English lesson in Hong Kong – How Serious is Air Pollution in China?


Rob: Hello I’m Rob. Welcome to 6 Minute English lesson in Hong Kong. I’m joined today by Finn. Hello Finn.

Finn: Hello Rob.

Rob: In this programme we’re talking about a serious problem that has been

affecting some of the big cities in China: that’s air pollution.

Finn: Yes, or better known as smog. Smog is polluted air that is a mixture of

smoke and fog. I’ve experienced this in Shanghai and it’s not a nice thing to

breathe in.

Rob: It certainly isn’t good for your health. We’ll talk more about this soon and

explain some pollution-related vocabulary. But let’s start with a question for

you, Finn. According to research by the World Health Organisation, which

country has the city with the world’s worst air pollution? Is it:

a) China

b) India

c) Iran

Finn: Well, I think it definitely used to be China. I’m going to say it’s still China.

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Rob: We’ll find out if you are right later on. Let’s talk more now about the pollution

problem which is choking – or making it difficult to breathe in – many

Chinese cities.

Finn: Pollution is a word that can describe anything that damages something that is

pure. So light pollution is when a pure dark sky is contaminated – or spoiled

by street lights and lights in the city.

Beijing Hutong Names

Rob: And noise pollution is when loud or annoying sounds like traffic noise spoil a

quiet and peaceful environment. But the smog affecting Chinese cities is a

form of air pollution – clean air has become dirty.

Finn: Yes. Well, smog used to be a problem in other world cities like London, where

a combination of fog and smoke from factories and trains sometimes made

the air quite dirty and dangerous.

Rob: Yes, sometimes the air was so dirty and so thick they described it as a ‘peasouper’

– meaning as thick as pea soup!

Finn: A ‘pea-souper’ – that’s good isn’t it! In Los Angeles, fumes – that’s the bad

gases from car engines – and poor weather conditions used to cause poor air

quality. But now, new laws and a change in technology mean the air in these

cities is cleaner and safer. So, Rob, why is it bad in China now?

6 Minute English ©British Broadcasting Corporation 2014

Page 2 of 4

Rob: Well Finn, China is becoming more industrialised. That means more factories

are being built, and more electricity is needed, and that often comes from

coal-fired power stations. And of course, more people are driving cars.

Finn: Yes they are. Well, at certain times last year, the air was so poisonous in

Shanghai that children were not allowed outside and schools were closed.

Rob: Generally, the air is a threat to public health. It’s particularly bad for people

with asthma – and it could lead to lung cancer. In the capital Beijing,

pollution regularly goes over the safety limits set by the World Health

Organization (WHO). So what can be done?

Finn: Well, the BBC’s David Shukman has been investigating the problem and found

that the Chinese authorities are spending £180 billion on cleaning up the air.

Chinese News – china working class in Beijing

See if you can hear what the two main things are that they’re trying to do in


David Shukman, BBC Science Editor:

Well first, they’re closing down any power stations within the city that burn coal, that’s the

biggest source of pollution; next they’re trying to limit road traffic – greener cars will get

priority. And officials say they’re confident they can clean up.

Rob: So the plan is to close down coal-fired power stations because they are the

source – or the place where most of the pollution comes from.

Finn: Yes, and the other plan is to limit – to set a maximum amount of – traffic on

the roads. Greener cars will be allowed on the roads first – they will have


Rob: Of course ‘greener’ isn’t referring to the colour of the car, Finn – it’s a term to

describe something that causes less pollution and is better for the


Finn: So these are the cars that use less fuel or might use cleaner fuel that has less

particles in it that usually make the air dirty. Officials believe that this green

technology will clean up the air.

Rob: China is also going to use more renewable energy – this is power made by

natural materials that never get used up, such as wind and water. This would

reduce air pollution caused by burning coal.

Finn: Yes, well of course, all these changes will take a long time. But Rob, it’s time

now for you to tell me the answer to today’s question.

Rob: Yes, earlier I asked you, according to research by the World Health

Organisation, which country has the city with the world’s worst air pollution?

Finn: I thought it was a) China.

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Rob: You did but the answer is Iran.

Finn: Is it now?! Which city?

Rob: Apparently the city of Ahwaz. Now, before we go, Finn, could you remind us of

some of the vocabulary that we’ve heard today?

6 Minute English ©British Broadcasting Corporation 2014

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Finn: OK. We had:

air pollution










renewable energy

Rob: Well, that brings us to the end of today’s 6 Minute English course in Hong Kong. We hope you’ve

enjoyed today’s programme. Please join us again soon.

Finn: Please do.

Rob: Bye bye.

Finn: Bye.