Welcome to “Learning English”a daily 30 minutes program from the Voice of America.I am Jonathon Evans. And I am Ashley Thompson. This program is aimed at English learners, so we speak a little slower and we use words and phrases especially written for people learning English.
Today on the program.Ashle and I will bring you stories along with Pete Musto. Later Steve Ember will present our American history series : The Making of a Nation. But first....
1.Japanese Companies Introduce New ‘Companion’ Robots
Robots are being used in industryassembly lines, to carry out medical operations and in the military.
But, some Japanese companies are producing robots for use in the home ascompanions.
We would like to introduce three models that are more or lessaffordable.
Kirobo Mini, a small robot for use in home
Japanese carmaker Toyota sells the Kirobo Mini, a small robot designed for cuteness
So far, the robot can only understand Japanese. But it canrespondwhen spoken to and can ask some questions.
A smartphone application provides many communicationsfunctionsfor the robot. If you talk with Kirobo, it can remember the content of a discussion. The robot can learn your name if you put it into the smartphone app that is updated periodically. In this way, the robot can get "smarter" and will be able to "grow up" over time.
Toyota is considering connecting Kirobo to carnavigationand smart-driving uses. The robot does connect with the latest model of the Toyota Prius. But the robot is only able to perform basic functions like reminding the driver to turn off the headlights.
The robot is small—only 10 centimeters tall and its price is $350.
Aibo, a robot dog
Sony is the Japanese maker of the PlayStation video game system and many electronic devices.
Now, the company is again producing a dog robot called Aibo. Sony stopped producing the first version of the robot 12 years ago.
The improved Aibo is about 30 centimeters long and has natural looking eyes. It is much "cuter" than the earlier version. The eyes also have a camera, so you can take a picture while playing with Aibo.
The dog robot can respond to a pink ball and plastic bone like real dogs.
Sony says Aibo's "brain" is based in an internet "cloud" service. The idea is that over time and with the owner's effort Aibo can develop its own artificial intelligence. The dog robot can interact with users and respond to voices.
Sony is considering overseas sales but has not decided yet.
However, Aibo is much more costly with a price of about $1800.
Qoobo, cushion with a tail
Qoobo looks more like acushionthan a robot. Yukai Engineering in Tokyo makes Qoobo which has no face or legs.
The robot only has a body and a tail. However, the company says the cushion with a tail can provide atherapeuticeffect for people by waving its tail slowly as a response tocaressesand tapping. The tail is called a "therapy tail".
Qoobo is the biggest of the robots—at 33 centimeters in length.
It is now available to order in Japan and the United States and is expected to be sent out later this year. Qoobo is the least costly of these robots at $90, but it does not have the ability to "learn" from its surroundings.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Rei Goto adapted this story for VOA Learning English from AP and other sources. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
respond–v.to answer words or actions
companion–n.one that accompanies another
affordable–adj.able to be afforded
assembly lines–n.a series of workers or machines in a factory by which a succession of identical item is progressively assembled
function–n.the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing exists.
navigation–n.the act of find the way to go from place to place
cloud –n.the computers and connections that support cloud computing
caress–v.a gentle or loving touch
therapeutic–adj.having a beneficial effect on the body or mind
2.New Zealand to Ban Foreign Home Buyers
New Zealand plans to bar foreigners from purchasing existing homes.
The ban is expected to become law this year. It aims to slow the rising housing prices and protect New Zealanders interested in buying a home.
The Labour Party government believes that foreign investors have pushed many possible first-time home buyers and families out of the housing market.
Last year, median housing prices across the country rose by 5.8 percent, to over $405,000 dollars.
Housing prices rose even more in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Price there rose by more than 18 percent over a 12-month period that ended in June 2017.
The rising prices have pushed home ownership outside the reach of many possible buyers.
One home owner told VOA he feels sorry for the younger generation.
“I look at my children and and my family and friends’ children, and I really, really feel for them because I just believe the market has made it impossible for them to get into the housing.”
Just 25 years ago, three out of every four New Zealanders lived in their own homes. Now the rate is 64 percent -- and falling.
The plan to ban foreigners from buying existing homes has yet to be approved. But the measure, called the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, passed its first reading in parliament in December.
Restricting foreign ownership of housing has been tried in other countries, including Switzerland, says Norman Gemmell. He is chair of public finance at Victoria University of Wellington.
"So, there is a sensible economic argument that says, if lots of foreign investors -- because there is money slewing around in the world looking for a good home -- if lots of these foreign investors are looking to put their cash into New Zealand, if it then forces up the price of property so that people cannot afford to live anymore, you should think about what is the right way to allocate your domestic housing stock.”
Critics say foreign investors have had only a small effect on the cost of housing. Low interest rates, limited supply and immigration have also driven up house prices.
New Zealand’s trade minister David Parker says the restrictions are not just about price, but fairness.
“I am not targeting any one individual. I'm trying to protect New Zealanders against some of the excesses of global capitalism.”
Chinese investors have been among the biggest foreign buyers of property in New Zealand.
Political commentator Bryce Edwards says the ban is a sign of both intolerance in the community and concerns about capitalism.
“There is much more focus on inequality, and so there has been a lot more focus on wealthy individuals as the problem. And there is an ethnic element to it as well that is perhaps xenophobic or even racist. You know, there has been a great increase in Asian wealth coming to New Zealand and, regardless of whether it is investing here or moving here to live, New Zealanders are a bit more suspicious of that.”
Housing prices continue to make solid gains across the country. And for many New Zealanders, the dream of owning a home is as distant as ever.
Words in This Story
median – n. the middle value in a series of numbers
slewing – v. to turn or slide in another direction very quickly
cash – n. money
afford – v. to be able to pay for
allocate – v. to divide and give out
intolerance – n. a refusal to accept the rights of other people
xenophobic – adj. someone who is fearful or what is foreign or foreigners
3.Ancient Maya Structures Found in Guatemalan Jungle
Researchers using newaerialmapping technology have found thousands of never-before-detected ancient structures from the Mayacivilization.
They examined from above an area of densejunglein Guatemala's Petenregion. They discovered thousands of houses, defense works andpyramids.
They also found industrial-sized agricultural fields and canals that provided water for farms. The findings suggest that millions more people lived in the area than researchers had long believed.
A team ofarchaeologistsfrom Europe, the United States and Guatemala announced their findings earlier this month. The team worked with Guatemala's Maya Heritage and Nature Foundation.
Their study says that around 10 million people may have once lived within the area known as the "Maya Lowlands."
"That is two to three times more than people were saying there were," said Marello A Canuto in an interview with the Associated Press. He is ananthropologyprofessor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The researchers used a mapping method called Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR. A device sends laser light from high above, which hits the ground and then returns back to the device. The technology can reveal shapes and structures hidden by dense trees and plants.
The recent images revealed that the Maya changed the natural environment much more than researchers had thought. In some areas, they developed 95 percent of the available land.
Francisco Estrada-Belli is a Research Assistant Professor at Tulane University. He said the Maya's agricultural methods were "much more intensive and thereforesustainablethan we thought."
Structures such as the extensive defensive barriers and canals suggest a highly organized workforce. Large canals even re-directed natural water flows.
The 2,100 square kilometers of mapping greatly expands the area that the Maya were known to have occupied. Their cultureflourishedbetween about 1,000 BC and 900 AD. Mayadescendantsstill live across Central America and in parts of Mexico.
The mapping detected about 60,000 individual structures. They included four major Maya ceremonial centers withplazasand pyramids.
Thomas Garrison is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College in New York. He worked on the project and is an expert on the city of El Zotz, near Guatemala's Tikal.
He said he went to the area earlier this year with the LiDAR information to look for one of the roads that was revealed in the findings.
"I found it," Garrison said. "But if I had not had the LiDAR and known...that's what it was, I would have walked right over it, because of how dense the jungle is."
Garrison said that the fields, roads and structures built by some other ancient cultures got destroyed by later generations of farming.
But in this case, the jungle grew over theabandonedMaya fields and structures. This both hid them and protected them from damage.
I'm Pete Musto.
Pete Musto adapted this story for VOA Learning English using reporting from the Associated Press. Ashley Thompson was the editor. We want to hear from you.
Words in This Story
aerial–adj.taken or seen from an airplane
civilization–n.a particular well-organized and developed group of people in a given country, area, or time, thought of especially as an organized community
jungle–n.a tropical forest where plants and trees grow very thickly
region–n.a part of a country or of the world that is different or separate from other parts in some way
pyramid(s) –n.a very large structure that has a square base and four triangular sides which form a point at the top
archaeologist(s) –n.a person who studies the science that deals with past human life and activities by studying the bones, buildings and tools of ancient people
anthropology–n.the study of human races, origins, societies, and cultures
sustainable–adj.involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
flourish(ed) –v.to grow well
descendant(s) –n.someone who is related to a person or group of people who lived in the past
plaza(s) –n.an open public area that is usually near city buildings and that often has trees and bushes and places to sit, walk, and shop
abandoned–adj.left by the owner
4.Kansas Struggle over Slavery Turns Violent
From VOA Learning English, welcome to The Making of a Nation. I'm Steve Ember.
n the middle of the 1850s, the United States was again struggling with the issue of slavery. The dispute centered increasingly on Kansas, a territory in the middle of the country.
In Kansas, white men were able to vote on whether they wanted slavery to be legal in the territory. Many Kansas settlers opposed slavery. Some of the settlers were northern Abolitionists. They believed that owning another person was immoral. Many farmers also opposed legalizing slavery. They did not want to compete with slave labor.
But many people in the nearby state of Missouri wanted Kansas to permit slavery. Slavery was legal in Missouri, and many Missouri slave owners wanted to live next to a territory where slavery was legal.
A mural of John Brown, perhaps the best known Free Stater, adorns the hallways of the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas.
So when Kansas held elections, pro-slavery men from Missouri crossed the border and voted illegally. Yet their votes were accepted.
"The result of the territorial elections is that you have a territorial legislature that is overwhelmingly pro-slavery. It will write a slave code for Kansas, it will say Kansas is a slave territory, slavery is protected here.
Nicole Etcheson is a historian. She says the newly-elected Kansas legislature created strong laws to protect slavery in the territory.
The laws said no Kansan could speak or write against slavery. And they said people who tried to help slaves escape could be put in jail or executed.
The lawmakers also demanded that President Franklin Pierce dismiss the territory's governor, who opposed slavery. The president agreed. He appointed a pro-slavery governor instead.
Anti-slavery settlers in Kansas grew angry. They felt they could not get fair treatment from the president or the new governor. They said pro-slavery groups cheated to control the elections. So the anti-slavery settlers took an extreme step. They formed their own government.
Their political group was known as the "Free State" Party. Its members wrote their own constitution. They also chose their own governor. Historian Nicole Etcheson says Free State members refused to recognize the "bogus authority" of the official Kansas legislature.
"That is the argument that the Free State political movement will make. Not so much that slavery is an awful thing, although some of them make that argument, but that free white settlers in Kansas have had their political rights at the ballot box denied."
President Pierce said the actions of the Free State Party seemed revolutionary. He said that if party members attacked any government property or official, party leaders should be charged with treason. Pierce gave the pro-slavery governor of Kansas control of troops at two army bases in the territory. The situation threatened to turn violent at any time.
In November 1855, a pro-slavery man killed a Free State man in a dispute over land claims. To answer the attack, Free State settlers threatened the killer and burned his house.
At the same time, hundreds of pro-slavery men crossed the border from Missouri. They planned to burn the town of Lawrence, where many Free State members lived.
The pro-slavery governor and the Free State governor agreed to hold an emergency meeting. They negotiated a settlement. And the men from Missouri went home. But the truce did not last long.
In the weeks that followed, a pro-slavery sheriff attempted to arrest the leaders of the Free State government, but failed. A few days later, the law enforcement official was shot.
Around the same time, a pro-slavery grand jury found several Free State leaders guilty of treason. The grand jury also said the town of Lawrence was supporting illegal newspapers and a hotel that stored weapons.
Pro-slavery officials moved to take control of the town. The wounded sheriff urged private citizens to help. Once again, hundreds of men -- including many from Missouri -- gathered in Kansas. Once again, the target was Lawrence. This time, however, there was no truce.
On May 21, 1856, a group of pro-slavery men marched into the town. Historian David Potter describes the incident in his book The Impending Crisis. He says the mob entered Lawrence with flags and flying banners as if it were a victorious army. Some men threw two newspaper printing presses into the river. Others "freed" as much alcohol as they could find. And, Potter writes, the group turned five cannons on the Free State Hotel.
The mob fired the cannons at the hotel and burned the house where the Free State governor lived. But no anti-slavery settlers were killed. The only person killed was a pro-slavery man. He died when part of the Free State Hotel fell on him.
Anti-slavery newspapers called the attack "the sack of Lawrence." In other words, they suggested that pro-slavery raiders had completely destroyed the town.
A settler named John Brown heard about the attack on Lawrence. Brown was from the eastern state of Connecticut, but he had recently moved to Kansas. He strongly opposed slavery. He also thought the Free State government was too weak.
So John Brown persuaded four of his sons, his son-in-law, and two other men to answer the sack of Lawrence. Brown believed that the battle against the forces of slavery must continue. And he believed that God had chosen him to lead it.
Late at night, Brown and the other men went to a settlement near Pottawatomie Creek. They went to three homes and seized five pro-slavery men.
"Took these five men out of their beds, defenseless, unarmed, and hacked them to death with broad swords."
Historian Nicole Etcheson explains that Brown's group seized the men, murdered them, and left their bodies next to the creek. The event became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.
The combination of the sack of Lawrence and the Pottawatomie Massacre frightened both pro- and anti-slavery forces. Both sides believed they could be attacked at any time. They began collecting weapons to defend themselves.
In the summer and autumn of 1856, the competing forces repeatedly threatened each other. They forced each other off land. They burned each other's houses. More people were killed. The territory became known as "Bleeding Kansas."
Nicole Etcheson says the term Bleeding Kansas was evocative. In other words, it made people feel strongly.
"The term is so evocative because it's a propaganda term."
Ms. Etcheson says that many people, especially in the north, were against slavery in the territory. These individuals used the term Bleeding Kansas in their newspapers to gain support for their cause.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the violence that followed also gave birth to a new political party. Its members called themselves Republicans.
The Republican Party was an unusual combination of groups. It included former Democrats who were angry that their party had supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act. They believed the Democrats were allowing slavery to expand.
The Republicans also included members of the old Whig Party. The Whig Party had lost badly in the elections of 1852 because its members could not agree on whether slavery should be legal. Anti-slavery Whigs found a new home in the Republican Party.
The Republican Party of the 1850s also included voters who did not support immigrants – especially Irish Catholics. These nativist Republicans wanted to protect the rights of American Protestants.
All Republicans were united, however, in their opposition to slavery in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. Some Republicans were Abolitionists. They wanted to ban slavery everywhere in the United States. But the majority of Republicans had no interest in ending slave labor in the South. They simply did not want slavery to spread to other areas.
Nicole Etcheson says that white Southerners did not respond well to the new party. They believed that all Republicans were like John Brown – the anti-slavery settler who had murdered five pro-slavery men.
"White southerners do not see the distinction between a Republican party that says we don't like slavery, it's immoral, it shouldn't expand; and a John Brown who says I don't like slavery, it's immoral, and it ought to be overturned by violence!"
In 1854, some Republicans from the state of Illinois asked a politician named Abraham Lincoln to serve on their committee. Lincoln refused. He did not like slavery, but he still supported the Whig Party.
Two years later, in 1856, the Republicans nominated a presidential candidate for the first time. He was John C. Fremont. Fremont had explored the American west. He had been a senator from California. He was young and exciting. Republicans thought he was the right man to lead their young and exciting party.
I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us next time for The Making of a Nation — American history from VOA Learning English.
And that's our program for today. Listen again tomorrow to learn English through stories from all around the world. I'm Jonathan Evans and I'm Ashley Thompson.