The Message of the Flag

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Countries and organisations all around the world use flags. These flags communicate their identity. Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at the history of flags and their uses today.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

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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  

It was 1191. Duke Leopold the fifth, of Austria, was in a battle. After the battle he took his cloth coat off. It was covered in blood from the battle. But there was one stripe of white on his coat. It was white underneath the belt he was wearing around his waist. He liked the design. So, he made this design into a flag. It was red with a white stripe in the middle. It became the official design of the Austrian flag in the year 1919. And it is still Austria’s flag today.

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Not every flag has such an exciting story in its history. But flags often do tell their own stories. They show meaning and inspire people. Today’s Spotlight is on flags.

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People who study history believe that the first people to use flags lived in ancient Egypt. Egyptians made the first flags by tying long pieces of cloth to the end of very long poles. They carried these long poles when they fought in battles. They believed that their flags would please their gods and help them win the battles.

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The flags were also very useful. One soldier had the special job of carrying the flag. Generals watched the flag to know where their soldiers were. Flags also showed which way the wind was blowing. This helped soldiers aim their arrows.

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But flags had an even more important purpose in battle. Flags were a sign of the people. A flag showed other people who was fighting in a battle. Each group fighting in a battle carried a different colour flag.

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Voice 2  

After a time, other cultures also began to use flags. And they added more than just colour. Flag designers started to put important pictures on the flags. These pictures, or symbols, on the flags represented ideas, people, or gods. Kings put their symbols on flags. When a king sent his people to battle, his enemies could see his symbol. They knew which king was attacking.

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Most flags use a common set of symbols. People have used these symbols for a very long time. For example, when you see a star on a flag, it usually represents unity. The number of stars on a flag may tell how many parts of something are united in some way. Other flags use symbols from nature, like leaves, trees, or animals. Some flags use religious symbols like crosses. Many Christian groups use a cross on their flags. Most flags are shaped like rectangles, or long squares. But some are square, like the flag of Switzerland.

The swiss flag
Swiss flag, Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay
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And flags are not just for countries! Groups like the United Nations, the Red Cross, and the European Union all have flags. Countries, states, cities, and even some small people groups have flags. But why are all these different flags needed?

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Flags are very good at communicating messages. But flags do not communicate with language. They do not need words to send a message. Instead, flags communicate with colors, symbols, and design. A person can read the message of a flag just by looking at it. Each flag’s colour, symbols and design represent the people, government, land or ideas in a country or group. Think about your flag. You probably know what the colors and symbols on your flag mean. Here are a few examples of how flags use symbols and colour to send their messages.

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The symbol on the Lebanese flag is a Cedar tree. The cedar tree is a very popular tree in Lebanon. The flag tells other people that this is an important tree in Lebanon.

Voice 1  

Flags also represent values and ideas by using colour. The flag of Libya is only one colour. It is green. But this colour represents an important idea for the people of Libya. Green is a traditional colour of Islam. Islam is Libya’s national religion. The green flag tells people who do not live in Libya that many people in Libya practice Islam.

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Flags may also use similar colors or designs to show unity with other nations around them. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica all use the colors blue and white in their flags. Before 1838, these countries were joined together as the United Provinces of Central America. When they separated, each country chose a new flag design. But each new flag design was a version of the old design. These five separate South American flags all have a white stripe between two blue stripes. The white stripe represents land. And the blue stripes represent two oceans. But each flag has different symbols on it. So, the flags look similar, but they are all very different.

the flags of Central America in the shape of Central America
Central American flags, Image by Kjrstie from Pixabay
Voice 1  

Flags can also represent a group of countries that share a common goal or interest. Imagine the flag of the Olympic Games. The Olympic flag is white. It has no borders. In the middle there are five circles. They are blue, black, red, yellow, and green. The circles are linked together. There are five continents that take part in the Olympic Games. And each circle represents a continent. When people see the Olympic flag they see the message of the Olympics. They see that every continent is equal. And they see that the Olympic Games encourage unity.

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Flags can also tell a part of the history of a country or group. An example of this is the story about Austria’s flag from the beginning of this program.

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On a flag, colour, symbol, and design combine to make something very meaningful. Flags are often a symbol for a country. When a person is proud of their country, their leader, or their group, they are happy to show people their flag. Flags unite people across a country, and sometimes around the world. Flags are a message that people can stand behind. Sometimes people will even die to protect and preserve a flag that sends a message they believe in.

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It is good for people to think about what they stand for and believe in. A flag is a very powerful thing. What does your flag represent? Do you think it is a good description of your country? What is your favorite flag? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Liz Waid. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “The Message of the Flag”.

Voice 2  

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

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Question:

Do you know what the colors and symbols on your country’s flag mean? Write your answer below.

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16 comments
  • My country’s flag is red. It has a yellow star in the middle. Red symbolizes the blood of the solders that died in the battles. The yellow star is the symbol of the hope, the faith in a better future.

    Do you know what my country is?

  • The flag in Ukraine has two colours. Upstairs the blue and downstairs the yellow. The blue colour means that the clear sky. The yellow colour that means the wheat fields.

  • The flag of my country consists of two equal horizontal stripes. The top stripe is white and the bottom stripe is red. White color means water and spiritual purity. The lower stripe of the flag symbolizes blood, courage and bravery. The flag of my country is often confused with the flags of two other countries. They only differ in a different arrangement of colors. The colors of my flag were declared national from May 3, 1792. Henryk

  • I liked the flag of the Olympic Games because of It has no borders. In the middle there are five circles which represents for five continent and the circles are linked together. It see that every continent is equal. And it see that the Olympic Games encourage unity.

  • my country flags are green red white and black it is a Syrian flog and there are more flogs, for example, Kurdistan flog Assyrian flog ers…

  • im from the south Yemen.My flag has many colors.It’s black ,whait,red strips and light blue triangle with a red star on the middle of triangle.I love it because I love my Country

  • Our flag is a rectangle with a yellow in the central. The red is symbol of revolution. The yellow star with five swings symbolizes the unity of five people classes: intellectual, farmers, workers, businessmen and soldiers. Yellow is our traditional color. I like the flag with the yellow in background and 3 blue stars in upper left corner.

  • My flag country has three colors are red, white, and black. In the middle, there is the color white and the green word(Allah Akbar).

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