Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Emperor Penguin: The World's Greatest Survivor" from VOA

I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today, we tell about a very special bird called the emperor penguin. This bird struggles to survive in one of the most extreme climates in the world.

There are seventeen kinds of penguins in the world. All of them live in the southern hemisphere. Only a few species live on the continent of Antarctica at the bottom of the world. The emperor penguins are the largest. They are about one hundred centimeters tall and weigh about thirty kilograms. Their special method of mating makes them different from all other penguins.

For thousands of years the emperor penguins have lived on the freezing continent of Antarctica. These black and white birds live in large groups or colonies. There are about forty emperor penguin colonies on Antarctica. In total, there are about four hundred thousand birds.

These birds spend the summer swimming in the ocean in search of food such as fish and squid. Penguins are not able to fly, but they are excellent swimmers. They can dive as deep as four hundred and sixty meters and hold their breath for up to twenty minutes. But when summer ends, so does this easy time spent by the water. The penguins jump out of the water and onto the ice. They know it is time to find a mate and reproduce.


In order to mate, the penguins must travel many kilometers inland from the ocean. They do this to find a safe area to spend the many months needed to produce and develop an egg. They must find an area with some shelter from the freezing winds.

Hundreds of penguins walk in a single line for up to seventy kilometers to find a mating place. This trip is a long and cold one. Winter is beginning. The days are getting shorter and temperatures are quickly dropping. The trip takes many days. The birds must walk carefully on their short legs through icy areas. When their feet get tired, they slide themselves on their stomachs across the ice.

Once they arrive at the right place, the mating process begins. Males and females walk around and make singing noises as they decide on a mate. They must also memorize their mate's special song. Penguins are unusual because they stay with the same mate for the entire period of producing a baby penguin or chick.

After the female produces an egg, she must carefully slide it onto her feet. Then she must pass it to her mate. This can be a very difficult act. If the birds are not careful, the egg will fall on the freezing ice. If the egg touches the ice or breaks, the chick will die. All of their hard work will have been wasted. Once the female passes the egg to the male, he places it on his feet and protects it with his body. Both male and female penguins have a special place on their body to protect their young. A piece of skin under their stomachs forms a pocket or pouch where an egg or chick is protected from the cold.

The male penguin incubates the egg for about two months. This means that he keeps it warm while the baby penguin inside the egg develops.

During this time, the mothers must leave the colony and walk many kilometers back to the sea. The females are tired from mating and producing an egg. They are also starving from more than one month without food. During this period, female penguins can lose up to one-third of their body weight. Many do not survive the long walk back to the sea. The ones that do survive dive into the ocean to catch fish. They eat for several months to gain weight. They must also get food for their chicks.

While the mothers are feeding, the hundreds of male penguins work together to survive. They stand very close to one another to form a tight group. This helps them keep warm. They continuously change places. The colder penguins on the outside of the group move to the warmer places on the inside of the group.


Winters in Antarctica are difficult for the penguins. There are only a few hours of sunlight a day. Temperatures can drop to minus fifty degrees Celsius. Air masses called catabatic winds blow over the continent at speeds of up to two hundred kilometers per hour.

The penguins have developed special bodies to survive such freezing temperatures. They can control their body temperature with a special system of blood exchange. The centers of their bodies keep warm, while the outer parts of their bodies stay almost as cold as the outside temperatures.

Another way they survive the cold is by releasing a special oil from their skin. This oil helps waterproof the feathers that cover their bodies. A layer of air between their skin and the oil provides protection from the cold. Also, they have a thick layer of body fat that further protects them from the cold.

Two months later, the females return to the colony and must find their mates. Many of the chicks have hatched and come out of their eggs. The family is united for the first time. However, the father must leave immediately to go feed in the ocean. He has not eaten for more than three months and has lost a great deal of weight. Before he leaves, though, he must learn the voice of his chick. The chick also memorizes his father's voice. When the father returns, he must be able to identify his chick in order to bring it food.


The male and female penguins continue to take turns caring for their chick and bringing back food from the sea. When the chicks are about one month old, they start to spend time outside their parents' pouch. When they get bigger, the chicks stay together in large groups. Their parents still bring them food. But when they are about five months old, the chicks must feed themselves. They make their first trip to the ocean.

However, not all the chicks survive this long. About twenty-five percent die due to starvation or cold. Some chicks are hunted and killed by large birds called giant petrels. However, if the chicks survive their first year, they generally live through adulthood. When they reach the age of five years, it is time for the young penguins to mate. A new generation begins this special mating process of travel and survival.


In two thousand five, a French filmmaker named Luc Jacquet released a film about these special birds. The film is called "March of the Penguins." It beautifully shows how the birds survive in the extreme environment of Antarctica. This rare look at their lives is truly special.

You can see the penguins walking across the white ice of Antarctica. Diving deep into the ocean waters. Moving their egg carefully from the mother's feet to the father's feet. Crowding together to keep warm in a snowstorm. Kissing their newly hatched chicks.

"March of the Penguins" is the first full-length film to show the life of the emperor penguin. The crew chose to film a colony of penguins that was near a scientific research center. This way, the filmmakers had a base where they could live. They were also able to cooperate with the nearby Institute for Polar Research.

Producing this film was very difficult. The movie crew had to survive the extreme cold for a whole year of filming. If the weather was too bad, they could not go outside and film. Also, trying to film the birds from very close up was not easy. The filmmakers had to be very careful not to harm the penguins. They made special devices that helped them get close to the penguins without interfering with them. Luc Jacquet even hired a specialist to film the underwater scenes.

"March of the Penguins" was difficult to make for other technical reasons. The crew had to have special cameras made that could work in extremely cold temperatures. Also, they could not watch what they had filmed. This is because they did not have the equipment to develop the film. So, they had to remember the details of every picture they took and hope they turned out well. When they finished filming, they had more than one hundred twenty hours of film.

Director Luc Jacquet says his film crew had to treat the penguins with care and consideration. He says his movie is a story of bravery and excitement. He also calls his movie about the emperor penguins one of the most beautiful love stories on Earth.


This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


1. Emperor Penguins begin to mate and bear chicks __________________ .
a: during the winter
b: at the end of summer
c: during the summer
d: at the end of spring

2. When a penguin father returns, he can find his chick by the chick's ____________ .
a: appearance
b: flying movements
c: song
d: mother

3. The word "hatch" means ___________________________ .
a: the mother brings out the egg
b: the egg is protected by the parents
c: the egg passes from father to mother
d: the egg breaks and the chick is born

4. __________________ are not a threat to newborn chicks.
a: Giant petrels
b: Winter storms
c: Hungry fathers
d: Freezing temperatures

5. Probably the least difficult part of producing "March of the Penguins" was ____________________ .
a: editing the 120 hours of film
b: not being able to watch what they had filmed
c: shooting film during extreme cold
d: shooting underwater scenes

6. Director Luc Jucquet calls "March of the Penguins" one of __________________ love stories on earth.
a: most beautiful
b: the more beautiful
c: the most beautiful
d: the beautifulest

7. If chicks survive their first year, they ________________ adulthood.
a: generally live through
b: might reach
c: sometimes live through
d: still might not reach

8. A special oil penguins release from their skin helps to _________________ .
a: keep their wings from becoming too stiff
b: keep them from starving
c: waterproof their feathers
d: make their journey from the sea smoother

9. "Catabatic" is a type of _____________________ .
a: penguin
b: fish in the sea penguins catch
c: very powerful wind
d: extremely cold ice found on Antartica

10. While the mother penguins are feeding in the sea, the male penguins ___________________ .
a: fly in search of warmer territory
b: band together in a tight group to keep warm
c: march to the sea
d: fight each other over precious eggs

Here is the trailer for the film, "March of the Penguins"

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Katharine Hepburn: The Elegant Actress" from VOA

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Katharine Hepburn, one of America’s great film and stage actresses. Hepburn’s career lasted almost seventy years. During that time she made more than fifty films. She became known all over the world for her independence, sharp intelligence, and acting ability.

Katharine Hepburn holds the record for the most Academy Awards for Best Actress. She won the honor four times. This star holds a special place in American film and popular culture.


STEVE EMBER: Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut in nineteen oh seven. She came from a wealthy and highly educated family. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, was a successful doctor. Her mother, Katharine Martha Houghton, was a great supporter of women’s rights issues including the right to birth control. The Hepburns made sure to educate their children about important political and social subjects. The family members were not afraid to express their liberal opinions.

BARBARA KLEIN: Doctor Hepburn also believed in the importance of intense exercise. For most of her life Kate was an excellent athlete. She rode horses, swam and played golf and tennis. Here is a recording of Katharine Hepburn from a film about her life. She is talking about the values her family taught her. She says she is not strange, but is fearless.

KATHARINE HEPBURN: “I don’t think I’m an eccentric, no! I’m just something from New England that was very American and brought up by two extremely intelligent people…who gave us a kind of, I think the greatest gift that man can give anyone, and that is…sort of freedom from fear.”

STEVE EMBER: Katharine graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in nineteen twenty-eight. She soon started appearing in small roles in plays on Broadway in New York City. That year she also married a businessman named Ludlow Ogden Smith. Their marriage lasted only a few years. But Katherine later said Ludlow’s support was very important to her during the early part of her career.


BARBARA KLEIN: Katharine Hepburn was not the usual kind of actress during this period. She had a thin and athletic body. She spoke with a clear East Coast accent. And she was very independent in her thoughts and actions.

For example, she wore men’s pants as clothing at a time when women wore only skirts or dresses. Sometimes her independence and liberal opinions got her in trouble. After a few successful plays in New York, Hollywood filmmakers became interested in her. She later signed with the film production company called RKO pictures. Her first movie came out in nineteen thirty-two.

STEVE EMBER: The next year she made the film “Morning Glory.” In her role as Eva Lovelace, Hepburn plays a stage actress fighting for a successful career. Few directors are interested in her. But by the end of the movie, she has a chance to let her acting skills shine and she becomes a star. This movie earned Hepburn her first Academy Award for Best Actress. Here is a recording from the movie. Hepburn’s character, Eva, tells about how she has changed her name in preparation for becoming a great actress. She talks very quickly, but you can sense the energy behind her performance.

KATHARINE HEPBURN IN “MORNING GLORY”: I hope you’re going to tell me your name. I want you for my first friend in New York. Mine’s Eva Lovelace. It’s partly made up and partly real. It was Eva Love. Love’s my family name. I added the Lace. Do you like it or would you prefer something shorter? A shorter name would be more convenient on a sign.”

“Still, Eva Lovelace in ‘Camille’ for instance, or Eva Lovelace in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ sounds very distinguished, doesn’t it?

I don’t want to use my family name because I shall probably have several scandals while I live and I don’t want to cause them any trouble until I am famous, when nobody will mind. That’s why I must decide on something at once while there is still time, before I am famous.”

BARBARA KLEIN: During the nineteen thirties, critics either loved or hated Katharine Hepburn. Some thought she was a fresh and exciting addition to the Hollywood industry. Others decided she was too bold and self-important. They thought her way of speaking sounded false. But Hepburn wanted to face the movie industry in her own way. She liked to play the roles of strong women.

She did not want to be like other actresses. She did not wear make-up on her face. She would not let photographers take sexy pictures of her. And she did not like talking to her fans or the media.

STEVE EMBER: Katharine Hepburn continued to work very hard making movies. Yet by the late nineteen thirties she had become unpopular with the public. So movie producers stopped wanting her in their films.

But Hepburn was not raised to quit easily. She decided to return to the stage on Broadway in New York City. She starred in a play called “The Philadelphia Story." Hepburn's friend Philip Barry wrote the play especially for her. It is about a wealthy and intelligent woman named Tracy Lord. She is about to marry a man she does not love. In the movie she learns to be more honest with herself and others. She decides to marry a man from her past whom she has always loved.

BARBARA KLEIN: The play was a great success. Hepburn immediately bought the legal rights to the play. She knew “The Philadelphia Story” would be made into a movie. And she wanted to make sure she was the star of the film version.

In nineteen forty, “The Philadelphia Story” became a great movie success. Hepburn received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She had taken control of her career once again. And she would stay in control of it from now on.

Here is a recording from "The Philadelphia Story." Katharine Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, is talking with her new friend, Macaulay Connor, a writer. She has just read his book and discovered something surprising about him.


TRACY: These stories are beautiful! Why Connor, they’re almost poetry!

MACAULAY: Well, don’t kid yourself, they are.

TRACY: I can’t make you out at all now.

MACAULAY: Really? I thought I was easy.

TRACY: So did I. But you’re not. You talk so big and tough, and then you write like this. Which is which?

MACAULAY: Both, I guess.

TRACY: No. No, I believe you put the toughness on to save your skin.

MACAULAY: Oh, you think so.

TRACY: I know a little about that.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-two, Katherine Hepburn starred in “Woman of the Year.” This was the first of nine movies she starred in with actor Spencer Tracy.

They would soon become a famous couple both on and off the movie screen. Usually their movies dealt with finding a balance of power between their two strong characters. Hepburn and Tracy had a magical energy when they acted together. But in real life they kept their love hidden from the public.

Spencer Tracy was married to another woman. For religious reasons, he would not end his marriage and divorce his wife. So Hepburn and Tracy led a secret love affair for more than twenty years. Katharine Hepburn had had other love interests. She once had a relationship with the famous American millionaire Howard Hughes. But Spencer Tracy remained the love of her life.


BARBARA KLEIN: One of Katharine Hepburn’s most famous roles was in the movie “The African Queen.” She made this movie in nineteen fifty-one with the famous actor Humphrey Bogart. In the film, their two very different characters fall in love on a riverboat in the middle of Africa.

As Katharine Hepburn became older, she played more and more wise and complex characters. In nineteen sixty-seven she starred in her last movie with Spencer Tracy. He died a few weeks after filming ended. For this movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” she won her second Academy Award. She won her third Academy Award the next year for “A Lion in Winter.” And, in her mid-seventies she won her last Academy Award for “On Golden Pond.”

STEVE EMBER: Even into her eighties, Katharine Hepburn kept working. She had roles in several movies and television programs. She also wrote several books, including one about her life. In two thousand three, Katharine Hepburn died. She was ninety-six years old.

As part of her last wishes, she helped create the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center at Bryn Mawr College. This program helps support the things that were important to her: film and theater, women’s rights, and civic responsibility.

BARBARA KLEIN: An actor who worked with Katharine Hepburn once said that she brought with her an extra level of reality. He said that when she was near, everything became more interesting, intense and bright.

This intensity and intelligence shine in the films that Katharine Hepburn made over her lifetime. People still enjoy her films today. Katharine Hepburn’s work and personality have had a great influence on American film and culture.


STEVE EMBER: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. You can download this program and others from our Web site, I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.


1. In her first film, "Morning Glory", Katharine Hepburn plays _______________ .
a: an alcoholic
b: a woman who doesn't love her fiance
c: an aspiring actress
d: a woman on an African journey

2. Katharine Hepburn liked to __________________ .
a: wear make up
b: talk to her fans and the media
c: play the roles of strong women
d: be like other actresses

3. Philip Barry wrote "The Philadelphia Story" for Katharine Hepburn __________________ .
a: before producers stopped using her in films
b: after its successful opening
c: after her films lost popularity in the late 1930s
d: after it was made into a movie

4. Katharine Hepburn never ____________________ .
a: had a role in a television show
b: won an Olympic Medal
c: fought for women's rights
d: wrote books

5. Which of the following statements is true about Katharine Hepburn?
a: Katharine Hepburn married Spencer Tracy after they made films together.
b: Katharine Hepburn never won an academy award.
c: Katharine Hepburn liked to wear men's pants.
d: Katharine Hepburn died in her late 70s.

6. Katharine Hepburn grew up in a ____________________ family.
a: poor and liberal
b: rich and conservative
c: poor and conservative
d: rich and liberal

7. In 1928, Katherine Hepburn's career started __________________ .
a: in Hollywood
b: in Paris, France
c: on Broadway in New York
d: in New England

8. Ms. Hepburn believed that the great gift she received from her parents was __________ .
a: liberal thinking
b: freedom from fear
c: intelligence and talent
d: the habit of daily exercise

9. Another name for this article could be "_________________".
a: Movies Kate Hepburn Appeared In
b: The History of Film Before World War Two
c: Kate Hepburn's Leading Men
d: The Life and Career of Katherine Hepburn

10. This article is mainly about ___________________ .
a: the filming of "The African Queen"
b: Katherine Hepburn's amazing personality and career
c: the loves of one of Hollywood's greatest actresses
d: how to succeed in film and television in Hollywood

Julia Roberts gives a tribute to Katharine Hepburn at the 2004 Academy Awards.