds to shore up their own collections or improve their facilities, so many now see this as a net benefit to France’s cultural heritage .

    For its part, the UAE sees the Louvre as critical to its national diplomatic strategy. In addition to economic and military power , many countries are now seeking to project soft power, meaning that they seek to promote their culture and values to the global population . The UAE in particular is trying to use the new Saadiyat Island cultural district to project an image to the world of a tolerant, global city. Government officials there have said they would like this effort to ease tensions in the region and project a positive image of Islamic nations, in contrast to the common images of conflict and tension. For this reason, the UAE is investing heavily in education and culture. The Louvre, for example, is just one early element of what the government envisions will be a rich cultural district on Saadiyat Island.

    They also have plans to construct a national museum of the United Arab Emirates and a branch of the famous Guggenheim Museum, which will be designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the famous Guggenheim museum in New York City.

    The new Louvre’s collections will aim to tell the stories of both eastern and western civilizations. The museum curator said the new Louvre’s collections will be “a narrative of humankind from the beginning of knowledge, using art as a witness of the times .”


    China celebrates Singles Day on 11/11

    Have you ever had to spend Valentine’s Day alone while the world celebrates romance and couples all around you ? Have you ever thought that instead of a holiday celebrating couples, there should be a holiday for all the singles out there? If so , your dream has come true—at least in China. Singles Day, which is celebrated on November 11—I’ll tell you why in a minute—has become the world’s biggest shopping day.

    If you live in America or, increasingly other parts of the world, you have probably heard about “Black Friday” shopping, where Americans hit the stores the day after their Thanksgiving to get started on their holiday shopping. The sales continue through the weekend and often spill into the next week with online sales. It’s the biggest shopping weekend in the country. But if you add up all the shopping Americans do this whole holiday weekend, it only totals about half of what China spent on Singles Day in 2017.

    So what is this Singles Day? Before this year, I had heard about it, but didn’t know too much, so I decided to do some research . A playful holiday called Bachelors Day originated in the early 1990s, when some students at Nanjing University decided to celebrate their bachelorhood —or, the fact that they were unattached men. It was kind of a revolt against Valentine’s Day. They selected November 11 for their new holiday. When written out , 11/11 looks like four sticks or four bare branches, which is what single people are called in China. Over the years , what was originally Bachelors Day became Singles Day, a more general, but still light-hearted celebration of the single life.

    That all changed in 2009 when Alibaba decided to get into the mix . Alibaba is like China’s version of Amazon.com, the online retailing giant . Alibaba doesn’t actually sell anything—it’s just a marketplace where other retailers can sell their goods online. But Alibaba decided to throw their weight behind Singles Day and make it a nationwide shopping experience.

    Fast-forward to today, and Alibaba has single-handedly turned Singles Day into the world’s biggest shopping day. This year the day kicked off with a star-studded opening ceremony in Shanghai featuring the actress Nicole Kidman, rapper Pharell Williams, and tennis star Maria Sharapova; the gala was televised on three television networks in China. When it was all over, Alibaba had tallied $25 billion dollars in sales in just 24 hours, they processed up to 250,000 orders a quarter of a million orders per second during the frenzy ; And 90 percent of those were done by mobile phone. Alibaba sold 40% more this year than they had done on Singles Day in 2016, flying in the face of potential concerns about an economic downturn in China. Alibaba flooded the postal system with 700,000 orders, some of which were delivered in just a matter of hours.

    So what did everyone buy on Singles Day this year? How about, lobster , iPhones, refrigerators, diapers , fashionable clothes—even a lifetime supply of liquor was offered to a limited number of lucky customers for just 1,111 yuan, or about $1,600 dollars.

    Singles Day is now a frenzy of mostly online consumerism , but it also offers us a glimpse into Alibaba’s plan to change the retail industry in China. Up until now, in most countries, retail is divided into two categories—online or bricks-and-mortar (meaning, physical stores). Sure, some retailers like Walmart and Best Buy allow you to place orders online and pick up your order in stores, but nobody has really cracked the code of how to blend the best of in-person shopping with the best of online shopping. But that’s what Alibaba is trying to do at least in China. This Singles Day, for example they signed up 600,000 local convenience stores to store and ship products in their neighborhood . They also installed new technology in 100,000 other in-person stores that let consumers pay for their purchases with just facial recognition, for example.

    If you like the sound of Singles Day but you don’t live in China, you might be in luck—Alibaba plans to aggressively promote Singles Day around the world in the future.


    And you probably thought the United States was the world’s capital of consumerism not China! We are in the second half of the program, so that means we’re going to take a look back at some expressions or phrases you heard earlier . This week, those three expressions are “shore up”, “spill into”, and “throw weight behind” something.

    Shore up

    Let’s start with shore up. Here’s what you heard initially: France’s museums are using the proceeds of their agreement with the United Arab Emirates to shore up their own collections. What this means is that they’re using the proceeds or the money they are receiving to enhance or improve their collections back home. They’re lending some of their works to the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, and in exchange they’re getting money that they can use to buy more artwork for their home collections. In that sense , they are shoring up their collections. You can often use this phrase when you know something needs to be improved or enhanced. For example, if you have to spend a lot of money you weren’t planning on spending , you might have to shore up your savings in the next couple of months. You need to save more, or improve your savings because you just spent so much. After the financial crisis in the late 2000s, governments around the world tried to shore up their banking systems—that is, they tried to make them stronger. Another common use of this phrases is to say someone is trying to shore up support for a person or an idea. In the United States right now, Republicans in Congress are trying to shore up support for their tax reform bills . That means they’re looking to establish and enhance the support they have in Congress and in public. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats will be trying to shore up support to win a majority in Congress in 2018.

    Spill into

    Our second expression this week is “spill into.” The big Thanksgiving shopping weekend spills into the following week, meaning that it extends into the next week. We say something spills into another day, another week, or another year when something extends beyond the original timeline . It used to be that most people did their shopping on the weekend during their free time , so the holiday shopping was confined to the Friday and the weekend after Thanksgiving . But now that we can all shop from our computers or our phones 24/7, the Thanksgiving sales have started to spill into the following week. They’re not confined to the weekend any longer . I think it’s more common to use “spill into” when you’re referring to an original timeline or deadline that won’t be met . For example, imagine you have some household chores you need to get done on a Saturday. By the end of the day, you’ve done most, but not all of your chores. So, your errands will spill into Sunday. I was hoping to paint my whole apartment in 2017, but I have a feeling that’s going to spill into 2018 because I’m not going to be able to finish between now and the end of the year.

    Throw weight behind

    I wanted to talk about one more expression this week. This one is less common, but it’s a good one to know. In the story about Singles Day, I said that Alibaba threw its weight behind the holiday in 2009. That means it lent its support to something, or it promoted something. Prior to 2009, Singles Day was just a light-hearted celebration, but after Alibaba threw its weight behind the holiday, after Alibaba started promoting it, it’s now a huge global shopping day. You might also say that the French government threw its weight behind the deal with the United Arab Emirates to establish the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Without the support of the French government, the museum probably would never have worked. But since political leaders in both countries threw their weight behind the idea, it gained public support.


    That’s it for this week’s episode of Plain English. I hope you enjoyed the topics; if you have any feedback on how the episodes are going, don’t hesitate to connect with the show on either Twitter or Facebook. We are PlainEnglishPod on both. And remember the transcripts are available online at PlainEnglish.com. If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, you can find a link to the show transcript from right inside the Podcasts app on your iPhone or iPad. Until next week thanks for listening to Plain English.

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