Monthly Archives: April 2017

444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election 2017

Politics is back on LEP as I talk to my Dad about recent developments in the UK, specifically the General Election which is due to take place on 8 June.

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Introduction & Summary Transcript

Last week something surprising happened. The British PM Theresa May announced a “snap general election” – meaning, she called an election earlier than expected and with a short time between the announcement and the date of the election. That’s what a ‘snap’ general election is. In this case the general election is going to happen on 8 June this year.

So this is a general election, which means that all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons in Westminster, London could change. I don’t think they will all change but we will see a different arrangement for sure, with parties either losing or gaining seats, and the government could change as well. The House of Commons is where all the MPs sit. Each seat in commons represents a different part of the country – the different constituencies. People will go out to the polling stations, vote for an MP for their constituency and the one who wins the most votes in that constituency gets that seat. The party which gets the majority of seats in the House of Commons has the right to form a government. At the moment that’s the Conservatives since they won the majority of seats by a fairly small margin in the last general election we had, which was in 2015, i talked about it on this podcast. How is our parliament and our government going to change with this election? How’s that going to affect the direction the country goes in?

So, politics is in the news (as it always is) so I think it’s time to talk some more about this subject on this podcast, so let’s talk to my dad Rick Thompson again. My dad is a journalist who worked at the BBC for years and he’s also a visiting professor at the University of Central England. Generally he’s a well-informed and articulate person and certainly he’s the one I always ask when I want to know all about something that’s happening in the news. So, let’s talk to Rick Thompson about this snap election, what it all means, and how it relates to this ongoing story of Brexit and politics in the UK.

Before we do that I think it might be necessary to give you a bit of a summary of the story so far, in terms of British politics. This will take about 10 minutes but it’s important context.

I’ve been covering politics in the UK since the 2015 election, doing episodes every now and again about the political situation and events, attempting to talk about them in a balanced way while also giving my personal take on things. You can go back and listen to them – since summer 2015.

In any case, here’s a brief summary of British politics over the last couple of decades to just make it as clear as possible because context is everything. Without context it’s just a bunch of big sounding words and events that might not seem to have any significance. Also, it’s a good chance for you to hear some of the language of politics that you might have heard on this podcast before.

You can read this introduction and summary on the page for this episode. Watch out for certain terms and language relating to politics. There’s some nice vocabulary here and you can pick it up and use it when you discuss this subject too, because I’m sure many of you are discussing these things – politics in Europe but also politics in your countries. A lot of the language is basically the same.

A Summary of British Politics – The Main Parties

So we have two main parties in the UK and some other smaller ones which are still important, especially today.

The Conservatives – centre-right to right wing
They’re often described as the party of the rich. They tend to promote free market capitalism with the belief that allowing business to flourish benefits society as a whole because the money trickles down to everyone else through the creation of jobs etc. They believe in the private sector as the solution to society’s problems and that introducing competition in the marketplace between companies seeking profit will create the best conditions in all services, rather than the government stepping in and controlling things with regulation. So the Tories believe in small government. They’re the party that says they support hard work and dynamic entrepreneurialism – the idea that you can build a business yourself and if you work hard and have good ideas you can get rich and do great things and this benefits society in general. They’re criticised for not caring about ordinary working people, just supporting their friends at the top, being out of touch with ordinary life. They currently are the governing party.

Labour – centre-left to left wing.
Believe in supporting working people and creating conditions in which everyone can have a decent life. They believe that the government needs to support people in all areas by providing welfare, guidance and regulation to keep things balanced for all. The public sector has a responsibility to take part in many areas of life in order to constantly protect the interests of all people. More public spending, and re-distribution of wealth through higher taxation on the rich and higher public spending for services for the poor, equal opportunity programs etc. Criticised as being soft, idealistic, the ‘liberal left’, politically correct, tolerant of radical islam, incapable of managing the economy due to high levels of public spending and taxation which damages business. Being too controlling, too much influence in all areas of life like in people’s business concerns, the nanny state trying to control everything and stifling entrepreneurial instincts. They are the opposition party at the moment, struggling with their leader Jeremy Corbyn who is popular with Labour voters, but unpopular within the MPs themselves.

Liberal Democrats in the middle – they almost never get power and just sit in this kind of lukewarm water where they pick up voters who don’t really agree with the other two big parties. Considered a bit vague and untrustworthy considering they made U turns on many principles in their time in coalition govt with the tories and lost loads of seats in the last election. These days they are one of the the only major parties in England which is anti-Brexit.

Green party to the left of Labour – don’t get a lot of votes because they’re just too left wing even though their policies are about fairness and environmental protection. The left is criticised for being idealistic because they believe in high public spending, and “where’s the money going to come from?” Essentially they are a bit anti-capitalist because they’d make businesses pay for their programmes.

UKIP on the right of the tories – always focused on getting out of the EU and cutting immigration. Many members deny climate change, blame immigrants and the EU for all our problems and like to think they are the party for people who are sick of the political class.

SNP – the party for Scotland. Focused on protecting Scottish interests. Generally left wing policy for Scotland. They want independence.

Smaller parties include Plaid Cymru for Wales and several parties in Northern Ireland.

British Politics Since WW2

Over the years our country has generally swung between The Conservatives and Labour.
Following WW2 a Labour government set up the Welfare State – the state took control of the big institutions and utilities like the National Health Service, the railways, water, electricity, coal, steel etc that were like massive pillars of British economic and social life. This is what the country looked like in the decades after ww2.

In the late 70s and early 80s Thatcher (Conservative) totally changed the country by pushing liberal free market economics and beginning the dismantling of the welfare state. She oversaw the privatisation of state owned institutions, letting the markets and the private sector dominate our economy, making it very hard to go back.

The left wing was badly hurt. Partly due to failures in the pre-Thatcher era with the country being dominated by the labour unions and with a lack of growth in the economy. THatcher did revitalise things but she also damaged a lot of the working communities that relied on industries like coal mining. She pushed the country towards liberal economics like Reagan in the USA and we’ve been following that ever since.

Left wing was a bit stuck for a long time, nearly 20 years of Tories.
Tony Blair in the mid-nineties revitalised the Labour party by re-branding it “New Labour”. He took a centrist position, known as the ‘third way’ or Blairism.

Essentially this was the social position of the left with the economic position of the right.
Free-market capitalism was allowed to flourish, but with redistribution of wealth, high public spending on welfare services, progressive policies.

A lot of it was funded by the financial markets, banking ‘trickery’, credit, lending and so on.

It was like a Thatcherite economic model but with the heart of the left – he claimed to represent ordinary working people and wanted to create a level playing field in society to give everyone an equal chance. He was popular in the beginning and won a landslide victory in 1997. Generally he was quite good, but it all slipped when he took the country to war in Iraq and there were questions about the way he justified that.

Also the reckless manner in which the financial markets were allowed to play with our money led to a banking crisis as all the lending backfired when basically people couldn’t pay back all the debt and banks lost a lot of money.

It came from a culture of risky investment and frankly dodgy debt trading, which is kind of what happens when you let the markets just get away with anything.
Because our society is utterly dependent on credit, our economy took a big hit, just like it did all over the world.

Tony Blair handed over to his partner Gordon Brown who inherited this mess and tried to solve things with a mix of quantitative easing and other policies. Lacking the charisma of Blair and arriving at a time when everyone was a bit sick of Labour. Brown is remembered as a bit of an unpopular guy who also had to deal with the fallout of the Blair years.

Labour took a big hit in the 2010 election and lost.

Voter apathy and general distrust in politicians led to low voter turnout in 2010. The Conservatives got more votes than the other parties but not enough to form a government so they formed a coalition with Liberal Democrats who took the opportunity to play a role in government.

The government pushed an economic policy of austerity. The Liberal Democrats compromised a lot of their principles because the govt was basically led by the tories. They lost a lot of public support.

Scotland had a referendum to leave the UK but the vote ended up being to stay, but the SNP gained a lot of support and Scotland still might vote to leave the UK in order to remain in the EU.

The Tories continued to push austerity as their solution to the economic crisis.

The next election saw a surprising win for the Tories. They managed to win an outright majority. This is mainly because the SNP stole votes from Labour in the north. The Lib Dems lost loads of seats because people had lost faith in them. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband just wasn’t convincing enough. People probably felt that the Conservatives had a plan for the economy which they had to finish. Also the usual voter apathy meant that a lot of people didn’t vote and as a result only a portion of the population got what they wanted.
So the Tories carried on with their policy without the influence of the Lib Dems. No more coalition, just the tories.
Their policy: Cut public spending and yet relieve pressure on businesses to stimulate the economy. It also looked like they were making working people pay for the economic crisis caused by rich bankers who were also their friends.

Labour, in opposition, looked for a new leader. Surprisingly an old member of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, was chosen. He’s quite radically left wing. He’s popular with the grassroots voters, but not popular with the more centrist members of the party, including many Labour MPs and the party is quite split.

Meanwhile the economic crisis, unemployment and increasing immigration caused more competition in the job market and the cut in public services caused a lot of frustration among middle class and lower class people. UKIP gained more support by campaigning to reduce immigration and make Britain great again by getting out of Europe. They posed quite a big threat to the Conservatives both among voters and within the party. David Cameron the PM and Tory leader faced quite a lot of pressure from this growing Eurosceptic faction.

He came up with a plan to satisfy those Eurosceptic members of his party and prevent UKIP from stealing too much support from them. He had to be seen to be addressing the EU situation, taking a tough position.

He called a referendum on Europe while also planning to try and renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. I think he believed he could use the referendum as a bargaining tool in Europe to get a better deal with more control of immigration and more control of business rules.

He thought the EU would say “ok you can have what you want, just don’t leave us!”

Dave imagined the referendum would be a choice between a better deal with EU or out.

He didn’t get the better deal he wanted, and you know how the anti-EU supporters campaigned hard for a leave vote by making lots of untrue claims, promises they couldn’t keep, presenting Brexit as the solution to all of the UK’s problems.

Surprise surprise, the country voted to leave the UK. 51.9% voted leave, 48.1% to remain.

Cameron, who had campaigned to remain promptly resigned, suggesting that he wasn’t the right man to lead the country into Brexit. There was a slightly messy leadership campaign, with Boris Johnson ultimately stepping down because he made a fool of himself with his leave campaign – too many promises he couldn’t keep and false claims. Theresa May was chosen by the Tories as the next leader. She was officially anti-Brexit during the referendum campaign, but she was chosen as the PM to lead the country through the Brexit negotiations. Crazy times.

A lot of people were angry with Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leader because he did not argue against Brexit strongly enough. As the leader of the left, he didn’t seem to care about Brexit that much and this probably damaged the remain campaign. It seems he doesn’t like Europe much. He lost a lot of support from shocked remain voters.

There was a high court claim by various people which argued that the government didn’t have the right to trigger article 50 (start Brexit process) without Parliament voting on it first. The claim was a success. Parliament voted to trigger article 50. In March Theresa May triggered Article 50. She also promised many times that she wouldn’t call a general election, and that “now wasn’t the time”.

Then, wow, she called a snap election and here we are. It was a surprise because we she didn’t need to do it until 2020.

Another general election on 8 June 2017.

Why has this happened? What’s the significance of this? What does it mean?

Let’s talk to my dad and see what he has to say.

 


What happened?
Theresa May has called a ‘snap’ General Election, to take place on 8 June 2017.

What does this mean?
That voters in the UK will be choosing new MPs in the house of commons.
We’ll get a new government, new arrangement in Parliament

Why did Theresa May call this election? She didn’t have to do it until 2020.
She says it’s because the country needs a united government. May needs a ‘mandate’ from the people to be able to oversee Brexit.
But really, this is just an opportunity for the Tories to grab more power because the opposition is a disaster.

How is this possible? How often do we have elections in the UK?
We have elections every 5 years more or less, but the government has the right to call elections whenever it wants. In the case of a ‘snap’ election like this, Parliament votes on it and it needs a ⅔ majority to go through. That’s going to happen because Corbyn has said Labour will back the snap election.

Why is Corbyn backing this election when it’s pretty certain that Labour will lose seats?
He’s in a Catch 22 situation. If he says no to the election it’s like admitting defeat.

What is going to happen?
Tories will gain a bigger majority, Labour will lose seats, Liberal Democrats will gain (because they’re the only ones fighting against Brexit so remainers will switch to them). But, anything can happen in politics, so let’s wait and see.

How is this related to Brexit?

What about the 48.1% that voted to remain?
Who do they have to vote for? Corbyn basically agrees with Brexit so the only party left is Lib Dem and they’re just not strong enough to win this. The Tories are bound to make big gains.

  • Some vocabulary
  • U turn
  • Voter turnout
  • Voter fatigue
  • Campaign
  • Televised debate
  • Polls
  • Brexit negotiations
  • Mandate

 

443. The Trip to Japan (Part 2)

Describing my recent trip to Japan and exploring the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.

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*I’m just an English guy trying to understand Japanese culture. Please forgive me if I get anything wrong! :) ❤️ 🇯🇵

Food & Drink

It’s simply delicious and I don’t know why! What’s the secret, Japan? Why is your food so delicious?

Communication style & language (but I’m planning a whole other episode about English)
Location?
Saying “no”
Politeness
Constant sounds of “gozaimasu”
Heeeee, hoooooo etc
Certain words you always hear and could use: arigato gozaimasu (levels of politeness) doitashimashite, sumimasen, onegaishimasu, nama biru no futatsu onegaishimasu, kawaii, sugoi, gaijin, chotto, dekimasu, desu, desu ka, hai, so desu ka, ne, so desu ne.

Weird and scary things that people don’t often talk about
Natural disasters
North Korea
Some weird sexual stuff
No need to dwell on anything else. Every country has its dark side. I guess that it seems a bit more interesting in Japan because there’s so much emphasis on the cute, childish things. Also, because of the slightly ambiguous religion in Japan it makes you wonder where the moral lines are. A lot of that stuff seems a bit vague, probably because I come from a christian culture where morality is written down in the form of rules – very clear lines which we’re always aware of.

Godzilla
Before coming my brother was staying with me and we watched the new Godzilla film – not the Hollywood version directed by Gareth Edwards, but the recent Japanese one directed by Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi.
Shin Godzilla

What does Godzilla mean? What does it tell us about Japanese culture?
He’s created by nuclear tests in the ocean. He kind of represents the consequences of nuclear testing on nature, or the destructive power of nuclear weapons in Japan, or simply the vast destructive power of nature. At one time or another Japan has been subject to massive levels of destruction from either natural disasters or nuclear weapons. The nuclear attacks are obvious of course – but there were also nuclear tests by the US army after WW2 in waters affecting Japanese fishermen etc. The metaphor of natural disasters is easy to see. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami which affected Fukushima’s nuclear power plant – lots of scenes of destruction similar to what you see in the films. Godzilla kind of represents all of that. It’s interesting that Godzilla has been accepted as a sort of mascot in Japan. They love Godzilla, and in fact he’s sort of a protector of Japan, which I see as them owning this destructive power and turning it into something positive and uniquely Japanese.

The film also portrays the government as very inefficient and unable to make decisions quickly. So many people at various levels of status – all asking for second and third opinions and approval from above before making a decision. Some say this is a comment about the way the government responded to the Fukushima situation – slow to react, a lack of transparency, an inability to make the right decision quickly enough.

Mystery
I don’t have all the answers about this place. There are a lot of mysteries. I think of all the sliding doors, the silence, the shadow, the ambiguity of the religious aspects of life, the weird things in Japanese cartoons that I just don’t understand, and simply wondering what Japanese people are really thinking behind their exterior which is hard to read, and the polite manners. Part of me believes there is just open space inside people, which is a kind of peaceful place where there’s no judgement, where there is no dogma, but there’s a kind of natural balance, like the space between rocks in a zen garden. But maybe I’m romanticising it just a little bit! I expect Japanese people are just as mysterious as the rest of us, because ultimately who does understand the secrets at the heart of the human soul?

Friendship
One thing I can say is cool – I have made friends with some Japanese people in a more sincere way than many others I have met, and I’ve had moving connections with Japanese people that I don’t tend to have with others. I don’t know why. My Japanese friend for example, he said some moving things to me on my wedding day, and on the day I left Japan that seemed to come from some deep place of ancient Japanese wisdom. Yoda stuff, basically.

What did you do?

The basics of where we went and what we did.
Met by our friend, drove to Asakusa, sushi place. Food, beer.
Kamakura – drive – Tokyo skyline etc. Back in Kamakura – “natsukashii” – ‘good old’ or ‘Wow, it feels amazing to be back!’. Cherry blossom in the hills. Time with Moto’s family. Dinner at Matchpoint.

Karaoke
What is special about Karaoke?
Perfect way to have a party. There are whole buildings devoted to it in Tokyo. There are girls in the street who are like karaoke room dealers. You speak to them, book a little room. Go to the building and usually there are loads of drunken salary men pouring out of it. You get into your room – somewhere on the 9F of a big building. They bring you beer and food, direct to the room. There’s a computer database with thousands of songs on it. They’ve got everything. Everyone becomes a performer with their favourite song. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, the machine helps you a bit. Some people are brilliant. Everyone comes out of themselves a bit. It’s just you and your friends. Favourite songs get everyone in the mood. Singing is amazing fun. The videos on the machine are hilarious too – totally nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. Usually it’s a couple of people on a date in a random city. Often the lyrics are completely wrong too. We sang a lot of British pop and rock. David Bowie, Oasis and Pulp. My Japanese friend dances like Jarvis Cocker and really gets into the performance. He’s a “plastic gallagher”.

A day in Kamakura – Daibutsu, Cherry blossom avenue, noodles for lunch. Hookokuji temple & bamboo forest. Car drive to Ishiiki beach in Hayama with views of Mt Fuji. Yakitori restaurant in the evening, then another dinner of Japanese barbecue after that! Taxi ride back to the guesthouse – pristine taxi, automatic door.

Travel to Kyoto on Shinkansen. Bento boxes. Arrive in Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan during many important periods and was also the base of Buddhism. Also there are plenty of Shinto temples there since it was such an important place. Impossible to see everything in just a couple of days. More yakitori that evening and a lovely stroll by the river in the dark.

Kyoto shrine day. Early start and then these temples: Ninna-ji (beautiful rock gardens and pools, plus tons of cherry blossom everywhere. Interesting buildings – It is the head temple of the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and was founded in 888 by the reigning emperor. Various interesting buildings including the Goten, the former residence of the head priest in the southwestern corner of the temple complex. Built in the style of an imperial palace, the graceful buildings are connected with each other by covered corridors, feature elegantly painted sliding doors (fusuma) and are surrounded by beautiful rock and pond gardens.
Then to Ryoanji Temple – with its amazing rock garden.
Then Kinkakuji – the golden temple.
Lunch at a convenience store – just rice balls!
Then across town to Ginkakuji – where there is an amazing sand garden with a kind of replica of Mt Fuji. It’s bizarre. Crowded.
Philosopher’s Walk – cherry blossom everywhere. Also crowded :(
Some shopping for Yukata – found a place selling second-hand yukata in perfect condition. One for me, one for the wife. Lovely patterns. Not too expensive. Met a friend from London, dinner. Matsusaka beef! Apparently it’s more tender because it comes from virgin cows. What, less trauma because the cow had never had sex? How does that work? I remember being distinctly more relaxed after sex (and not just immediately after) but perhaps for cows it’s more traumatic, anyway…
Hot bath at the guesthouse in the communal area. Far less “public” than my experience in Thailand.
Tiny room.

Next day – early start for Fushimi Inari Shrine, an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of red torii gates, which cover a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

Basically there are these trails that go up to the top of a hill and most of the way is covered by these red gates. The red tori gates are common in the entrance to shrines and represent your movement from the normal world into the spirit world. They’re beautiful and this shrine with rows of thousands of red gates is stunning. The gates are donated by local businesses.

Then more walking around and some shopping for gifts and souvenirs. Shinkansen back to Shinagawa station – meet our friend again. Hotel in the Meguro area.
Gig that evening.

How was the comedy show in Tokyo?

I didn’t know what to expect.
No people, loads of people? Not sure.
Arrived, place was already totally packed. Got upstairs, room goes “huuuuuuu!” as I enter. People are going “luku? Luku? Heeeeee~!” Gasps etc.
Upstairs with other comics, introduce myself etc. We chat. People are surprised and going – can’t you stay? Let’s arrange other shows!
There’s a scene there but mostly for expats in English. This room was full of Japanese people (and a few others) and they’re all here for me!
I walk around upstairs trying to get myself ready, trying to decide what to do.
Audience is lovely, but I think they’re mainly waiting for me.
Apparently some people can’t get in the place. There are people in the stairs just listening.
I did about 45 minutes. Lovely audience of course. They’re lepsters. Interesting to see what worked and what didn’t work. The bits that didn’t work were some of the film references – e.g. Ratatouille, and surprisingly Taken
A lot of my routine is for a French audience. Taken is actually quite specific to a French crowd because the film is set in Paris.
Some bits the audience took on face value – like they took it as being true. E.g. some bits in my star wars routine about how my Dad is an evil strict overbearing tyrant like Darth Vader – not true, but just full of parallels about my life and Star Wars.
Especially the bits about Japan. I’ll play you some extracts later.
A few requests:
The jingle. The italki promo. Some impressions, Obama, Hobson’s Choice!
I wish I’d gone bye bye bye at the end!
Then after the show there was a massive queue of people who wanted to get my autograph. So bizarre.
Also, selfies, handshakes, talking to each person. Gifts.
It was actually an incredible experience meeting each person and hearing about how they listen to my podcast and how it obviously means a lot to them. I’m very glad to know that as always, because I put a lot into it myself.
It was bizarre – I was a celebrity for that evening, with people staring at me and taking my photo and stuff.

*This is where the episode ends, but feel free to read the rest of my notes which I didn’t read out*

Rest of the trip – in Tokyo. Hanging out in Meguro avenue, Daikanyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku. Shopping, sightseeing, eating tasty food. Taking photos. Just enjoying the sunshine.
Dinner at The New York Grill – where Lost In Translation was filmed.
Another day in the Ginza area – shopping for some more gifts like tableware and stuff from Muji which is my wife’s favourite shop. Driving around the imperial palace. Views of Tokyo tower – like The Eiffel Tower but sort of misshapen and not quite as beautiful but iconic in its own way. Went up the World Trade Centre for amazing views of the sunset. Everyone on a date.
Visited a couple of friends – including one at a super cool photography studio that allows you to take 3D photos.
Shabu shabu dinner in Shinjuku with Peter who I used to live with. He was featured in this episode actually (below)

203. The Flatmate from Japan

Visited Asakusa temple – one of the biggest in the Tokyo area and very crowded.
Airport and home! So quick!

Song

You Are Here by John Lennon
www.bananachords.co.za/john-lennon-chords-you-are-here

Photos & Video

Gets!

 

442. The Trip to Japan (Part 1)

Describing some thoughts about Japan after my recent visit. Exploring the culture and lifestyle in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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As you know I just came back from a little holiday in Japan that I had with my wife last week. We spent about 8 days there in total and I’m going to talk about it here because I thought you might like to know about the trip. You know, sometimes I do these episodes about travelling experiences that I’ve had and they seem to be quite popular. For example, I’ve done ones about going to India, Vietnam, Indonesia, New York, different parts of France, California and Thailand. In this episode (or these episodes) I’m going to do another one, this time it’s all about my recent trip to Japan from last week.

So, here’s another travel episode with a few stories, some descriptions of places, culture and experiences and other general ramblings about my reflections on the time spent in the land of the rising sun.

For the dedicated language learners and orion team transcribers, a lot of what I’m saying is written in the form of notes and I’ll put these notes on the page for this episode. So, you can read them and check any new words you hear, or if you’re transcribing this you can use my notes, copy them into your google doc and then just fill in the blanks – the bits where I improvise details and speak “off script” which I will probably do as I go along.

No idea how long this is going to take, but it’ll take as long as it takes. I’ll divide it into several episodes if it gets too long.

I’ve done at least one episode all about Japan before. That’s number 118 “Sick in Japan”(Full transcript)

118. Sick in Japan

It tells the story of how I ended up sick in a hospital bed in Japan more than 15 years ago, feeling physically terrible and mentally very panicked, not knowing what was wrong with me. Do you remember? If you haven’t heard it, I recommend listening – you might enjoy it! Basically, I got very sick there and spent two weeks (even before I went to hospital) essentially lying on my bed in my apartment at home getting more and more ill, unable to eat, unable to sleep even though I was very tired, in a lot of pain from a horrible infection. Eventually I got to a doctor who agreed to treat me and after taking a blood test he informed me in slightly broken English that I had liver damage, I needed to go to hospital and I needed an operation. To be honest, his diagnosis was a bit lost in translation and it wasn’t as bad as I thought but I assumed the worst! I thought I needed a liver transplant because I had some sort of weird liver disease! I remember the first night in the hospital bed feeling like I was going to die or something, not knowing what was wrong with me, thinking that I was going to be given an operation to get a liver transplant and the worst thing was that I worrying that they would give me a Japanese liver! For some reason this scared me because I thought “Maybe it won’t work with my body and maybe I won’t be able to drink beer like I could before!” That was the worst thing – I won’t be able to drink beer! Even if I survive! Weird paranoia and fear and ridiculousness. Naturally, it turned out ok in the end, and in fact it all turned out to be part of a really great adventure. That was one experience I had during the two years I spent in Japan in 2002 and 2003. To hear the whole story listen to episode 118. It also explains a lot of the reasons I went to live in Japan in the first place and what happened to me while I was there, especially the difficulties, even though the majority of my experiences were really great.

This episode

  • Why did you go?
  • What’s it like in Japan? Let’s explore the culture, the people, the way of life and the mentality etc.
  • What did you do, where did you go and what did you see?
  • How was your gig? Tell us about the comedy show you did.

Why did you go to Japan?

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you come to my country Luke? My country is a wonderful place with many fantastic things to offer. Come, Drink our favourite drinks, eat our national dishes, let me sing you the song of my people!” I’d love to visit everywhere all the time of course! But this time, it was Japan – a place where I used to live and which I’ve always wanted to return to, for my own personal reasons.

I have a connection to the place. 2 years of my life there. I made strong friendships and became attached to some specific places and things. It was hard to break away from it when I left years ago. It was an important period so I still have a connection with Japan. When I originally left Japan I thought I would never go back. I remember looking around at the places I used to go and I’d think – I may never come here ever again. That’s a strange feeling actually. When I first went to Japan I was a bit depressed and lost to be honest. When I returned I felt much more confident and positive in many areas, including work, how to live, how to connect to people, even how to perform etc. When I arrived I was feeling that there wasn’t much I could do. Everything was negative and a bit difficult. When I left I felt like I could do whatever I wanted! The place really lifted me up. Also I learned about the kindness of people and about how to relax and look after myself in the middle of chaotic stress. It was a good time and a place where things changed for me a bit, so naturally I have a soft spot for the place.

Now it’s 15 years later and I’m married. My wife loves Japanese things, she loves travelling, and I love her so I wanted to show her this important place. That was quite important to me.
Birthday – my wife wanted us to celebrate, anniversary. It was a special occasion.

What’s it like in Japan?

In no particular order, here are some reflections on the culture, lifestyle, psychology and general feeling of life in Japan, especially Tokyo.

Crowded
About 130,000,000 people – more than double the number of people in the UK or France. Just under the number of people in Russia – but consider the relative space. Greater Tokyo has about 40,000,000 people, making it the most populated city metropolis in the world. But they make it work. Despite the large number of people, the place functions very efficiently. There’s not a lot of space but it’s amazing how interiors are designed to make the most of the space they have, and how everyone manages to keep everything peaceful and tidy.

Geography
The place is 70% mountain, so a lot of people are crammed into the city areas where it’s more practical to build. Also, the country sits on a whole series of fault lines which means there are regular earthquakes, more than a thousand in a year. Not all of them are noticeable, but many of them are. Mount Fuji is the biggest mountain in the country and it looms in the distance – sometimes visible from Tokyo, much more visible from areas in Kanagawa where you can see it from the beach or you get glimpses when travelling on the train, especially in winter when the air is clear and mountain is covered in snow. It’s a spectacular and beautiful sight – symmetrical, powerful, peaceful and majestic. It’s also an active volcano, which makes it seem a little threatening and powerful. If it erupted – it would be pretty devastating. qz.com/236129/what-would-happen-if-mount-fuji-right-next-to-tokyo-erupted-for-the-first-time-in-207-years/

I’m sure this has an effect on life there, but it’s kind of below the surface. I don’t know if Japanese people really think about it a lot, or whether it bothers them when they’re alone. I don’t really know. But there’s always this feeling of “the big one could come at any time” perhaps that contributes to the uniqueness, the energy, the weird zen-like feeling of the place.
Queueing and other forms of social order. Coming from France, where public moments of conflict are very common, Japan seems incredibly orderly considering the number of people living in quite a small space. I suppose this comes from necessity – that people need to be able to get along in order for the whole system to work. Generally, people respect each other’s personal space, there’s a lot of effort made to maintain the common good. It’s almost a subconscious duty to make sure you do your bit – don’t drop litter, don’t make loud noise, don’t take up too much space, be respectful to those around you. There’s a real sense of collective consciousness in Japan. In the UK, I remember coming back from Japan feeling that everyone seemed so individualistic and ego-centric. Also I was surprised by the way some of my friends behaved in an anti-social way – speaking loudly in public places, dropping cigarette buts outside doorways and so on. People also seemed to do a lot of talking about themselves. In Japan that seems to happen less, and it’s distasteful to talk about yourself too much. These are just observations I’ve had – I might be wrong about it all, and please correct me if I am, but I feel like Japan has more of a sense of collective consciousness, and collective duty and less individualism – that’s not to say people aren’t individuals, of course they are, but people seem to just pay more attention to things that will be for the good of everyone, and as a result the place is efficient, clean, tidy and peaceful.

The charisma man
I thought I’d talk about this now, since I’m on the subject of some differences between JPN and let’s say ‘western culture’. There’s this idea of the charisma man, which used to be a comic strip popular in the expat community. It’s quite interesting and a little bit controversial but it does tell us something about the way western people (especially men) can be treated in Japan, or at least one phenomenon which can occur (not necessarily every time with everyone). What’s a charisma man?

Wikipedia: Concept of the Charisma Man
“Charisma Man” manipulates the superhero genre to ridicule the often unjustified self–confidence of some foreign men in Japan. Although something of a loser in his home country Canada—the home of Charisma Man’s creator—when around Japanese people the central character transforms from a skinny nerd into a muscle-bound hunk, extremely attractive to women and admired by men. Like other superheroes, however, Charisma Man has one major weakness: “Western Woman”. Whenever in the presence of western females his powers disappear and he becomes an unattractive, skinny wimp once more.[2]
“Charisma Man” is thus a statement on the relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan. According to Rodney:
“The Japanese seem to see Westerners through some kind of filter. An obvious example was all the geeks I saw out there walking around with beautiful Japanese girls on their arms. These guys were probably social misfits in their home countries, but in Japan the geek factor didn’t seem to translate.
“The dichotomy between the perception of these guys in their home countries and in Japan was amazing to me. This made me think of Superman; on his home planet of Krypton, Superman was nobody special, and he certainly didn’t have superpowers. But when he arrived on earth — well, you know the rest.
“He was somebody — that was the whole premise of the first strip.”
— Larry Rodney, in a 2003 interview with the Japan Times

I still see Charisma men in Japan quite a lot. Imagine some western guy who is acting a bit arrogant and self-important when really he’s not that great. The inflated ego of a western man getting attention from Japanese women. Partly it’s a bit unfair to Japanese women, that’s what some people say. It shows two things – one being that there is a certain filter through which some Japanese people will view western men – i.e. that they see them as more impressive and charismatic than they really are (or perhaps they’re just being polite) but the other thing is the way some western guys react to the attention they get in Japan. Some blokes let it go to their heads and they end up being tiresome egomaniac would-be alpha males who let all the adulation go to their heads. This is probably why they’re not that popular in their own countries – they’re just not that nice or charming, and it becomes more obvious in Japan when you see the way these guys become smug, arrogant self-important guys with an inflated sense of ego.
It’s just interesting to note the way in which people’s perceptions of themselves and each other can change depending on the cultural context. On one hand this is kind of a bad thing, but on the other hand it’s what makes Japan so special – people do treat you well, it’s really nice to have people show interest in you and to be genuinely impressed by where you come from and to be impressed by the differences. E.g. when we told people we were from Paris and London – this seemed to be impressive information. It’s nice! I’d rather have that than be met with indifference. Even if it’s even a little bit fake (which I’m not sure it is actually – I think people are genuinely curious) even if it’s slightly fake, it’s better than genuine rudeness. So it’s a double-edged sword – it’s lovely to be considered as slightly special because you’re different, but that can go to some people’s heads and make them act a bit arrogant, it can also get a little tiring after a while when you just want to be considered as a normal person like everyone else. I remember that I used to get a little fed up with people immediately being impressed by me when they first met me. Like, “where are you from?” “I’m from London” “Oh you are so cool guy! You are a gentleman!” and I thought “Well, I’m not really. I’m just a bloke – not all that cool really, just normal, and not that much of a gentleman really.” In the UK we tend to be a little bit wary of those big compliments and in fact when you really get to know someone you tend to just take the piss out of them, even when you don’t know them and first meet them, you might take the piss quite a lot – it’s a form of bonding and friendship building.

Quietness & “zen” feeling
Japan is officially a peaceful country.
But it’s more than that. The place can be incredibly peaceful. I’m not sure where this comes from to be honest!

Service
Excellent – the customer is god. Polite in the extreme. Attentive. Generally everything is of high quality and you’re looked after well. Can be a bit robotic though, and I find that there’s a certain kind of high-pitched woman’s voice that you hear everywhere, from machines and announcements. Also there was an actual robot at the airport.

Cleanliness
You could eat your dinner off the floor. The metro is shiny and reflective. Many indoor places ask you to remove your shoes and this is an excellent idea.
There are no bins anywhere! But also no litter on the streets. Very few cigarette butts. They all go in little cigarette butt bins, or people put them in their own little portable ashtrays.

Aesthetics
A lot of natural forms. Not as robotic and futuristic as you might expect. There’s a lot of wood, lots of stone. Natural forms – imperfect shapes combined with symmetrical lines. Patterns, textures and surfaces which are imperfect. E.g. the texture of stone, or wood, or rough surfaces with random patterns and textures. The same kinds you find in nature, often combined – stone, wood, moss, water. Different textures next to each other, with natural lines, shapes very neatly presented. It’s extremely satisfying and peaceful, relaxing – Zen.

Cherry Blossom
This is one of Japan’s big moments in the year. There are cherry trees everywhere, especially in certain spots and when the blossom comes out in early April it’s a beautiful sight to see. It’s a delicate pink colour and it looks like snow all over the branches. It contrasts beautifully with the blue sky and when the wind blows the blossom falls from trees again like snow. It lands on the ground carpeting it and also on rivers. It’s fleeting, transient beauty of the highest order. Japanese people celebrate it by having little picnics and parties in the park in cherry blossom areas. Lovely.

Cuteness – “Fluffy bunny land”
Cuteness rules – “kawaii”
Examples: Everything has a cute logo, everything is anthropomorphised with a cute little face – bread, chicken shops, cash machines, safety rules. Everything has a cute melody – constant little melodies like the music that plays when the green pedestrian light shines, bus doors, bus stops, cash machines, some streets just play music from the lamp posts. It’s like Super Mario Land, it really is.

Everyone has cute bags, badges, pencil cases. Even the people are adorably cute. They’re quite small, sweet, laugh and giggle easily, are self-contained (neat and tidy) quite easily scared (I mean, a bit socially awkward and shy) often have quite big fluffy hair, round faces. Extremely cute and adorable, especially the kids. Basically, Japanese people – you’re like cartoon characters to me, or ewoks or teddy bears.

Is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but Japanese people can come across as cute in those ways. But are Japanese people like Ewoks? Maybe. I’m sure Japanese people are perfectly capable of being mean, nasty, cruel, selfish and everything like that – I’m sure I’m just applying a filter to them just like they might apply a filter to me. Who knows… But I quite like the Ewok metaphor. Ewoks are cute and loyal, but they can also be deadly can’t they! When you think about it – the ewoks are perhaps the most dangerous creatures in the Star Wars universe. They basically stopped the Galactic Empire and helped the rebels destroy the second death star. You wouldn’t want to have to fight against them would you, even if they do look like cute little fluffy bears. Also, if you remember, in Return of the Jedi the ewoks were originally planning to eat Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, until C-3P0 stopped them. They were going to eat Luke Han and Leia. They’re vicious carnivores! Don’t underestimate them. Anyway, what I originally planned to say was simply that Japanese people seem very cute to me and cuteness or (kawaii seems to have an important role in Japanese life).

Why is everything so damn cute??? Why is cuteness so important in the culture?
Paul Ratner from BigThink.com
While you may dismiss cuteness as a regional peculiarity, there is science to back up the unexpected usefulness of kawaii in life. A study by researchers from the University of Hiroshima did several experiments on students and found that their performance on a variety of tasks like fine motor dexterity and non-visual searches improved after viewing cute images of puppies and kittens. The scientists concluded that this is due to the increase in narrowing attentional focus that resulted from viewing the cute images. They advocated the use of cute images and objects in work spaces to improve productivity.

I often wonder how Japan manages to be so efficient, and I’ve always thought that there was just something in the air here which means that people find the most convenient stress free ways of getting on with things. Partly that atmosphere is created by just focusing on certain pleasing things and trying to stay calm at all times. I guess it’s similar to the way the Brits just keep calm and carry on and try not to let emotions stop you from just getting things done. In Japan they seem to emphasise the cuteness just because it makes you feel good, makes you feel protected, reduces stress and allows you to be more productive. Perhaps that’s because Japan is quite a stressful place when you think about it – the potential for natural disaster is quite high. If you think about it too much you could freak out a bit – tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, Godzilla – they could all wipe everything out! Cute stuff helps you deal with that. Perhaps also the Japanese worship nature, like animals and so on – Shintoism believes in the gods of every creature or object, and you feel this level of respect in everyday life, kind of. It’s as if everything has it’s own Pokemon character which is both cute and potentially powerful and the Japanese are just in tune with all of that.

So, objects, animals and so on are given this cute personality just because this is the level of kind of respect that Japanese people attribute to things that in our culture would be basically meaningless. Maybe I’m wrong about that, if so – let me know what you think. Why are the Japanese preoccupied by cuteness? Are they the only ones?

Yumi Nakata from GaijinPot.com – 3 reasons

Reason 1: Kawaii usually refers to small children, babies and small animals. They are helpless and need to be cared for. In a culture that values youth, both men and woman are attracted to anything youthful. Women want to appear youthful and Japanese men are attracted to young girls, just look at the popularity of bands like AKB48.

Reason 2: Japanese people work very long hours and they are under enormous social pressure. Cuteness is the total opposite of Japan’s harsh reality. My sister who works in IT says she enjoys going to stores full of cute products especially after working long overtime hours. Cuteness is cool and soothing for Japanese people and allows them an escape from the realities of their life.

Reason 3: Japan is collectively a society with a 12 year old’s mentality and for many there is a strong resistance to grow out of this prepubescent stage. As adults Japanese people are expected to conform to strict social norms and expectations. However as I mentioned above, children are always taken care of in Japanese society. Therefore to cope with the harsh realities of adulthood, many Japanese people seek the comfort of cuteness.

End of part 1 – Part 2 coming soon.

The Robot in the Airport

Photos coming in part 2…

441. Andy Johnson at the IATEFL Conference

A conversation with Andy Johnson, talking about the IATEFL teaching conference, millennials, more tales of Andy’s appearance and the possibility of a WWE wrestling match between Andy and me.

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Get 10% off all courses at London School Online.

Hello hello hello! I’m back from my trip to Japan. It’s great to be back. We had an amazing time! We did all the big Japanese things – we saw the cherry blossom, enjoyed lots of delicious food, explored parts of Kyoto and Tokyo, saw a mix of the busy metropolitan city areas and the more peaceful natural spots too and had an amazing evening entertaining Japanese LEPsters at a comedy show in Tokyo. It was an amazing and intense week, it was really great to be back in the country I called home for several years and I will be recording a couple of episodes about it soon and I will tell you all about the trip including descriptions of what we did, what we saw and how it all felt, so you can look forward to that.

In the meantime here is an episode which I recorded before going away on holiday.

This one is another conversation with my friend and former colleague from the London School of English, Andy Johnson, recorded on Skype while he was attending the IATEFL conference in Glasgow earlier this month.

Before we start that, let me just make a couple of announcements here at the beginning.

Announcements

  • It’s LEP’s 8th Birthday!
  • British Podcast Awards – voting actually closes on 28 April. If you haven’t voted, please do it! If you have – thank you. I have a slim chance of winning this one so I need all of you to vote please. www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote
  • My Teacher Talk at the British Council – make your reservation at www.britishcouncil.fr/evenements/teacher-talk-quoi-humour-britannique
  • I’m also performing comedy on Monday in Paris – all the details on my page on Facebook for my comedy stuff – Luke Thompson – Comedy
  • Moscow LEPsters get together – Friday 21 April – I can’t actually be there, but I will be talking to the group via Skype – responding to some questions. Check Moscow LEPsters Conversation Club on FB for more details.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

This episode

In episodes 423 and 424 you might remember that I spoke to my former colleagues Andy Johnson and Ben Butler – English teachers from The London School of English. They were in Paris to take part in a teaching conference. We sat in the foyer of their hotel drinking overpriced beer and talked about loads of things including teaching, Andy & Ben’s presentations, millennials, teaching English for specific purposes, our teaching experiences and a few anecdotes about our appearances including a couple of funny stories about how Andy sometimes gets mistaken for Moby, the American musician.

They were fun and popular episodes, sparking quite a lot of discussion in the comment section, including a debate about who is the best teacher between Andy and me and how we should settle that debate by having a high-profile wrestling match… Yes, I know – that sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it.

Well, Andy is back in this episode today, and he’s at another conference – this time the English teaching industry’s biggest event, the IATEFL conference which this year is taking place in Glasgow.

Ben wasn’t available for this one – he was attending a session at the conference, but I spoke to Andy and asked him about this year’s conference and we continued our conversation about millennials from last time. You’ll also hear a couple of stories about what happened in Paris in November after we recorded our previous conversation and a number of other things, including the idea of us going head to head in a no holds barred wrestling match in order to determine who really is the greatest English teacher.

So without any further introduction, here is Andy Johnson in Glasgow.


That was my conversation with Andy. I hope you enjoyed it.

I just want to remind you that you can get 10% off all of the courses at London School Online. Just head over to londonschoolonline.com and use the offer code LUKE10 at checkout.

Also, Andy wanted me to let you know about a free webinar that they are putting on this Friday. If you’re interested in IELTS, check it out.

IELTS Workshop: Your questions answered
Friday, April 21, 2017 3:00:00 PM GMT (London time) – 4:00:00 PM CEST (Paris time)
This is the third in their series of free webinars. This is a webinar about IELTS and will take place on their eLearning platform, London School Online. It is suitable for anyone who is preparing to take the IELTS exam, or for teachers of the exam.

The idea is that you can use this webinar to get answers to your IELTS questions.

It’s being hosted by Daragh Brady, who I used to work with at LSE. Daragh is an excellent teacher who has wide experience in lots of areas, and he’s an IELTS examiner so he really knows all the ins and outs of this tricky but important English exam.

It’s totally free and everyone’s welcome but you do have to register.

Find the link here on the page for this episode or on the LSE Facebook page.

Click here for the LSE Online IELTS Webinar

Don’t forget also…

My teacher talk at the British Council in Paris. Thursday 27 April. I’ll be doing a kind of TED Talk about British Humour and Comedy. It’s also free and everyone’s welcome, but you need to register. You’ll find the relevant link on the page for this episode below.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

Thanks for listening!

Watch this space for some episodes about the Japan trip with some stories, comments about Japanese culture and descriptions of the comedy show I did in Tokyo.

Cheers! Bye.

Who do you think would win in a battle between Andy and me?

IMG_3490

440. This Pile of Books on my Desk

In this episode I just want to talk to you about this pile of 16 books I have on my desk. These are (mostly) books I haven’t read yet but which I picked up recently. I have lots of piles of books like this lying around and I must read them all but I can’t find the time! Anyway, I think they’re really interesting. I either received them as presents, was recommended them by friends and family or I bought them for myself when visiting book shops over the last year or two. I love books, and browsing bookshops is one of my favourite things. If only I was a faster reader!

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Part of the reason I’m doing this is because I just want to encourage you to read more and I would like to arouse your interest in books. Perhaps I can give you some encouragement to read a copy of one of these books, or perhaps this will encourage you to pick up a book (in English) from the pile of books that you probably have in your home too, and start reading it.

In any case, I hope you join me on this little exploration through this pile of books I have on my desk.

Here’s the list of books I talk about in this episode (also in the picture)

The Xenephobe’s Guide to The English, The French, The Japanese
The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson
:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman
William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Mo Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The Call of the Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Sartori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
David Bowie: The Last Interview Various journalists and publications
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unleard What You Have Learned
Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back Therefore I Am
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes graphic novel)

books

439. Reading Books to Learn English

Here’s an episode for you to listen to while I’m on holiday. I’m recording this the day before I go to Japan. So by the time you’re listening to this I’ll be on the other side of the world, trying to remember how to speak Japanese.

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Introduction

This episode is all about reading books in English. I probably won’t upload another episode for a week or two. That little break will give my listeners a chance to catch up on the recent episodes. Also, there are loads of episodes in the archive that you might not have heard yet and you might want to listen to if you are suffering from LEPaholism and you can’t get enough.

Every episode of LEP is available in the archive on my website, even if you can’t see them all on iTunes. They’re all still here. Just go to teacherluke.co.uk and click “Episodes”.

Just before we get started let me just remind you of several things:

  • Please vote for Luke’s English Podcast in the British Podcast Awards. I need every single one of you to vote. If you are next to a computer or you have your phone just go to www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote and vote for LEP.
  • If you’re in Toyko on 13 April, come to Gamuso in Asagaya for my comedy show. I will be performing comedy there with a few other people. It’s free to get in. Doors open at 7. I expect the comedy will start at 8. No idea if it will be busy. You can’t book in advance, so just turn up and get a seat!

Books

This episode is all about books. I’m going to recommend some self-study books for learning English, talk about the value of reading books in English and then go through some of the books which I have in a pile on my desk and talk to you about them – just to inspire you to do some more reading this year, in English of course!

Hi Luke! My name’s Matias, I’m from Uruguay, South America. Also, I’m a British English lover haha. I’ve been studying the language on my own for 7 or 8 years maybe, and English culture as well.
I found your podcasts just a few months ago and you gave me a whole new perspective on the language and I really appreciate that.
I emailed you because I want you to recommend some self-study books. I’m already using English Grammar In Use and doing exercises almost every day. What other books could I use?
Thank you a lot for all of your work. Have a great day!

Some self-study books for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar

You’ll find the names and authors of all these books on the page for this episode on my website.

Pronunciation
Ship or Sheep by Anne Baker (minimal pairs) CUP
English Pronunciation In Use series – CUP
Work on your Accent by Helen Ashton (Collins )
Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill (Macmillan) – for the teachers

Vocabulary
The ‘In Use’ series is good – English Vocabulary in Use
They also have Professional English In Use – different titles.
Practical Everyday English by Steven Collins
Also Advanced Everyday English and High Level Everyday English

Grammar
Grammar for Business by McCarthy, McCarthy, Clarke & Clarke
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (reference book)
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

Writing
Email English by Paul Emmerson

The value of reading books

I did an episode all about this a couple of years ago – you should listen to it. It includes a list of recommended books. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/2015/02/01/reading-books-in-english/

There’s also a reading list on my website which includes every single book I’ve recommended or mentioned on the podcast. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/useful-websites/the-uks-favourite-books/

  • Practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
  • You can go at your own pace
  • It’s seriously relaxing – certainly compared to staring at a screen. Try reading for 15 minutes before sleeping, it’s very good for you. Also you can take a book anywhere.
  • Vocabulary and grammar development
    Perhaps the best way to work on your grammar and vocabulary is to see it being used in context. Reading gives you access to the living language. Simply interacting with it by reading it is a great way to learn it. You can practise being mindful while you read, which is a question of noticing features of the language as you see it. This can be more efficient than reading grammar explanations.
  • Often the most useful parts of grammar study are the examples where they highlight certain bits of usage. Grammar is often unsatisfying because ultimately there aren’t always logical reasons why the language is the way it is.
  • Stop looking for explanations and just accept it. Let the language flow through you and get to know it. Don’t expect it to follow the same rules as your language or to be logical.
  • Grammar books are great for reference and self study. So, if you notice a pattern or a feature of the language you don’t understand – you can check it out in the grammar book, like “Practical English Usage”. The same goes for vocabulary and a dictionary. But by interacting with the written word you will find that the grammar goes in as a consequence.
  • Exposure = developing your instinct for the language. Reading an entire book is very good for your grammar. Imagine all those sentences that pass before your eyes and go through your brain. It’s a great way to study structure without even studying it really.
  • The importance of visualising the written word
    A word exists in many different dimensions – the way it sounds, the way it feels when you say it, all the meaning associations you have with it, the way it looks and the way it feels to write it by hand or on a computer. You should get to know every single side of a word and that means reading a lot in order to fix the visual side in your mind.
  • Educational value
    Learning about the culture of the language you’re learning is vital. It helps you get into the mindset of the language so you can get a sense of the rhythm, but also the humour and how certain things are suggested, hinted at, referred to and so on. Also you just learn some information that will help you. It’s not just a question of learning the words, but learning the whole culture within which those words exist.
  • Books can be a great way into a culture.

How to choose the right book for you

  • Not too old (think of the style of language – although old fashioned English is rather beautiful – watch out, anything written before about 1800 is going to sound pretty outdated and might be difficult to follow.
  • Not too long – obvs, you want to finish it
  • Something you’ve already read in your own language
  • Something that just appeals to you – it’s vital that you like the book, so go with your gut.
  • Something with fairly ‘normal’ English e.g. beware of something like The Martian – it contains loads of technical language – but then again it’s also quite a riveting page turner. But be aware of the type of English you’ll be getting.
  • Go for page turners – remember, your objective is to read as much as possible and to get the satisfaction and motivation of having finished the book. Don’t be afraid to read some trash. It doesn’t have to be the most high-class book.
  • Consider graded readers, like the Penguin Reader series – and choose the advanced level books. They’re shorter, easier versions of brilliant novels in English. There are various versions of readers – but check out readers.english.com/readers for more info.
  • Consider reading graphic novels. They’re easier to read and the visuals help to move the story along. It’s a bit like watching a movie but with all the advantages of a book.

How to learn English from reading books

Study
You read with a notebook and dictionary with you. When you come across a new word you check it and make a note of it. Remember to write more than the translation. Write an example sentence and a mnemonic if possible. You could highlight the word in the book too and come back to it later.

Enjoyment
Don’t bother checking words all the time. Just read the book because you’re interested in the story. Focus on getting through the story because you want to know what happens next. You will naturally start picking up new words as you encounter them. But try to be mindful when you read – every now and then you can just slow down a bit and focus on some language. Perhaps read a quick passage again and think about the grammar you can see. Why is it written that way? What kind of grammar is it? What’s the effect of writing it like that? What about these words? Do you know them? Could you use them yourself for something in your own life? Ask yourself these questions and then continue. Feel good when you’ve finished the book. Take time to reflect on it. Think in your head, speak aloud, talk to your language partner or write in a diary your thoughts about the book. Move onto the next one!

Next episode: This pile of books I have on my desk

Your comments: What books in English can you recommend?

438. Hi Luke, I have a question!

Here’s another episode done in a similar style to the last one, with some news, some rambling and some questions and comments from the website. Topics in this episode will include: My live comedy show in Tokyo on 13 April, Differences between Comedy & Humour in France and the UK, Understanding TV shows and movies in English, Talking about Breaking Bad, Logan (the latest Wolverine movie), some grammar teaching and more…

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Japan show – 13 April

19.00-22.00
Gamuso in Asagaya
2 Chome-12-5 Asagayakita, Suginami, Tokyo 166-0001, Japan
There will be a few other comedians first, doing comedy in English, then I will take the stage and do a set of stand-up comedy for you to enjoy.
FB Event page: www.facebook.com/events/396651460705556/

I’m not sure I’ll be filming or recording it because it’s stand-up and I have to be careful about what stand-up material I film and make public on YouTube.

Sorry to people in Osaka – I can’t be there this time!

London LEPster meetup

Host: MO (in LEP t-shirt)
Hi Luke
I am happy to say that I have finally managed to organise a time and a place. The time is Saturday the 8th of April at 1300hrs I chose this time because it is in the Easter holiday and I am assuming that most of the people are going to be on a break. The place is Costa Coffee and the address is 33-34 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1JN. It’s just off Oxford Street. The nearest station is Tottenham court road station. For any enquiries they can send me an email on bayle2003@hotmail.com

Russian LEPsters in St Petersburg

Hi Luke! How are things, man? We have already organised the first Get Together in Saint Petersburg! It will be on 9 April. Will you help us with publicity once we announce this event? :))
The Facebook Group
The Facebook Event on 9 April

Don’t forget to check the ARCHIVE for my recent interviews on ZEP and MFP

Other Comments & Questions

Mattia Andrao

I write this comment just hoping to be mentioned in the next episode…….

Carine (a reference to a message in the last episode from Adam, whose family hates my podcast because Adam forces them to listen)
Hello Luke,
To make you feel better about being hated by Adam’s family, which you do not deserve, I want to let you know that my two 9 year old daughters like your podcast very much and they love to listen to it when we are travelling by car! Listening to your podcast is a family thing we sometimes do the 3 of us together. They particularly enjoyed episodes 425 and 426, the Victorian Detectives. They are also Paul Taylor’s fans now!
Thank you for your funny podcast,
Take care,
Carine from La Rochelle, France.

Hello Carine from La Rochelle and her two 9 year old daughters!
I learned French in school from a book called Tricolore and it was set in La Rochelle.
All the characters, everything, happened in La Rochelle.

Danil Zelichenko
Hi Luke! Thank you for you podcast! I’ve been listening to it since September 2016. It really helps me. I still make a lot of mistakes, but I feel more confident.
I have a few questions
1. Have you ever listened to comedy in other languages with subtitles?
What can you say about the sense of humor in different countries?
French comedy without subtitles. I don’t really understand it! I also feel like their comedy is a bit different to ours. Some differences.
Our humour is self-deprecating, theirs isn’t. French humour is quite combative and involves quite a lot of put downs. We do that too but we also put ourselves down a lot.
Ours involves a lot of understatement, theirs doesn’t.
Comedy – theirs is situational.
Theirs is very visual.
Theirs is quite traditional – it is linked to theatre traditions that go back years.
In the UK we have alternative comedy which is counter-culture and subversive (even though it’s mainstream now) whereas in France it’s still tied into the theatre tradition.
2. Do you listen to other podcasts about learning English? Maybe you can compare your one with others?
Ingles Podcast (mainly focuses on Spanish learners of English, a little slower than mine, they focus more on teaching specific language points and language related questions – I do that less these days, preferring instead to focus on topics)
All Ears English (They’re very bright and energetic, they focus on communication strategies, natural sounding language and everything is focused on learning to communicate like an American native speaker – my episodes are longer and a bit looser than theirs.)
3. I like to listen to your old episodes every now and then, but I found that in iPhone first episodes had disappeared. It starts only from 33 now. Can you do something about it?
Daniel from Moscow (I’m not ninja) :) you can notice (mention) my name if you want.
P.S. I’ve just voted for your podcast!

Ivan
I’d like to listen to you Luke, speaking more about Breaking Bad.

Can’t remember who wrote this!
I have a basic question to you, teacher Luke! Well… maybe most lepsters will laugh at this doubt, but I really can’t notice sometimes the difference between for example: “I did walk” versus “I walked”. I mean… when I should use did or the suffix “ed”. Maybe it’s a basic grammar issue but I hate studying grammar. Thanks!

Christopher
Hi Luke,
How do you do? As a start I want to say thank you for the great work you do. Besides your podcast, I also hear a lot of BBC Stuff. Most of them are political talks or documentaries. I find it very interesting to hear different opinions about a topic. But there is one thing I find really curious and I was hoping that you might be able to help me out of my confusion.
In every talk show the guest addresses the host with his forename. For example:
“Today we are talking with the new director of Strawberry Media, Jackie Smith. Welcome! Thanks Steve… nice to be here…”
In Germany we would find this very informal and it never would happen on a political talk show.
Why do you do that in GB?
Best wishes to France,

Dmitry from Russia
Luke, I really adore your podcasts. But I’ve got a question: When I listen to your podcasts I understand absolutely everything you say, no matter how quick you speak. But when I try to watch something that is made for natives and by natives (movies, also songs) it’s extremely difficult (or sometimes completely impossible) to get what they say. Could you, please, explain this in one of your episodes, why this happens, and also come up with some ideas how to cope with this problem. Thank you in advance. Your podcasts are amazing!!!

Reasons

  • Familiarity with my voice.
  • My clear way of speaking. I try not to speak too slowly but I do make an effort to be clear. I am talking to an audience, I am doing a show. In episodes with guests you hear a slightly more natural speech pattern as I’m in a real conversation, but when I’m talking to you I am making an effort to communicate to you – just like you’d expect from someone doing a presentation. In movies they’re not talking directly to you like that.
  • Films feature people talking to each other – not talking to you. THere’s a difference. It’s easier to understand it when the person is engaging you directly, rather than you listening to other people’s conversations.
  • It’s just me, so no distracting stuff, no interruptions, no sounds etc.
  • Films contain loads of sound effects, music and background noise.
  • It’s recorded to be listened to and for every word to be understood. Movies are not always supposed to be understood completely.
  • Films are realistic. The dialogue is not always audible – many films feature “naturalistic dialogue” – i.e. incomplete sentences mumbled under the breath. This is a totally intentional stylistic choice. It’s supposed to be natural and realistic.
  • Films are confusing. They often don’t make sense. My episodes have a pretty linear structure.
  • My podcast is recorded to be heard – i.e. I use microphones for clear voices. I reduce background noises. Movies aren’t like that. They add noise, they record voices to be blended with the rest of the soundscape.
  • Movies are a visual medium – so much of the message is in the visuals. The audio is an accompaniment to that, so it has secondary importance. Also, you get distracted by the visuals and you end up not concentrating on the audio. You could try just listening to some movies. This sounds a bit strange but try getting the audio from a movie and simply listen to it. Then watch the movie – you might find you understand more of the dialogue that way, because you’re allowing yourself to focus only on the speech.
  • Most films are in US English. I speak British English, although there aren’t that many differences really.
  • Movies also feature lots of different accents and characters who might speak in ways you’re not familiar with.
  • Songs don’t always make sense. There’s a lot of artistic licence. I often can’t catch the lyrics of songs (check out my misheard lyrics episodes). The English isn’t normal English.
  • Sometimes they’re just a stream of consciousness with no proper discourse like in spoken English.

Solutions

  • Watch more movies! Familiarity is important. Getting used to it.
  • It’s just a question of continuing to improve your English.
  • Subtitles sometimes, then no subtitles, then subtitles again.
  • Don’t worry about it too much. Sometimes I can’t catch the things they’re saying in movies either. Realise that there are times when you won’t understand. Realise that movies are hard to understand, and so don’t be shocked when you don’t understand them. Often they’re mysterious or simply don’t make sense. I often struggle. Don’t worry about it too much.
  • Try using headphones so you can hear more clearly.
  • Specific techniques: Practice shadowing specific scenes first without subtitles, then with, then without again. Do this with favourite scenes from films. I do it a lot too and it can be really fun. It will help train yourself to hear and understand movie dialogues more easily.

Jane
Hi Luke!

I really like those episodes you talked about superheroes.
Could you do an episode about the movie, “Logan”, please?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
Thank you soooo much!
Best regards,
Jane