Learn English – who was Christopher Columbus?

This American holiday is interesting for several reasons. Don’t be afraid to take up the debate, the controversy about whether Columbus was a ‘good’ man or a ‘bad’ man.  In this video, I first explain who he was.  Then at around the 8 minute point, I move on to discuss the good AND the bad results of his trips and how people today in America celebrate the day.

Following the transcript is the poem I reference, if you would like a written copy of it.



Citizenship # 2 – Christopher Columbus – 28 Sep 2019

Hey, there. This is Maria from English without Fear. Before we look at Christopher Columbus, I’d like to ask you to help me.

What is one thing that you find difficult in learning English or teaching English? Leave me a comment below this video, please. And let me know how I can help you more.

(Intro:   English without fear where you can learn to speak English naturally, while listening to stories.)

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two (1492) Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” (*entire poem follows this transcript)

That is one line from a poem that I learned as a little child. It helps (me) remember the date, 1492. Who was Christopher Columbus and why are we talking about him in this video? 

Christopher Columbus was an Italian who grew up in the fourteen hundreds (1400s) in Italy. When he was about 10 years old, he started work on ships. He started sailing on ships all over the known world, up to England and around Europe and around Africa.

He never went to school, but he learned to read and he studied a lot. He studied languages, geography, culture, and everything about ships. All his studying made him think, made him want to find a new way to get to East India.

Why was that? What was in East India, which is way, way East of Italy? Why did Columbus want to find a new way to get to East India?

That’s easy. In East India, there were lots of spices for sale. What are spices? Spices are dry bits of plants or powdered bits of plants that make food taste good. They help food taste good. And many Europeans wanted the spices from East India. But to get to East India took days and days and weeks on foot and it was dangerous. Columbus had the idea that if he sailed a ship west, the other direction, he could go and find a new way, by sea, to East India and save time and it would be safer. 

Furthermore, there’d be plenty of room on a ship to bring back these spices. 

Columbus took his good idea and went around Europe talking to different Kings and Queens because he didn’t have any money. It costs money to buy ships, to buy supplies for ships and to hire sailors. Finally, after three or four or five years, finally the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, they bought into his idea.

They said, “Columbus, your idea is a good idea. We trust you. We believe you can do this. We want to give you the money to buy three ships, to buy supplies for the journey and to hire sailors!”

Columbus was very happy, so he did that. He had three ships built – the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. And he hired sailors to go with him on this journey, on this trip. He left with his sailors on the three ships in early August, 1492.

It was a long journey and the storms were many and his sailors grew, became impatient. What does impatient mean? Impatient is when you get tired of waiting. His sailors kept saying,

“Captain Columbus, this trip is taking longer than you said. We don’t see any land. Where are the East Indies?”

Columbus prayed a lot. He was a Christian and he prayed a lot, but the sailors grew very violent. They almost took over the ship from Columbus. They almost rebelled, but in the ‘nick of time’, as we say, just at the right time, someone spotted land.

“Land! I see land!” 

When did the ships arrive at this land? On October 12th, the twelfth day of October, 1492,two months later. Where did Columbus land? Did he land in the East Indies? Nope, not at all. His calculations were wrong. Where he landed was in the Caribbean, on an island in the Bahamas, today called San Salvador.

Later he established a colony in Haiti, Haiti, which is with the Dominican Republic.

Columbus went back to Spain, took some samples of products he found and some local people back to Spain and made three more trips from Europe to what we call the new world.

What were some good things that came out of these trips, some benefits? And what were some bad things that came out of these trips? 

First, the good things. Columbus brought horses over to the new world. Horses changed the way people found food. Instead of looking for food on foot, they now could look for food on horseback.

The Europeans also brought wheat over to the new world and the wheat saved many people during times of famine. The Europeans also were able to take corn, tomatoes, and potatoes back to Europe, new foods for Europeans. And those three foods saved many Europeans during times of famine.

What is famine? Famine is when people don’t have enough food and they might die.

The fourth thing that helped the ‘new world’ was coffee from Africa and sugar from East Asia. Columbus brought these two products and local people started planting them and made money from coffee, beans and sugar cane. So those were the good benefits, the good outcomes.

What about the negative? What were the bad results of Columbus’s four voyages to the ‘new world’? Number one, lots of diseases. The local people did not have a resistance to the diseases. They had no protection against European diseases. And many, many local people died. 

The second bad, negative, result was slavery. Columbus introduced the slave trade to the ‘new world’. He also thought that the native people would make good slaves for Europe. That was very bad. So, yes, there are good things that Columbus’s trips produced and bad things that Columbus’ trips produced. That is life. That is history.

Today in America, who celebrates Columbus day and how is it celebrated? The first thing you need to know is that for years, since the seventeen hundreds (1700s) people in America celebrated Columbus day, celebrated 12 October, 1492.

In 1937 many Italians-Americans convinced the President, President Roosevelt, to create, to declare a national holiday. And, President Roosevelt did. So since 1937, 12 October has been a holiday, a federal holiday.

Post offices are closed. Federal workers have the day off. But many, many other jobs, other people don’t have a day off. Most schools continue teaching. Businesses are open. 

What kind of celebrations go on? A lot of Italian-Americans celebrate with parades and with food. On the other hand, a lot of Americans celebrate a different form of this day. They celebrate what they call ‘indigenous people’. They celebrate the people who were living in the ‘new world’ before Columbus came. They honor the native people. They honor the local people who lived there when Columbus came. 

Yes, Columbus Day has controversy, has reasons for discussion. That is okay. That is history. Every event in history has reason to discuss. There are good points and bad points about every event, about the events in your life, too.

Well, this is Maria from English without Fear. Please leave a comment. Tell me what you think about Columbus Day.

And also you learners of English, you teachers of English:  let me know, what is the problem, what is the hardship, what is the difficulty that you struggle with that you need help with right now. Leave me a comment. 

That’s all for this episode. Talk to you next time.

(Outro:  Thanks for watching. For questions or comments. Here’s my email.)

IN 1492

In fourteen hundred ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;

He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;

He used the stars to find his way.

A compass also helped him know

How to find the way to go.

Ninety sailors were on board;

Some men worked while others snored.

Then the workers went to sleep;

And others watched the ocean deep.

Day after day they looked for land;

They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.

October 12 their dream came true,

You never saw a happier crew!

“Indians!  Indians!” Columbus cried;

His heart was filled with joyful pride.

But “India” the land was not;

It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.

The Arakawa natives were very nice;

They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold

To bring back home, as he’d been told.

He made the trip again and again,

Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American?  No, not quite.

But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

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