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The Truth in Urban Legends

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Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at urban legends – stories told to give a message. Can these stories ever be true?

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1 

Listen to these stories. Are they lies or truth?

Voice 2 

Humans only use ten percent of their brains.

Voice 1 

Did you know that if you are in the UK and you dial 999 and hang up, it will charge your mobile telephone?

Voice 2 

There is a small amount of drugs found on every American dollar bill.

Voice 1 

Swimming after eating will cause a pain in your stomach and you will die.

Voice 2 

Has anyone ever told you a story like this that sounded false, but could have been true? Probably that person was telling you an urban legend — like the ones we just told. Urban legends are stories that many people tell. They are often connected to city, or urban, life. They are stories that sound so strange that it is difficult to believe they are true. But they are stories that could be true – so we want to believe them. Most people will share these stories to many people.

a network of people
Stories spread from person to person very quickly; Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
Voice 1 

Urban legend stories spread quickly. They pass by word of mouth from person to person. People tell them over and over again. And they are told over many years. Today, they are spread through social media. When you hear an urban legend, the story usually starts something like this, “A friend of a friend of mine told me this story …”

Voice 2 

Urban legends are never first-hand stories. That is, the person telling you the story was not there. He did not experience the events of the story himself. He is only telling you what he heard from someone else. Some urban legends last many years, and there is no way to know if they are true!

Voice 1 

So, what urban legends have you heard or seen? Have you heard that restaurants use worms, a kind of insect, to make their hamburgers? Or how about this? Did you hear that every human will eat eight insects a year in their sleep? If you sleep with your mouth open, these horrible little creatures can walk right into your mouth and down into your stomach! What do you think about that? How many insects do you think you have eaten this year?

Voice 2 

Some social scientists study urban legends. They say that these stories show what a community is concerned about. For example, urban legends about crime show that a community is concerned about crime. Stories about abuse or corruption show that a community is concerned about honesty in the police and government. Listen to this urban legend and try to imagine what this community was concerned about.

A man getting into a car in a dark parking lot
Photo by Adam Dubec from Pexels
Voice 3 

One night a woman had just finished her shopping at the market. She carried the bags to her car. When she got to her car, she struggled to open the door. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain on her foot. A man was hiding underneath her car! He cut her foot with a knife. The woman could not run away because of the deep cut. The man pushed the woman to the ground and stole her car.

Voice 1 

As you probably imagined, this community was concerned about crime against women. This story has been told to many women. It has made some women very afraid of going out alone at night. For other women, the story just encourages them to be careful if they are alone at night.

Voice 2 

Many people think that all urban legends are false – that they are not true at all. But not all urban legends are false. Sometimes these stories have some truth in them or a moral lesson that can be learned. We are going to tell another urban legend. This story could be true, or it could be false – but it has a very important lesson about how we should live. The story begins with two young men, leaving school at the end of the day.

Voice 4 

Bill was walking home from school. It was Friday. He was excited about the weekend. As he crossed the street, he saw John – a new student at the school. John was carrying all of his books. But why? Was he planning to study all weekend?

Two boys at school;
Two boys at school; Flickr user enixii., CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Then Bill saw another group of students. They walked over to John. They pulled his books out of his hands and shouted mean words. Bill was angry. He ran over to John and helped him gather his books from the ground. He told John,

“Do not worry John. Those students are stupid. They do not know what they are doing.”

John looked at Bill and smiled gratefully. He thanked Bill. The two boys walked home together and talked. Bill asked about all the books, but John just said that he hoped to do some work at home.

After that night, they became good friends. They spent a lot of time together playing football and studying. They stayed at the same school for several years. John became very successful at school. And he had many other friends too.

When it was time for graduation, John came to talk to Bill. He thanked Bill for his friendship. Then, he talked about the day they met. He told Bill that he had planned to kill himself. He was carrying all of his books so that his mother would not have to collect them from the school. But instead, Bill had been there. He showed John true friendship and care. Bill had saved him. Bill was very surprised. He had never known this story. But now he understood John’s grateful smile. And he understood something else too – the power of friendship.

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Voice 2 

Have you heard this story before? Sometimes the details are different – in some stories, John gives a speech to the whole school, thanking Bill. In others, the boys only meet one time. But the point is the same – one person can make a difference through kindness and care. Even though we do not know the truth of the events, that message is definitely true!

Voice 1 

You should not always believe everything you hear. When you hear a story like this, think about what it might be telling you. There is usually a deeper meaning. What urban legends are popular where you live? What are your favorite urban legends? You can email us at contact@spotlightenglish.com. You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Voice 2 

The writers of today’s program were Rebekah Schipper and Christy VanArragon. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called “The Truth in Urban Legends.”

Voice 1 

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Which urban legend have you heard? What do you think it was trying to teach you?

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5 comments
  • I heard the doctor was treating the poor people patient but the doctor is a rich man and he ordered them a lot of money , the poor people said to him they can’t pay more money because they are poor but the doctor refused them and replied them :you should pay money or I don’t treat you then the poor people sold their furniture to get money for treating after many years later the doctor became paralyzed he sit on the wheel chair he couldn’t walk or doing anything his wife became arrogant to him and hated him then she send him to elderly care center …..this story maybe true or false but The lesson I learned that we should help poor people and don’t order them too much money .

  • I really enjoyed this week’s program. I had never heard of the urban legends that are told there. I especially liked the one of Bill and John who became great friends. I immediately thought of the ones I knew in Italy concerning the anti Covid-19 vaccines, so useful for our health, but considered dangerous by some, and the one concerning migrants, who can bring, with their work, so much material and moral wealth, but which are opposed by many. The episode, then recounted in the program, of the woman with the foot injured by the criminal, hidden under the car, made me think of the people in my condominium, who are always planning how to increase the lighting at night, around the building, obsessed with the fear of theft and assault, which exist only in their mind.

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