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Episode 11
Protests spread through Iran; celebrating the New Year around the world
Plus English phrases ‘shut down’ and ‘bucket list’

Protesters in Iran are demonstrating against the government, focusing on the economic conditions that include high unemployment and high inflation. The government has shut down social media in response. Many countries have their own New Year’s traditions, including fireworks, religious observances and, in Indonesia, a mass wedding. Plus we review English expressions “shut down” and “bucket list.”

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Transcript

  • Protests are growing against the government in Iran. Hi everyone, this is Jeff and welcome to Plain English for January 4, 2018. Plain English is a current events podcast for English language learners that goes at just the right speed for new English speakers. This week, we’ll talk about the escalating protests spreading through Iran and the various ways the New Year is celebrated around the world. In the second half of the program, we’ll review two English expressions—shut down and bucket list.

    But before we get started, I wanted to remind you that you can connect with the show on Facebook or Twitter under the user name PlainEnglishPod. You can also send an email to me, if you have suggestions for topics or if you’d like to share some feedback. My e-mail address is jeff@plainenglish.com.

    I know a lot of you listen on either Spotify or Apple Podcasts, so you might not have seen the web site yet, PlainEnglish.com. The web site has a word-for-word transcript of every show, so you can read along as you listen. And if your first language is Spanish, you can follow the interactive transcript, which shows you instant translations from English to Spanish.

    Let’s get started with the first topic this week.

    Protests in Iran

    Protesters in Iran have drawn the world’s attention with demonstrations against the government in several cities across the Islamic country. The protests turned violent over the weekend and into Monday, with a total of 12 people killed and hundreds arrested.

    The protests started about a week ago in the northeastern city of Mashad, the second-largest city in the country, and continued through New Year’s Day. The protests are against the economic situation in the country and, more generally, the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

    Rising costs and high unemployment are among the economic causes of the protests. Though the Iranian economy has improved recently, many of the protesters feel that the benefits have not reached the majority of the population. Media reports suggest that the protesters are generally working class people who feel they have nothing to lose by protesting against difficult economic conditions. Rouhani acknowledged that the Iranian economy needs “major corrective surgery” and said that national unity is the “first and most important step.”

    He also said the government would allow peaceful protest and demonstrations but would “show no mercy” for people who damage buildings or property or who “create unrest” in society.

    It’s tough to get comprehensive information from Iran because the local media is controlled by the government and the foreign media has only limited access to report independently from inside the country. Still, some reports about the protests are getting out, saying that protesters are chanting anti-government slogans, some against the President, some against the Ayatollah, who is the head of state. Other protesters are tearing down political posters, violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code, or setting trash cans on fire. For the most part, though, it appears the protests involve crowds of people marching down streets, playing a game of cat and mouse with police, who often outnumber the protesters.

    These protests are the largest in the country since massive protests in 2009 disputed the results of a presidential election and briefly threatened stability of the government. In that year, the government cracked down hard on protesters around the country; this time, they are trying to contain protests locally and through electronic means.

    Social media, including messaging apps, has played a large role in these protests, as it has in other protest movements around the world in recent years. This time, though, Iran has acted swiftly to shut down social media activity. Telegram is the most popular messaging app in Iran, with over 50% of adults using the service; it’s kind of like the Whatsapp of Iran. The government shut down both Telegram and photo-sharing site Instagram entirely over the weekend, saying that its actions were necessary to preserve the peace. The CEO of Telegram said that the Iranian government had requested that it shut down various parts of the service, but that the company refused; as a result, Telegram is now banned in Iran and it’s not known if the ban is temporary or permanent.

    Situations like this will also put pressure on US-based companies, such as Facebook, which owns Instagram, and Twitter. Those companies may come under pressure from the Iranian government to censor certain topics or otherwise restrict communications. The US government has discouraged technology companies from complying with censorship requests and said that it will be watching closely to see how American companies respond—even though there isn’t much the US government can do about it one way or another.

    The protests, and the way the Iran government handles them, will have geopolitical effects. Iran signed an agreement in 2015 with the US and five other world powers in which it agreed to limit its development of nuclear weapons in exchange for lighter international sanctions and access to more foreign markets. A harsh crackdown on protests could risk further sanctions on the Iranian government.

    New Year’s celebrations around the world

    It’s pretty common for people in the United States to take the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I did that too—and as a result I’ve been completely unplugged from what’s going on in the world. So instead of doing another current events story, since I really don’t know what else is happening, I thought I’d research the ways different cities celebrate the New Year around the world. Here are a few interesting celebrations I learned about.

    It seems like the most common way to celebrate the New Year is with fireworks. Cities like Paris, Berlin, Toronto, Hong Kong, and Sydney celebrate with fireworks displays. In Sydney, they’re lucky because it’s summer—so thousands of people head to the harbor to see the fireworks display behind the city’s famous opera house. London also has a fireworks display and this year’s show featured a soundtrack dominated by women, to mark the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote in the UK. Kiwis, as people from New Zealand are known, are the first people in the world to ring in the New Year; they either go to the beaches, since it’s summer there too, or to Aukland, where fireworks are set off from the top of a downtown tower. In Rio de Janeiro, where I think it’s technically summer every day of the year, they ring in the new year with fireworks on Copacabana Beach and samba music afterward.

    New York has one of the world’s most unique celebrations in its famous Times Square—what they call the ball drop. A large crystal ball at the top of one of the office buildings in Times Square lights up and descends down a pole, reaching the roof of the building at exactly midnight in a burst of fireworks and confetti. The whole night features concerts and entertainment outside; this year, Mariah Carey headlined the evening.

    This year was the second-coldest New Year’s Eve in New York since the tradition began; it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or -12 degrees Celsius. This was the coldest since 1917, when it was just one degree Fahrenheit.

    Here’s one way to celebrate that I like. Indonesia offers a free “mass wedding” in Jakarta, the capital, for couples that have been married, but never had their marriages recognized by the national government. This year, 437 couples took advantage of the mass wedding.

    A couple others. Japan is starting the Year of the Dog; people there celebrate by eating noodles, shrimp and sweet black beans and by visiting temples. In South Korea, they ring bells at City Hall in Seoul.

    Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Instead of fireworks in the desert city, they opted for a massive light show, showing various designs including Arabic calligraphy, flags of neighboring countries, and a portrait of the first president of the United Arab Emirates.

    Pope Francis gave a New Year’s Eve prayer service at St. Peter’s Basilica and celebrated Mass on New Year’s Day under the theme of world peace.

    In Uganda, people go to churches to commemorate the end of one year and to make predictions for the next—some more accurate than others.

    There was one notable mishap this year: in Sakhalinsk, Russia, (I hope I said that right) the 80 foot Christmas tree in the center of the New Year celebrations caught on fire; the whole thing burned up in just a few minutes. Oops.

    So which one of those would you most like to be at? I think I’m torn between Rio and New Zealand. The beaches in Rio are just beautiful and I’d love to be there for the fireworks and party afterward, but I think it would also be fun to be one of the first people to celebrate a new year, since New Zealand is so far east. I can tell you the one celebration I would least like to go to—that’s New York. Times Square on New Year’s Eve is on many people’s bucket list. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be standing around outside in the cold for that long. Maybe I’d watch it from a building nearby; last year, I heard that hotel suites overlooking Times Square were going for $10,000 a night. Maybe someday.


    Before we start the second half of the program, I wanted to ask you a quick favor. If you’re enjoying Plain English, I’d really appreciate it if you left a review wherever you listen to the show. I know a lot of you listen on either Apple Podcasts or on Spotify. By leaving a rating, or even better, a review, you can help other English learners discover the show.

    Now we’re ready to start the second half of the program, where we’ll review two words or expressions you heard earlier. This week, they are “shut down” and “bucket list.”

    Shut down

    Let’s do “shut down” first. This is a phrasal verb with a lot of good uses. In the section about the protests in Iran, you heard that the government acted swiftly, or quickly, to shut down some social media. In this sense, shut down means that the government disabled the social networks Telegram and Instagram. It took action to make sure they don’t work. So, after the government shut down Telegram, nobody could use it. They also shut down Instagram, so now nobody in all Iran can use Instagram.

    Shut down has a couple of other applications. One common one is when you turn your computer off, you usually click a button that tells the computer to close all its programs and prepare to turn off. When you do this, you’re shutting down your computer. You’re closing all the programs so nothing is running, and then you’re turning off the power. You’re shutting down your own computer.

    Outside of technology, shut down can be used to mean to immobilize, or to cause something to stop. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is looking to shut down criticism of his government; he’s looking to stop the criticism of his government. You might remember from last week that a power outage caused the Atlanta airport to shut down—or stop functioning—for almost 12 hours. A snowstorm can sometimes cause a whole city to shut down if the people aren’t prepared for it.

    Have you ever gone to a restaurant and discovered that the government forced it to close, maybe because of a health or safety violation? If so, the government shut that business down—they forced it to close. There’s a Thai restaurant near my house that was shut down for a few weeks because they didn’t pass a health inspection.

    Bucket list

    The second expression this week is “bucket list.” This one is easier—it’s just slang. It means all the things a person wants to do before he or she dies. There’s an expression in English—“kick the bucket.” It’s kind of a playful way of describing death. So, before you kick the bucket, before you die, you might want to do certain things. A person’s bucket list, therefore, is the list of things they want to do before they die. Some people might put experiences like visiting Paris, hiking a tall mountain, or going skydiving on their bucket list. Others may put accomplishments on their bucket list; they may say they want to write a book, appear on a TV show, or be elected to public office.

    A bucket list is usually a pretty informal thing; most people don’t have actual lists of things they want to do before they die, but many of us do have certain things in mind we’d want to do or accomplish. If you’re in a conversation with a friend, and your friend says she’s going on vacation to Paris next spring, you might say that seeing the Eiffel Tower is on your bucket list—it’s something you really want to do some time in your life.

    I’d be curious to hear what’s on your bucket list, if you have one. If you send me a note on Twitter or Facebook, or by e-mail, I’ll read the best ones on next week’s program. I’m PlainEnglishPod on Facebook and Twitter and my email is jeff@plainenglish.com

    That’s it for this week—I hope you liked the program. Make sure to check us out for a new episode every Thursday morning. See you next week.

  • Protests are growing against the government in Iran. Hi everyone, this is Jeff and welcome to Plain English for January 4, 2018. Plain English is a current events podcast for English language learners that goes at just the right speed for new English speakers. This week, we’ll talk about the escalating protests spreading through Iran and the various ways the New Year is celebrated around the world. In the second half of the program, we’ll review two English expressions—shut down and bucket list.

    But before we get started, I wanted to remind you that you can connect with the show on Facebook or Twitter under the user name PlainEnglishPod. You can also send an email to me, if you have suggestions for topics or if you’d like to share some feedback . My e-mail address is jeff@plainenglish.com.

    I know a lot of you listen on either Spotify or Apple Podcasts, so you might not have seen the web site yet, PlainEnglish.com. The web site has a word-for-word transcript of every show, so you can read along as you listen. And if your first language is Spanish, you can follow the interactive transcript , which shows you instant translations from English to Spanish.

    Let’s get started with the first topic this week.

    Protests in Iran

    Protesters in Iran have drawn the world’s attention with demonstrations against the government in several cities across the Islamic country. The protests turned violent over the weekend and into Monday, with a total of 12 people killed and hundreds arrested.

    The protests started about a week ago in the northeastern city of Mashad, the second-largest city in the country, and continued through New Year’s Day. The protests are against the economic situation in the country and, more generally, the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

    Rising costs and high unemployment are among the economic causes of the protests. Though the Iranian economy has improved recently, many of the protesters feel that the benefits have not reached the majority of the population. Media reports suggest that the protesters are generally working class people who feel they have nothing to lose by protesting against difficult economic conditions. Rouhani acknowledged that the Iranian economy needs “ major corrective surgery ” and said that national unity is the “first and most important step.”

    He also said the government would allow peaceful protest and demonstrations but would “ show no mercy ” for people who damage buildings or property or who “ create unrest ” in society.

    It’s tough to get comprehensive information from Iran because the local media is controlled by the government and the foreign media has only limited access to report independently from inside the country. Still, some reports about the protests are getting out , saying that protesters are chanting anti-government slogans , some against the President, some against the Ayatollah, who is the head of state . Other protesters are tearing down political posters , violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code , or setting trash cans on fire. For the most part, though, it appears the protests involve crowds of people marching down streets, playing a game of cat and mouse with police, who often outnumber the protesters.

    These protests are the largest in the country since massive protests in 2009 disputed the results of a presidential election and briefly threatened stability of the government. In that year, the government cracked down hard on protesters around the country; this time, they are trying to contain protests locally and through electronic means .

    Social media, including messaging apps , has played a large role in these protests, as it has in other protest movements around the world in recent years. This time, though, Iran has acted swiftly to shut down social media activity. Telegram is the most popular messaging app in Iran, with over 50% of adults using the service; it’s kind of like the Whatsapp of Iran. The government shut down both Telegram and photo-sharing site Instagram entirely over the weekend, saying that its actions were necessary to preserve the peace . The CEO of Telegram said that the Iranian government had requested that it shut down various parts of the service, but that the company refused ; as a result, Telegram is now banned in Iran and it’s not known if the ban is temporary or permanent .

    Situations like this will also put pressure on US-based companies, such as Facebook, which owns Instagram, and Twitter. Those companies may come under pressure from the Iranian government to censor certain topics or otherwise restrict communications. The US government has discouraged technology companies from complying with censorship requests and said that it will be watching closely to see how American companies respond— even though there isn’t much the US government can do about it one way or another .

    The protests, and the way the Iran government handles them, will have geopolitical effects . Iran signed an agreement in 2015 with the US and five other world powers in which it agreed to limit its development of nuclear weapons in exchange for lighter international sanctions and access to more foreign markets . A harsh crackdown on protests could risk further sanctions on the Iranian government.

    New Year’s celebrations around the world

    It’s pretty common for people in the United States to take the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I did that too—and as a result I’ve been completely unplugged from what’s going on in the world. So instead of doing another current events story, since I really don’t know what else is happening, I thought I’d research the ways different cities celebrate the New Year around the world. Here are a few interesting celebrations I learned about.

    It seems like the most common way to celebrate the New Year is with fireworks . Cities like Paris, Berlin, Toronto, Hong Kong, and Sydney celebrate with fireworks displays . In Sydney, they’re lucky because it’s summer—so thousands of people head to the harbor to see the fireworks display behind the city’s famous opera house . London also has a fireworks display and this year’s show featured a soundtrack dominated by women, to mark the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote in the UK. Kiwis, as people from New Zealand are known, are the first people in the world to ring in the New Year ; they either go to the beaches, since it’s summer there too, or to Aukland, where fireworks are set off from the top of a downtown tower. In Rio de Janeiro, where I think it’s technically summer every day of the year, they ring in the new year with fireworks on Copacabana Beach and samba music afterward.

    New York has one of the world’s most unique celebrations in its famous Times Square—what they call the ball drop . A large crystal ball at the top of one of the office buildings in Times Square lights up and descends down a pole, reaching the roof of the building at exactly midnight in a burst of fireworks and confetti. The whole night features concerts and entertainment outside; this year, Mariah Carey headlined the evening.

    This year was the second-coldest New Year’s Eve in New York since the tradition began; it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or -12 degrees Celsius. This was the coldest since 1917, when it was just one degree Fahrenheit.

    Here’s one way to celebrate that I like. Indonesia offers a free “ mass wedding ” in Jakarta, the capital, for couples that have been married, but never had their marriages recognized by the national government. This year, 437 couples took advantage of the mass wedding.

    A couple others. Japan is starting the Year of the Dog; people there celebrate by eating noodles , shrimp and sweet black beans and by visiting temples . In South Korea, they ring bells at City Hall in Seoul.

    Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Instead of fireworks in the desert city , they opted for a massive light show, showing various designs including Arabic calligraphy , flags of neighboring countries, and a portrait of the first president of the United Arab Emirates.

    Pope Francis gave a New Year’s Eve prayer service at St. Peter’s Basilica and celebrated Mass on New Year’s Day under the theme of world peace.

    In Uganda, people go to churches to commemorate the end of one year and to make predictions for the next—some more accurate than others.

    There was one notable mishap this year: in Sakhalinsk, Russia, (I hope I said that right) the 80 foot Christmas tree in the center of the New Year celebrations caught on fire ; the whole thing burned up in just a few minutes. Oops.

    So which one of those would you most like to be at? I think I’m torn between Rio and New Zealand. The beaches in Rio are just beautiful and I’d love to be there for the fireworks and party afterward, but I think it would also be fun to be one of the first people to celebrate a new year, since New Zealand is so far east. I can tell you the one celebration I would least like to go to—that’s New York. Times Square on New Year’s Eve is on many people’s bucket list. Personally , I wouldn’t want to be standing around outside in the cold for that long. Maybe I’d watch it from a building nearby; last year, I heard that hotel suites overlooking Times Square were going for $10,000 a night. Maybe someday.


    Before we start the second half of the program, I wanted to ask you a quick favor . If you’re enjoying Plain English, I’d really appreciate it if you left a review wherever you listen to the show. I know a lot of you listen on either Apple Podcasts or on Spotify. By leaving a rating , or even better, a review, you can help other English learners discover the show.

    Now we’re ready to start the second half of the program, where we’ll review two words or expressions you heard earlier. This week, they are “shut down” and “bucket list.”

    Shut down

    Let’s do “shut down” first. This is a phrasal verb with a lot of good uses. In the section about the protests in Iran, you heard that the government acted swiftly , or quickly, to shut down some social media. In this sense, shut down means that the government disabled the social networks Telegram and Instagram. It took action to make sure they don’t work . So, after the government shut down Telegram, nobody could use it. They also shut down Instagram, so now nobody in all Iran can use Instagram.

    Shut down has a couple of other applications . One common one is when you turn your computer off, you usually click a button that tells the computer to close all its programs and prepare to turn off . When you do this, you’re shutting down your computer. You’re closing all the programs so nothing is running , and then you’re turning off the power. You’re shutting down your own computer.

    Outside of technology, shut down can be used to mean to immobilize , or to cause something to stop. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is looking to shut down criticism of his government; he’s looking to stop the criticism of his government. You might remember from last week that a power outage caused the Atlanta airport to shut down—or stop functioning —for almost 12 hours. A snowstorm can sometimes cause a whole city to shut down if the people aren’t prepared for it.

    Have you ever gone to a restaurant and discovered that the government forced it to close, maybe because of a health or safety violation ? If so, the government shut that business down—they forced it to close. There’s a Thai restaurant near my house that was shut down for a few weeks because they didn’t pass a health inspection .

    Bucket list

    The second expression this week is “bucket list.” This one is easier—it’s just slang . It means all the things a person wants to do before he or she dies. There’s an expression in English—“kick the bucket.” It’s kind of a playful way of describing death. So, before you kick the bucket, before you die, you might want to do certain things. A person’s bucket list, therefore, is the list of things they want to do before they die. Some people might put experiences like visiting Paris, hiking a tall mountain, or going skydiving on their bucket list. Others may put accomplishments on their bucket list; they may say they want to write a book , appear on a TV show , or be elected to public office .

    A bucket list is usually a pretty informal thing; most people don’t have actual lists of things they want to do before they die, but many of us do have certain things in mind we’d want to do or accomplish . If you’re in a conversation with a friend, and your friend says she’s going on vacation to Paris next spring, you might say that seeing the Eiffel Tower is on your bucket list—it’s something you really want to do some time in your life.

    I’d be curious to hear what’s on your bucket list, if you have one. If you send me a note on Twitter or Facebook, or by e-mail, I’ll read the best ones on next week’s program. I’m PlainEnglishPod on Facebook and Twitter and my email is jeff@plainenglish.com

    That’s it for this week—I hope you liked the program. Make sure to check us out for a new episode every Thursday morning. See you next week.


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