Category Archives: Advice

411. British Festivals and Holidays (Part 1)

Here’s an episode all about special days and celebrations in the British calendar. You’ll hear cultural information about holidays and customs, and some pronunciation work on how to say dates and the months of the year. Transcript and videos below.

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Introduction

This episode is being recorded before Christmas. I’m going to upload it sometime around Boxing Day I think. You’re probably listening during the Christmas period or the new year period. I hope you’re having a lovely time wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

This episode is all about British festivals and holidays that occur throughout the year. Let’s look ahead to the coming year of 2017 and see what kinds of things Brits will be doing for certain special occasions.

I’m recording this because at some point earlier this year I got a message from a listener challenging me to talk about all the major British festivals and holidays in one episode and I said “challenge accepted”, and so now, finally, here is that episode! I don’t remember your name – I’m sorry! But here it is ok! The thing is – the challenge was to do it all in one episode and I have a feeling this is more than one episode because I’ve got lots of things to say about this!

The UK calendar is absolutely full of festivals of many kinds. In fact, there are festivals and special days in every month of the year. These festivals mark various special occasions connected to the passing of the seasons, important historical or religious events and significant people in the UK.

In this episode let’s explore those main festivals and public holidays, in rather fast style.

I’m from England, so my version might be a bit Anglo-centric, but I have tried to include a variety of festivals and not just the ones that seem significant to me as an individual.

This episode should be a great little journey through the UK calendar, and it should help you learn some more British culture. Also we’re going to look at how to pronounce the months, dates and days in British English.

So, without further ado, let’s get cracking! Here’s our whistle-stop tour of British festivals and holidays.

So, there are public holidays – days of statutory leave – days off given to us by law, and these are generally known as bank holidays, and there are festivals. Not every festival is a holiday.

So, bank holidays and festivals.

Bank Holidays
If you’ve lived in the UK you’ll know that a bank holiday is usually a wonderful, wonderful thing in theory. They usually happen on a Monday and sometimes on other days, but usually on a Monday. So a bank holiday is a long weekend. They’re usually associated with an old religious occasion or some other important reason for the state.

Three of these bank holidays take place in the summer, so everyone imagines they will be out in the garden having a barbecue or in the park having a picnic or something. In reality they probably involve getting caught in the rain in some way, perhaps while attempting to have a barbecue in the garden or picnic in the park or something.

Having our public holidays on Mondays is a great thing though, because it means you get a day off, and a long weekend. Shops and services are sometimes closed, which can be a bit annoying, but less so these days – in fact the shops tend to do quite well on a bank holiday weekend and so they stay open. So it can be a good day to go out shopping.

Banks are closed though, which can be a bit of a pain in the neck if you need to use your day off work to get something done at the bank.

These public holidays are originally called Bank Holidays because in 1871 certain days were designated in law as being days on which no financial transactions should take place, just like on Christmas Day. I suppose this was to give workers a few guaranteed days off a year – so that they didn’t get completely exhausted working in factories every day of the year. These days people have more statutory paid holidays – in fact everyone is entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year. That may or may not include the bank holidays – it’s up to the employer. At the last company I worked for in London we had to work on bank holidays, which sucked a lot. While all my other friends were out attempting to have barbecues and getting caught in the rain, I was teaching English. But, it was a good school to work for so they allowed us to take our bank holidays as ‘days in lieu’ – days off which replaced the bank holidays that we worked. I would always take all my days in lieu during quiet periods at the school in December so I could do all my Christmas shopping.

These so-called Bank Holidays are scattered throughout the year, and they’ve been arranged to land on Mondays, corresponding to certain periods or events in the year.

So, instead of having specific dates, our holidays are matched to Mondays in the year, unlike in France where the public holidays always arrive on the same date – even if it’s a Saturday or Sunday (nightmare). Sometimes public holidays in France land on a Tuesday or Thursday and a lot of people ‘do the bridge’ which means that they take the Monday or Friday off as well, and enjoy a massive long weekend. If that happens, it seems the country grinds to a halt because everyone’s gone on holiday for most of the week.

We have 7 bank holidays in the year in the UK. A bank holiday weekend is a truly wonderful thing about life in the UK. It’s a long weekend, and you’re always guaranteed to get it. There are two in May, which makes that month a particularly good one in the UK. It’s normal to celebrate by having a barbecue or a party, or just going out and having fun in the sunshine.

Upcoming bank holidays in England and Wales

2017

2 January – Monday – New Year’s Day (substitute day) (if it falls on a weekend, they give you the next Monday off, which is nice)
14 April – Friday – Good Friday
17 April – Monday – Easter Monday (Easter is a fantastic 4-day weekend)
1 May – Monday – Early May bank holiday (it’s also called May Day and probably originates from Roman celebrations of the beginning of the summer period – in some countries there is Labour Day on 1 May, which celebrates the rights of workers, but we don’t do Labour Day – instead ours is the early May bank holiday – I think this is because the whole concept of bank holidays covers essentially the same purpose as Labour Day)
29 May – Monday – Spring bank holiday (This is also called the late May bank holiday and is connected to Pentecost – in fact it’s the first Monday after Pentecost. What’s Pentecost? It’s the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter. So, the first Monday after the seventh Sunday after Easter. Are you following this? Most people just find out from their employer, from the newspapers, friends or from a calendar they probably got for Christmas.
28 August – Monday – Summer bank holiday (Barbecue & disappointment season – it’s there to mark the end of the summer holidays)
25 December – Monday – Christmas Day
26 December – Tuesday – Boxing Day (Again, if Christmas Day or Boxing Day land on a weekend, then they give you the next available days off –  like in 2016 when you get a day off on the 27 because 25 landed on a Sunday)

How to say months and dates

In a moment I’m going to go through festivals and days of celebration or commemoration which happen in every month during the year.

Before I do that – let’s look at the pronunciation of the months of the year. I know you did this at school but I’m often surprised at how people still pronounce the months wrong. So just repeat the months of the year with me and think about how you’re saying them. Think about vowel sounds, the number of syllables and which syllable is stressed.

Let’s go. January – February – March – April – May – June – July – August – September – October – November – December

Also, let’s consider the way we say dates in the UK.

Day first and then month.

When we write we just add the number then the month. We add the little ‘th’ ‘rd’ or ‘st’ as well next to the number, but you don’t always have to. So we write 21 December or 21st December.

But when you say a date you have to remember to add the before the number, the ordinal – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc and also of.

So it’s the 21st of December.

What’s the date today?

It’s the 21st of December.

In America they don’t know what they’re doing, so they put the month first.

Just joking, it’s fine. For the Americans they start with the month and don’t always include of.

“It’s December 21st” for example.

“What’s the date Mom? It’s December 21st, honey.”

Tell me these dates.

What date is Christmas Eve?

What date is Christmas Day?

What date is New Year’s Eve?

What date is New Year’s Day?

What date is Valentine’s Day?

What date is St Patrick’s Day? (17 March)

What date is your birthday?

What date is the summer solstice?

What date is Halloween?

What date is it today?

Festivals Throughout the Year

The following information is based on an article by the British Council, although I have paraphrased quite a lot and added quite a lot of stuff. Click here to read the full article where you can read more about each festival www.educationuk.org/global/articles/festivals-and-holidays/#january

Here’s a list of the festivals and celebrations throughout the year in the UK. This list includes traditional events, sporting events and I’ve also included some major music festivals in the UK – and if you spend some time in the UK I really recommend that you go to a music festival, they’re usually a lot of fun as long as it doesn’t rain!

January

1st – New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve (31 December), it is traditional to celebrate midnight with your friends or family and to sing ‘Auld lang syne’, a folk song with words by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, although to be honest I have never ever sung that song in my life! The party can last well into New Year’s Day! Many people make ‘New Year’s resolutions’, promising to achieve a goal or break a bad habit in the coming year. For me, New Year’s Eve is about these things: struggling to plan something to do, going to a house party and getting drunk, going out to a club or something and then having a nightmare getting home (no taxis), freezing cold outside, staying in and drinking wine, watching Jools Holland on the TV, not really wanting to do anything because you’ve already spent the week drinking and eating too much anyway.

In Scotland, the celebration of the new year is called Hogmanay. There are big parties across the country – expect lots of music, dancing, food and fireworks – but Edinburgh hosts some of the biggest.

25th – Burns’ Night (Scotland). This is the birthday of Robert Burns – who is basically the national poet of Scotland. Many Scottish people hold a special supper (dinner) on Burns’ Night, with toasts and readings of his poetry. Men might wear kilts, there may be bagpipe music, and people will almost certainly eat haggis (the traditional Scottish dish of sheeps’ heart, liver and lungs) with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Sounds disgusting? It’s actually pretty tasty. I’ve never been to a Burns Night celebration because I’m English and it’s not our thing, but I bet it’s a lot of fun.

28th – Chinese New Year. Outside Asia, the world’s biggest celebration of Chinese New Year is in London – each year there is a parade through Chinatown in the West End, with free performances of music, dance and acrobatics, a feast of food and fireworks. There are many more events around the UK, so find out what’s on in your area – cities including Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool and Birmingham usually host colourful street parties.

February

28th – Shrove Tuesday or ‘Pancake Day’. Lent is the traditional Christian period of fasting, which lasts for 40 days. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent, when households would traditionally use up their eggs, milk and sugar by making pancakes. Nowadays, even if they are not religious, many people still make and eat pancakes on this day.

Some towns in the UK also hold ‘pancake races’, where contestants toss pancakes in a frying pan while running for the finish line. One of the most famous is in Olney, Buckinghamshire, where it’s believed the first Pancake Day race took place in 1445.

I’ve never been to a pancake race. For me pancake day is all about making your own pancakes, probably ruining the first one because you have to burn one before the pan is ready. My favourite pancakes are just covered in nutella. Far too much nutella.

14th – Valentine’s Day. Historically this was the date of the Feast of St Valentine, nowadays this is a celebration of romance. Many people in the UK go out for dinner with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and give them a Valentine’s card, chocolate or flowers. If you’re single, you might receive an anonymous card from a ‘secret admirer’! For single people, Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a nightmare because you see all these smug couples getting together and going on dates. It can make you feel a bit lonely, or you might just reject it completely and do something totally at odds with the day. But couples can also have a slightly difficult time on Valentine’s Day – usually there’s pressure on the man to come up with some special romantic plan, and generally there is a feeling that Valentine’s Day is a sort of manufactured event by companies and marketing people. It’s actually quite unromantic, and some people just shun it completely, but in my experience if your girlfriend or wife says “Oh you don’t need to do anything for Valentine’s Day” then you definitely DO need to do something. Don’t be fooled by what she says. That also includes birthdays and anniversaries.

March

1st – St David’s Day (Wales). St David is the patron saint of Wales, and March 1 is a celebration of Welsh culture. People in Wales might wear a daffodil and eat a soup of seasonal vegetables and lamb or bacon. I’ve never eaten that in my life and to be honest I’d never ever heard of it, because I’m English. Events are held across Wales, including a large parade in Cardiff. As an English guy I’ve never been part of St David’s Day celebrations. All I remember is some people wearing daffodils at school when I was a kid.

17th – St Patrick’s Day (Northern Ireland). The Feast of St Patrick is a national holiday in Ireland, and is now celebrated by Irish communities all around the world. In the UK, there are St Patrick’s Day events in cities including Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and London, as well as Belfast. Many people go out with friends, wearing green or a shamrock symbol (the lucky clover) and drinking Guinness, the Irish dark beer. The tradition is to get completely pissed and wear a massive hat shaped like a Guinness glass or shamrock or some weird combination of the two – a shamrock beer glass hat thing that won’t protect your head against a hangover or any other form of brain damage that you might suffer on this evening as a result of alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence, or all three if it’s a really good night.

26th – Mother’s Day (or Mothering Sunday). Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate motherhood, and to thank mothers for everything they do throughout the year. Many people give their mothers a card or gift, treat them to a day out or cook a meal. I usually send a big bunch of flowers to my Mum and try to make her feel special. It’s the least I can do.

April

1st – April Fools’ Day. For one day of the year, it is acceptable – even encouraged – to play tricks, pranks and practical jokes. Even newspapers, TV and radio shows often feature fake stories on April 1. It’s customary to reveal the joke by saying ‘April fool!’ (the person who falls for the joke is the ‘fool’), and you’re supposed to stop playing tricks at midday. Some famous April fool jokes include ones done by the BBC – like in 1957 when a respected news programme called Panorama broadcasted a report about how spaghetti was harvested from trees in Switzerland.

It showed people climbing ladders to pick spaghetti that was hanging from the trees and collect it in baskets. Needless to say, many Brits were fooled by it.

Other tricks are things like, telling your students they have an emergency test that day, or just changing all the clocks in your house so everyone things they’re late. That kind of thing. It’s all harmless fun, until someone has a terrible accident or someone gets very upset and there’s a huge argument resulting in the end of a relationship or someone getting fired from their job. Just harmless fun.

Here’s that 1957 BBC April Fool’s Joke – check out the old-school heightened RP accent!

14th–17th – Easter weekend. Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The date depends on the next full moon after the Vernal equinox (the first day of spring), so the dates change each year. It is always on a Sunday in March or April (called Easter Sunday), and the previous Friday (Good Friday) and following Monday (Easter Monday) are bank holidays. People celebrate Easter in different ways, but many give each other chocolate eggs and eat ‘hot cross buns’ (sweet buns with a cross design), while children decorate eggs or take part in Easter egg hunts. To listen to an episode I’ve already done about this, click here teacherluke.co.uk/2009/04/14/episode-2-easter/

23rd – St George’s Day (England). The legend is that St George was a soldier who killed a dragon to rescue a princess in the middle east somewhere. He is now the patron saint of England, and this is England’s national day. Yes, I don’t understand it either really. You might still see St George’s Cross (a red cross on a white background, England’s national flag) or events with morris dancing (an English folk dance), but it is not a bank holiday and most people don’t hold special celebrations. That’s right – we just don’t really care about St George’s Day. In fact, this is quite interesting as you’ll see that English people are quietly a bit modest about their country. We don’t celebrate the national day, we have some negative associations with our flag (although I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with me – I think it’s true), and we’d rather be patriotic about the UK than about England. Honestly, this is because England has done some pretty naughty things in the past like colonising other countries, going on crusades, smashing up towns after football games, invading our neighbouring countries and tying them into a union with us, then dominating that union with our values – unfortunately these are the values that many people associate with the English flag, and we don’t really know how to celebrate our saint’s day. I think, with Scottish Independence, there are moves to reclaim Englishness from the nationalists, and redefine it, but I feel like whenever someone proudly claims they are English and waves the English flag – it just smells of right-wing nationalism, hooliganism, skinheads, violence and stuff like that. Pity really because there shouldn’t be anything wrong with being English any more, especially if Scotland is given its independence. Also, I guess it is hard for many English people to feel a connection to Saint George considering the story is about a guy who probably wasn’t English anyway – it turns out he was actually born in Turkey and became a Roman soldier – and that confuses us. Still, it is about a knight who killed a dragon which sounds pretty cool.

Here’s a version of the story from a website called “Project Britain” which sounds like it was created by a Brexiteer – but then again my podcast is called “Luke’s English Podcast” which could also sound like a nationalistic right-wing podcast run by the English Defence League or something. You’re listening to Luke’s English Podcast and we want England to be back English again! No thanks.

Anyway, here’s a version of the Saint George & The Dragon Story – I have no idea who wrote it or to what extent it is fact checked or even based on anything that actually happened. In fact it reads like pretty much every other fairy tale story of a knight defeating a dragon to rescue a princess. projectbritain.com/stgeorge2.html  

401. ‘Switch off your editor’ to improve your fluency in English

Welcome back to the podcast. This is episode 401 and it’s about developing your fluency in English. I’m going to talk about creativity, open and closed thinking and about how turning off your internal editor can help you to make more progress in your language learning.

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Episode 401. It feels like the beginning of a new season of the podcast. Season 4 of LEP is here. If you’re new to the podcast, then welcome. My name’s Luke and I’m an English teacher from England. That’s Luke – not look, not luck, Luke – L u k e, like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.

A lot of learners of English get my name wrong – both the pronunciation and the spelling. I’ve been called some pretty funny things in my time. Luck, Look – “Look Luke” that’s very common. But some others names – Rook, Duck, Like. Luck is the most common. In fact I can see from stats on my website the google searches people make when they find my site – a lot of people are searching for teacher luck or teacher like and postcard or potcast and even podcats.

So, it’s L U K E, ok?! (just L U K E – don’t add the ok at the end).

This podcast is here to help you to generally improve your English – specifically British English. The subtitle of the podcast is “Real British English”. British English because I’m British  – I grew up in England – in London and in the midlands – in Warwickshire not far from Stratford Upon Avon, and I speak a standard from of British English. “REAL British English” because on this podcast you can listen to the kind of natural, authentic English that people actually use in the real world. I try to present the English language to you in a meaningful context, often by just talking to you in what I hope is an engaging and hopefully entertaining manner in order to help you to keep listening to English regularly over long periods of time, and plenty of research has shown that doing exactly that can be a really effective way of improving your English long term. So, if you want to develop natural, communicative English, listening to my podcast can certainly help. There are also a number of other things you can do beyond just listening to this and I sometimes talk about those things in my episodes in order to give you some ideas, some motivation and some general advice about how you can get a grip on how to learn this language.

How are you? Are you doing alright?

Transcript Collaboration

Before I start properly I just want to mention the Transcript Collaboration project.

There is a team of listeners who work together to produce transcripts of my podcast episodes – and they need your help. You can get involved in this project – yes you! It’s good for everyone – it helps me because I can offer the scripts on my website, it’s good for lower-level listeners because they can check the finished scripts to help them study the English more easily, and it’s really good for you because transcribing is a really intensive way of improving your English. Listening to every single word and writing it down is intensive practice that pushes your English in a number of ways – it’s good for listening, pronunciation awareness, vocabulary and grammar too. Intensive listening is quite different to general listening. It’s like looking at the living English language under a microscope. You can learn a lot more, and in a lot more detail. Don’t worry – you don’t have to transcribe a whole episode, just do 3 minutes. Yes, just 3 minutes. Each member of the team does a different 3 minute section and together you create the whole transcript. It’s surprising how quickly a whole episode gets transcribed using this method, but the team needs willing participants. The more people get involved the more effective the whole project is. There’s no alterior motive for me here – it’s a good project and the project manager Antonio recently asked me to encourage you to take part because he knows it can be a big success. Find out more and contribute your 3 minutes of transcription by clicking on “Transcript Collaboration” in the menu on my website. You can also email Antonio at ptholome@gmail.com

Switching off your editor to unlock your creativity and how this can help you learn English

In the last episode I told you a long and very silly story. The point of that was to celebrate my 400th episode by having some fun and hopefully making you laugh a bit, as well as giving you more English listening practice. Also, it was kind of an exercise in creativity for me.

I began the episode by talking about this idea of ‘switching off your editor’ in order to allow yourself to be creative, then I switched off my editor and improvised a comedy story for you. Now, in this episode I’d like to reconsider the idea of ‘switching off your editor’ and clarify that in the context of learning English.

You might think “what’s this editor?” and what do you mean by “switch off my editor”? What are you going on about?

First of all I should credit this idea of “switching off your editor” to Logan Murray, who is a bit of a legend in the London stand-up comedy circuit (and elsewhere) because he does comedy writing workshops and has written a great book about stand-up which is called “Get Started in Stand Up Comedy”. It’s not about language learning, but about being a comedian. For many of us Logan is sort of like our comedy mentor. For me personally the idea of switching off my editor really helped me to come up with lots of comedy ideas when I first started and I find the idea is still very true today and it’s something I keep in mind a lot.

When I say “your editor” I mean that voice in your head which edits your work while you’re producing it. It’s the part of you that says “No, you can’t say that” or “That’s ridiculous, you can’t say that” or “People will think you’re stupid if you say that” or “Don’t say the wrong thing, don’t make a mistake” or “You’d better not say anything at all because you might make a fool of yourself”.

Making an effort to switch off that voice, like the way you switch off a light, can help you become very productive as part of a wider creative process – and I think it applies to many things that involve creativity, including language learning.

Creativity is a big part of the mastery of a language

“Language is creative by its very nature. We can express or communicate one idea in many different ways. … Every single sentence, phrase or word we say or write is created in a unique moment of communication and can be recreated, reformulated, paraphrased or changed according to the goals of the speaker or writer.” – LIBOR STEPANEK (Prof of English from the Czech Republic)

“Linguistic creativity in particular is so much part of learning and using language that we tend to take it for granted. Yet from the ability to formulate new utterances, to the way a child tells a story, to the skill of a stand-up comedian, to the genius of Shakespeare, linguistic creativity is at work.” – Alan Maley (Legend of the TEFL world – former chair of IATEFL and editor of Oxford published teaching materials)

These quotes show that creativity is very much present in our ability to use language effectively. It’s true – when you’re producing English, you are using words or sounds in combination creating utterances, sentences, paragraphs, arguments or any kind of complex message. You take the materials and you build it into something that represents what you’re thinking. It involves your imagination, ambition, vision and everything – in a small way when you’re just stringing a sentence together and in a larger way when you’re constructing a larger point in a conversation, expressing a complex idea or writing an email, essay or report.

So, how is “switching off your editor” an important part of this creative process?

There’s a really great presentation by British comedian John Cleese (one of the Monty Python team) about creativity. He did it for a company called Video Arts some years ago. It’s excellent – very clear, true and funny. Here’s a quote in which he talks about how creativity is not a talent that only some people have, but that it is a mode of operation – a way of working.

John Cleese’s presentation for “Video Arts” on Creativity

Click here to get the transcript and audio of Cleese’s presentation genius.com/John-cleese-lecture-on-creativity-annotated

“[Psychologist] Brian MacKinnon showed [in his research] that the most creative people had simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood — “a way of operating” — which allowed their natural creativity to function. In fact, MacKinnon described this particular facility as an ability to play. Indeed he described the most creative (when in this mood) as being childlike. For they were able to play with ideas… to explore them… not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.” – John Cleese’s presentation on creativity.

To paraphrase John Cleese, creativity comes in two stages. There’s one stage in which you just let everything come out without limitations – he calls it the open mode and it involves no limitations, a spirit of play and the motivation to do things just for their own enjoyment. The next stage is the refining of what you’ve created. He calls this the closed mode. That mode is characterised by time deadlines, quality standards and other necessary limitations. For example, when working on a comedy sketch, Cleese and the Monty Python team might just let any old crazy idea come out, and have a hell of a lot of fun while doing it (the open thinking stage) and then later refine those ideas, tidy them up, order them, edit the whole thing down and produce a script or screenplay (the closed thinking stage). The first stage is about letting all the ideas spill out, the second stage is about tidying them up.

How does this relate to learning English?

I think creativity has a part to play in our language development. When we just speak, in conversation, we are constantly producing language and editing it while we go. When writing this is perhaps even more evident because we type, we stop to think, we delete things, we rearrange the paragraphs etc. When we’re speaking, both parts of the creative process are working at the same time. There’s fluency on one hand, and accuracy on the other hand.

The accuracy part is dealt with by your editor who lives in your head and has a copy of a grammar book. He frowns, points out errors, corrects you and shouts out grammar rules and things like that. He’s important for avoiding mistakes and saying exactly the right thing but he can kill your fluency. He can kill your inspiration and confidence – and confidence is vital. It’s the fuel and the lubrication that keeps the wheels spinning at all times. Confidence is what you need to keep your fluency flying high.

Your internal editor is definitely important, there’s no doubt about it. And of course accuracy is massively important too when talking about the end product of your English. But sometimes you have to work on different aspects of your English independently in order to make big steps that allow you to make big steps in other areas.

So in this episode I’m not talking about accuracy, I’m focusing on the fluency. I’ve done lots of accuracy-related episodes before in which I talk about grammar and things like that. What I’m talking about now is how you can develop your fluency, how sometimes it’s good to stop listening to that inner editor and how my crazy pink gorilla stories can help illustrate this point.

So, if we just look at developing fluency – with a focus on spoken fluency in particular (you could apply this to writing, but I’m mainly talking about speaking here), it’s a question of practising the creation of fluid English in which ideas are turned into speech without much hesitation. If you’re interested in building your fluency it can be useful to switch off your editor in that situation and just focus on freely producing English – maybe in a safe environment for practice – a speaking situation which has been agreed with other participants first. For example you could suggest with a language partner, friends, study group, class or 1 to 1 teacher that you spend some time without a particular language focus just freely producing some English – probably a conversation, or a speaking game or speaking club or something. It could be offline in an appropriate place somewhere or online on Skype for example. Then after some practice of just producing English with your editor switched off you can examine what you produced and then let the editor come back. You analyse what you did, you notice mistakes, you learn from them, you make progress.

Switching off your internal editor for a while can allow you to just be really creative allowing you to practise your productive skills and build your fluency. You can then develop the accuracy later by analysing and correcting the English that you produced earlier.

Here’s another example of the use of ‘switching off your editor’. Sometimes writers get writer’s block. It’s that feeling of staring at a blank page because you can’t produce anything. Or starting a paragraph and then constantly going back, editing it, deleting it, re-writing it. It’s hell. Sometimes I experience that at the beginning of a podcast – I hit record and can’t quite get it right in the beginning. The internal editor keeps stepping in and I get that feeling of “oh no that’s ridiculous” or “no you paused for too long there” or something.

One approach that people use to break writer’s block is to switch off the editor and just write, without worrying what you produce. Because you’ve got to get some content on the page before you can refine it. It’s very hard to make progress when you can’t even start. So start with no limitations, just produce whatever that comes into your head, and then refine it later. Some people dim the screen of their computer, or cover it, so they can’t judge their own work and edit it. That helps them to keep writing. Then when you’ve finished, you brighten the screen and reveal what you created. You’ve got loads of stuff there. It might not be the best in the world, but surprisingly enough – there it is. Now, you’ve got something to work with!

The point is, it’s hard to develop work which doesn’t exist yet. Switching off the editor allows the work to manifest itself, then you can work with it and develop it.

For your English this can mean doing speaking sessions in which there’s no correction, or no concern about perfection, but there is lots of imagination, creativity and vibrant ideas being turned into language. It’s good for your fluency, your productive skills and your sense of confidence. Next is the analysis stage where you work to identify room for improvement.

If you have a teacher or language partner, this person could note errors and feedback during the production stage, then go through that feedback. You could also record the speaking session and listen back to it, if you can bear the sound of your own voice – nobody likes their own voice, so don’t worry, this is normal. Listen and notice room for improvement. Don’t judge yourself too harshly! Notice good things too, and feel good about them.

Obviously you will probably need a teacher or language partner to help you with the feedback and error correction. Anyone with good English can be that person, but of course it’s better if the person is a teacher because they’ll be able to help you more easily because of their experience and knowledge.

Then do more focused practice on the areas that you think need improvement.

So, that’s how you can use the technique of ‘switching off your editor’ to improve your fluency in English speaking and later your accuracy too.

If you’re going to do that in a class or one to one, make sure everyone understands what you’re doing and agrees to it. If you have a one to one teacher, you might need to explain briefly that you’d like some practice without correction, for the teacher to note your errors during a natural conversation without interrupting you, and then to go through those errors and perhaps spend some time improving the areas where you were making mistakes.

Hopefully your teacher will agree to do this! Remember that often, teachers have their own ways of doing things and they might not be receptive to other techniques. That’s up to you to discuss with the teacher, but try not to rub the teacher up the wrong way by telling them how to do their own job! Let me repeat that – beware of telling your teacher how to do their own job, we don’t like that. So, approach this by making a respectful, polite suggestion of what you’d like to do in your lesson. If it’s a group class, you’ll obviously need to take into account the preferences of everyone else and they might not appreciate you trying to dictate the class.

Anyway – that’s a suggestion for how switching off your editor can help you build your fluency, and how you can use that as a means of then reflecting on your English and finding room for improvement.

As for me, well in episode 400 I switched off my editor and had a lot of fun creating The Pink Gorilla story. Now, you might not have found it that funny – I don’t know! That’s up to you! (I have had comments from people saying they laughed their heads off – I hope your head is back on now) I feel pretty proud because I came up with a lot of material and content! Here’s how that’s good in my opinion:

  1. More content for the podcast, created efficiently! I made a full episode, which should be quite entertaining, without doing a lot of preparation in advance!
  2. It produced tons of spontaneous language which I can use as the basis of language analysis in other episodes. There’s a lot to learn from episode 400. I could go through the story and pick out the phrases, double meanings and other references which I could then teach and clarify in later episodes of this podcast.
  3. Comedy material! I could now go through the pink gorilla episode and turn it into a one-man-show for the stage! It will need editing, re-writing, production etc but I think I could get quite an original one-hour one-man comedy show from what I produced. I’ve got the first draft.

You see the benefit of switching off your editor sometimes? It can make you very productive!

Also, I find ‘switching off my editor’ to be quite healthy. We all judge ourselves quite harshly. This can make us a bit unhappy and depressed. Switching off the editor can be liberating and can make you feel good about yourself. It’s cathartic and therapeutic, and I think that is really important in today’s world.

But be careful – choose the right moment.

Don’t just switch off your editor all the time, in every scenario, of course. Don’t do that in normal social situations and conversations. You still need to respect general customs and social norms and if you start coming out with ridiculous free-form comments in your conversations, people might think you’re weird! There’s an appropriate time and place for switching off your editor, for example when you’re trying to produce some work.

So, there you go.

Thanks very much for listening to the episode. I’ll talk to you again very soon. :)

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394. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 4)

This is part two of a two-part episode about my favourite podcasts. I thought I’d share them because you might like to listen to them too, even if they’re difficult to understand because they’re not specifically for learners of English. It’s good to challenge yourself sometimes, so why not try listening to these. If I like them, you might like them too.

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The Infinite Monkey Cage

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00snr0w/episodes/downloads

Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pc9pj/episodes/downloads
BBC’s flagship radio comedy show. It’s a compilation of comedy shows from the week. The Now Show and Dead Ringers are the best.

Distractions Pieces with Scroobius Pip

www.scroobiuspip.co.uk/distraction-pieces-podcast-archive-2016/

Spark – True Stories Live

Podcast

James O’Brien’s Mystery Hour

lbc.audioagain.com/presenters/6-james-obrien/368-the-mystery-hour-free

The Best of James O’Brien

lbc.audioagain.com/presenters/6-james-obrien/395-the-best-of-james-obrien-free

opp4

392. What are the most essential skills of a good foreign language learner?

This episode is full of what I hope will be more useful insight and advice on how to learn English as an adult so that you don’t end up sounding like a robot, because you’re learning English or at least maintaining your English and it’s a long-term process, there are right and wrong ways of doing it and I want to support you along the way. The main aim of this podcast is to help you stay on track as you continue to develop your English, trying to find new ways and improving the old ways so that you get a grip on this language.

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This episode represents not just my ideas but also the thoughts, conclusions and recommendations of plenty of other linguists and polyglots who certainly should know what they’re talking about because they’ve either studied the process of language acquisition or they’ve learned multiple languages themselves. Contained in this episode is a distillation of lots of experiences, research and common knowledge about language learning, including my own thoughts and practical tips which I’ve picked up after 15 years of teaching English as a foreign language. I hope this will be a motivating, inspiring and interesting episode for you to listen to as part of your English learning journey. So, let’s go.

Quora www.quora.com

Do you know about a website called Quora? Quora.com

It’s a good website where people post all kinds of thoughtful questions and then other users chip in with answers.

The answers are then read and upvoted by members of the community, which helps the best information to be presented to everyone.

The result is that you get a selection of some of the best advice and information from people who actually know what they’re talking about.

It’s not a new concept. It’s been done before by Yahoo, Reddit and so on. But it seems that Quora is used by slightly more serious people and as a result the content on Quora is pretty reliable and intelligent.

You can sign up and choose what types of topic you’re interested in. I selected “Language learning” and came across this post. In fact I often get emails from Quora with interesting language learning questions and answers and they’re very interesting to read.

I also selected a bunch of other options, but I now can’t remember what they are – but I think they were pretty random ones, like I think I selected questions about gun control, science and technology. As a result, along with the language learning questions I also get sent some pretty bizarre Q&As about things like “Can you get shot in the head and survive?” and “What’s the worst bear attack in human history?” and “What happens to you when you die?” – all of which, I admit, I find fascinating too! Perhaps I’ll make podcast episodes about them too one day.

But this one is not about bears and stuff, no it’s about learning languages, and the question we’re looking at here is:

“What are the most essential skills of a good foreign language learner?”

www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-essential-skills-of-a-good-foreign-language-learner 

There are about 12 answers from different people.

This is perfect for an episode for LEP because I don’t need to prepare anything – I can just read through the different answers and make comments along the way.

OK, so here goes!

Anthony Lauder’s Presentation at the 2013 Polyglot Conference

Here’s that great presentation by Anthony Lauder at the 2013 Polyglot Conference. It has a slightly slow start, with a couple of technical difficulties (and I found it slightly offputting that he was presenting in shorts and flip flops but I suppose that shouldnt’ matter) but it really gets going after a few minutes. It’s very amusing and has some truly great insights into how to learn languages.

Mnemonic Dictionary

“libel” – www.mnemonicdictionary.com/?word=libel

lep-mug-painting

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-6Wl

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Measure your progress – test yourself

Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages.[1][2] Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.[1]

DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.[1]

Dialang was funded by the SOCRATES programme and by some 25 institutions, largely universities, throughout the European Union.[3]

Also, ExamEnglish.com www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)

Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.

A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.

Attitude

It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.

Be positive!

Yes we can!

A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.

A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.

When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.

Goals

Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.

Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.

Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.

Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.

Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.

www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/cambridge-english-advanced-handbook-2015.pdf

I can/want to/will:

(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)

  • Writing
  • Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
  • Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
  • Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
  • Write a personal email in a friendly style.
  • Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
  • Speaking
  • Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
  • Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
  • Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
  • Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
  • Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)

You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.

That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.

Step by step

How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.

Repetition

Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.

Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.

Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.

Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.

Grammar

Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.

Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.

Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.

Writing to get through the Plateau

I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.

You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.

So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or  you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.

Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.

Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.

Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.

Enjoy it 

Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.

Here are some motivational quotes

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
‒Sarah Caldwell

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
‒Chinese Proverb

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
‒Charlemagne

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❝ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

mountain-climbing-768813_1280

 

385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

This episode is about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. I’m talking about a very common phenomenon in English learning called the intermediate plateau. It usually happens at an intermediate level. I wonder if this applies to you? I would love to read your thoughts so please do write in the comment section.

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Jim’s Music

234. Making “Choons” with My Brother

Jim’s music on Soundcloud

Jim’s music on Bandcamp

Mailing List, etc

Subscribe to the mailing list to get a link to the page for each episode sent to your inbox.

LEP Anecdote Comp is almost closed. It closes today. Any entries I get after midnight today (CET) won’t count, and remember you only have 5 minutes. I’ll upload an episode v soon about that to tell you what’s going to happen next, and you’ll be able to listen and vote for your favourites.

So now, let’s talk about the intermediate plateau and how to push your English to new levels even if you feel like your progress has stalled.

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

What is the intermediate plateau?  Why does that happen and how can you get out of it? Generally, how do you keep making progress with your English?

People often get stuck at an intermediate level. They feel their English is not improving as fast as before. In fact it feels like you can’t progress further and your learning is blocked. It’s very frustrating.

This applies to moving from intermediate to a higher level, but much of it can be applied to making progress at a higher level too.

What is intermediate?

Moving from intermediate to advanced is a tricky phase and it often takes longer than moving from elementary to intermediate. It’s harder to make the distinction between intermediate and advanced than it is to make a distinction between intermediate and elementary.

CEFR B1 descriptions

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

CEFR C1 descriptions

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

How do you know if you’re at the intermediate plateau? How do you know if your learning is at a plateau in general (not just at intermediate level)?

We’re talking about 2 things – what your level is, and the progress you’re not making.

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

Take a test, use the criteria for the CEFR, consult your teacher. (See links to tests below)

ExamEnglish www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

How do you know if you’ve reached a plateau – probably at intermediate level?

You started with a low level of English and have made some effort to pull yourself up to a functional intermediate level. Perhaps you studied, maybe you have lived in an English speaking environment in which you were forced to learn the language.

You can basically express yourself and get by in most situations, but when you’re under stress or when it’s a new situation your English crumbles.

Or perhaps you have a jagged profile – you might be good at one area, but other areas are really weak. E.g. you might be good at reading and writing but your spoken English is a disaster. Or perhaps you’re great at oral communication but you can’t write full sentences, can’t spell etc.

You can talk, laugh and have fun in English when you’re with fellow non-native speakers, but as soon as you’re with a group of natives, you suddenly feel lost and don’t understand the humour.

If you really concentrate and focus you can watch a film or TV in English and understand most of it – especially with English subtitles, but if you go to the cinema full of native speakers and watch a comedy film or something you realise how little you understand because everyone else is laughing but you’re just sitting there. You assume that everyone’s a bit stupid or that they have no taste. In fact, you just don’t understand the jokes.

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

You can basically survive with an intermediate level of English. In fact, you can get by with about 3000 words whereas the average native speaker is able to use about 20,000. This is the difference between a basic operational intermediate level of English and a fully rounded vocabulary of a native speaker.

Suspected learning curve. You expect learning to be linear. When you start you learn rapidly, the curve is steep. When you have got through the early stages and you can basically express yourself and understand others. It’s harder to see progress. Your progress becomes more shallow and there’s less stress involved.

People expect the learning to continue in a straight line of progress, but they don’t realise that it goes up and down.

The actual learning curve is more like a bell, and it involves many ups and downs too.

The more of a language you learn, the less there is to learn. It’s a process of diminishing returns.

Comfort zone.

Goals and study habits are not well defined. Often the first goal is just to get out of that painful confusion you experience at the start. When you hit intermediate your goals need to be more achievable and specific. Then you need to match them with an organised study plan.

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

There’s no magic formula or single way to do it. It comes down to attitude, time and practice.

The study methods you used to get to intermediate might need to change.

Merely ‘getting by’ in the language is not enough any more. You need to explore, push it further, test yourself and increase the challenge.

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

You want to develop a more advanced level of vocabulary and grammar, especially the vocab but there is so much of it! How can you cover it all? Instead of just scraping the surface of a few topics, try going into loads of depth in just one or two topics.

Following a subject you’re fascinated in will take you down a rabbit hole of English and you will learn a great deal of more complex language on the way. It’s hard to learn all the English of everything, so focus on one specific thing and let that be your entry point to advanced English.

This means finding loads of information on this single topic you’re interested in – reading articles and books about it, finding podcasts and videos about it, video documentaries on youtube and so on. For example, right now I’m reading about The Beatles in French and it’s much better than just reading stuff I don’t care about and it keeps me interested.

Learn how to talk and write about your specialist subject too. Learning one thing in a lot of detail is more achievable than trying to learn the vocabulary of everything. You will learn tons of vocabulary about the subject but also you’ll learn the kind of English you need to construct and understand complex and in-depth ideas – so, not just technical terms but also complex sentences, grammatical forms and linking devices.

Challenge

One of the reasons you made so much progress before was that everything was a challenge. You met a lot of resistance. It was frustrating but you pushed through. Now there is less resistance but don’t stop pushing. Challenge yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone, teach the language to someone else – or at least prepare yourself as if you’re going to teach, find your weaknesses and push them. Don’t give up. Jump in at the deep end and try to swim.

Habit

Honestly – how many of you are going to do all these things? Not many of you. You’ll probably listen and agree but not take action. Right there – that’s where the difference is between progress and not progress. Choose to do even a couple of these things and you’ll be on the right path. Just make a few little changes and do them regularly and it should become part of your habit. Build habits into your life.

Exposure

Exposure to some comprehensible input combined with some stuff on the verge of what you don’t understand. Some stuff that’s fairly easy to follow, and some stuff that’s hard to follow. So, that means listening to podcasts like this in which you understand quite a lot, but you’re also challenged sometimes, but it also means reading and listening to content designed for native speakers. Get an audiobook, get some real books, listen to BBC radio, subscribe to some podcasts for native speakers (listen for some recommendations soon).

236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

237. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 2)

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

Keep an organised notebook for vocabulary and use some mnemonic techniques. They’re proven to work again and again, but how many of us use them?

Listen to an old episode of my podcast called Memory, Mnemonics and Learning English.

Basically, the trick with remembering vocabulary is to a) link the new memory to an existing memory and b) make new memories visual, vivid and attached to a space that you know in the real world. This sounds a bit strange, but it’s proven to work. If you can attach a new word to an existing word somehow, perhaps with a very vivid picture in your mind perhaps connected to a space you know, like your house, then memories will stick like glue.

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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379. The LEP Anecdote Competition

Details of a new LEP competition / Competition rules / Advice & Tips / Inspiration / Some Funny Anecdotes

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Transcript Starts Here

OK listeners, it’s competition time again on the podcast. This time the competition is all about anecdotes. I did an episode about anecdotes recently. It was number 372. In that one I talked about anecdotes and why it’s important to have a few anecdotes that you can tell in English. I think they’re pretty important and fun. I also gave you some tips on how to tell good anecdotes, and you listened to a few genuine anecdotes from my Mum, my Dad and my brother.

I love stories, especially true ones and I love hearing about people’s experiences. I’m sure that loads of you out there have had some pretty cool experiences too and that there are some lovely little anecdotes just waiting to be told.

So that’s why I’m using anecdotes as the basis of this competition.

I want you to send me your anecdotes. That should be clear.

Now, the last time I launched a competition featuring the voices of my listeners I got a lot of recordings and it ended up being about 8 episodes, which was awesome, but that was quite a lot. I understand that not all of you want to listen to the voices of listeners – you come here to listen to me, or my guests. But it’s still great to have some contributions from listeners, just not too many. So this time I’m going to do it slightly differently. There will be stages, a bit like the World Cup, so that I can filter out some of the competition entries that I get and just present the cream of the crop in an episode of the podcast. I’ll tell you more about the stages and how this will work in a minute. The main thing I want to do now is to strongly encourage you to send me your anecdotes. So, please send me your anecdotes!!!

But first I should say this – don’t worry, your anecdote does not have to be perfect or anything! I promise – it doesn’t have to be perfect, just tell us a little story about yourself – that’s all you have to do. We;re going to have a little anecdote party and everyone has to bring a little anecdote. You know the way that when you’re invited to a party you have to bring cake, or drinks, or crisps. Well, this is just like that except that you have to bring an anecdote. It doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to fill up the table, ok, and then we can have an anecdote party! But the party will not happen unless you send me that little story you have, so do it! But remember – no pressure, just enjoy yourself.

Now, I constantly tell you anecdotes about my life on this podcast. I do it all the time and I hope you enjoy them. Now, I’ve done a lot of sharing on the podcast and so it’s time for you to share back with your stories. I’m fed up of hearing my own stories. Now I want to hear about your experiences! We’re having an anecdote party and you’re all invited!

I’m presenting this as a competition, but it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part. It’s about filling up that table with anecdote cake so we can stand around with cake and drinks and have an anecdote party. So, if you’ve got a personal experience you can tell us about, record it and send it to me! In this episode I’m going to tell you how to do that, and give you some tips and inspiration for your anecdotes.

Competition Rules

First, the rules of the competition. Any half-decent competition has rules, so here are the rules for this one.

1. Record an anecdote and send it to me! Duh! “What’s an anecdote?” you might be asking. It’s a little personal story, told in a social situation. It’s a story about something that happened to you once in your life. For example, it could be a dangerous experience, a funny moment, an embarrassing thing that happened, a surprising thing, an accident, a mystery, a meeting with a person, a run-in with the police or just a misunderstanding. We all have little stories like this from our lives – think about it, what’s a thing that has happened to you – tell us the story of that! Again – it doesn’t have to be perfect! No pressure, just enjoy yourself.
2. Your recording must be no longer than 5 minutes! 5 minutes maximum. Please keep to this rule. Generally anecdotes shouldn’t go on too long (although I am guilty of spinning out my anecdotes quite a lot – for example the hot bath story I told recently). But also, if I get too many anecdotes it will all last too long. 5 minutes max. Feel free to do less than 5 as well. If your anecdote is 2.5 minutes – that’s great! Just don’t go over 5 mins.
3. Your story should be true, but you can exaggerate a bit in order to make it entertaining, that’s normal.
4. Send your anecdotes by email to podcastcomp@gmail.com – or simply go to my website and send me a voicemail using the tab on the right side. You’ll just need to have your microphone connected. If you don’t have a microphone, just use your smartphone to record a voice memo and send it.
5. Closing date for the competition: 5 October (National Teachers Day in the UK)
6. Then round 1 begins. In round one I will publish all the anecdotes on my website. I’m not going to play them in an episode of the podcast at this stage, I’ll just publish them on the website so you can listen to them there.
So, the anecdotes will be published on the website, you will be able to go and listen to them all, and vote for your favourite.
Then I’ll count up the votes and the top 10 anecdotes will make it through to round 2.
7. In round 2 I will publish the top 10 anecdotes in an episode of the podcast and then everyone can listen, and vote for their favourites by using a poll on the website. That way, only 10 anecdotes are actually played on the podcast.
8. After some more voting time I will count the votes. The winner will be interviewed on the podcast, or will get a gift – I haven’t quite decided yet (remember it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part). IN any case, the winner will get the glory of being the LEP Anecdote Master, or LEPAM!

9. Don’t read from a script!

Basically – maximum 5 minutes, true story, send your recordings to me, then several stages of voting, 10 best anecdotes and a winner at the end!

Advice

Use a decent microphone. Most iPhones or smartphones have good mics these days.
Try to be in fairly quiet surroundings. Speak closely into the mic.
Practise your anecdote a few times (you could do this with your italki teacher if you like), but always record the first time you tell it. Sometimes the first time is just naturally the best! But then practise it a bit and record it again. Decide which one is best.
Try to keep it spontaneous! So, don’t read it from a script. You should avoid that habit. It’s better if you learn how to say the anecdote without reading it directly from a script.
It doesn’t matter if it’s not word for word perfect, just focus on getting across certain main ideas. If you read from a script it might be obvious, and it tends to sound fake and it’s not so appealing. It immediately will sound more robotic. Make your speech spontaneous, trust me. So no reading from a script.

I have the right to use or not use any recordings I want.

How to tell a good anecdote

Here’s a reminder of my tips from episode 372. You could consider these when you record your anecdote, or if you prefer you can just completely ignore these tips and do it your own way! Be an individual!

First: don’t feel any pressure, and just enjoy yourself. You could forget all the other tips and focus on that – it’s the most important thing. Forget about everything else and just enjoy telling us your little story!
Here are the other rules which you could just ignore to be honest:
1. Don’t get stuck in the details. Just tell us the events and situations which are necessary to show us how you felt. If you get stuck in the details just say “anyway” and move on.
2. Think about the feelings you’re trying to convey, and how they will affect the way you tell the story. Are you expressing fear, surprise, weirdness, luck, sadness, humour, relief, happiness? Let that feeling come through in your storytelling.
3. Use past tenses in the right combination – past simple, past continuous and past perfect. But to be honest, it’s good to keep it simple so you can just use past simple for the entire thing if you like (for example: my brother’s anecdote).
4. Introduce your story with a sentence like “This is a story about how…” and try to set the context of the story by saying something like “This happened when I was…”
5. Give the story an ending, for example, you can just say “And that’s what happened!” or “And that’s it!” or “And that’s why …” (include something you always or never do, a piece of advice or a lesson you learned, for example)
6. If possible, try to explain what that story means to you or what you learned from it.

That’s it in terms of rules and tips. Now it is over to you.

As I said earlier, even though I’ve given you advice on how to make a good anecdote, the first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t feel any pressure, and you should just enjoy yourself! Make sure you achieve that first, before you worry about any of the other things! No pressure and just enjoy yourself! I can’t wait to hear your stories.

I know what you’re thinking

You’re thinking – I’d quite like to take part in this. I’ve got an anecdote I could tell. I think I’m going to take part in this. I’m going to send a story to Luke.
Great! If you are thinking that – then great! But just make sure you do it! Don’t procrastinate. Don’t think: “Oh, I’ll do that later”. Do something now! just send me a little story, I’m dying to hear from you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Your story doesn’t have to be the best in the world. We’re just having an anecdote party and everyone has to bring some anecdote cake or the party won’t work! I’m inviting you, so bring some cake it’s the least you can do!

Think of it like this: your anecdote will be one of a number of stories from my listeners and the overall effect will be so cool that it doesn’t matter if each story on its own is not individually amazing. It doesn’t have to be amazing. So, if you’re even considering sending my something, let me encourage you to definitely do it, and do it sooner rather than later!

Remember: No pressure, and just enjoy yourself!

Inspiration

Here are some questions to give you inspiration:

Can you think of something relating to one of these points?

– an embarrassing thing that happened to you
– a misunderstanding
– a weird person you met
– a famous person you met
– something you found which you still have
– how you met your best friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife
– an accident you had
– a scar you’ve got
– a time you got into trouble
– a time you thought you were going to die!
– a time you won something
– something that happened to you while travelling
– an animal-related experience
– something funny that happened in your family
– something that always happens to you, regularly
– a misunderstanding that happened relating to language or culture
– something that happened to you at work
– something that happened in an English lesson
– something that happened as a result of listening to LEP
– something that happened to you while you were listening to LEP
– the worst/weirdest date you ever had
– the worst/weirdest job interview you ever had
– anything else!

Just remember, no pressure and just enjoy yourself!

Send your anecdotes (5 mins max) to podcastcomp@gmail.com or just leave me a voice mail using the tab on my website.

I can’t wait to hear your stupid, terrible, brilliant, funny, boring, confusing and fascinating anecdotes!

Remember the closing date is: 5 October (UK Teachers Day) and please – feel no pressure, relax and just enjoy yourself.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Let’s have an anecdote party!

Before we go, there’s a bit of time – so let’s listen to a few little anecdotes that I found online.

Louis CK – Punching a dog in the face to save its life

Essentially this is a story about how Louis’ dog ate chocolate. If dogs eat dark chocolate it can kill them because they lack an enzyme to deal with it. So, Louis had to rush to the pharmacy to get hydrogen peroxide and make the dog drink it, but it’s quite difficult to make a dog eat hydrogen peroxide in order to make it vomit all the chocolate out of its belly. In the end he had to wrestle with the dog and force it to drink the chemical. I love the way Louis tells the story, particularly the way he gives a voice to the dog and explains the emotional motivations of the dog, and highlights the irony of having to attack the dog in order to save it. Don’t worry – your anecdote doesn’t have to be as good as this, but we can learn about story telling from Louis!

Carlo Rota – Meeting Freddie Mercury from Queen

This one is a great little story, but it’s also interesting to hear how Carlo (an Italian-Canadian actor, born in England) uses present tenses, not past tenses, to make his story more engaging. We do this sometimes, although I think you should learn how to use all the right past tenses before you break the rules and use present tenses to tell a story.

A Red Chair story from the Graham Norton about a ‘happy’ donkey

The Graham Norton show is a very popular entertainment chat show on the BBC presented by a comedian called Graham Norton. One of the features on the show is the Red Chair. What happens is that any member of the audience who has a good anecdote is invited to sit in the chair and tell their story. This one is by a guy called Mohammed who went on holiday as a child and saw a donkey, who was, let’s say, feeling quite happy. The other guests on this show were Ricky Gervais and Johnny Depp – you might hear them making comments and laughing in the background.

So, that’s some inspiration and entertainment. Now, get thinking about your anecdotes and send them to me. You’ve got until UK national teachers’ day – 5 October.

Bye bye bye bye bye.

First background music: BenSound www.bensound.com
Jingles: Jake Bullit soundcloud.com/jakebullit
Other background music: Luke on Kaossilator soundcloud.com/user-896257419

372. The Importance of Anecdotes in English / Narrative Tenses / Four Anecdotes

This episode of the podcast is all about telling anecdotes in English. Anecdotes are little stories about our experiences that we share while socialising. It’s important to have a few anecdotes of your own and to know how to tell them properly. In this episode I’m going to give you some advice for how to tell an anecdote and then you’re going to listen to some true anecdotes told by members of my family that I recorded yesterday evening during dinner.

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This episode is sponsored by italki. Speaking practice is very important in developing natural, fluent English and this is now really easy to achieve because with italki you can find plenty of native speakers and teachers to talk to, you can set your own schedule and you don’t even need to leave the house – you can do all of it from your own home. If you want to practise telling your anecdotes, do it in conversation on italki. They have lots of friendly and experienced teachers who are ready to help you to learn English your way. Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk to get started and to get a voucher worth 100ITC when you get some lessons. OK, let’s get started!

I’m at my parents’ house for a few days. My brother and I are just taking a couple of days off and spending some time here doing the usual things like enjoying the fresh air, talking to my parents and taking advantage of our mum’s cooking.

Yesterday evening we were eating dessert at the end of dinner and we started talking about anecdotes. I think I asked everyone, “Do you have any anecdotes?” I asked them to think of an anecdote they’d told before. We were about to start when I realised that it might be a good idea to record the  talking, so I quickly got my audio recorder and then recorded them telling those anecdotes. Each one is about 5 minutes long.

Before we just listen to their little stories, let’s consider anecdotes and how important they are in English.

From the archives: Another episode about telling anecdotes (episode 44) teacherluke.co.uk/2011/10/11/telling-anecdotes/ 

By the way, listen to this episode from the archives about telling anecdotes. I gave some advice for anecdotes and then we listened to a couple of funny ones. This episode develops the ideas I talked about in episode 44.

What are anecdotes and why are they important?

The Collins Online Dictionary defines an anecdote as a short, usually amusing account of an incident, especially a personal or biographical one.

So, essentially anecdotes are little true stories about ourselves. We are usually the protagonists in our anecdotes, and they’re usually told in informal social situations. Sometimes there are moments in our social interactions when we just start sharing little stories about things that have happened to us in our lives. This might happen at a dinner, or when you’re generally spending some extended time with other people. Anecdotes are a really common part of the way we socialise in English. They allow us to entertain the people around us, while letting them know a bit more about us.

Both of those things are vital in my opinion. If you’re trying to build a relationship with people it’s important to both entertain them and also share some personal information with them. Entertaining the people around you is important because it just makes them feel good. If you can make people feel good, they’re much more likely to trust you, to give something to you in return and also, it’s just good to entertain people around you. It’s just fun and enjoyable to hear about people’s experiences. Also, giving away some personal information is a good way of encouraging other people to do the same thing. That’s how you build trust. For building a relationship you can do two things: ask questions and be prepared to give away details about yourself. Anecdotes help you achieve the second one in a fun way.

So, how do you tell an anecdote in English?

Tips for Telling Anecdotes

  1. Find the right moment. Usually they take place in informal anecdote sharing sessions. Don’t just jam your story into a conversation. It should add something to the subject of the conversation. E.g. you might be sharing travelling stories, or stories about weird people you’ve met, or university stories, or dangerous experiences. That’s when it’s appropriate to add your story too. Maybe you’re talking about a particular subject and your anecdote will add something to that conversation. E.g. you might be talking about the difficulty of finding accommodation in your town, and you could tell the story of the crazy landlord you used to have. Perhaps someone has just told a story, and you’ve got one that relates to it too. All of those are good moments to introduce your anecdote. Only tell your story if it relates to the conversation you’re already having.
  2. Keep it short! Don’t get stuck in the details too much. Focus on the impact of the story. What emotion are you attempting to elicit in people? What is the feeling you’re trying to get across? Is it frustration, fear, danger, humour? Focus on communicating a feeling and try not to let the details get in the way. You need to communicate that feeling by explaining the right events. The best anecdotes allow the listeners to discover the same feelings as you did when you felt them, so describe the events and aspects of the situation that made you feel that way. Don’t get caught up in the details. Keep it pretty short and simple. Say the word “anyway” when you get stuck in the details and want to move on to the main stuff.
  3. Use the right narrative tenses. Usually we tell anecdotes in the past. That means you’ll be using past simple, past continuous and past perfect. Here’s a really quick and simple explanation of how you use those tenses. Past simple – this is the tense you use to explain the main actions in the principle part of the story. E.g. I saw a spaceship, I stopped my car, the spaceship flew above me, all the objects in my car started floating, I saw a bright flash of light, then I woke up lying down in the forest with a pain in my backside.” Past simple is usually used for short actions that happen one after the other. Past continuous – we use this to explain the situation at the time the main events happened. It’s for context. It sets the scene. E.g. “I was driving in my car through the countryside late one night when I saw something strange”. Also, it’s for moment by moment action, and it’s when two things happen at the same time. Past continuous is for the longer action of the two. The action starts, is interrupted by a shorter past simple action, and then may or may not continue. E.g. “I was trying to remember where I was when these guys in black suits turned up and started asking me questions.” Past perfect – this is for giving back story. Use past perfect to talk about events that happened before the main events of the story. E.g. I told the guys that I’d just been camping in the forest and that I’d got up in the night to go to the toilet and I’d lost my tent, and that’s why I was sleeping outside like that. I told them I hadn’t seen any aliens or anything like that.” Past perfect is a difficult one to notice when listening. The “had” is often contracted and can be impossible to hear. It’s possible to identify past perfect because of the use of past participles, e.g. “I’d seen it before” and “I saw it before” but when regular verbs are used it can be almost invisible. Compare “I’d finished” and “I finished”. They sound very similar. Sometimes ‘had’ is not completely contracted but pronounced using a weak form, like ‘/həd/’ e.g. “He had been there before”. It might also be part of a continuous form, like “He had been talking to someone else”.
    So, there are the narrative tenses – past simple, past continuous, past perfect. Past simple is the most common one – you could probably just tell the story with that one on its own, but adding the other two will give your stories more depth and range. Think about how you use these three tenses when describing events in the past.
  4. Tell us how you felt. That’s pretty simple. Just give us some emotional content.
  5. Use direct speech. Don’t worry about using reported speech, just use direct quotes. E.g. “He said “What are you doing here?” and I said “I’m just camping!” and they both said “Where’s your tent?” and I said “It got stolen in the night, or I lost it, I can’t remember”. I don’t think they believed me but they told me to be careful and to go home.
  6. Introduce your story with a quick sentence, like “I got abducted by aliens once” or “I saw a weird thing once” or “That sounds like something that happened to me once”. That’s generally a sign that you’ve got a little story to tell. However, if people aren’t really listening, don’t worry about it, this might not be the moment for your story.
  7. When someone has just told a little story, ask a few questions or respond to it in some way. Show some appreciation of the anecdote – like, “Oh my god I can’t believe that!” or “Wow, I can’t believe that you got abducted by aliens!”
  8. Try to make it quite entertaining! If the story doesn’t have much entertainment value, keep it extra short. You can exaggerate the story a bit, but don’t lie, that’s just deceptive. For example, don’t just make up a clearly fictional story about being abducted by aliens. Obviously, it should be very much ‘based on a true story’. Repeating anecdotes a few times is quite common. In fact, people carry anecdotes with them through their lives and repeat them again and again. You probably have a few experiences that you’ve described a few times – they’re your anecdotes. Try converting them into English, and it’s ok to practise those anecdotes a few times because you’re learning the language. Think about experiences you’ve had in your life – how would you describe them fairly quickly in conversation, focusing on the main events and how they made you feel at the time?
  9. Show us when the story is finished. Typically we might say “That’s what happened.” or “And that’s it” or even “That’s my alien abduction story.” It’s nice if your anecdote can end with a funny line or a punchline, but that’s difficult. It might also be good to say what you learned from your experience.

Now, let’s hear my family’s anecdotes shall we? (yes)

By coincidence, all these anecdotes relate to meeting strange people and most of them involve some element of danger (in the case of the boys’ stories) or embarrassment in my Mum’s story.

Imagine you’re at the dinner table with my Mum, Dad and brother. As you listen, think about the things I’ve just mentioned, and try to notice them. You could listen to this episode a few times. Try to notice different things I mentioned about telling anecdotes. Which anecdote do you think is the best? Why is it a good one?

Here are some key points to watch out for.

  • Narrative tenses used – in particular, can you hear when past perfect is used? It’s only used in 3 out of the 4 stories. Watch out for past continuous to set the scene. Is that one used in every story?
  • When someone says “anyway” in order to avoid getting caught in the details
  • What is the main feeling that the person is trying to communicate? Is it danger, embarrassment, weirdness?
  • How does the anecdote end?
  • Any new vocabulary?

I’ll let you listen to the anecdotes, and then I’ll deal with some vocabulary and make any other points afterwards.

Mum’s Anecdote – Meeting the King of Tonga

(Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 islands, many uninhabited)

*some past perfect is used to explain what the king had been doing before mum arrived

It’s going to fall very flat = it’s going to fail to have the intended effect. E.g. if a joke falls flat, it doesn’t make anyone laugh. If a story falls flat, it is not impressive or amusing.

It’s been built up too much = We say this when people’s expectations have been raised. To ‘build something up’ means to raise people’s expectations of something. You’d say this before telling a joke if you feel like everyone’s expectations have been raised. E.g. “What’s this Russian joke? I’ve heard you talking about it a lot, so it must be amazing.” “Well, it’s been built up too much now, it’s just going to fall flat.” or “Have you seen the new Spielberg film Bridge of Spies, oh my god it is amazing!” “Don’t build it up too much!”

I was nothing to do with it = if you have nothing to do with something it means you are not involved or connected to anything at all. E.g. “Mr Thompson, I want to talk to you about the bank robbery that occurred in the town centre last year.” “Bank robbery? I had nothing to do with it officer, I promise!” or simply “There was a royal visit happening, but I had nothing to do with it. I was just there to pick up my husband.”

I was just a hanger-on = a hanger-on is someone who just hangs on. This is someone who is nothing to do with what’s happening but they just hang around. E.g. musicians often have hangers on. These are people that hang around the band even though they’re not contributing to the show at all. They’re just hanging on because it’s cool or fun to be with the band.

I was skulking in the corner = to skulk means to kind of hide or keep out of sight, often in a slightly cowardly way.

He beckoned to me = to beckon to someone is to wave someone over to you with your hand. It’s to do a motion with your hand which encourages someone to come to talk to you.

He was eyeing her up = this means to look at someone because you fancy them – to look at someone with sexual interest. E.g. the king of Tonga was eyeing up my Mum all evening.

 

James’ Anecdote – Hastings Story

a skate park = a place designed for skateboarding

the ramp’s in the church = a ramp is a thing for skateboarding on. It has sloped sides so skaters can go up and down on it

a hog on a spit = a hog is a pig, and a spit is a stick that goes through the pig, suspending it above a fire

we had too good a time = we had a good time – but if you want to add ‘too’ you need to say “we had too good a time” not “we had a too good time” – this works with the structure in general. “It was too big a pizza for me to eat” or “It was too long a journey to make at that time of night”

I was too drunk – not in a lairy way = to be lairy means to be aggressive and anti-social. It happens when some people get drunk. They get lairy.

I’m bigger than him, I can take him = to ‘take’ someone means beat them in a fight

We crashed out = to crash out means to fall asleep, usually quickly and often in a place where you don’t usually sleep.

I’ve painted everything in hammerite www.hammerite.co.uk/ = hammerite is a kind of metallic paint

He was coming round = to come round here means to wake up, or come back to consciousness

I didn’t get interfered with = to interfere with someone could mean to touch them in a sexual manner

*just past simple

 

Dad’s Anecdote – Hitchhiking in Italy

*all the narrative tenses used

We got a few good lifts = a lift is when someone takes you somewhere in a car. E.g. “Could you give me a lift to the station?”

This car pulled up = this is when a car stops by the side of the road (also – pull over)

He was a slightly dodgy character = dodgy means untrustworthy or suspicious

The car broke down = stopped working

They turned on him and said “What are you doing?” = to turn on someone (not turn someone on) means to suddenly start criticising or attacking someone. In this case, there were curious neighbours listening to the argument and after a while they turned on the guy – they decided that he was wrong and they started criticising him

I managed to jump in and grab the keys from the ignition = to manage to do something (this is an important verb structure) – also ‘the ignition’ is the part where you put the keys in order to start the car, e.g. “You left the keys in the ignition”

I dangled the keys over a grating / a drain = to dangle something over something is to hold something in the air so that it swings from side to side slightly. E.g. We sat on the edge of the bride with our legs dangling in the air.

 

Luke’s Anecdote – Liverpool StoryLEPcupPOLARIOD

*Includes quite a long passage with past perfect when I described what had happened to the man before he arrived at our front door.

There was some sort of commotion going on in the hallway = a commotion means a period of noise, confusion or excitement

He ran through all the alleyways = alleyways are passages between or behind houses

That’s it for vocabulary!

Which anecdote did you like the best, and why?

364. TEN TOP TIPS for Learning English

LEP is back after a two-week absence. This episode is about top tips for learning English. Here are some ideas about learning English that have occurred to me in the last couple of weeks of teaching intensive general English classes at school.

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So, how’s your English?

Remember to be responsible for your own learning. Nobody can learn for you.

It’s all about establishing habits for improving your English, and keeping up those habits.

TOP TIPS FOR LEARNING ENGLISH

  1. Watch movies and TV in English. This is what people always say, but it can work really well if you do it right. Here are some specific tips. Repeat watch a movie that you love in English. Watch it with subtitles in English. Then watch it again without the subtitles. Put your phone in front of the TV or computer and record the audio, then listen to it when you’re out and about. Quote some of the lines. Recreate parts of the film on your own. Go the extra distance and think outside the box.
  2. Find a book that you know quite well. Read it in English and also listen to the audiobook. You won’t mind repeating it because you love it. You already know the story, so now you can explore it in English. Imagine hearing all those lines in English again and again.
  3. Keep two notebooks. Go down to the stationery shop and buy two nice notebooks. The first one is for scribbling things down quickly and just keeping quick notes. The other one is where you keep an organised record of words and rules. Keep the first one with you when you’re watching, reading or listening to stuff in English, or when you’re in conversation on italki or something. The other one is going to be like your bible for English and you’re going to write it yourself.
  4. Use mnemonic devices to help you remember.
  5. Listen to my podcast! Listen to episodes more than once. You’ll find that specific things I say will stick in your mind. You’ll also find things funnier and funnier, I promise. Some of my episodes are designed mainly to make you laugh. You need rewards for understanding and learning a language, so let the funny moments be a reward in themselves. Enjoy the process of understanding what I’m saying, and getting the subtleties and nuances. Check out the page for each episode. You’ll often find words written there. Often the introduction or the whole episode is transcribed. You can use that to help you learn.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises, then do them again a few months later. English Grammar in Use is still the best one. Even if you’re pretty good at English already, going through those pages systematically will iron out a lot of the fossilised errors you have. Then when you listen to English, read English or speak to people just try to notice some of the grammar you’ve been studying. Also, if you don’t understand some of the grammar – don’t worry about it, just carry on. The worst thing you can do is stop when you feel confused or frustrated. You don’t have to understand 100% of the grammar. Just understanding 70% is ok. Do your best to understand it all, but it gets pretty complex and abstract (not as much as most other languages). The main thing is: when you experience difficulty or resistance – the worst thing you can do is stop. Just keep going anyway! Work with what you have and make progress in little steps.
  7. Just keep yourself switched on at all times! Be mindful. Notice language and take opportunities to learn. Some learners of English are just not diligent enough. Every error is an opportunity to learn. Bit by bit, step by step.
  8. The pizza analogy.
  9. Enjoy the small victories. Every single positive moment in your learning should be celebrated. If you understand something fully – well done you. If you say exactly what you wanted to say – well done you. If you stopped making a fossilised error, well done you.
  10. Enjoy it! You only get one life. (deep and meaningful moment)

 

More episodes coming soon.

Thank you so much for your comments and messages. I’m sorry I can’t reply to them all.

Have a good day/night/evening/morning, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing!

:)

357. Learning Languages with Olly Richards

In this episode I’m talking to Olly Richards the polyglot from England. Our conversation covers points about what accent you should learn to speak with, the importance of developing clear pronunciation and effective communication in English, using Periscope to listen to native English speakers and the physical side of learning a language. See below for a transcript to the introduction, more information and links to Olly’s work.

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Introduction Transcript

Olly Richards, the polyglot from England, is on the podcast again today. This is the second time I’ve spoken to him on this podcast. The first time was back in February I believe. [A bit about how to say “February”] That’s episode 332. If you haven’t heard that one, I recommend that you go into the archives, find it (or click here) and listen to it because it’ll give you some good context for this one and also it’s just really useful for English learning because it contains loads of good advice and lots of motivation.

Olly is a great guest for this podcast because he basically spends his time learning languages and helping other people to learn languages too. Olly has managed to learn lots of languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic and Cantonese and he learned them all in adulthood, not as a child. That’s quite an achievement and he’s managed to do it using some pretty clever strategies, techniques and routines which we can all apply to our language learning too.

Now, I’ve arranged to speak to Olly over Skype in just a few minutes so I’m just gearing myself up for the conversation now. I’m getting my Skype settings correct. Last week I saw him briefly on Periscope talking about a recent work-related trip to LA and how the trip had affected his language learning routine and it sounded very interesting so I sent him a message saying “Hi Olly, I saw you on Periscope the other day – Do you fancy coming on the podcast soon for a catch up?” and he quickly replied by saying “I’d LOVE to come back on the podcast. I could do podcasts all day long, and especially yours since it’s so much fun.” So that’s that. It’s all been set up.

We haven’t done much preparation for this beyond just setting a time for the conversation. The idea is that we’re going to just catch up on his recent news, see where the conversation takes us and ultimately share more conclusions and tips about language learning.

Oh, there’s just one last thing. Do you remember in our last conversation that Olly asked me to make a commitment about my French learning? I promised that I would practice for 10 minutes a day. Also, I seem to remember a number of you made commitments about your learning in the comments section and I wonder if you’ve kept up with them. Well, honestly – I haven’t been the greatest student because I haven’t kept my promise. Yeah, I know, I know. To be fair, I did go out and buy some self study materials which I chose very carefully and I started with the best of intentions, but I only did a few pages and then got out of the habit of doing it. So, I feel a bit bad about that and I wonder if he’s going to bring it up. I think he probably will, but let’s see. Now, my French has definitely improved recently but the rate of improvement is just not good enough and I need to pull my socks up and turn over a new leaf and adding some daily practice into my routine would definitely help. Anyway, let’s see if he brings it up.

Now though, it’s time to talk to Olly Richards the polyglot from England. Here we go.

*Conversation Starts*

We talk about…

  • His trip to the USA
  • How accents change when people travel to different places (e.g. when Brits go to the USA their accents ‘accommodate’ to the local accents a bit, and vice versa)
  • The relationship between accents and our identity
  • Accent reduction vs learning clear pronunciation
  • The physical side of learning a language. Is it normal to experience any physical pain when practising your speaking
  • The importance of engaging in conversations in English to improve your effectiveness in communication – italki is a good way to do this

Click here to check out italki – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk

Links

Now, I’m going to have my lunch. Cheers!

Luke