Welcome to our first advanced English listening class –Culture Clash – the class which explores connections between different aspects of culture. In today’s class we’ll be travelling from the darkness of a New York ghetto to the violence of ancient Greece. What’s the connection? Well, you’ll have to listen to the show my friends. First, though, let’s explore some vocabulary that you will hear in this week’s Cambridge listening exercise.

Advanced Listening 1

Okay, let’s start with a song called ‘Warning’ by ‘Notorious BIG’. First, though, I have to warn you that  I might start foaming at the mouth. You see, the lyrical brilliance and the master piece of urban poetry that this song is… it blows my mind. This is a narrative from the street and gets it title – ‘warning’ – from the phone call BIG receives from a friend in which he is warned that some local gangsters are planning to kill him. Why? One of the most fundamental motives for conflict – Envy – and an execution of that conflict that has existed since man realised he could pick up a piece of wood and bash another guy over the head. Violence. Basically, these gangsters have heard that BIG is moving large amounts of drugs and making a lot of money. Of course, the conflict is now set up perfectly as BIG prepares himself for that other timeless motive for violence: to defend what is yours. His description of the blood and carnage that will is curiously reminiscent of Spartan marching songs from the Peloponnesian war. 

Advanced Listening 2

The Peloponnesian War was a conflict between Sparta and Athens that took place between 431 to 404 BC. It was a war of unprecedented brutality and still a seminal study of conflict in military academies and international relations courses, worldwide. Considering it was a war was fought with spears, sword and shields, it is difficult to see how an ancient war could be more brutal than one involving explosives. Read a few pages of Thucydides, however – an Athenian general who witnessed the war – and you will soon understand; in a conflict where the male population of a city could be slaughtered upon surrender, and all the women and children enslaved, we are talking… brutality. The Peloponnesian war is also seen as a quintessentially modern conflict for the Stalinist style paranoia, witch-hunts and fear, that overtook cities as different political parties came to power. 

Although Thucydides work teaches us much about conflict, its principle lesson has to be the fundamental fact of all conflict: in the end … everybody loses. Although the Spartans technically  won the war the whole country was impoverished and permanently weakened. Within a generation this weakness allowed the Macedonians to conquer the whole of Greece. Sparta, the supposed victor, suffered a depletion of male population and their legendary army never recovered. The Helots, on whom their entire economy depended, were soon liberated by the Thebans. 

Advanced Listening 3

The Helots were from Laconia and Messenia in ancient Greece – territory controlled by the Spartans. Having lost the Messenian wars of the eighth century BC the entire population was enslaved. Their treatment was harsh and during the festival of the Crypteia a Spartan citizen could kill a Helot without any fear of legal consequences. There is also a brutal story in Thucydides of the Spartans asking any Helot who felt he had served well in the war to come forward and receive a reward. It was a trick, and the reward was death, as the Spartans decided that veteran Helots would be the most likely to start a rebellion. 

The Helots show us something very important about conflict: that even if you win and clearly come out on top there are always consequences. From the time they conquered the Helots Sparta was gripped by constant fear of rebellion at home. This fear dictated its entire foreign and domestic policy, meaning they could not engage in long campaigns for fear the army’s absence would cause a revolt. Winning a conflict, even when you crush an opponent, will only create an enemy for the future whether we are talking about war or domestic conflicts such as divorce.

Advanced Listening 4

When you think about it… divorce is much like war: it causes displacement, loss of property, tears families apart, and causes enduring bitterness.  For many children it is the first real conflict they witness in their domestic life, but what is the exact figure? Estimates vary from 50% of first marriages and, shockingly, proving people don’t learn from their mistakes, 60% of second marriages. Given that divorce is an important cause of  conflict and familial stress in our society, what can we do to reduce it? 

Well, first, what are the causes? According to the consultants, Grant Thornton, the principle causes of divorce are adultery and infidelity 27%, domestic violence – 17%, Midlife crisis – 13%, Addictions such as alcoholism and gambling etc. – 6%, y Workaholism – 6%. But of course, as we all know many of these are really just the final manifestation of deeper problems. Many philosophers believe that the increase in divorce is due to the increasing dominance of individualism in western society… this makes people less tolerant of the annoying habits of others, the inevitable end of physical attraction, and the stresses of cohabitation. 


Advanced English Listening Questions

  1. Why is the Notorious BIG track called ‘Warning’?
  2. What could happen to a man who surrendered in the Peloponnesian war?
  3. Why did the Helots not have fun at the festival of Crypteia?
  4. What, in the narrators opinion, is the significance of the high quantity of divorces amongst people on their second marriage?

Advanced English Listening Answers

  1. Because a Spartan could kill them with no fear of repercussions.
  2. Because a friend is calling to warn him that some local gangsters are going to attack him.
  3. He could be killed (slaughtered).
  4. It shows that people don’t learn from their mistakes.

So, how was your first advanced English listening? We hope you enjoyed it.



  1. I really enjoy your English website!! thank you so much… I’m learning English so well, I hope to speak and understand completely this beautiful language soon!! I know that my English has a little mistakes, but I try the best! nothing is impossible!! and THANK YOU!!! your classes are sooo perfect!!

  2. alan nguyen Reply

    Pamela, i thought your English is adequate. I did not see any mistakes in your sentences. i love to improve my English skills too. Therefore, we may become good friends and classmates up here too. =)

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