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Inauguration speech: "Remaking America"

Watch, read and study in detail an excerpt of Barack Obama's Inauguration speech on January 20th 2009.

Study an excerpt

Some difficult words from the excerpt explained in English

Inauguration speech: Inauguration Day (January 20th) marks the first official day of work for a new president. This is the speech given at this event.

To reaffirm: to announce or confirm something officially or formally

Enduring: lasting for a long time

To pursue: to follow a plan and try to achieve something

Faint-hearted: not brave or willing to take risks

Leisure: time to relax and enjoy yourself

Obscure: not well known or difficult to know

Rugged: not smooth or flat

Prosperity: the situation of being successful and having a lot of money (wealth and fortune)

To toil: to work very hard

Sweatshop: a factory where people work very hard in bad conditions and earn very little money

Faction: smaller groups with different opinions from the majority

In the above video, you will find this excerpt at: 06:10 - 08:47. It is possible to turn on the auto-generated subtitles, but language errors will occur.

"The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor - who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops, and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip, and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction. This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. (...) Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."


Source: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2009/01/21/president-barack-obamas-inaugural-address

Task

Although there is no set recipe for a successful Inauguration speech, there are some typical 'ingredients' or key characteristics that we can identify. Use the following points to take a closer look at the details of this speech. Try to find specific examples or quotations that you can connect to each point:

  • the use of personal pronouns
  • repeating important words or phrases
  • the use of formal language for a very formal occasion
  • expressions of patriotism (a feeling of love, respect or duty towards your country)
  • the metaphor of life as a journey
  • the contrast between hardship and success

Turn your notes into an essay

The first three points are about the language and structure of the speech, while the remaining three point to possible themes and the main message. This could form the main body of an essay. Here is a suggestion of how you can structure your text:

  1. Introduce the speech and its context
  2. Comment on the language and structure of the speech
  3. Comment on the main theme(s)
  4. Conclude by commenting on the main message and purpose of the speech

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