Magoosh English Lesson: Introduction to English in American Television

Welcome to the first lesson in this series of Magoosh’s free English classes

This series will advance your English skills through learning about American Television! First we’ll examine what exactly is inside a television and the history of how that happened. And in the next lessons, we will explore TV show formatting and history and take a closer look at some of America’s favorite and most famous TV shows.

In the first two lessons, pay special attention to the key vocabulary words used in the passages. You’ll need to identify and understand these words for the rest of the lessons in the series.


  • Learn terms related to the mechanics of a Television
  • Explore the history of how these elements came to be used in a TV
  • Learn to properly write a decade in your writing

Difficulty Level: Advanced

Time: Approximately 15 minutes


What Makes A Television Work? A Quick History

On any given day, over 75% of people in the U.S. spend time watching television. And most watch, on average, over two hours per day based on their demographic. Television is a way to connect with the rest of the world. It provides entertainment as well as information.

What makes a television work?

To answer that question, let’s go back to the early 20th century when scientists gave their first demonstration of a mechanical television. The invention was crude and relied on a spinning mechanical disc to generate a video signal. The disc was replaced in the mid-1930s when electrical televisions became the norm. This technology relied on a cathode ray tube to project electronic images on a screen. Companies developed the tubes through the 1980s and used them all the way through the 2000s.

Originally, cathode tubes could only display in a grey color scale known as monochrome. There were many solutions developed from the 1930s to the 1950s to display images in color. It wasn’t until the development of the Trinitron by Sony in the ‘60s that color TVs would become the standard. 

However, the main problem with color television was broadcasting the signal in color. It would take the combined efforts of television networks and the FCC to work out the details on a broadcast television system that would work. By the ‘70s, all broadcasts were in color and color televisions began to outsell black and white TVs.

Television Today

Today, television sets and broadcast systems have evolved well beyond the original technology. With the onset of developing computer technologies, TVs are now more like a computer than their ancestors. TVs use an array of light-emitting diodes (LED) to display images that are powered by a CCD chip.

And through another collective effort of the television networks and the FCC, networks now broadcast a digital signal instead of an analog signal. These signals allow stations to broadcast more channels and clearer pictures with higher quality sound.

All of these elements work together to bring you your favorite shows every day!

Now that we know some of the mechanisms that make a TV work, in the next lessons, we’ll explore the history of TV shows and their formatting and then the history of cable and satellite television.


Word Focus

  • Demographic – (noun) – A section or sections of a population. Demographic information is divided into categories like age, gender, ethnicity, race, marital status, income, education, and/or employment.

American television networks and marketers study demographics to better understand how to better sell shows and products.

  • Mechanical Television – (noun) – A television system that used a mechanical rotating disc or mirror to create a video signal that was pushed to a mechanical receiver to display on a screen.

Mechanical televisions were the original television systems. They were used up until the 1930s.

**Want to see how mechanical TVs worked? Watch this video***

  • Crude – (adjective) – Something that has not been refined. In a raw state. Simplistic.

Crude oil is oil that has not been processed for use in other oil based products.

  • Electrical Television – (noun) – A television system that uses electricity to power a cathode ray tube in order to both transmit and receive a TV signal. New TVs are also powered by electricity, so you probably won’t hear this term outside of a scientific discussion. 

Electrical television is a term used to describe old TVs that used cathode ray tubes and analog signals to display images.

**For a more in-depth explanation of how old analog TVs worked, watch this video.**

  • Cathode Ray Tube – (noun) – A vacuum tube that contains an electron gun to deflect electrons onto a screen.

CRTs were developed and used in televisions and other display devices into the early 2000s.

  • Monochrome – (noun) – One color. A picture in black and white with different tones.

Early televisions only displayed images in monochrome or black and white.

  • Trinitron – (noun) – Sony’s brand of CRT (cathode ray tube) that used a combination of a three-in-one electron gun and an aperture grill to project bright, colorful images on a screen. Manufacturers used the technology through the early 2000s.

The Trinitron was created by a team of engineers led by Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka.

**For a more in-depth explanation of the Trinitron, watch this video.**

  • Television Network – (noun) – A network that broadcasts or distributes television programming. Some networks pay for the operations through advertising and others are pay-to-view networks.

NBC, CBS, and ABC are the three major broadcast television networks in America.

  • FCC (Federal Communications Commission) – (noun) – Agency of the US Government that regulations communications in America. This includes American television, radio, satellite, phone, and cable.

The FCC was established in 1934.

  • Broadcast Television System – (noun) – A system for distributing television content to a mass audience through electromagnetic signals. The systems are the formatting standards for these signals. There were three main analog systems in use up until the 2010s and now there are four digital systems that networks use.

Broadcast television systems are necessary to ensure signals can be received and read by a television.

  • Light-Emitting Diode – (noun) – A semiconductor light source that lights up when charged.

LED technology is the reason we have flat panel TVs.

  • CCD Chip (Charge Coupled Device) – (noun) – A device that moves electrical charges to areas where the charge can be read and converted.

CCD chips were the breakthrough technology that enabled digital imaging.

  • Digital TV Signal – (noun) – A form of signal transmission that uses digital encoding. A digital receiver on a television then decodes the signal and displays it on a screen.

As of 2009, every broadcast station in America has switched to a digital signal.

  • Analog TV Signal – (noun) – A form of signal transmission that transmits a continuous signal at both a UHF and VHF frequency for video and sound. The signal was prone to interference from other electronics broadcasting a signal.

By 2030, nearly every broadcast station in the world will have switched from an analog signal to a digital signal.

**What’s the difference between an Analog and a Digital Signal? Find out here.**

  • Mechanisms – (noun) – Any system of parts that make a machine work.

The key mechanism that makes a modern television work is a CCD chip.

Grammar Center

Read these two sentences from the passage and notice the punctuation of the decades highlighted in the sentence:

There were many solutions developed from the 1930s to the 1950s to display images in color. It wasn’t until the development of the Trinitron by Sony in the ‘60s that color TVs would become the standard. 

In the first sentence, the writer uses the full decade (1930 and 1950) and an ‘s’ with no apostrophe. Yet, in the second sentence, the writer just uses the last two digits of the decade (60) with an s and places an apostrophe before the numbers. 

What’s going on here!?

This aspect of English writing trips up native speakers all the time, and as an ESL learner, it’s possibly even more confusing. So, let’s look at how to properly write and punctuate decades in your writing. 

There are two rules when writing a decade.


Rule 1

First, when writing a full decade, place an ‘s’ after the numerals with no apostrophe. 

1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, etc…

An apostrophe at the end of a word should only be used to indicate possession or form a contraction. The writer doesn’t use that function in this instance.

The apostrophe rule also applies if you were to spell out a decade instead of using numerals.

The nineties, the nineteen-nineties

It’s purely a style choice as of whether to spell out a decade or write the numerals. However, you will save more space with the numerals. Also, if you’re going to write only the decade, the century must be clear from the writing, which brings us to the second rule.


Rule 2

When only using the last two digits to indicate a decade, put an apostrophe before the two digits and no apostrophe afterward.

The ‘70s, the ‘80s, the ’90s

The apostrophe in this case represents the two digits omitted from the decade. However, be sure your writing or passage indicates the century in context. Let’s take one final look at the sentences from the paragraph to see that transition.

…developed from the 1930s to the 1950s to display images in color. It wasn’t until the development of the Trinitron by Sony in the ‘60s

The writer made a clear indication that they’re discussing the 20th century. Next time you’re writing about a certain time period, keep these two rules in mind, and you’ll always have the correct format.



1. The purpose of the above passage is best described as:

A. Persuasive
B. Informative
C. Narrative
D. Description


2. Which of these statements best summarizes the central idea of the passage?

A. Televisions run on both digital and analog signals.
B. Electrical televisions were mainly used during the 20th century.
C. Television is an invention with a long history of evolution over the past century.
D. TVs run because of a number of mechanisms.


3. TVs that played in monochrome showed pictures in which color scale?

A. Green Scale
B. Blue Scale
C. Red Scale
D. Gray Scale


4. Which of these words is the best synonym for crude?

A. Raw
B. New
C. Awkward
D. Backward


5. Which of the following uses correct punctuation of a decade?

A. 1990s
B. The nineties
C. Neither
D. Both


6. Which of the following demonstrates the correct punctuation of a two digit decade?

A. The 70s
B. The ‘70s
C. The ‘70’s
D. The 70’s




  1. B
  2. C
  3. D
  4. A
  5. D
  6. B


Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at You can follow him on LinkedIn!
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