Hi, everyone. Welcome back. This is episode number 120: Geography of the United States.
Today you’re going to learn so many fun facts about the US, all of which have to do with geography. You’ll hear about the topography, so the physical features of the land that make it visually unique. And you’ll also learn about the population – so where residents are distributed throughout the country. Distributed. I’m going to say that one more time. Not distributed, but distributed. Emphasis on that RI there in the middle.
In any case, by the end of this episode, you should have a solid geographical overview of the United States and be able to talk about geography in English.
This is a 5-minute English episode, so in a matter of 5 minutes or close to it (I hope!), you’ll hear loads of topic-specific vocabulary, so much that it can be overwhelming. A smart human would not be able to retain all of the vocabulary in this lesson after listening once. First off, you should listen twice. And secondly, don’t stress! This is an advanced listening exercise. So to make the most of it, you can do one of two things:
First, you could, you know, look up all of the vocab words on your own and take notes and then push yourself to master all of the terms on your own, or you could sign up to Premium Content at americanenglishpodcast.com. The premium content for 5-minute English episodes includes everything you need to learn and retain the challenging terms you hear in the audio. You’ll be given the definitions for key vocabulary, exercises to practice it, as well as quizzes to make sure you’ve learned what you should have. You’ll also get a pronunciation video and much more.
Many of my students who have signed up to Premium Content have written and told me how much they enjoy this supplementary material and how much it has helped their learning process! So once again, to access premium content, go to americanenglishpodcast.com, or you can find the direct link inside of the episode notes.
Before we begin, I need to mention that today we are talking about the 50 US states. I’m not talking about U.S. territories, which include Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mariana Islands, or American Samoa. But we will talk about those in a future episode. Each of the places I just mentioned are unique; they have a unique relationship with the U.S. and their own story, their own vibrant culture. They deserve their own episodes. So stay tuned for that.
If anyone listening is from a US territory or a disputed territory, I’d love to talk to you! Please write to me on Instagram, you can find me @americanenglishpodcast.
Without any further ado, let’s begin talking about the United States.
Take a deep breath and look around you. For as far as you can see, there are grassy fields and cows. You’re in Lebanon, not the country, Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of the contiguous United States. Smack dab in the middle!
If you drive to the West Coast, it’ll take you around 22 hours. To the East Coast, another 22. A cross-country road trip would take almost two days driving, nonstop. That’s a big country!
In fact, if countries were ranked by size, the US would come in fourth after Russia, Canada and China. It’s 3.8 million square miles. And I should say third or fourth, depending on who you’re talking to.
By now, you probably know that the US is part of North America and there are 50 states, each represented by a star on the American flag. The 48 connected states, the ones sandwiched between Canada and Mexico, we call the contiguous US, or more casually, the lower 48. The other two, Alaska and Hawaii, are really out there.
Alaska, which is our biggest state – one sixth the size of Europe – sits just 55 miles away from Russia. It has arctic temperatures and long, icy winters. Hawaii, our southernmost state and island state, has the same latitude as Mexico City and boasts tropical weather year round, just like southern Florida.
The states are spread out. In fact, we have six different time zones: Hawaiian, Alaskan, Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern Time.
My question to you is, if you could live anywhere in the US, where would that be?
Approximately 332 million people live in the States, ranking third after China and India. And according to the US Census, a whopping 29.1% of the population live near the coast.
There are three main coastlines.
The Pacific Coast, or West Coast, is where you’ll find Washington, Oregon and California, as well as icy cold Pacific Ocean water and chilly nights. While you’ll find tons of beachgoers and sunbathers in SoCal, aka Southern California, up north, the beaches are less crowded and are often part of scenic hiking trails.
The Atlantic Ocean is off of the East Coast with a number of famous beach cities and towns from the Latin-infused Miami in southern Florida all the way to the rich New England beach towns up north like the Hamptons, Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Just picture rocky coasts with lighthouses and colonial architecture.
The Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the Third Coast and is a popular destination for divers who want to visit its coral reefs and shipwrecks. The coastline is spotted with oil rigs – one sixth of the US’s crude oil is taken from there.
The Gulf also hugs a region that we call the south, which is actually the southeast, from Texas to the Atlantic coast. That area, the south, has a reputation for being hot and humid, especially near its wetlands, such as swamps and rivers. In wintertime, you can also find snow at higher elevations, just take a trip to the Appalachian Mountain Range, the Ozarks, or head to the Great Plains, just west of the Mississippi River.
Speaking of rivers, the US has over 250,000 of them. The longest is the Missouri River, a tributary of the Mississippi, our second largest. The Mississippi, though, is debatably more popular. It’s the setting for many classic American novels like Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And it plays an important role in U.S. history, since it is where Native American tribes and settlers chose to live, fish and harvest over the past thousands of years. Take a look at a map, the river stretches from north to south, bordering ten different states and looks like a man with a top hat.
Many beaches in the United States are not near the ocean. The Great Lakes region is spotted with charming beach towns and cozy getaway spots. 10% of the US population calls it home.
There are Five Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, and we share all of them except Lake Michigan with our northern neighbor, Canada. Together, they make up 84% of the US’s fresh surface water. Lake Superior is the largest of them and is also the second largest lake in the world.
The states in the Great Lake region, and just to the west of it, are referred to as the Midwest, which can be confusing because although it is mid or central, it’s nowhere near the West Coast, it’s north and central. The name was created back when everything west of the Appalachian Mountains was considered west. There you’ll find rolling hills, plains and grasslands.
The northeast is home to the 13 original colonies of the United States and also to a few famous cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The region is also known for its distinct seasons; photographers flock during fall to catch the leaves changing colors.
While the most densely populated city is New York City, with 8.8 million residents, and the most populated state is California with around 40 million, there are areas of the United States that are stunning and very sparsely populated.
The Southwest; Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Utah, and debatably, California, is known to be dry or arid. Long, barren highways in the desert lined with cactus lead visitors to old Western corrals, sections of Route 66, and the iconic Red Rocks that the Southwest are known for.
You can catch a sunset at the Grand Canyon, admire red sandstone arches at Arches National Park, the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon, the Valley of Zion, or even have a tour of the sandstone buttes in Monument Valley with a Navajo guide. How cool!
I hope you enjoyed the talk about geography. There’s so much more that could be discussed here, but this is a good first overview.
Before I hang up today, I do want to clarify a few facts about US geography that often confuse people. The first being the capital of the US.
The capital of the US is Washington, D.C., which was named after the first president of the US, George Washington. The man you’ll see on our $1 bill and also on the US quarter. The capital, also known as DC, which stands for the District of Columbia, is not in any state. It’s actually sandwiched between Maryland and Virginia. It’s on the East Coast, about 4 hours south of New York City.
The capital has nothing to do with Washington, which is a state on the West Coast. To avoid confusion, don’t forget to say D.C. when you’re talking about the US capital.
Number two, Americans do not agree on which states are technically within each region. For example, the South. Some people say that northern Florida is part of the South.
Other people don’t include Florida at all. Texas is sometimes in it, sometimes it’s left out. Sometimes it’s considered part of the Southwest. Some people divide Texas in two. It all depends. It’s related to culture. It’s related to the way that the land looks. And yeah, I just wanted to clarify that sometimes even among Americans, there is confusion. Same thing with California.
Many people think, Oh, California, that’s not part of the Southwest. Whereas when they go to the eastern part of California with Death Valley and some of the cactus that you see, you kind of get that image of the southwest in your mind. Some people include it. Some people don’t.
Number three, I mentioned the largest state is Alaska. Our smallest state is Rhode Island and it’s not actually an island.
I mentioned that Denali is the highest peak in the US and it’s in Alaska. Fun fact. The official name for Denali was actually Mount McKinley up until 2015. I grew up hearing Mount McKinley, so yeah, that was a surprise to me when the name changed.
Once again, I hope you really enjoyed this episode. If you would like to get the bonus material that goes along with this, I highly recommend buying the Premium Content. You can find that in the episode notes, or on the website at americanenglishpodcast.com. Hope you’re having a nice day, and until next time! Bye.
The West is also known for the Rockies, which are popular for skiing, Yellowstone National Park for its geothermal hot springs and wildlife. But perhaps the most challenging adventure would be a hiking trip to the highest peak in the country; Denali, which sits at 20,300 feet above sea level in Alaska.
At -282 feet below sea level, Death Valley is the lowest point in the country and can be found in eastern California, just north of the Mojave Desert. On July 10, 1913, the National Weather Service measured a record breaking 134 degrees Fahrenheit there. That’s 56.7 degrees Celsius. What many find surprising is the fact that in spite of its name, Death Valley is known for life. In springtime, you might just spot a bighorn sheep walking through fields of yellow flowers. Maybe even a road runner. Beep beep.
Come to the US! While on the West Coast, you should consider checking out Redwood National Park to see Hyperion, the tallest tree in the world at 380 feet tall. Or check out General Sherman, the most massive tree in the world, a sequoia, at 52,500 cubic feet – that’s located in Sequoia National Park.
Just up north, you can check out the deep blue of Crater Lake in Oregon, the deepest lake in the US, or take a trip to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah or the Great Sand Dunes of southern Colorado. Take a lot of pictures so your friends will come to.