Lesson 21: Trash to Treasure, Part 1

Let's Learn English Level 2 Lesson 21: Trash to Treasure, Part 1
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Let's Learn English Level 2 Lesson 21: Trash to Treasure, Part 1


Anna wants to get Pete a gift for his birthday. So, she visits a store called Tanglewood Works and tries to learn the difference between trash and treasure...


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Anna: (on phone, to Pete) Got it. Pete, I promise. I won’t tell anyone. (to herself) Bye. He is so strange.

Ashley: Hey, Anna!

Anna: Hi, Ashley!

Ashley: Are you talking to yourself again?

Anna: No, not this time. I was talking to Pete.

Ashley: How’s he doing?

Anna: Good. He has a birthday coming up! But he told me not to tell anyone.

Ashley: Why?

Anna: Well, from the way he was speaking, I don’t think he likes cake or presents or fun.

Ashley: That sounds like Pete.

Anna: Well, I don’t care. I’m getting him a present. Do you know where I can buy something unique?

Ashley: I do -- Tanglewood Works. You will definitely find something unique there.

Anna: Great. I’ll go this weekend. Now, speaking of Pete’s birthday, what else should I do? I know. I’ll rent him a clown!

Ashley: Yeah, he’ll never speak to you again.

Professor Bot: Did you hear Ashley and Anna using the words talk and speak?

Talk and speak both mean “to say words.” And, many times, you can use either word without losing any meaning. But there are some differences in when we use these words.

The word talk is usually used:

  • for conversations between two or more people
  • and informal situations, such as between friends or family

For example, Ashley asks Anna: “Are you talking to yourself again?”

Speak is usually used:

  • for one-way communication, such as presentations
  • formal situations, such as a boss speaking with her workers
  • to talk about language ability
  • and in polite requests

Keep watching, and listen for the words talk and speak.

(Anna goes to Tanglewood Works.)

Sue: Hey there. Welcome to Tanglewood Works! I’m Sue. How can I help you today?

Anna: Hi Sue, I’m Anna. A friend told me about your store. She said, “Anna, this place is really unique!”

Sue: We are! Here at Tanglewood Works, we focus on things that are handmade, reclaimed and recycled.

Anna: Wow! That is really good for the environment.

Sue: It’s good for you too. Local artists made all of these one-of-a-kind pieces. And I paint most of the furniture.

Anna: Can I look around?

Sue: Oh, please do.

(Anna walks around the store.)

Sue: So, Anna, do you like to make things?

Anna: Me? Oh, no. Every time I try to make something, something goes wrong.

(She knocks down many things.)

Anna: Oh, sorry. Sorry.

Sue: It’s okay. Anna, everybody can make something.

Anna: Sue, this piece is very interesting!

Sue: You know, when I found these pieces, they were broken and in a dumpster. But they spoke to me. And they said, “Save me, Sue! Save me!”

Anna: Sue, what do you mean they “spoke” to you?

Sue: When I see something special that someone has thrown away, I can almost hear it talk.

Anna: It’s not saying anything!

Sue: Anna, it’s not easy to see the treasure in trash.

Anna: Or hear it talk.

Sue: But you can learn. In fact, I teach private classes. And one is called Turning Trash to Treasure.

Sue: Next week, bring in some trash and we’ll turn it into treasure. Just remember – pick some trash that “speaks” to you.

Anna: Got it! I’ll see you next week!

Professor Bot: Will Anna find trash that “speaks” to her? What will it say? We’ll find out next week!

Anna tries to find trash that "speaks" to her.
Anna tries to find trash that "speaks" to her.

New Words

ability - n. the power or skill of doing something
caken. a sweet baked food made from a mixture of flour, sugar, and other ingredients (such as eggs and butter)
communicationn. the act or process of using words to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings,
conversationn. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people
definitelyadv. in a way that is certain or clear
dumpstern. a large trash container
furnituren. chairs, tables, beds, et cetera that are used to make a room ready for use
focusv. to direct your attention or effort at something specific
handmadeadj. made with your hands or by using hand tools
environment – n. the natural world
localadj. located or living nearby
one-of-a-kind – adj. used to say that something is the only one of its kind
politeadj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people
presentn. gift
presentationn. an activity in which someone shows, describes, or explains something to a group of people
privateadj. for the use of a single person or group
reclaimedadj. describes getting (a usable thing) from materials that have been used before
recycledadj. describes something new that was made from something used before
requestn. an act of politely or formally asking for something
situationn. the facts, conditions and events that affect someone or something at a particular time and in a particular place
strangeadj. different from what is usual, normal, or expected
trashn. things that are no longer useful or wanted and that have been thrown away
treasuren. something that is very special, important or valuable
uniqueadj. used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else


Now, you try it!

First, read more about talk and speak below. Then, practice using those words in the Comments section. Try making one sentence with talk and one with speak.

You can write about:

  • a conversation with a friend
  • a conversation with a group
  • someone’s language skills
  • a professor at a national event
  • a manager and his/her workers
  • or anything else you choose

In each sentence, be sure to use the correct word: talk or speak!

Talk | Speak

Talk and speak both mean “to say words.” But there are some differences in the ways we use each word.

Talk is less formal than speak. It is usually used for informal conversations between two or more people.

  • He wants to talk to you.
  • They talked for three hours.
  • Let’s talk about ideas for the show.
  • I can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later.

Speak is usually used for communication in more serious or formal situations. It is also used in polite requests and to talk about language ability.

  • She spoke on the news about world hunger.
  • May I speak to the manager?
  • Which languages do you speak?
  • I speak French and Haitian Creole.

Test Yourself

Test yourself on what you've learned so far!

Lesson 21 has grammar from many lessons in Level 2. See how much you can find! Look for sentences in Lesson 21 with:

  • Indirect questions
  • Reported speech
  • Reflexive pronouns
  • Adverb clauses
  • Present perfect
  • Prepositions

Then, write those sentences in the Comments section. For example:

Sue says, “You know, when I found these pieces, they were broken and in a dumpster.” (Adverb clause: “when I found these pieces”)

Listening Quiz

See how well you understand this lesson by taking a listening quiz. Play each short video, then choose the best answer.​

Quiz - Lesson 21: Trash to Treasure, Part 1

Quiz - Lesson 21: Trash to Treasure, Part 1

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Free Materials

Word Book
Word Book

Download the VOA Learning English Word Book for a dictionary of the words we use on this website.

For Teachers

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Grammar focus: Speak and talk

Topics: Trying something new


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