Category Archives: Advice

439. Reading Books to Learn English

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Some self-study books for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar

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

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

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

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

Writing
Email English by Paul Emmerson

The value of reading books

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

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

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

How to choose the right book for you

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

How to learn English from reading books

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

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

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

Your comments: What books in English can you recommend?

438. Hi Luke, I have a question!

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

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Japan show – 13 April

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

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

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

London LEPster meetup

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

Russian LEPsters in St Petersburg

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

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

Other Comments & Questions

Mattia Andrao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons

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

Solutions

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

Jane
Hi Luke!

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

 

429. RAMBLENEWS!

A video is available for this episode (see below). Here is an episode with some rambling about recent news, LEPster meetups, transcript project team, listener comments & questions, teaching phrasal verbs with ‘in on’ and some music. This episode is also on YouTube. See below for details.

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Video (with some extra content)

Links

Moscow LEPster Conversation Club on Facebook www.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425/

Tokyo LEPsters 3rd Meetup www.facebook.com/events/1850850918464336/

A Phrasal Verb a Day teacherluke.co.uk/archive-of-episodes-1-149/phrasal-verb-a-day/

Introduction

I’m just checking in on you. How are you? I’m videoing this one. You can see it on the page for this episode, or on YouTube. I might do this more often if I can. (more about this later)

Are you growing a beard?
I’m not really doing anything! It’s just coming out of my face.
Someone in one of my classes said to me “Oh you’re wearing a beard!” – we don’t really saying this. You might say “Oh you’ve grown a beard!” or “Oh, you’ve got a beard”.

Here’s an overview of stuff I’m going to talk about in this episode

  • Some news, some admin, some language tips, some phrasal verbs and probably some rambling!
  • LEPster get togethers in Moscow and Tokyo
  • The pros and cons of uploading LEP videos onto YouTube
  • A quick reminder about The Transcript Collaboration
  • Playing the podcast at different speeds
  • Some recent comments from the website and other places
  • A question about phrasal verbs with ‘in’ and ‘on’
  • An update about a phrasal verb a day
  • A song on the guitar
  • Plus the usual rambling and stuff!

A lot of what I’m reading is written on the page for this episode, so check it out.
Also, if you’re transcribing – don’t forget to check the page for the episode because some content might already be written there and you can copy it into the transcript.

LEPster get togethers

Moscow

Moscow LEPsters – every weekend in cool anticafes where you pay a fixed price and then get as much tea, coffee and cake as you can stuff into your face. Sounds cool.

You can see from the FB pics that these spaces are interesting – one of them has a big lizard in a glass tank (like an aquarium, not a tank for war).

Click here for the FB page for the Moscow LEPsters Conversational Club

Alex (one of the Moscow LEPsters) sent me a message. It was his birthday and he asked me if I could talk to them for a few minutes. It looked like – or sounded like they were in a Russian sauna or something (!) but they were just crowded around the phone.

  • Alex said “You look good in the frame” – The phrases in English would be: ‘Photogenic’, ‘the camera loves you’, ‘you look good on camera’
  • I didn’t tell Alexander to say that thing about italki – but it’s true!
  • “Mafia” sounds like a fun game. They played the Lying Game the previous week.

Doing YouTube videos

Advantages

  • There’s a much bigger audience there. As Alexander said, many people don’t know what podcasts are (or how to spell or pronounce “podcast” either). He’s right, it’s still a bit of a niche, which I quite like in a way – if you’re taking the time to find this, get it on your phone and listen to it, it probably means you’re the sort of person who will like it, and YouTube is full of lots of general viewers who might discover my videos without really knowing what it’s all about, and they might not be the sorts of people who want to listen to me – but that’s a bit negative isn’t it. I’m sure there are plenty of people on YouTube who could like what I do, so I should try it more. Lots of YouTubers get high numbers of views. It could be successful for me. I could reach an even bigger audience.
  • Some people prefer to watch, like visual learners etc. You can see my mouth moving and my body language. We know that the majority of the message we communicate is visual, so it might be good to see the way I move, the expressions on my face and so on.

Disadvantages

  • Video is much more complex, inconvenient and time-consuming to produce. It takes up much more storage space and processing space on my computer. It slows down my computer a lot. I prefer audio for that reason – it cuts down the time I have to spend on this and allows me to produce more work.
  • It can actually be a distraction from the language. Ultimately, I want you to focus on the spoken language and not get too distracted by the things you can see.
  • But when possible I will try to video myself doing podcasts. Like Alex said, it shouldn’t require much extra effort to have the camera running while I’m talking and then upload the video straight onto YouTube, except that I won’t have the option to edit the video – as soon as I start trying to edit a 1hr video, everything takes absolutely ages.
  • Perhaps I should also do more short videos on YouTube, rather than just the . It’s something I am thinking about certainly.
  • Another thing I’ve been asked about is whether I’ve considered doing Facebook Live or Instagram Live videos. I keep thinking about doing that and I really should. I’m basically in the habit of doing the audio podcast and it’s working really well for me. BUt from time to time it would be cool to do FB live (I don’t have Instagram) and just hang out with some of my listeners. Some of you will be thinking – but I don’t have FB or Instagram! I’d have to video myself doing it on a separate camera and then upload that to YouTube. You wouldn’t be able to send comments and likes during the video, but you’d at least be able to watch it.

Facebook page for Moscow LEPsters: www.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425/

Tokyo!

Tokyo LEPsters are getting together on 3 March. Click here for the FB page!
www.facebook.com/events/1850850918464336/

We’re still coming to Tokyo in April – first and foremost it’s a holiday, because I’ve always wanted to show Japan to my wife who has never been, and I haven’t been back since 2005. But I am hoping to do a gig there, perhaps on the evening of Saturday 15th April.

Transcript collaboration

re-establish the rules and the benefits, and answer a few common questions.
How does it work
Rules on the page
Leave messages next to your chunks
Everyone has access to all the scripts, including the ones that are fully transcribed now.

Play the podcast at different speeds!

At 0.5x speed – I sound totally drunk.

Comments on the website

The comment section is alive with conversation these days in a way that’s never happened before. This is largely due to a few listeners like Cat, Nick, Eri, Antonio, Jack and Hiro who have been very chatty there recently – but also because of other listeners who drop in and leave comments – which is lovely to see and it’s adding some lively conversation and extra content under each episode because people are sharing videos, thoughts, pictures and other content.

Phrasal Verb Question

Frank asked me about the expression ‘in on’

Would you do me a favour? Can you sometime explain the usage of the expression “in on”? I don’t know in what cases it’s appropriate and why it is used in that way.
The last time I came across with it, was when I watched the first movie of Grey’s Anatomy. The young doctors, who came fresh from the university to the hospital in Seattle to work there, were welcomed by the director with the words: “Each of you comes here today hopeful, wanting in on the game.”

This expression is a little confusing to me. Usually, we use in or on in a sentence. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the other example I have seen it. I hope this makes more sense for you. Thank you for all your effort.

Have a great weekend!

Response

“In on” doesn’t mean anything really. It’s all about how that combines with other parts of the sentence.

At the beginning of this episode I said “I just want to check in on you and see how you’re doing”

Don’t focus on ‘in on’. You need to focus on “check in on you” or “check in on someone”.

So this is not about the meaning of the prepositions ‘in and on’ but the meaning and grammar of verbs, like “Check in on”.

Some people say this is a phrasal verb, or a multi-word verb, or an intransitive prepositional phrasal verb. To be honest we could spend ages trying to categorise this kind of grammar/vocabulary, to get exactly the correct term for these slightly different types of verbs – there are many different names in different books, and I guarantee that if we did spend loads of time defining what a phrasal verb is and what they should be called, it will just give you a headache. Phrasal verbs are notoriously difficult to understand from a grammatical point of view and as a result people don’t really agree on what to call them. Type 1 phrasal verbs, type 2 phrasal verbs, separable phrasal verbs, inseparable phrasal verbs, transitive or intransitive, prepositional verbs, intransitive non-separable idiomatic particalized verb phrases! Let’s just call them bastards, ok.

Because they are bastards, certainly when you first encounter them properly – I mean, they’re difficult and tricky, so they can seem like bastards if you’re learning the language or trying to teach it.

When you first encounter them, they can seem like bastards. Of course, once you get beyond that feeling and you learn a few phrasal verbs and get comfortable using them, they become less like bastards and more like slight bastards and then not bastards at all, and eventually you can call them your friends.

You’re already friends with some of them. E.g. “Take off” “Give up” “Shut up” “Carry on” “Find out” – you probably know all of those and you’ve discovered that they’re not really that bad. They’re pretty cool actually. And you have a sort of deep respect for them after a while, to the point at which you can call them bastards again, but in a good way. Like, “you cool bastard” or “Ah, you’old bastard you! Come here ya bastard! How have you been!?”

Anyway – ‘in on’. Let’s have a look.

The phrase you quoted from Grey’s Anatomy was “Each of you comes here today hopeful, wanting in on the game.” The director of the hospital is giving a speech to the new trainee doctors.

This phrase “To want in on something” means to want to be part of something, to want a piece of something, to want to be involved in something.”

E.g. “I’m putting together a team of people for a bank job. We’ve found out that 100 million dollars in diamonds is being delivered to the city bank next month, and we’re going to take it. We’ve got an inside man at the bank. Everything’s cleared. Security’s been paid off. We need a driver and some muscle to carry the bags and take the money to the safe house. Who wants in? Who wants in on this job?”

Some phrasal verbs have ‘in on’ as part of the phrase.

Copy me in on any correspondence (copy me in) – to be included in the email chain (to be CCd)
I want in on this job (to want in) – to want to be included in the job.
Are you in on the joke? (to be in on a joke) – to be included in the joke.
It took me ages to catch on to what he was talking about. (to catch on)
I’m just checking in on you. (to check in on someone) – suggests visiting a person to check how they are doing – also used for phone calls. Imagine popping into someone’s office and saying “How are you guys doing? I just thought I’d check in on you, see if you need anything.”

Mainly these are intransitive phrasal verbs with a dependent preposition.

Now, verbs in English aren’t always one word. Sometimes they’re two or even three words. We have a lot of verb phrases, also called phrasal verbs.

Just like normal verbs, some phrasal verbs are intransitive.

Intransitive means the verb doesn’t need an object.

Comment – would you like to comment?
Participate – I’ll participate.
Object – He strongly objected.
Complain – She didn’t like it. She complained.

But if you add an object you have to use a preposition.
Comment – would you like to comment? Would you like to comment on the game?
Participate – I’ll participate. I’ll participate in the workshop.
Object – She strongly objected. She strongly objected to the decision.
Complain – She didn’t like it. She complained. She complained about the changes.

This works with some phrasal verbs too.
E.g.
Copy in.
Catch on.
Drop in.
Talk back.

When you add an object, you need another preposition.
Could you copy me in on the email.
Did you catch on to the secret plan.
Shall we drop in on Jeff in his new flat?
What do I have to do to keep ahead of the competition?
The teachers hate it when Dave talks back to them.

So, in the end, I would suggest that you try to learn this kind of language as a chunk of vocabulary and choose not to be too distracted by the vocabulary.

So, try to notice all the phrasal verbs in this paragraph.

“I’m just checking in on you. Just thought I’d drop in on you, just to see how you’re getting on with the project. I’m really glad to see you working hard on this one. It’s exactly the sort of thing we need to do in order to keep ahead of the competition. Make sure you keep copying me in on all the email correspondence with the clients and suppliers so that I can keep up to date with all the work that you’re doing, while I sit in my office smoking a cigar and watching the cricket, ok?”

You’ll see that written on the page for this episode. Try to learn them and add them to your active vocabulary.

A Phrasal Verb a Day

I haven’t done one of those episodes for months. The reason is that it’s hard to get back into the habit, and because there isn’t enough incentive for me to keep doing them.

Hi I’ve started listening to your phrasal verb podcast. I found that It is the perfect content to study by myself since I can use phrasal verbs in my real life right after listening to it. I can rather easily find written version of phrasal verb list but actually listening to your explanation is better for me to understand and memorize it.
Though It’s a shame that you couldn’t reach your goal, which is making 365 list of it. but I also understand It will be very hard for you to carry on this without any sponsorship. I actually think this content is worth to pay, you might want to publish it through another platform.
Thank you again^^
DY from Korea.

Even though episodes are short, it does take quite a lot of time – I have to create lots of pages on my site, manage transcripts for each one, and it’s taking time and I have to wonder what’s in it for me?

Click here for A Phrasal Verb a Day – Episode Archive

Spotify playlist

Song

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part 1) – Lyrics

 

 

422. Learning British Dialects with Korean Billy

Talking to Billy from Korea about his videos about regional British dialects and accents.

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Today on the podcast I’m very glad to be talking to the one and only Korean Billy.

You might already know about Korean Billy because he has recently made a name for himself on YouTube by producing videos about British English dialects showing and explaining specific words, phrases and accents you might hear in different parts of the UK, and they’re proving to be very popular, especially with people in Britain. I think the appeal of his videos is that although Billy is from another country, he’s really managed to identify a lot of the specific dialect words and pronunciation of these forms of British English that even some Brits aren’t that familiar with. Also, he just seems like a really nice guy who is not only enthusiastic about understanding different local dialects of British English but also helping other people to understand them too.

Billy used to live as a student in England. In fact he studied at university in Preston in the north of England for a few months where he met people from many parts of the country and then he started making YouTube videos about British dialects last year.

In the last few months his videos have gone viral, particularly in Britain, and he’s been featured on websites like BuzzFeed as well as on various radio and television programmes in England including several BBC programmes. He’s most famous in the UK for his videos on Scouse, Geordie, Mancunian and “Roadman” dialects. The Scouse dialect is from Liverpool, the Geordie dialect is from Newcastle, the Mancunian dialect is from Manchester and “Roadman” is a kind of dialect associated with groups of young people in London. Since recording this conversation Billy has uploaded videos about Hull dialect words and Birmingham dialect words. He’s also got some videos which feature some good clear advice for other people learning English as a foreign language, based on his own learning experiences.

I’m interviewing him on the podcast because I think he’s a really clever guy who has learned English to a good standard and he knows a lot about British accents and dialects. I want to know more about how he has done that, and I just love regional accents so I think it could just be a lot of fun to talk to Billy about this whole subject.

Let’s now talk to Korean Billy.

* * *

If you want to hear Billy doing those British regional dialects and learn about them yourself, then check out Billy’s YouTube videos. Click here for Billy’s YouTube channel

What do you think?

As a Brit, I’m interested in Billy’s work, but I wonder what you think, because you’re approaching this subject from a different point of view, as foreigners who don’t have English as a first language (most of you) and who might not be so familiar with these specific versions of British English.

How do you feel about this? What I hope is that you feel inspired by Billy,  and you feel like he’s a good example of an English language learner, and that he shows that if you’re enthusiastic and outgoing about learning English and if you apply yourself to your learning that you can make heaps of progress. I also hope that although you might not want to speak with a Scouse accent or a Geordie accent, that you’re still curious about these different varieties of British English. I think that knowing the different versions of the language helps you to develop a fully rounded and solid English, and that involves not only listening to different accents but also trying to copy those accents. It’s all good for raising your awareness of features of pronunciation and improving the range of your English in general.

Korean Billy on YouTube

Click here for Billy’s YouTube channel

Korean Billy on the BBC

Jimmy Carr explains how to do some British accents, including Scouse “I want some chicken and a can of coke” (Billy mentioned this in our converstion)

Also mentioned

Misfits (TV show) – Features lots of different UK accents and some *explicit content*

Attack the Block (Film) – South London youth dialect

What have you been thinking while listening to this episode?

Whoever you are, wherever you are – let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

Thanks to Korean Billy for taking part in this episode.


POST-RAMBLE

Some more thoughts, from me to you, at the end of this episode…

I just want to mention a few other things that might make you think a little bit.

LEPster Get-Togethers

I recently got this message from Nick Wooster, one of the guys who has been organising Get Togethers with other LEPsters in Moscow. This is basically his report about the get togethers.

Thanks for your inter­est in our meetings, Luke! It’s reall­y i­mportant and plea­sant­ for us! Almost like a­ virtual participatio­n :) Actually, on ­ave­rage 10 people “ge­t ­together” in our meetings! And it­’s ­nice to know that ­th­e­re are already so­m­e regular L­EPsters who come almost ever­­y time! BTW, are the­r­e really 50/50 male­s a­nd females among ­your ­listeners?! Acc­ording­ to our modest­ stats ­we have 80 ma­les to 20­% females h­ere in Mosc­ow:) Prob­ably the fa­ct that y­ou are alrea­dy marri­ed somehow in­fluence­s, doesn’t it?­

Activities. At the ve­­­ry beginning newcom­e­r­s tell the rest of the group a­bo­ut­ themselves and­ ho­w they happened to start­ list­ening to ­you:)­ After­ that­ we shif­t to th­e main­ topic­ mention­ed in t­he a­genda – e­ach one sha­res his/her op­inion ­and the others ­ask s­everal questions­ or ­give comments if­ the­y have some. Usually ­t­he discussion is qu­it­e lively and not a­ me­ss. I mean, we do ­with­out loud interru­ption­ or arguing, wh­ile th­e talk is quit­e inte­ractive itself­, which­ is surprisin­gly good­ for people ­from dive­rse backgro­unds who h­ardly know­ each other­! We also­ share our o­wn life ­stor­ies conn­ected w­ith th­e topic­s. Nex­t time w­e are ­going­ to pla­y a lyin­g ga­me (to guess if s­mb.­’s story is true or f­alse) at ­the very be­­ginning – it should ­b­e fun and also a go­­od chance to work on­ ­our speaking skills­. Also, Luke, if you ­have some ideas, piec­es of advice, maybe j­ust interesting and e­ffective games or wha­tever we would be gra­teful to you for shar­ing best practices:) ­with us!

We also publish on­ F­­B and VK the lin­k­s­ to useful resource­­­s discussed at the ge­­­t-togethers.

Most of the participa­­nts have known about­ ­these meetings due ­to­ your announcement­ of­ the first one. T­hat’­s why we were th­inkin­g if we could a­sk you­ to announce t­hat our­ Get-Together­s are al­ready regula­r! Curren­tly we meet­ every Sun­day at 6 p­m. The best­ way to b­e informed o­f agenda­, place and t­ime is ­to join our gr­oups o­n FB  m.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425?ref=bookmarks an­d VK ­http://www.vk.com/clubnu1

Previously a­s far as I remember w­e and you posted link­s for a particular ev­ent, if LEPsters join­ the group, they will­ be always aware of a­ll the events. Everyb­ody is welcome!

All in all, current M­oscow LE­­Psters are ­really gl­ad that we ­have s­uch a club now­ and can sh­are their­ thoughts on topics y­ou have raised­ in yo­ur episodes and gener­ally just s­peak Engl­ish with lik­e-minded­ people! Than­k you, ­­Luke, for suc­h an o­pp­ortunity;)

Nick.

P.S. Regards from my ­frien­d Dmitry who al­so contacted you!

Hello Nick, hello Dmitry and hello to all the other listeners who have got together recently in a conversation club. It’s odd, normally I imagine my listeners as individuals on their own, but I suppose there are some people out there who listen as a shared experience with other people, not necessarily at the same time, but there are other people you know who also listen – so I just want to say a special hello to listeners who listen with other people – like, if you listen with a brother or sister “Hello”, if you listen with your husband, wife, boyfriend of girlfriend “hello”, if you listen with your kids or parents, “hello” and if you listen with your teacher or some classmates or something, then “hello” to you too. If you listen with a pet animal or even a wild animal “hello”, and if you listen with friends or indeed any other living beings, then “hello” to you – the communal LEPsters out there.

My thoughts on LEP Get Togethers

I want to encourage this sort of thing in general. Meeting publicly, or meeting online. Let’s be clear about it – what you’re doing is creating your own peer group for improving your English, and that’s a really important part of your English learning.

The more I speak to people who have learned English to a proficient level, the more I notice that one of the habits or features of their learning was the fact that they spent regular time with a group of friends who talked in English. For example, there’s Kristina from Russia – a good example, but also Korean Billy and plenty of other people. Another thing worth noticing about this is that you don’t necessarily have to be hanging around with native speakers. Just spending meaningful and enjoyable time in the company of others and doing it in English, building friendly relationships and all that – it’s all very good for your English, even if you’re not mixing with native speakers. If you’re getting exposure to English in your life, having a peer group to interact with is going to allow you to develop your communication skills as a natural social process. So I fully agree with the idea of these get togethers and I think it’s great!

Also, the more my listeners get together in local communities like this, the easier it might be for me to come and visit at some point and put on a show or have a live podcast recording or something. So, carry on everyone, you’re doing it right!

Several Get Togethers have also happened between LEPsters in Tokyo and in London if I remember correctly. So it’s not just the Moscow LEPsters. And you could do it too in your town. Just set up an FB page and let me know, I’ll give you some publicity if I can.

What to talk about or do?
Playing a game or having a topic – good ideas, definitely. I recommend using all your creativity, playing the lying game for fun or any other parlour games like the name game for example. Also, consider playing different board games in English too. As long as you’re having a relaxing and pleasant time and you’re exchanging information in English, it’s good.

One idea is simply to agree on your topic beforehand and simply write down a load of discussion questions relating to that topic. Then you can fall back on those questions if you need to. You can just let the conversation go wherever it feels like going, but go back to the questions if you want.

Be interested in what the others are saying. Really interesting people are interested in others. It’s important to create an atmosphere in which people listen to each other – this is really important because it makes people feel valued, and when you really listen to what people are trying to say and you show your interest in those people, it’s like giving water to a plant – it just helps it grow. Imagine you’re in a social situation. If you feel like people are interested and listening, you’ll feel far more comfortable and ready to talk. So, listen to each other and remember that everyone’s got a story to tell, you just need to be ready to notice it. So, your get-togethers are not just speaking sessions, they’re listening sessions too.

It might be worth assigning a leader to each session who is generally in charge of things, but also each participant should take the initiative to ask questions and start conversations and things, but of course it shouldn’t feel like a role or a job, just let it happen naturally.
Just have fun and keep me informed about how it’s all going!

I encourage other people to set up their own conversation groups. I’m calling them “Get-Togethers” – what do you think of that? Do you think the name works? You could call them Meetups, or Gatherings or Meetings or whatever you like really.

I just want to remind you that this sort of thing used to happen every week online on Skype in the ChatCast which was setup by Guillaume from Switzerland. It was basically a Skype group that recorded their group conversations and also published it as a podcast. I appeared on it a few times. They picked a different topic each week and just discussed it in a friendly and open way. The ChatCast is having a break at the moment but you can hear some of the episodes in the ChatCast archive at chatcast.ch/

There was also an LEP Whatsapp group and an LEP Skype group that used to share contact details in my website forum. I have closed the forum now because I streamlined my website recently, but I don’t know if the WhatsApp group and Skype groups are still running. So, if you are still chatting to other LEPsters as part of a conversation group on Whatsapp or Skype, please let me know because I can find a way for you to continue to share your contact details with each other on my website. I still have an archive of the Forum posts about the skype and whatsapp groups by the way.

There are lots of LEP related projects going on and I think it’s cool.

The comment section, with lots of friendly chatting about episodes, the topics of episodes and other tangents.

The LEP Get Togethers.

The Transcript Collaboration – run by The Orion Team – an awesome band of podcast listeners who work together to transcribe episodes of this podcast and proofread each others’ work.

Podcasts done by listeners to this podcast (although I can’t claim credit for all of them of course) but still, it’s great that they’re doing it. Notable ones of the moment are Zdenek’s English Podcast and Daniel Goodson’s My Fluent Podcast. There was also Chriss’ English Podcast and Guillaume’s Engilsh Podcast as well as the Chatcast and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone else.

Podcasting is brilliant anyway and of course I recommend that you try it, experiment with it and have fun. And of course Korean Billy could be an inspiration to you. You could consider sharing your learning experiences on your own YouTube channel. You might catch people’s attention, and who knows what cool things could happen to you. At the very least you’ll practise your English a lot.

All right, thanks for listening. This podcasting thing is pretty amazing isn’t it? Yes it is. OK good, I’m glad you agree. I’ll speak to you soon. Bye!

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. :)

consciousness-1719996_1280

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!

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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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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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