The Cask of Amontillado – Is revenge ever justified?

Posted September 24th, 2014 at 5:53 pm (UTC-4)
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We are getting a lot of positive comments on our first Level Three offering in American Stories, The Cask of Amontillado. It’s a classic work of horror by an author who lived not too far from our DC offices; Edgar Allan Poe lived in Baltimore, Maryland.

What do you think about the story?

Is revenge ever justified?

The definition of revenge is the act of doing something to hurt someone because that person did something that hurt you. The main character in the story, Montresor, explains his jealousy of Fortunato. To get revenge, he leads the other man to a slow death and seems to feel he is justified in this.

The story makes us think about the issue of jealousy and revenge. Is it Fortunato’s fault that he is richer and has a more beautiful wife? Has he made Montresor unhappy on purpose?

Write a little about your thoughts and post to the comments. I’ll be happy to read your comments and give you feedback!
Dr. Jill



Jill produces TESOL-related content for VOA Learning English.

What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

Posted September 17th, 2014 at 4:23 pm (UTC-4)
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Hello, Learning English listeners, readers and writers!

Dr. Jill Robbins

Dr. Jill RobbinHello, Learning English listeners, readers and writers!

I’m Dr. Jill Robbins.

I’m new here at VOA, and want to get acquainted with you in my first post on this blog. I’ve taught English in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. I’m very excited to be working with VOA Learning English. My nickname is “Dr. Jill” because I have a Ph.D. in Linguistics. I’ve studied 11 languages and think that language is the greatest invention that humans ever made!

Our topic for writing this time is advice. I am a mother of four children. They are almost all out of college and well on their way with their careers in life. I know that it’s too late for me to give them advice on what they should do. But sometimes I wish I could go back in time and give myself advice!

Science fiction movies often use this idea as the basis of a story about changing history.  Maybe it’s a little silly, but we can always imagine how life would be different if we’d made a different choice.

I would start with the computer programming class I dropped when I was in college. I’d tell myself to stay with it and get help on the problems I had with math at the time.  I’d also tell myself to write down more of my thoughts and experiences, including the names of people I studied and worked with.

This would make it easier to find them now on Facebook!

How about you? Would you give your younger self any special advice? Or do you wish that your future self could come back in time and help you make the right decisions today?

As I said before, I can’t give advice in the past, but I CAN give you some advice on your writing now and in the future. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and will make suggestions or reply to your comments on this topic.

Drop me a line,

Dr. Jill

Jill produces TESOL-related content for VOA Learning English.

What’s in a Name?

Posted June 9th, 2014 at 3:15 pm (UTC-4)
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The South China Sea is in the news a lot these days. We have had several stories about the recent tensions between China and Vietnam over the area. Some of our website visitors have objected to our use of the name “South China Sea.”  Some write that the area is called East Sea. So, we ask, what’s in a name?

We use “South China Sea” because it is the internationally recognized name for the area.  We want all our listeners to understand which area we are talking about in our reports.  “East Sea” may be the name many Vietnamese use for the South China Sea.  But “East Sea” is also the name Koreans use for an ocean area that is recognized internationally as the Sea of Japan.


Write to us and let us know your thoughts.

Delayed Reaction

Posted May 9th, 2014 at 9:10 pm (UTC-4)
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The school girls kidnapped in Nigeria have been held since April 9th.  The kidnapping was reported immediately.  But public condemnation of the act, and international demands for the girls’ release, grew slowly.  A universal horror was not expressed until this week, after Boko Haram released a video of its leader Abubakar Shekau. In the recording, he declared his opinion of females in general and his plans for the kidnapped girls.

So, what happened?  Is it that we have to see things to really believe them, to feel them, to react to them?  Do we try to deny the evil in the world because we feel powerless to help?  Or is it just because we do not want to feel bad?

Is the world doing enough to help the kidnapped girls?  Is it doing enough to stop the abuse of girls and women in general?  What actions should individuals take toward change?

Confess your feelings on the subject here.

What’s Your Flavor?

Posted April 29th, 2014 at 7:05 pm (UTC-4)
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FOOD-AISLE-BERBEREI went out of town last week to see family in the central northern state of Minnesota. The weather was mixed, the relatives were warm and the food was great. I ate what I would call a “very American” diet during my travels. Seafood, hamburger, lasagne and pizza.  But those foods can be found anywhere. What makes them different is how they are cooked and what seasonings are used.

My scallops were cooked in butter and lemon with a little parsley.  The hamburger was grilled with salt and pepper. I added ketchup and mustard. The lasagne had some oregano. The pizza was Neapolitan style with good olive oil, tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala cheese. I added lots of basil, capers and hot peppers.

These are some of the flavors I love and that I link with American cuisine. But I also could not live without cumin, cardamom, lemongrass, dill, ginger and rosemary.  Those flavors make me think of India, Thailand, France and other places.

Herbs and spices do more than just add flavor. You can find out about their health benefits in our story.

What do you like to eat? What spices do you often reach for when you cook? Confess your spicy stories here and improve your written English at the same time!

Heroes Among Us

Posted April 7th, 2014 at 5:18 pm (UTC-4)
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Our most recent American Mosaic program included a report about American heroes. Some were heroes in military battles.  But others were just ordinary civilians who had taken extraordinary actions.

Barack Obama, Melvin Morris

There are also many “unsung” heroes out there. You might be one of them. I know many of our web visitors put themselves at risk just by turning on their computers and visiting certain Internet sites. Seeking news and information can be dangerous in some places. Getting an education in some areas can also be risky, especially for women. And, there are many places in the world where simply raising a family is heroic.


Do you know heroes like this?  Do you have a personal hero? Or have you done something heroic? Confess your story of heroism!

My Blue Jeans

Posted March 28th, 2014 at 8:14 pm (UTC-4)
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When I was in 5th grade, I had a friend in 6th grade who I looked up to. She was funny, sporty, popular and a good student.  She also had a “killer” pair of Levi’s. She defined “cool” in those jeans.

Pile of blue jeans isolated on white.I wanted to be just like her.  So, I asked my Mom to buy me some jeans. She agreed.  Sadly, neither of us really knew anything about blue jeans or where to buy good ones.  As a result, I got a pair of very stiff jeans that were too dark and way too long. They were definitely not Levi’s.

I wore my new jeans. I did not look cool. I did not feel cool. I could barely bend in them because they were so stiff.

I hated those jeans.


The next year, my friend left me behind to attend 7th grade at a different school. She had grown out of elementary school. But she had also grown out of her Levi’s and passed them on to me. I wore and loved those jeans for years.  She had worn them in perfectly for me. And today, my favorite jeans are still hand-me-downs from friends and family.

Confess your blue jeans story.  When did you get your first pair? Or is there some other clothing in your culture that people love like Americans Loves Blue Jeans?

Labor of Love

Posted March 20th, 2014 at 5:25 pm (UTC-4)
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My name is Caty Weaver.  Some of you might have heard my work in American Mosaic and as a host of As It Is.

rsz_caty_stujpgI have what I consider a dream job as a reporter/producer for VOA Learning English. I get to investigate ideas that interest me, talk to experts in all kinds of fields and then report about what I discover.  Most of all I have the honor of helping you learn English. It is rewarding work.

English has a term for this: “labor of love.” That is work you enjoy and believe is important.

Do you have a dream job? Are you seeking one? Confess your professional hopes while you practice your English writing skills here!

Have You Heard of a ‘Selfie?’

Posted March 10th, 2014 at 10:45 am (UTC-4)
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A selfie is a picture you take of yourself and post to the Internet. Most people take selfies with a cell phone camera. Common posting sites are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

One recent Twitter selfie became very famous, very fast. It was taken at the 2014 Academy Awards in Hollywood, California. The host of the show, Ellen DeGeneres, tweeted the selfie. It pictured her and some of the big stars at the Oscars. You can listen and read about it on our American Mosaic program.

86th Academy Awards - Audience

But what about your selfies? Do you take them? Where do you post them? Have you ever posted one that you later wished you had not? Are selfies a big part of the culture in your country?

Practice your writing in English, here, by confessing your selfie stories!



Confessions of an English Learner is a place for you to practice your writing and share the joys and pains of learning the language. We will post a weekly prompt, to give you a chance to practice your writing and to comment on others’ writing.


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