Learning English

Inspiring language learning since 1943

English Change language

Session 3

We have already heard the story of Eva Hart, a child travelling on Titanic with her family. In this session, we'll look at two more stories from survivors of the disaster: Karen Abelseth and Gus Cohen. You'll read a letter, listen to a dramatic story of escape, do some pronunciation practice, and take a quiz.

Sessions in this unit

Session 3 score

0 / 18

  • 0 / 6
    Activity 1
  • 0 / 6
    Activity 2
  • 0 / 6
    Activity 3

Activity 2

Gus Cohen's escape

Listening exercise

There are many stories from survivors of the Titanic disaster but Gurshon 'Gus' Cohen's letter is one of the most dramatic. Listen to his story and think about how it differs from Karen and Eva's accounts. It's fast and might be difficult to understand, but don't worry: you can use the transcript to help.

Listen to the audio and try the activity

Show transcript Hide transcript

After the Titanic sank on that maiden voyage, stories of survival began to be told in letters home to loved ones. This remarkable letter, written aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, from third class passenger 19-year-old Gurshon Cohen, reveals an escape that reads like a Hollywood script.  

Gus Cohen's Letter

Dearest Hettie, I have arrived, rescued, and myself safe at New York. I suppose you've heard about the Titanic but I suppose you thought I was drowned but, thank God, I just managed to escape. I will explain to you how that accident happened.

At 10.30, we were all sent to bed, lively, shouting, and singing and doing everything. At 11.45, we were awakened as about a dozen crewmen came to our decks. We did not take the slightest notice and went to bed again, but we were awakened by the sailors to put on lifebelts. I did not have any because I could not find one, and still I was making a lark of it and people were singing, and playing the piano. The band was also playing.

When I went on deck, I saw tonnes of ice which the boat had struck. Then I saw that we were in danger. I climbed onto the first class deck to look for a lifebelt and after half an hour I found one. I’d just put it on when the boat tilted right over and a lot of people fell off into the water and were drowned.

I clung to the railings of the deck for dear life and I was about two hundred feet above the level of the water. As we were holding, the boatswain of the last lifeboat shouted out that there was just enough room for three or four men. When I heard this, I stood up but saw to get into the boat I had to jump about two or three hundred feet.

The only thing I saw was a beam of iron jutting out from the deck and a rope hanging from it. I climbed onto the beam but some stokers who wanted to save their own lives threw me back onto the deck again. But still, I climbed again. I took my chance, and I jumped but I missed the rope and, as I was falling, I clutched hold of the rope. Now, as it is, the rope cut through my gloves and cut my hands, made a cut about an inch in my forehead…

My troubles were not over because I fell in the water, and I was kept up by my lifebelt. After being five minutes in the water, it seemed hours, I was dragged onto the last lifeboat. We rowed for dear life, and when we were a safe distance from the ship, the first explosion occurred! And then came the second explosion... and then it sank.

Think about how this sentence sounded in the recording (listen to the beginning to hear it again if you like):

  • I was making a lark of it and people were singing.

In spoken English, we usually use the weak forms of was /wəz/ and were /wə/ when forming past continuous positive sentences and questions. Try saying the sentence with the weak forms.

The /ə/ sound that you find in these weak forms is very important in English. You can find out more about it and hear some examples in our pronunciation tips video.

Notice that we often don't say the full 'ing' sound at the end of verb-ing. That means when Gus speaks, we hear 'I was making...' like this:

  • I was makin' /ə wəz meɪkən/

It can be difficult to hear all the words when someone is speaking naturally! But don't worry - you can get used to it by doing activities like the next one!

To do

Listen to Gus's story again and choose the correct words to fill each gap. Listen carefully for those weak forms and verb-ing sounds!

Download

Click here to download this recording (2.7MB).

What did Gus say?

6 Questions

Fill in the gaps

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

Next

Wow! We have heard three different stories of survival, escape and bravery. If you'd like to hear more stories from survivors of the Titanic, BBC Radio Ulster has produced a whole series you can hear called Titanic Letters.

Next, you will take a quick quiz to see what you remember about the accounts you have read and heard in this session.

Session Vocabulary

  • making a lark of it
    (here) making fun of a situation

    bosun
    a ship's officer in charge of equipment and the crew, also written as boatswain

    jutting out
    sticking out