President Obama on Polish Freedom

Here’s a third chance to practice foreign policy vocabulary, in a 2014 speech by President Obama on Polish freedom. It follows two related pages with speeches by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan: Practice Academic Vocabulary with JFK’s first State of the Union Address, and U.S. Presidents on Berlin.

All three have gaps to fill in with words from the Academic Word List. You can find the text of the complete speech here.

Studying these speeches and words should help you understand news on foreign policy and foreign events in English. (See also The News in English.) Much of the vocabulary is also used in academic or business settings, and on tests like the IELTS, TOEFL, or SAT.

Hints for Filling the Gaps in this Speech

a photo of the Polish flag flying

You don’t need to start by studying these hints. If you prefer, jump right to the gap-fill practice. You can look back at these if you need a hint later.

First look at the place of the word in the sentence. Words after ‘the’ or ‘a’ are nouns (or sometimes adjectives and then nouns.) Words that end in the suffixes –ion, -ment, -ship, or –ity will also be nouns.

Adjectives usually go before nouns or after forms of the verb ‘to be’ (is, are, was, were, will be, etc.) Common adjective suffixes are –able or –ible, -al, -ary, -ic, -ed, and –in (the last two come from verbs.)

A verb infinitive (with no tense endings like –s, -ed, or –ing) usually follows ‘to.’ Other verbs can be in any tense. (Like nouns they sometimes end in –s, and like adjective they often end in –ed or –ing.)

Adverbs (often ending in –ly) often come after verbs (“run quickly; dance gracefully”) or in the middle of a compound verb (“will usually look”; “can sometimes find”). Learn more about recognizing parts of speech from their suffixes on Suffix List.

Notes on the Gap Word Meanings:

On behalf of’ means representing—doing something to show the feelings or intention of the group you represent. “I’m bringing you these flowers on behalf of our whole office. We all want you to get well soon and get back to work.”

To challenge is to push someone to do something difficult or question their authority.

A commitment is a promise. “When you borrowed that money you made a commitment to repay it in two months!” “Traditional marriage vows are a lifelong commitment that people may find difficult to keep.”

To define means to explain or give the meaning of something.

To impose is to force your will or ideas on others. Totalitarian regimes often impose many restrictions on their people because they want to control them.

Inevitable means unavoidable—something that will certainly happen.

To invest is to spend money or time (or lives) now in order to get something bigger back in the future. 

To participate is to have a part in something—to be actively involved.

A partner is someone who works closely with you—a joint owner of a business or close associate that wants the same results. 

Principles are basic values

A regime is a government—usually an authoritarian one. We don’t use the word to refer to democracies. 

Revolutionary means a complete, major change or turn-around.

Security means safety.

Ultimately means ‘in the end.’

Here are the words to fill in the gaps (spaces—see the drop-down menu after each space to choose):

challenge, commitment, impose, inevitable, investing, participated, partner, principles, regime, revolutionary, security, ultimately.

Gap-fill Practice: Selections from Obama's Speech on Polish Freedom

...Twenty-five years ago today, we witnessed a scene that had once seemed impossible -- an election where, for the first time, the people of this nation had a choice. The Communist regime thought an election would validate their rule or weaken the opposition. Instead, Poles turned out in the millions. And when the votes were counted, it was a landslide victory for freedom. One woman who voted that day said, “There is a sense that something is beginning to happen in Poland. We feel the taste of Poland again.” She was right. It was the beginning of the end of Communism -- not just in this country, but across Europe.

The images of that year are seared in our memory. Citizens filling the streets of Budapest and Bucharest. Hungarians and Austrians cutting the barbed wire border. Protestors joining hands across the Baltics. Czechs and Slovaks in their Velvet Revolution. East Berliners climbing atop that wall. And we have seen the extraordinary progress since that time. A united Germany. Nations in Central and Eastern Europe standing tall as proud democracies. A Europe that is more integrated, more prosperous and more secure. We must never forget that the spark for so much of this change, this blossoming of hope, was lit by you, the people of Poland. (Applause.)

History was made here. The victory of 1989 was not . It was the culmination of centuries of Polish struggle, at times in this very square...

We also recall how you prevailed 25 years ago. In the face of beatings and bullets, you never wavered from the moral force of nonviolence. Through the darkness of martial law, Poles lit candles in their windows. When the finally agreed to talk, you embraced dialogue. When they held those elections -- even though not fully free -- you . As one Solidarity leader said at the time, “We decided to accept what was possible.” Poland reminds us that sometimes the smallest steps, however imperfect, can ultimately tear down walls, can transform the world. (Applause.)

But of course, your victory that June day was only the beginning. For democracy is more than just elections. True democracy, real prosperity, lasting security -- these are neither simply given, nor imposed from the outside. They must be earned and built from within. And in that age-old contest of ideas -- between freedom and authoritarianism, between liberty and oppression, between solidarity and intolerance -- Poland’s progress shows the enduring strength of the ideals that we cherish as a free people.

...It’s a wonderful story, but the story of this nation reminds us that freedom is not guaranteed. And history cautions us to never take progress for granted. On the same day 25 years ago that Poles were voting here, tanks were crushing peaceful democracy protests in Tiananmen Square on the other side of the world. The blessings of liberty must be earned and renewed by every generation -- including our own. This is the work to which we rededicate ourselves today. (Applause.)

Our democracies must be not by what or who we’re against, but by a politics of inclusion and tolerance that welcomes all our citizens. Our economies must deliver a broader prosperity that creates more opportunity -- across Europe and across the world -- especially for young people. Leaders must uphold the public trust and stand against corruption, not steal from the pockets of their own people. Our societies must embrace a greater justice that recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being. And as we’ve been reminded by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share -- a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. We have to work for that. We have to stand with those who seek freedom. (Applause.)

I know that throughout history, the Polish people were abandoned by friends when you needed them most. So I’ve come to Warsaw today -- on of the United States, on behalf of the NATO Alliance -- to reaffirm our unwavering to Poland’s security. Article 5 is clear -- an attack on one is an attack on all. And as allies, we have a solemn duty -- a binding treaty obligation -- to defend your territorial integrity. And we will. We stand together -- now and forever -- for your freedom is ours. (Applause.) Poland will never stand alone. (Applause.) But not just Poland -- Estonia will never stand alone. Latvia will never stand alone. Lithuania will never stand alone. Romania will never stand alone. (Applause.)

These are not just words. They’re unbreakable commitments backed by the strongest alliance in the world and the armed forces of the United States of America... We do these things not to threaten any nation, but to defend the and territory of ourselves and our friends.

Finally, as free peoples, we join together, not simply to safeguard our own security but to advance the freedom of others. Today we affirm the for which we stand.

We stand together because we believe that people and nations have the right to determine their own destiny. And that includes the people of Ukraine...

We stand together because we believe that upholding peace and security is the responsibility of every nation. The days of empire and spheres of influence are over. Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings. And the stroke of a pen can never legitimize the theft of a neighbor’s land. So we will not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea or its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. (Applause.) Our free nations will stand united so that further Russian provocations will only mean more isolation and costs for Russia. (Applause.) Because after so much blood and treasure to bring Europe together, how can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?

We stand together because we know that the spirit of Warsaw and Budapest and Prague and Berlin stretches to wherever the longing for freedom stirs in human hearts, whether in Minsk or Caracas, or Damascus or Pyongyang. Wherever people are willing to do the hard work of building democracy -- from Tbilisi to Tunis, from Rangoon to Freetown -- they will have a in our nations. For in the struggles of these citizens we recall our own struggles. In their faces we see our own. And few see this more clearly than the people of Poland.

The Ukrainians of today are the heirs of Solidarity -- men and women like you who dared to a bankrupt regime. When your peaceful protests were met with an iron fist, Poles placed flowers in the shipyard gate.

Today, Ukrainians honor their fallen with flowers in Independence Square. We remember the Polish voter who rejoiced to “feel the taste of Poland again.” Her voice echoes in the young protestor in the Maidan who savored what she called “a taste of real freedom.” “I love my country,” she said, and we are standing up for “justice and freedom.” And with gratitude for the strong support of the Polish people, she spoke for many Ukrainians when she said, “Thank you, Poland. We hear you and we love you.” (Applause.)

Today we can say the same. Thank you, Poland -- thank you for your courage. Thank you for reminding the world that no matter how brutal the crackdown, no matter how long the night, the yearning for liberty and dignity does not fade away. It will never go away. Thank you, Poland, for your iron will and for showing that, yes, ordinary citizens can grab the reins of history, and that freedom will prevail -- because, in the end, tanks and troops are no match for the force of our ideals.

Thank you, Poland -- for your triumph -- not of arms, but of the human spirit, the truth that carries us forward. There is no change without risk, and no progress without sacrifice, and no freedom without solidarity. (Applause.)

Dziękuję, Polsko! God bless Poland. (Applause.) God bless America. God bless our unbreakable alliance. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

I hope these exercises were helpful. If you would like to learn more vocabulary related to democratic debate and American politics, try Political Language, with words for working together or against another group and some common American political groupings.

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