Saturday, July 17, 2010

UP IN THE AIR (Listening Comprehension)

As an English User, you may have on ocassion traveled abroad. Who knows, you may even be a frequent flyer. Well, regardless of how much time you've spent "up in the air", today we'll be practicing some listening comprehension with a scene from UP IN THE AIR, the film starring George Clooney.

If you haven't seen it. UP IN THE AIR is an American comedy-drama film directed by Jason Reitman. It's about a corporate downsizer named Ryan Bingham (Clooney) who spends most of his time traveling. The film follows his life and philosophies along with the people he meets along the way.

In fact, Bingham is a frequent-flyer because he makes his living traveling to workplaces around the United States and conducting layoffs for bosses who don’t want to do it themselves. Ryan also delivers motivational speeches, using the analogy "What's In Your Backpack?" to extol the virtues of a life free of relationships with people and things, like his own life.

Yet events happen along the way that make him change the way he looks at his life up in the air.

WATCH the scene where Bingham delivers his typical "What's in your backpack?" Speech. Only try to understand the main idea. Then READ the transcript below and STUDY the vocabulary. Finally, WATCH the video again and try to APPLY the vocabulary the next time you use English. Enjoy the video and good luck, English Users!

Now this is going to be a bit difficult, so stay with me. How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, and then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack.

Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack; feel the weight of that bag.

Make no mistake. Your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks."


Up in the air: Expression to refer to something that is undefined or has not yet been decided.
Corporate downsizer: A person whose job it is to assist a company to reduce its operational cost, often implying the task of laying off staff.
Along the way: Expression that refers something that happens while traveling from one place to the other
layoff: the act of dismissing an employee from his or her employment
extol: praise, glorify, or honor someone or something
Knickknacks: A small trivial article intended for ornament
Appliance: a machine or device, esp an electrical one used domestically like a microwave oven
To Stuff: To pack (a container, a suitcase) tightly, almost to the limit
Acquaintance: a person with whom one has been in contact but who is not a close friend


  1. The vocabulary is really amazing! and the way you can see its use in this movie is very useful..What´s more, you wanna watch the whole movie after all...
    Let´s take the expressions into account and use them as long as you can, guys.

  2. This is a great movie and very useful in terms of vocabulary. I used it with a student a few months ago and we analized vocabulary and some structures. We were working with a unit from the book dealing with how to motivate staff, and this speech was great!
    I agree with Yamila, you'll end up watching the whole movie because the dialogues are very good!!

  3. Yes, this movie is all about language. The George Clooney character convinces layed-off people that the "downsizing" is actually good for them and that they'll be moving on to better things.

    Now, that's a persuasive speaker!

    from Mabi

  4. Thanks for the input, everyone!
    Glad you find our content useful. :)