An unlikely hero

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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.


Today, I want to talk about a brilliant story that has been in the news. All the language in this podcast will be related to heroes and bravery. But I’m not going to talk about a soldier, I’m not going to talk about a superhero. I’m not even going to talk about a person. I want to talk about Magawa, a giant African pouched rat. 

A medal for bravery

You see, this rat has been given a medal for bravery by a charity in the UK. A medal is a metal disc attached to a coloured ribbon that is given to a soldier when they do something brave. They are also given to athletes who come first, second or third at the Olympics. We use the adjective brave to describe a person who is not scared or afraid when they do something dangerous. Or rather, they do not seem scared or afraid. Bravery is the noun form.

A civilian honour

Magawa received the medal from a UK charity which said it is the highest civilian honour. Civilians are normal people, not soldiers or in the military. The medal is the equivalent of the George Cross which is the highest award for bravery when not in battle and can be awarded to civilians as well as soldiers and people in the military or armed forces.

A hero rat

So what did Magawa do to earn this award? Well, Magawa is a Hero Rat. Hero is a noun that we use normally to talk about people who are loved for doing brave things. A Hero Rat is similar, but it’s actually a job title like manager or teacher, but for rats that work for Apopo, which is a Belgian organisation that trains rats to do extraordinary things. I don’t really know what rats do normally. An ordinary rat probably spends most of its time looking for food and playing with other rats. Hero Rats are not ordinary; they are extraordinary. 

Sniffing out trouble

One of the main things that Apopo’s rats do that is so extraordinary is sniff out landmines. You see, these rats have really good noses. They can smell things really well. They can sniff all sorts of things out and Magawa is an expert. Magawa has been working as a hero rat for the last five years and in that time has found 39 landmines and 28 unexploded bombs. Landmines are bombs that people, usually soldiers bury in the ground with just the top sticking out. 


Another word for a bomb is an explosive. The verb explode means to well, go off. It’s what bombs do. They break into lots of pieces and release lots of energy that breaks and destroys anything around it. If a bomb is unexploded, it means that the bomb was dropped by a soldier or from a warplane, but it did not explode. These bombs can explode later if they are touched or played with. Magawa has found 39 landmines and 28 unexploded bombs. Each of these items could have killed or seriously injured one or more people. The verb injure means to cause hurt or physical damage to a person. This amazing rat has certainly saved a lot of lives. 

Landmines in Cambodia

Landmines and unexploded bombs are a serious problem in Cambodia. There are millions of mines and bombs in Cambodia that were dropped during the American war and laid during the civil war in the 1980s and hundreds of people are still being killed and injured by these weapons. A civil war is a war between two armies that are from the same country. Many countries have had civil wars. The American civil war is famous because there are lots of films about it. The armies that were fighting were both American, that is why it was a civil war. Weapons are the things people use in a war to try to hurt each other. So, guns, knives, bows and arrows and even bombs dropped from planes and landmines. They are all weapons and there are millions of them left in Cambodia. 

Magawa clears the minefields

And this is where Magawa comes in. You see, Magawa is not heavy enough to detonate the mines and explosives that are left in Cambodia. To detonate an explosive means to make it explode. Magawa is not heavy enough so he can scurry around minefields on his little legs, running this way and that, sniffing out bombs with his amazing nose and alerting his handler when he finds something. He alerts his handler by scratching at a spot where he can smell a bomb. 

This is what Magawa has been doing for the last five years. In this time, Magawa has cleared over 141,000 square meters of land and made it safe for the people who live  there. Apopo has cleared over 500 mines and unexploded bombs since they started work in Cambodia.

Amazing animals

Do you know any stories about amazing animals? Have you ever heard of a hero pet? Perhaps a dog that saved a child that fell down a well or a cat that well, I have no idea what a hero cat might do. My cat was more of a villain than hero, but you never know. 

I would love to hear from you if you do have a story about an extraordinary animal.


Remember, there is a webpage for this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary where you will find the transcript and some language activities to test yourself to see if you have learned the vocabulary from this podcast. There is also a task for you to do in the comments section.

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a rating or a review. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. So please visit and say hello.

Thanks for listening.

Show CommentsClose Comments


  • Celeste
    Posted 15/10/2020 at 5:14 am

    Hi, Jack. Could you make a podcast of a series of phrasal verb that is commonly used in life , like put off, hold up, come with, etc?

    • Jack
      Posted 15/10/2020 at 7:49 am

      Hi Celeste – no problem. There are hundreds of phrasal verbs. I’ll make a few phrasal verb podcasts.

  • Hesti
    Posted 16/10/2020 at 10:24 am

    Hi Jack, I think I am really lucky to find this podcast. I can learn how to pronounce words correctly.. and many more.. Thanks Jack.

  • Marie
    Posted 12/11/2020 at 6:25 am

    You podcast is brilliant and I’m enjoying listen to it.
    Thank you so much!👍🏾👍🏾

  • Amalia Abad
    Posted 16/03/2021 at 6:46 pm

    I would like to cancel my membership in the speaking club but I couldnt find the way to cancel it. Could you please help me?

    • Anita Radford
      Posted 18/03/2021 at 8:42 pm

      Hi Amalia

      I have cancelled all membership of the Speaking CLub.
      Anita Radford
      Learn English Vocabulary

  • Marina
    Posted 06/02/2022 at 12:32 pm

    Hello Jack!

    I just want to say a great thank you for the podcast and the site, and for your work.

    For the first time in my life, I have believed that I could understand English speech. Your podcast really help me to improve my listening skills

    • Jack
      Posted 06/02/2022 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks Marina. That’s really nice to hear.

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