This week’s class is all about changing your life; but of course, while we talk about that we learn lots of advanced English. What is interesting about this podcast is that before our teacher examines today’s topic he asks a fundamental question – is it actually possible to change our lives?

Today’s debate on our ability to change our lives is also a common tension in mythology from the earliest stories known to man up until our prent day super heroes. While some stories depend on the growth and metamorphosis of a central characvter, others – such as Greek tragedies – rely on the fact that we are inherently doomed by circumstances or character which can not be changed.

As Rokeby explains in this advanced English audio, the self-help industry and Paulo Coelho has made billions on the basis of ideas like ‘we can be whoever we want to be’ or ‘we can do whatever we want;’ but maybe this is a case of extreme and naïve optimism. Think of all those people who join gyms in January, and by February – they’ve already stopped going. The audio to this listening class is available right now and is free.

Advanced English Listening 1

It is not only Ingocio that chooses the emperor, Ashoka the Great as the ultimate proof that a man can change his life, he is also the most popular choice for Buddhists. Why? Well, let me tell you his incredible story.

Born in 304 BC, Ashoka rose to power in 269 BC and within a year had murdered all of his brothers save one, had 500 of his ministers killed and burnt to death an entire harem because one of the women joked about his rough skin. He was also known as Ashoka the fierce after designing a torture chamber called ‘Paradise and Hell’ for on the outside it was beautifully adorned but on the inside was a place of suffering. His reign proceeded in the same vein as he conquered most of the Indian sub-continent until something happened at the conquest of Kalinga. In this war 100,000 soldiers and civilians died and 150,000 people were deported; as he walked through the city to celebrate he saw piles of bodies and relatives weeping and he fell to the ground, shouting, “What have I done… is it valour to kill innocent women and children?” This was the beginning of his conversion to Buddhism and his reign completely changed direction. A promoter of religion and peace across Asia, Ashoka truly changed his life, and if he could do it…anyone can do it; even…let’s think of someone at random… Sylvester Stallone.


Advanced English Listening 2

A lot of people don’t know that Stallone wrote the screenplay for the first Rocky film. At that time however, he was unknown actor in Hollywood and had no way to sell it. In fact, Stallone was broke, and in his unsuccessful acting career he had at various points lived in his car (in New York he had also spent two weeks living in a bus station.) Despite this poverty, though, and the huge amount of money he was offered for the Rocky script, he refused to sell unless he could play the role of Rocky. Studios were looking at stars such as Robert Redford and refused to consider Stallone. The strange way he spoke was unpopular (as a baby he was delivered by forceps  – a nerve was damaged and the lower left side of his face and part of his mouth is permanently paralysed). Stallone persevered, however, and his belief paid off. The film was made for less than $1 million but went on to make over $225 million and won three Oscars. It also spawned a number of sequels and some hit songs, including, of course, eye of the tiger.

Advanced English Listening  3

Okay, some cool facts about Eye of the Tiger…

  1. It almost didn’t exist. It was only when Sylvester Stallone failed to get permission for ‘Another one bites the dust’ by Queen, that he commissioned Survivor to write an anthem for Rocky 3.  
  2. The song was originally called ‘Survival’ and the lyric was… “And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night, and it all comes down to survival.”
  3. One of the co-writers of the song Jim Peterik went on to write a book for the Dummies (tontos) series. The title… “Songwriting for dummies”.
  4. There have been more 43 (known) cover versions of the song including Moderatto performing the Spanish“El ojo del tigre”,  Alvin and the Chipmunks, Green day and a jazz version by Paul Anka.

Advanced English Listening 4

Tigers (and cats in general) have finely tuned senses.  They have much greater hearing than humans, we can hear anything between .02 kHz to 20 kHz. whereas the tiger hears from 2 kHz to 65 kHz. Of course, though, we are interested in the eye. During the day a tiger’s vision is approximately the same as a humans… but at night they are able to see six times better than a human. How? Well, have you noticed that when cats or similar mammals are caught in the headlights of a car their eyes reflect the light? This is caused by the Tapetum lucidum – a layer of tissue behind the retina. It bounces visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to photoreceptors. This improves vision at night and at dusk. There is also, by the way, a gemstone called ‘eye of the tiger’ that has been valued since the ancient Egyptians. Apparently it removes negative emotion.

Listening questions

    1. What insult caused Ashoka to start burning women? 
    2. What is the medical cause of Stallone’s unusual manner of speech?
    3. What type of animal has also sung, ‘Eye of the tiger’? 
    4. Why do cats’ eyes have a strange reflection if you catch them with car headlights in the dark?



Listening answers

  1. A comment that he had rough skin.
  2. A nerve was severed when he was delivered by forceps.
  3. Chipmunk
  4. Tapetum lucidum – a layer of tissue behind the retina. It bounces visible light back through the retina, 



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