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Wednesday, 10 January 2018 19:20

Ape v. Gorilla v. Monkey: What's the Difference?

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Ask Scott Dreyer

This question comes from Amy, a student in one of our Basic English online classes

Q: What's the difference between a gorilla and an ape? Are they the same? And are they monkeys?  --Amy in Shenzhen, China

A: Great question! Thanks for asking.


Actually, apes (Chinese 猿 Yuán) are a kind of animal family, and gorillas (Chinese 大猩猩 Dà xīngxīng) are one kind of animal in that family. It's kind of like saying birds are a kind of animal family, and sparrows are one kind of bird in that big group.  In addition to gorillas, the ape family also includes chimpanzees (called "chimps"), orangutans, and some would add humans too.  Monkeys are NOT In the ape family. Apes do NOT have tails, but monkeys do. 


Gorillas are the biggest members of the ape family: some can weigh up to 600 pounds (272 kg)! Gorillas live in Central Africa and are known to be highly intelligent. In a recent advanced vocabulary class, the student had a reading passage about Koko the Gorilla. I was impressed to learn that Koko learned to communicate with sign language, and she even learned the word for "birthday." She loved cats, and when the trainer asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she replied "kitten." On her birthday, she opened her gift and found a stuffed toy kitten. She was so angry, she threw it away! The trainer later gave her a real kitten, which she loved and cared for. When they asked Koko what she wanted to name her pet kitten, she replied "All Ball."  They think maybe it was because the kitten did not have a tail and looked like a ball of fur, so that's why she named it that. Incredibly, Koko was even able to use sign language to tell jokes...and even to tell lies!


Sadly, All Ball was later killed by a car; see the amazing video of Koko playing with All Ball, then grieving over her loss, in this remarkable short video


Learn more about Koko the Gorilla here.


Here is another amazing gorilla story! Louis, a male gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo, seemingly likes to keep his hands clean--especially when he's eating a snack--so he often walks on his two hind legs, like a human!

Take a look! 


While gorillas live only in Africa in the wild, monkeys can be found in Africa, South America, and Asia. 


Language Fun: several years ago, a friend of ours from Hsinchu, Taiwan came to visit our family in Roanoke, Virginia for the Thanksgiving holiday from her school. She had not lived in the US for long then, and it was her first visit to Virginia. Her flight arrived at night. After we picked her up at the airport and were driving her to our home, we were telling her about our city and some of the fun things we planned to do over that Thanksgiving holiday. One of the most famous sites in our city is the Mill Mountain Star, a star built in 1949 that lights up each night and is the most famous icon of our Valley. Even though our friend spoke good English, we tried to tell her about things in Chinese. So, part of our story went kind of like this:


"There is a big star on the moutain. It is a very famous star here. You can see it every night. It's so big, you can see it from many miles away. It's so big, sometimes when you fly into Roanoke, you can see it from the airplane. We will make sure we take you to see it while you are here. We are sure you will love it."


It seemed kind of strange to me, but when we told her about the star that is so popular here in Roanoke, she did not seem very excited about going to see it! 


What we did not realize was, when we were staying "star," meaning 星星 Xīngxīng in Chinese, she thought we were saying 猩猩, which is also pronounced Xīngxīng, but which means GORILLA!


So, when we were trying to tell her we would take her to see the huge star, she thought we were going to take her to see a huge GORILLA that lived on the mountain, and that sounded scary to her! NO WONDER she did not want to go there! 


Learning a new language is a lot of fun, and you have to be able to laugh at yourself! 




Would you like to improve YOUR vocabulary? Contact Scott today to find out how we can help you!


Read 25073 times Last modified on Saturday, 17 March 2018 02:15
Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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