276. Q&A Session #5

Hello and welcome to another episode of the podcast. If you’re new to LEP then you should know that this is a long-running podcast for learners of English. The idea is that I provide you with regular content to help you improve your English. My intention is to provide you with listening material that is not only good for your English but also a pleasant and fun experience to listen to. Check out teacherluke.co.uk where you can add your email address to the mailing for new episodes, or find my podcast on iTunes where you can also subscribe. There are lots of transcripts, discussion forums, videos and all kinds of other stuff at teacherluke.co.uk so check it out. If you’re an old listener, then ahoy there! Welcome back to the good ship LEP.


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I’m in the skypod again to record another episode and this time I’m responding to more questions from my listeners. These are all questions that found their way to me via the discussion forum or as comments or emails.  This one is Q&A Session #5.

A Spoonful of Mustard – June 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm
Hello Luke,
This particular question has been bothering me for donkey’s years. Even though it may sound a bit silly, I would be most grateful should you answer it seriously. Let me put you in the picture.
Essentially, the question stems from a sci-fi film I watched a couple of years ago. A part of the plot is set on a planet that orbits three stars in a solar system a zillion light years away from the Earth. At some point in the film, a bunch of fugitive inmates gets stranded on the deserted surface of this remote planet. By and by, the presence of the three stars in the sky dawns, literally and figuratively, on the gang, and one of them yells out, unconvincingly acting-wise, ‘it’s got three suns!’
This particular usage of the word ‘sun’ baffles me. Even though it is crystal clear what the protagonist means, it seems to me he should have said, ‘it’s got three stars!’ since ‘sun’ is the name of the star the Earth goes round. On the other hand, another question comes up: if you were on a planet in a different solar system, could you get a suntan or, indeed, go sunbathing? Could you enjoy watching awe-inspiring sunrise over there, or you would have to resort to relishing observing Alpha Centauri-rise or something of the same sort?
Based on your expert knowledge, what do you think of all this?
All the best,
A Spoonful of Mustard

Luke: So, can we call the stars orbited by other planets in the universe “suns”. Yes, I think we can. I would say that a star being orbited by planets is a sun. We call our sun ‘the sun’ because, for us, it’s the only one. We know there are others, but this is the main one for us. It’s like “Let’s go to the pub” – here we mean our local pub, the one that we live near. Any pub can be “the pub” – it depends where you live, or where you are at that time. If you live near The Kings Head – that’s The Pub. If you live near the Golden Lion, that’s “the pub”. Similarly, if you live on earth then the star at the centre of our solar system is “the sun” but I would say that if you live on another planet in another solar system (please leave a comment if you do – we’d love to hear from you) then I think it’s fair to say that you could call your local star, “the sun” too, or perhaps “our sun” or even “suns” if there are several.
“Look at the sun” means our local sun. But if you were on another planet, and that planet orbited a star – I think it would be fair to call it a sun as well.
Luckily, I don’t think this is something that troubles most of you on a daily basis. :)

Anonymous – April 26, 2015 at 2:09 pm – in the comments section of my website.
The difference between can and can’t.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=cahVeRxiZBc
I personally found this extremely difficult to catch! I hope this can help somebody.

Luke:
I think there are a few points to deal with for this question. Also, there are several ways of saying the word can, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on – there’s the British way and then the wrong way. Haha that’s a joke. No really, Americans and Brits say the words slightly differently. We’ll come to that in a moment. I’m dealing with the UK version of “can” and “can’t”.
1. The difference between the words when they’re not in a sentence. Can /kæn/ can’t /kɑːnt/ – mainly it’s about the vowel sound (can is short, can’t is long) but also that can’t has a /t/ sound at the end.
2. When the words are used in the middle of a sentence, fluently. Firstly, there’s the issue of the weak form of ‘can’ with a schwa sound, and with ‘can’t’ the /t/ sound can disappear, making it sound a bit like ‘car’.
Weak form of ‘can’
Yes, I can do that. Here, can is /kən/
Elision of /t/ in ‘can’t’
Sorry, I can’t do that. I can’t see it. I can’t wait. – in all of those, the /t/ of ‘can’t’ disappears.
It’s normal for /t/ and /d/ sounds to be lost when followed by another /t/ or /d/ sound, but it’s not just then. Frankly, /t/ sounds are often dropped in fluent speech.
Sorry, I can’t eat it.
So, can and can’t sound alarmingly similar sometimes. But they’re not the same. Native speakers can identify the difference. There is a difference, it’s not telepathy, although context may help too (like, tone of voice or body language)
The key thing is that the vowel sound is still long.
“I can meet you at 3.”
“I can’t meet you at 3.”
Can you hear the difference?
How about the tone or intonation of the sentences?
Listen to these sentences, am I saying ‘can’ or ‘can’t’? Sometimes my intonation or other words might help. Repeat the sentences after me.
a. I can be there earlier if you need me to.
b. I just can’t work this one out.
c. I can just do it for you if you want.
d. You can just take the bus, it’s much easier.
e. He can’t get any reception in his room, so he’s going to use the landline.
f. They can just download it and stick it on the laptop.
g. You can’t help me with this can you?
h. I can’t stop thinking about last night.
i. It can be a bit difficult to hear the difference between can and can’t sometimes, can’t it?

3. American English may be a bit different. “can’t” might sound more distinct.

Daniel – June 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm
Hello Luke,
First of all, I want to say I regard your work with podcasts the best I’ve ever seen for ESL learners so far. You show a 100% spontaneous conversation in English that supports listening skills a lot. Thanks mate!
Getting back to my question for you I have to tell you I’m trying to learn how to speak with authentic British accent, but, it seems the process to me is becoming increasingly slow. I’ve been  self-taught for more than 2 years. In fact, I want to sound like you,and, so that, at the moment, I try to mimic you by memorising what you say and then repeating that as many times as possible. Am I in the right technique? I’m not so sure about that!I’d like some guidance from you as regards the pronunciation learning. So,here are  my questions: how could somebody speed up the process of internalising the British accent ? What method you’d suggest to come near faster and effectively to this accent? Thanks in advance for your attention.

Luke: This kind of relates to the question from Edgar. Let’s say you’ve decided to learn to speak with a British accent (Standard Received Pronunciation I imagine – because there are many British accents, as you know). How can you do it? Here are some ideas: Learn the phonemic script. Learn all those sounds and symbols. This is the palette of English. Once you learn all the sounds that are used in English, you’ll be able to identify and hopefully copy the sounds as they are used by people. Learning the phonemic script is like learning the musical theory. Transcribe words and sentences in phonemic script, and then check a dictionary. Yes, do plenty of listening and repetition. Use the BBC’s pronunciation pages for help www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/pron/ Use a mirror to see the way you are pronouncing words and compare that to the videos on the BBC’s pronunciation page. Listen to loads of British English and just have fun trying to copy it. Think about things other than the vowel sounds – e.g. intonation, certain phrases that are typical, rhythm, the attitude and mentality, body language. These can all be tags to help you learn. But again, the main thing is that you speak clearly and that you are yourself. Don’t fake it too much, except for fun. If possible, spend time with lots of British people – humans are designed to adapt to be similar to those around us (if you just relax and let it happen) and so spending time with Brits is perhaps the best way. Go drinking with British people! If you can’t do that, just keep listening to Luke’s English Podcast, it’s bound to rub off on you.

Naz – June 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm
I just wanted to ask about my personal problem with English . I know many people have some problem with spoken English but some of them are lazy and they don’t study hard and they are often just complaining. But I am not a lazy person and everyday I regularly try to study English.
I’ve been living in London for two years. When I came here I didn’t know any English words except “yes or no” , couldn’t understand what people talk about. But later I discovered your website and another amazing website like yours. I’ve been listening regularly your podcasts. Now My English has evolved without any course. It really helped me and I appreciate and I am really grateful. Thank you very much for this selfless labour.

My problem is that I can’t make a kind of self-confidence about speaking. My personality doesn’t allow me to speak confidently. I can’t say any words in English especially while I am in Turkish communities who are speaking very well. I am a high perfectionist person and my subconscious is ordering me an excellent speech. I feel like I will not speak without having a perfect fluent English and accent. I never will have this perfection but I cannot tell myself it somehow.

Only for this reason I missed many opportunities about my job in the UK.(architecture) I wish I could see my life from a higher level…

I am sure you will give me some advice about my issue.

Thank you very much,

Naz…

Luke: You’ve got to stop judging yourself. Just relax and try. Nobody starts perfect, you have to fail before you get there. People respect bravery. Be brave, make errors, don’t let them bother you, learn from your mistakes and carry on. Nobody is judging you that much! You’re too hard on yourself. People will respect you for making the effort. I’ve seen it time and time again in classes, and I’m guilty of it myself too – the ones who make progress are the ones who don’t care about making mistakes in front of everyone. They speak up, the make some mistakes (not that many really) and they improve, and they move up to the next class. Everybody respects them. Everyone looks up to them like they’re extraordinarily confident. It’s not a magic quality that only some people have, it’s just about having priorities. Prioritise your learning, your progress and your communication. They’re more important than total perfection. Also, do it step by step. Every successful interaction or bit of communication is something to celebrate and feel good about. You need positive reinforcement and stimulation when you’re learning. Be happy about the progress you’ve made. You’ve done well. Now choose to proceed with confidence. It really is a choice.

Phil – June 13, 2014 at 4:41 pm
Dear Teacher Luke,

I just wanted to ask about the subjunctive mood. I’m still quite confused about it and even my English teacher was not able to answer my questions (she is american, from Chicago).

Partly, I think it may be due to the incorrect use of the subjunctive that many native speakers do and partly to the fact that it is actually a hard topic. I’ve read some grammar websites and that just made me even more confused.I understand that there’s a slight difference between BrE and AmE sometimes too.

THANK YOU =D
CHEERS

Luke: Could you give me a more specific response?

Here’s another example from Phil (I asked him for a more specific example)
Phil: Ok =D
All right I know (from Beyoncé) that I am supposed to say ‘if I were a boy'(though I am actually a boy…Well I conveyed the message at least). On a website I read that there’re actually 2 tenses (present and past subjunctive) but only for the verb ‘to be’ there’s a difference (be and were). For all the other verbs there are the present and past tenses that are actually the same (like work and work). here is the website www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-subjunctive.htm do you think it’s trustful? And I really wonder if this part is really correct (copied and pasted):

Notice that in these structures the subjunctive is always the same. It does not matter whether the sentence is past or present. Look at these examples:

Present: The President requests that they stop the occupation.
Past: The President requested that they stop the occupation.
Present: It is essential that she be present.
Past: It was essential that she be present.

Thank you Teacher Luke =D whichever comment on this matter will receive my deepest gratitude.

Luke: I’ll refer to a couple of web pages for this. This one for a brief explanation of its form and use: www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-subjunctive.htm (Englishclub.com)
This one has some lists of verbs and expressions which are followed by the subjunctive www.englishpage.com/minitutorials/subjunctive.html (englishpage.com)
P.S. in my zombie episode in which I looked at conditionals, I didn’t say “If I were a zombie”, I said “If I was a zombie” – technically not correct, but so many people do it that it’s considered ok if a bit colloquial.
Q&A5

  • Piotr

    Hi Master Luke,

    My idea for next podcast is to do something related with business language or corporate language? What is more, probable than most people, who listening to your podcast are young people, usually students, like in my case. For me it would be interesting podcast about looking for job/internship in the UK or generally in foreign country, moreover you could add some things about study in the UK? How much it cost? How to apply for Uni in the UK etc. I sure you can easily give some good advice in this context for young people.

  • LOL i really did laugh when you said there is the british way and the wrong way xD,

    Nice rap, I used it too, also theres an app for karaoke!

    Wow I never realized about the Subjunctive, i use it but never knew studied it, but now that I think of it, I have studied it but just in french.

    You Still talked like in a paused way while recording with auto rap LOL,
    The music sounds like something your brother can make don´t you think ?

    great episode as always

  • I like this Q&A series.
    I like the question about the sun (by the spoonful….). Very useful stuff, I’m surely going to use it when I’ll move to other solar system ;)

    I’m also connected to Naz challenge. I also consider myself as such a person… but at the end of the day, it is mostly a psychological barrier. My advice is to try to break this “wall”, brick by brick from the bottom, until eventually the wall will fall down. I wish to Naz and all other PLEPs (including me) – Good luck with that. for me it is also the most difficult challenge.

  • Brian

    Hey Luke, your advice for Naz is really encouraging. I used to have the problem like Naz. Maybe asking teachers or classmates’ feedback can help. Take myself for example, I tend to focus on my own weakness and feel overwhelmed by others’ strength. One day, I asked some feedback of my fluency from the fluent classmates and, surprisingly, they felt that it was close to their level. On top of that, they pointed out many things that I’m good at such as listening and language use. At first, I thought they just wanted to be nice and felt kind of suspicious. However, in other class, I found my teacher and some students recording what I said in class and then just realized the feedback seems to be true. After that, I start to appreciate my strength and feel more confident now. Hope this example won’t make you feel me cocky. :)

  • txikiguillen

    Hi all,

    Just a question regarding can and can’t pronunciation: I often feel I say I cunt instead of I can’t, which is kind of embarrassing. And also doesn’t the British can’t sound like the American cunt?

    Thanks,

    Txiki

    • They’re quite close, but no they don’t sound the same.
      British ‘can’t’ has a long aaa sound.
      The U.S. Pronunciation of ‘c*nt’ (by the way this is one of the rudest words in the language) is definitely still a short ‘u’ sound (I don’t have phonetic symbols on my phone).
      Don’t worry – they’re not the same and it’s very rare that people mistake those words.

      • txikiguillen

        Thank you. I know it’s one of the rudest words… That’s the reason for the embarrassment :-)

        For us native speakers of languages that only have 5 vowel sounds it’s a bit difficult to get those differences.

        Thanks again!

  • That subjunctive mood rant – so hilarious:D To be honest with you I always struggle to explain this aspect of grammar because I find it weird and kind of violating basic rules and in my opinion it has a high potential to confuse the learner so I tend to avoid teaching it as a topic and rather give particular examples when I come across it.

    • Anonymous

      I have been struggling with the subjunctive mood for 1 year!

  • Thank you for getting out of your comfort zone and giving us more language input . No matter how busy you are , you always spare free time and energy to make your voice and messages heard . You never lose your passion for us . GREAT TEACHER YOU ARE ! Love you !!!