The Weird History of Salt: English for Listening

50-minute English Lesson

In this English for listening lesson, learn the history of salt, the only rock that people eat.

English for listening lesson about salt
Salt makes simple food taste great

Read the story

English for listening lesson about salt

We consume salt every day. It keeps us alive and enhances the taste of food. Salt is cheap and plentiful. Long ago, things were different. Salt was so important, it influenced business, government and empires.

The history of salt goes back thousands of years.

People in early societies boiled ocean water to get salt. That required great effort. Although difficult to produce, it was essential for survival. Salt mixed with meat or vegetables preserved food. That is how people were able to eat during the winter months when food was not always easy to find.

The historical importance of salt can be appreciated by looking at three empires. During the Roman Empire, road networks were constructed in order to simplify transport to and from distant salt fields. Because of its high value, soldiers were paid with salt instead of money. When Rome wanted to start a war, they collected money by raising salt taxes.

Two thousand years ago in China, half of all the tax money collected by the Tang dynasty came from the sale of salt. It also played an important role in the development of modern weapons. Without saltpeter, a kind of salt, the Chinese might not have invented gunpowder.

Salt also played an important role in India when it was controlled by the British. Salt taxes and bad laws in the 1930s made people angry at the British Empire. In order to protect British companies, the government passed a law that said individual people could not make or sell salt.

People like Gandhi protested. He led a salt march that attracted 100,000 followers. The salt march helped make Gandhi an important leader.

The next time you eat food with salt, think about how that small rock has fed people, built empires and triggered social change.

Listen without reading

Online English lesson about salt

Audio

Listening level: 5
Audio file: 2:17 min
Story length: 298 words
English for listening lesson about salt history
Salt shakers in a restaurant

Quiz: Salt

Did you understand the story?

Let's check with a True-False quiz.

English listening lesson: Gap Fill

Listen to the online English lesson about SALT again and fill in the blanks.

We __________ salt every day. It keeps us alive and __________ the taste of food. Salt is cheap and plentiful. Long ago, things were different. Salt was so important, it __________ business, government and empires.

The history of salt goes back __________ of years.

People in early societies __________ ocean water to get salt. That required great effort. Although difficult to produce, it was essential for __________ . Salt mixed with meat or vegetables __________ food. That is how people were __________ to eat during the winter months when food was not always easy to find.

The historical importance of salt can be __________ by looking at three empires. During the Roman Empire, road __________ were constructed in order to simplify transport to and from __________ salt fields. Because of its high value, soldiers were paid with salt instead of money. When Rome wanted to start a war, they collected money by __________ salt taxes.

Two thousand years ago in China, __________ of all the tax money collected by the Tang dynasty came from the sale of salt. It also played an important role in the development of modern __________ . Without saltpeter, a kind of salt, the Chinese might not have __________ gunpowder.

Salt also played an important role in India when it was __________ by the British. Salt taxes and bad laws in the 1930s made people __________ at the British Empire. In order to protect British companies, the government passed a law that said __________ people could not make or sell salt.

People like Gandhi __________ . He led a salt __________ that attracted 100,000 followers. The salt march helped make Gandhi an important __________ .

The next time you eat food with salt, think about how that small __________ has fed people, built empires and __________ social change.

ESL discussion questions

Talk about the esl story.

  1. What kind of story is this?
  2. Describe how salt prompted social change.
  3. Give an example of how salt contributed to empire power.
  4. How would you summarize the story’s main idea in one sentence?
  5. Do you like salty food? What’s your favorite?
  6. Other than improving the taste of food, can you think of any other uses of salt?

Synonym match

MATCH THE WORD OR PHRASE ON THE LEFT WITH THE CORRECT SYNONYM.

1. essential
2. weapons
3. enhance
4. trigger
5. value
a. improve
b. armaments
c. cause
d. worth
e. indispensable

ESL listening activity: anagrams

MOVE THE LETTERS. MAKE A WORD FROM THE ESL LISTENING STORY.

  1. FUCLEEIDNN
  2. DAIVDILUNI
  3. EOECTLCLD
  4. TDNISAT
  5. LSIIFPYM
  6. ITLFPLEUN

Writing practice

Write the five sentences. Put the words in the correct order.

  1. followers / that / He / 100000 / attracted / led / march / a / salt
  2. early / to / in / ocean / salt / People / water / get / societies / boiled
  3. keeps / us / and / of / enhances / food / It / alive / the / taste
  4. salt / of / high / value / of / with / money / instead / soldiers / were / paid / Because / its
  5. and / people / the / at / bad / angry / the / laws / in / 1930s / taxes / British / Empire / made / Salt

Another ESL listening story

Try another free English lesson? Learn about the squeeze bottle, an everyday team that has a fascinating history.

Watch a video and take notes

Did you like this online English lesson about salt? How about a short, fun video about the history of salt and pepper and why they always seem to go together.

  1. Watch the video.
  2. Take notes.
  3. Make a list with at least eight facts.

Get the worksheet

Want to print out the online English lesson about food activities? Click to download the PDF worksheet.

Click to see the answers for this online English lesson about salt.

Photo Credit

The featured image in this post comes from Peppered Jane and its use complies with the owner’s creative commons licensing terms.

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