Category Archives: American & British English

461. 25 Deceptively Difficult Questions (with Amber, Paul & Sarah)

An episode about the tricky little questions that we use when socialising. What are the appropriate answers? What are the subtle differences? How do native speakers use these questions? Can you take the test and get all the right responses to my list of deceptively difficult questions?

Small Donate Button
[DOWNLOAD]

25 Deceptively Difficult Questions – Proper Introduction Transcript!

Hi everyone,

This is an episode about social English, the kind of English you use when you’re socialising, particularly the little things you say when you greet someone or at the beginning of a conversation.

There are many ways to say “hi” and also lots of ways to say “how are you?” or “what are you doing?” The tricky thing is being able to judge the subtle differences in the questions with the presence of auxiliary verbs or modals which change the meaning slightly from the past, to the present to the future or with slightly different levels of formality.

I’d like to do a test in this episode today. I am going to test you, so get ready.

A Test

Here’s what’s going to happen.

I’ve prepared a list of 25 questions. I’m going to read them to you in a moment.

As I say each question, what I want you to do is to think really quickly and really naturally about the first thing you would normally say when you hear that question. What’s the first answer that comes into your mind?

Let’s see if you answer correctly.

To find out the proper answers we’re going to listen to me directing those questions at Amber, Paul and Sarah. Then you can listen out for how they answer them and the comments we make afterwards, which should explain these tricky little bits of English.

Not only can you learn some essential social English in this episode, you can also hear plenty of humorous conversation between the four of us.

Sarah’s baby is also there in the background. I’m sorry if this bothers anyone. I’ve removed some of those noises but a few are still there. I think it sounds fine and adds a bit of atmosphere and after all she is a very cute baby.

So, the test. Let’s get started.

Are you ready? Just give the first answer that comes to mind.

Also, you should know that some of the questions are intentionally incorrect. So, if you hear a question which is grammatically wrong or just not used ever, you can say “wrong”.

Ok, so, your quick answer to the question, or “wrong” if it’s incorrect.

I’ll say the question once quickly, once slowly and once again quickly.

Some of these questions may seem extremely simple – the point of this is the pragmatics of social English and how you should give certain stock answers to some questions. They get a bit harder as they go along.

Also, you can try to repeat the questions too.

They’re going to come pretty quick, so use the pause button if you want.

Here we go. You might think these are easy, but that’s why this is called ‘deceptively’ difficult questions.

*4 questions are intentionally incorrect. Can you spot them?

  1. What are you doing?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. How’s it going?
  4. How are you going?
  5. What’s happening?
  6. What’s going on?
  7. What’s going down?
  8. What’s going up?
  9. What’s up?
  10. How do you do?
  11. How are you?
  12. How have you been?
  13. How have you been up to?
  14. What are you up to?
  15. What have you been up to?
  16. How long has it been?
  17. Can I use your phone?
  18. I can’t use your phone, can I?
  19. Do you mind if I open the window?
  20. You don’t mind if I open the window, do you?
  21. What are your plans for later?
  22. What are you up to later?
  23. Can you tell me where is the best bar in town?
  24. Do you know how long is it going to be?
  25. Would you be prepared to give me a 5% discount?

Ta = thanks

You’re now going to hear all those questions and how Amber, Paul and Sarah will respond to them. See if you got them right or wrong!

I’ll go through them again quickly at the end.

Listen to the whole episode for all the correct answers and explanations.

Don’t be a ninja! Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

Cheers!

Luke

460 Catching Up With Amber & Paul #6 (feat. Sarah Donnelly)

Conversation and language analysis with the podpals and guest Sarah. Hear some conversation about being married to a foreign person, bringing up kids to be bilingual, and learn some slang in Australian and Northern Irish English. Vocabulary is explained at the end.

Small Donate Button
[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction

This episode is choc-a-block with natural conversation and language.

Yesterday I had Amber and Paul over to the flat, and I also invited Sarah Donnelly, a friend of the podcast. Sarah also brought her baby who she had since she was last on the podcast. There’s no relation by the way between her being on the podcast and having a baby. Purely coincidental. Anyway, the four of us sat around the table yesterday in the blistering heat to record some podcast material and that’s what you’re going to hear.

Sometimes you can hear the baby screaming and gurgling in the background but I don’t think it spoils the recording really. She hasn’t learned to talk yet, but who knows being on the podcast might help a little bit in some way.

The conversation is a bit chaotic because there are 4 people, sometimes talking over each other. If you like you can imagine you’re in a business meeting. A business meeting in which no business actually takes place, nobody observes the rules of formality and where the participants just chat with each other. So, not much like a business meeting really, but anyway a meeting of sorts, and this is the kind of thing you might have to deal with in the future if you go to a meeting in English and there are a number of people discussing things and you have to keep up. It’s good practice to listen to this kind of thing to help you prepare for that kind of situation.

This recording was slightly shorter than the usual full-on ramble that we have together. But I’m going to do a bit of language analysis at the end. I’ll pick out a few words and phrases and will clarify them after the conversation has finished.

Also there’s another language-related episode coming soon with Amber, Paul and Sarah.

Here now is a discussion between podpals Amber and Paul, also featuring Sarah Donnelly the American with Irish roots who has been on this podcast before, most recently talking about the US Presidential Elections with Sebastian Marx.

Things we all have in common:

  • We’re all English speaking expats in France
  • We are all with French partners, either married or “paxed”
  • We’re all comedians on the stand up scene too

In this chat we discuss a few things, such as the complexities of being with a foreign partner, bringing up a child in a foreign country to be fully bilingual, getting married and what it feels like for the bride and groom on the big day, Amber’s podcast which was recently released online, Paul’s upcoming gig in Australia, Sarah’s Irish roots and some English slang from New Zealand, Australia and Northern Ireland.

Questions

Here are some questions for you to consider as you listen. This can help you to focus on the content.

  1. Are you or have you ever been with a foreign person in a relationship? What are the difficulties of that?
  2. What’s the best way to bring up a child to be bilingual? Is it possible to raise a bilingual child when only one of you speaks one of the target languages to the child?
  3. Are you married? How did it feel for you on the big day? Did you cry? Have you ever been a guest at a wedding, and did you cry?
  4. Have you heard Amber’s podcast, which is called Paname? It’s now available at panamepodcast.com
  5. Can you identify different English accents and dialects from around the world? How about American vs British, or different areas of the UK? How about Ireland and Northern Ireland? What about Australia and New Zealand? Do you know what their English sounds like?

Right. Consider those questions as you listen to this conversation and hold on until later when I’ll explain some of the vocabulary and some cultural stuff too, maybe touching on different accents, wedding vocabulary and more.

But now you can listen to Amber, Paul, Sarah and me, melting in my boiling hot apartment.


Vocabulary and other language points – Explained

It’s really hot
It’s hot as hell
It’s boiling
It’s sweltering
It’s baking
It’s blisteringly hot

Being partnered with a French person is hard work.
I have one hour’s worth of material on this.
One hour’s worth of something
5 minutes’ worth of something
We’ve got 3 days’ worth of food left
I’ve got about 10 minutes’ worth of battery left

Bringing Up Children
Bringing up
a baby in a foreign country with a foreign partner – will they speak English?
Bring up a baby
Raise a child
Be raised in / to
Grow up
Do you have experience of bringing up a baby to be bilingual? Let us know.
If just one parent speaks English, and the rest of the time it’s French with school, friends and everything else – will the kid be bilingual?
Anglophone
Francophone

Condone/Condemn
I don’t condone the hitting of a child (stupid thing to say actually – but that’s what happens when you joke – sometimes you go over the line a bit – obvs I didn’t mean it)
Condone / condemn

Paul’s Wedding
An out of body experience
We were so stressed out

Crying
To cry
To be in tears
To well up
To choke up

Neither of us cried
I thought everybody would be in tears
I welled up a bit
I was choking up

Walk down the aisle
The altar

Her parents aren’t with her any more. They passed away.
Paul’s dad gave her away. “It was so sweet that it was your dad that was giving her away.”
I’m left-handed
I can’t grip it like I like to grip it. (innuendo)
He’s jumped ahead. (he’s gone to the innuendo before we realised it)

Some ninjas came out of the woodwork. (to come out of the woodwork)
to appear after having been hidden or not active for a long time:
After you’ve been in a relationship for a while all sorts of little secrets start to come out of the woodwork.
Mildly disapproving.
From Cambridge Dictionary Online.

They feel like they’re going to do mistakes. Make mistakes.

Aussie slang mentalfloss.com/article/61847/25-awesome-australian-slang-terms
G’day mate, how are you going?
Arvo: afternoon
Barbie: barbeque
Bogan
Chockers
Fair Dinkum
Fuckin’ oath!
Sweet as
Strewth! (Cliche)

Kiwi slang
The slang is pretty similar to Aussie or UK slang, but the accent is different. For years I couldn’t differentiate it from Aussie, but the more you hear the more you realise how different it is. Watch Flight of the Conchords to hear lots of it. Episode in the pipeline.

457. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 2)

A follow-up to episode 455 consolidating the insights of Professor David Crystal including various pearls of wisdom about language learning.

[DOWNLOAD]

Notes & Transcriptions

Hamid
If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!

Jilmani
What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.

Jairo wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.

Cat
English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.

Wesley
Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.

Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.

Mayumi
Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.

Synchronic not diachronic method.

Wikipedia:
Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.

DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.

Antonio
Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.

Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“Booyakasha”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website.
Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.

Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.

How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).

Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.

These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

456. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 1)

Discussing and clarifying what David Crystal said in episode 454. Conclusions about language learning and linguistics.

[DOWNLOAD]

Transcript

Here we are back once again with an episode of this podcast for learners of English. This one should contain insights about the English language and the process of learning that language, straight from the horse’s mouth.

That’s an expression, “straight from the horse’s mouth” which means you get information directly from a reliable and trusted source. In this case that source (or horse) is Professor David Crystal, who of course isn’t a horse – that would be very bizarre. No, he’s of course, he’s not a horse, he’s a great expert on the English language, the author of many books, known by anyone studying linguistics, he’s described as the world’s leading voice on language. I was very happy to have that leading voice on my podcast and there’s certainly a lot of good information to take in – whether you’re learning English or simply interested in languages and what makes them tick.

In this episode the plan is to go through some of the ideas David talked about and see if I can point out some specific bits of relevance for learners of English.

Let’s unpick the wise words of Prof David Crystal and really clarify some truths, tips and general conclusions about language learning, and perhaps explain some of the vocabulary you heard as well.

Essentially, I am going to repeat the main points DC made here, but the aim is to clarify it all and make it a bit more digestible. I will constantly be attempting to answer the question – how is this useful for learners of English? So, you should be able to take away quite a lot from this episode, in combination with the other two.

Is grammar glamorous?

Glamour and grammar come from the same word – because grammar, language etc used to be considered like magic. But grammar seems to have lost its magic these days, in the way people think about it. These days its considered to be boring, prescriptive and all about rules you learned at school.

It’s not glamorous if you study it like they used to in school. Just parsing sentences and working out what the part of speech is.

It only works if you ask why people are using those forms.

Semantic (focusing on meaning) vs pragmatic (why people say the things they say).

Understanding the motivations of the people who use grammar (the pragmatic side) is the interesting part and that’s when grammar really comes alive and becomes glamorous in the old sense of the word.

For learners of English this means exploring not just the form of the language you’re studying but also the reasons why each different form is used. The challenge is to get the semantic side and the pragmatic side into your studies.

So, don’t just study grammar rules on their own in a list. You need to examine the living language and notice those forms and the way they are used to perform specific functions.

Can you learn English without studying grammar?

Children do it, and you can do it too but it takes a long time for all the language to be assimilated by exposure. You can cut out a lot of that time by studying the rules. As adults we can apply what we already know and take apart the language by studying. So, studying grammar is an essential part of the learning process and goes together with a more long-term process of acquiring English through exposure.

But it’s no good just learning the rules and being able to explain it all on paper, you have to know when and why and where all the grammar is used. So it’s about applying yourself to the pragmatic aspects of the language you’re using and letting that guide your choice of language.

So, as I’ve said before – listen a lot, read a lot – like this podcast or any other material you fancy, but it’s best enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Do some grammar work too, like self-study exercises in English Grammar in Use or another decent workbook, but make sure you are always asking yourself – why are these people using this language like this? How are the motivations affecting the choice of words and structures? When you’re doing your listening try to notice bits of language which you’ve studied. Could you say the same thing another way? What would be the difference and how is language related to that. Try experimenting with different ways to put something and get used to the slight nuance it adds. E.g. using a passive structure or an active one.

I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?

No! Not a teacher!
Some linguistic-y tips – basically to know what all the grammar is, but also to be aware of the English that’s being used in the real world and how all that applies to the grammar you’ve studied.

I would add:
don’t be afraid of it, it’s more interesting than you might think, you might need to learn some abstract terms but don’t be put off, the more you learn the more you can learn, always look for examples.

Learning about why certain grammar forms are used really opens up the way you can see language. For example, learning that passive forms are used when you don’t want to mention who did the action allows you to see all those situations. You might want to write an impersonal formal letter, or give a general notice, or describe a process or simply talk about something that happened to someone without constantly talking about who did it. E.g. imagine a story about a guy who is a victim. People keep doing things to him but you want the guy to be the centre of the story. Like, John was kidnapped. He was bound and gagged and thrown into the back of a taxi. It took two hours for him to be rescued.

You wrote a political history of grammar in the UK (published online at www.davidcrystal.com)
What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today?

Essentially, Brits have an up and down relationship with grammar, based on the fact that grammar study came in and out of fashion and grammar was learned in a two-dimensional way. People are often a bit prescriptive about grammar as they think it should be about rules and regulations, but they’re really only attempting to impose controls over something which evolves over time.

Knowledge of Grammar in the UK
In the 50s kids all learned basic grammar at school, getting examined at 16. Told to identify parts of speech in a sentence.
Then it went out of fashion in the 70s.
Several generations of kids who didn’t study any grammar at all.
Now they’ve grown up and some of them are teachers.
They don’t know any grammar.
The ones who grew up in the old style had learned grammar.
The younger ones were teaching but had no knowledge of grammar.
“The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater”
A language awareness programme was brought back, with a modicum of grammar back in the syllabus/curriculum.
David had to do lots of basic grammar training for these teachers. He wrote “Rediscover Grammar”.
Now, it’s back again.
Kids are examined for their ability to recognise parts of speech and do sentence parsing.
But the semantics and pragmatics aren’t there – it’s just mechanical analysis of sentences. Some teachers are very unhappy.

Now there are 3 types of audience.
The oldies who are in their 60s who know about the old style grammar teaching,
The middle generation, some of whom know a lot about grammar and some who don’t.
Then the modern generation for whom grammar is back. They have to come to terms with it.

One positive thing for learners of English is that you probably know more grammar than the average native English speaker. You should feel quite good about that.

Questions about language from Amber & Paul

People complain about the decline of the English language. Are standards of English declining?

That Q comes from 2017 but you can see exactly the same question being raised at any time.
The English language is in a state of terminal decline. (according to people)
This also applies to spelling and pronunciation and punctuation, plus discourse politeness. Grammar gets more mentions because there’s less of it to complain about than say ‘vocabulary’. Grammar has only 3000 or so basic points of grammar to master.
So, people feel that if you can’t manage that then there’s something serious to worry about.
People look to contemporary examples to justify their complaints.
IN the 1860s it was because of Americans.
Today the internet gets a lot of the blame, especially texting, tweeting, SMS.
Uneducated people will blame what they sense to be a reason for what they perceive to be a decline.
But when you study it you realise there’s no correlation between the signs of decline and the features they mention.
Usually people cite old prescriptive rules.
You should never end a sentence with a prep. You should never split an infinitive.
The English language has survived very well even though people have been breaking these so-called rules for 200 years.
This is the man I was talking to. – Any modern person realises it’s a stylistic distinction. “To whom” is more formal.
The informal usage also has a history as old as the English language. It’s in Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question… Or fight others that we know not of.” (ending a sentence with a prep – Hamlet)
It’s a huge puzzle to understand why the old grammarians decided to be so prescriptive.
They were blinded by their views.

For learners of English – realise that the language is always in flux. Keep up with it. Remember also that some people have slightly traditional views about language. E.g. more people in the world say “schedule” with a /k/ sound, but I continue to say “Schedule” with a /sh/ sound because it annoys people to do it the American way. Similarly, I think there’s nothing too bad about splitting an infinitive, but I tend to avoid it because it makes people a bit annoyed too.

They’re grammar nazis who don’t know what they’re talking about, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re right.

It’s not such a big problem for learners of English really. You have your own issues with accuracy. But remember that everyone struggles a bit with the language, even native speakers. We should have a progressive view of how language rules evolve, but a lot of people don’t share those views.

If you encounter people who say “It’s the death of the English language”, they’re talking out of their bum. Remind them that English is alive and well and shows no signs of dying, quite the opposite. They’re just being reactionary and hyperbolic.

Language Death

Almost half the languages in the world are endangered.The reasons are many. It could be linguistic genocide – forbidding the use of the language, or opting not to use it for political reasons (e.g. because you want to side with a particular faction on your country), but when a language is endangered, when another language starts taking over the functions of that language, people no longer find themselves able to use that language for everything – certain facilities kind of disappear because people have got used to doing it in the other language.

Welsh is quite successful these days because of activism, but a few years ago English was taking over Welsh, and also some rules of Welsh grammar weren’t being used. You get a sense that the structure of the language is declining. Certain Welsh structures stopped being used. It looked like a kind of structural erosion of Welsh, because of the influence of English. Vocab is more common – many foreign languages contain English words. #Franglais

But there’s no hint of decline in relation to English which is actually going from strength to strength. Spoken by 2.3 billion people. It’s nowhere near death.

They just mean it’s changing, it’s not death.

Language change is difficult for lots of people to take and they talk about death but it’s irrelevant. The only languages that don’t change are dead ones. They go in very unexpected directions and you can’t predict them.

Petty language gripes don’t bother him. They don’t bother me either.

Partly it’s to do with identity – people are annoyed that British identity is changing or being influenced by American identity. But getting annoyed at the language usage, which is a symptom, is a bit redundant.

Some people don’t like change at all, but David sees it as a natural part of the way languages develop. Be like David.

My mate Paul often says that we’re actually using the language incorrectly because there are more non-native speakers than native speakers of English. Is he right or talking nonsense.

Error: Talking about right and wrong.
Correct: The perception that there are more non-natives than natives.

It’s a global situation now, not local (e.g. North vs South England). Global language differences are the same as local ones – equivalent – just different communities using English differently, on a global scale.

Now it’s Irish English, Indian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Singaporean English and many many more including French English, Japanese English and so on – all versions of English spoken by people who have learned it to a proficient level as a 1st or 2nd language.

It’s just different communities that are right in their circumstances.

Standard English and non-standard English.
Standard English is traditionally viewed as the correct version, but NSE has it’s own justification. There are reasons why non-standard English exists and they’re perfectly good ones. Non-standard English and standard English are equal in terms of their status.

A standard promotes intelligibility. Standard English has lots of users, but there’s also a huge number of dialects (international), many different kinds of English reflecting community backgrounds. You can’t say “right and wrong” in these circumstances. It’s just a number of different communities using English in a way that is appropriate for their conditions.

When you start looking at individual cases like a foreign learner is breaking a rule of standard English, then you’ve got a transitional situation. BrE and AmE. They coexist. It’s not possible to say “wrong” or “right” when millions of people are using both versions.

In China there are very fluent speakers of English, not learners but proficient speakers, who have developed a certain usage which is basically Chinese English. Local features of grammar and vocab don’t keep communities apart, we just learn to understand each other.
“Informations” vs “information” – no problem of intelligibility.
Anyway, Chaucer wrote “informations”.

These small differences are expressions of identity and rarely get in the way of intelligibility. This is one of the reasons the UK has proud diversity in its English accents. They’re all statements of local identity, and although we see the differences, we are able to communicate with each other.

It’s a Q of whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate for that circumstance and the two criteria are
Intelligibility – do we understand you. If we understand you, it’s appropriate.
Identity – differences are an expression of local identity. Lang is adapted to reflect the locale, especially the vocab – all the reference points to important things in culture. Local terms, idioms, expressions etc.
If the English you use is wrong for that context because of the way it expresses a certain identity then you have a problem of appropriacy.

If Ali G went to the Houses of Parliament to speak with politicians and civil servants, his English would be considered inappropriate (even if intelligible) because people would think it’s not the proper way to address people and so on. Similarly if Theresa May went to a skatepark and tried to talk to some locals, she’d have a hard time as well.

English is always in tension between intelligibility and identity (against global anonymity)

Local versions need to be different enough to express their identity, but not so different that nobody understands them.

My French students feel a bit bad about their pronunciation.
Do they need to worry?

This is perhaps the #1 concern of my French students who judge each other harshly for their accents and also feel bad about it. It may be the same in your country, but I find in France people are very disdainful of a strong French accent. I don’t mind that much.

The bottom line is, once upon a time they would have felt bad because people would have said “you’re speaking English badly” and that’s not so long ago.

Now, there is no such thing as a single version of universal English accent. RP is spoken by less than 2% of the population of England. It’s a minority accent but a powerful one.

Why should people be expected to speak this minority accent when other accents are now considered acceptable in their own right.

RP is important because of tradition but miniscule compared to American, Indian and so on. It’s no longer possible to condemn an accent because it doesn’t fit in with this small version of the language. You have to analyse it on its own terms, with its local identity. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the need for intelligibility.

So the main thing is – can we understand you? If “yes” then no worries. Does it matter if you sound a bit French? What’s wrong with sounding French?
I was very impressed by Emmanuel Macron who made a speech in English. It wasn’t perfect, but he got his message across and it showed him to be a really open, confident, modern person. Compare that to Francois Hollande who couldn’t string a sentence together. You don’t need to speak English perfectly in the traditional sense, but you do have to speak it. Stop worrying about being 100% accurate – concentrate on being 100% intelligible. The main criteria is “can you express what you want to say?” not “can you express this flawlessly?”

“But my accent isn’t good”
Well, develop a different mindset. Start thinking more positively about all this!
“I don’t speak received pronunciation” (french accent)
“Well nor do I!”
Mixed accents are the norm everywhere.
English accents are much more mixed than ever before.
There are now hundreds of millions of people who understand each other but have local accents as a reflection of their national pride.
Why are the French worried about sounding French?
There’s nothing wrong with sounding a bit French. (But it’s hard to convince them of this – French people can have very negative views about some things, especially their position on the world’s stage – they beat themselves up quite a lot, which is odd. In comedy, they seem ok about being insulted about their national character. They quite enjoy the masochistic approach it seems! Either that or their just happy to have a foreign comedian talking about French things during a show, even if it is criticism. Making fun or insulting people is quite normal in French comedy – I think this is linked to the way French people often beat themselves up about stuff like English.

The main job of the teacher is to expose the students to a wide range of accents. Let them hear the English in different accents, to prepare for the real world, to develop a sense and an awareness of diversity which inevitably will help to change their mindset.

*By hearing lots of different types you get more of an overall understanding of the entire language and how it can have a core structure which is changed slightly in different versions of English.

So – I should keep playing you extracts of English spoken in a variety of accents so that you can hear the whole range.

But also, don’t get hung up on your accent too much. It’s very hard to cut out the traces of your origins, and it’s unnecessary. Just focus on being intelligible – fix your pronunciation, vocab, grammar, punctuation etc following this criteria and you’ll be on the right path.

END OF PART 1 – PART 2 COMING SOON

454. David Crystal Interview (Part 1) Professor of Linguistics

Talking about language with one of the world’s top linguists, Professor David Crystal.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction

Hello everyone, thank you for choosing to listen to this episode of my podcast. I am particularly pleased to be able to present this episode to you. It is, in fact, a privilege for me to say that today on the podcast I am talking to Professor David Crystal.

I’m now going to give a quick introduction just to make sure that you are all fully aware of the calibre of this guest and to emphasise to you just how lucky we are to have him on the podcast today.

According to The Guardian newspaper, David Crystal is the world’s foremost writer and lecturer on the English language.

He isn’t an English teacher, but he is an expert on linguistics. That’s the study of language and all the issues relating to it.

David Crystal

David Crystal has a worldwide reputation and has published something in the region of 120 books including numerous academic reference works and encyclopedias of language, and books for the general reader covering topics such as English grammar, spelling, punctuation, accents, connections to Shakespeare, the influence of technology and the development of language throughout history.

He is currently patron of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) and the Association for Language Learning (ALL), president of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the UK National Literacy Association, and honorary vice-president of both the Institute of Linguists and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales and in 1995 he was on the Queen’s honours list when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (the OBE) for services to the English language. The OBE is the second highest honour which you can receive from The Queen – the highest being the knighthood or damehood.

So he’s Britain’s favourite language expert and he regularly makes appearances at literary festivals and teaching conferences, appears on British radio and television, writes articles for newspapers and magazines and researches all kinds of language-related topics.

But the main thing he does is to write books…

David’s Books

Some of his most popular books include:

  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
  • The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
  • The Story of English in 100 Words
  • You Say Potato: The Story of English Accents (written with his son Ben)
  • Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain (Written with his wife Hilary)
  • Txting: The Gr8 Db8
  • Pronouncing Shakespeare: The Globe Experiment – a fascinating project investigating how English was pronounced by the original actors in the Globe Theatre when Shakespeare was alive
  • Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling
  • Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life in Language (which is both his autobiography and a highly accessible introduction to the field of linguistics)
  • And from this year “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar”

Many of those titles can be purchased as ebooks from David Crystal’s website – www.davidcrystal.com or from any good bookseller. There are also audiobook versions which are read out by the man himself.

David Crystal’s writing is clear, entertaining, informative and simply a pleasure to experience. The same can be said about his public speaking. I’m always impressed by his ability to take a complex academic subject like linguistics and turn it into the sort of thing that anyone can understand and enjoy.

I met David once at a teaching conference where he presented Andy Johnson and me with an award for a presentation we did. I had a chat with him afterwards and was delighted to discover how down-to-earth and friendly he is and I’ve always wanted to interview him for this podcast, but it’s only recently that I actually plucked up the courage to ask him. Thankfully he agreed.

David Crystal is a nothing short of a national treasure and I can’t believe I’m talking to him on my podcast.

Right – I think you get the idea now – he’s kind of a big deal for anyone interested in language and language teaching and so without further introduction, here is my conversation about language with Professor David Crystal.


Questions for David Crystal

Grammar

Your recent book from this year is called Making sense: the glamorous story of English grammar.

Is grammar really ‘glamourous’?

In my experience, a lot of learners of English feel a bit bored or intimidated by grammar, leading some teachers out there to say that you can learn English without grammar – learn English without thinking, etc.

Do you think it’s possible to learn English as a second language without studying grammar?
I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?

You recently wrote a political history of grammar in the UK as a supplement to your book “Making Sense”.

What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today, in your experience?
Has this attitude changed over the years? How has it changed?

Language Decline

I was recently having a conversation about language with a couple of friends on this podcast and we arrived at several questions that we couldn’t really answer. I thought you might be able to help.

People often complain about the so-called decline of the English language – citing things like poor grammar, punctuation, spelling, acronyms or text-speak as evidence that standards of English are slipping. Do you agree with that? Are standards of English declining? How do we even measure that?

People seem to be afraid that what they see as falling standards will result in “the death of the English language”. Has a language ever completely “died out” due to declining standards? What causes languages to die?

Are we better or worse at communicating than we used to be? (answered later)

‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’

Are you bothered by those so-called ‘errors’ in English that make some people angry?

Non-native speakers influence on English

My mate Paul says (as a bit of a joke) that because there are more non-native speakers of English in the world than native speakers, we’re actually the ones who are using the language incorrectly. E.g. because more Chinese people pronounce some English words in a certain way, it’s the native speakers who are pronouncing those words wrong.
Does he have a point or is he talking nonsense like he usually does?

French Pronunciation example

My French students often feel bad about their pronunciation because it’s so ‘French’. We understand everything that they say, but they’re really hung up on the fact that they sound so French – e.g. they can’t pronounce TH sounds in words like strengths, clothes, thirty three etc and it seems to be impossible to fix it.
Do they need to feel so bad about it?

How should my listeners feel about their relationship with English, and the version of English that they speak?


End of part 1

That’s the end of part 1. The conversation will continue in part 2 where you’ll hear me asking some questions sent in by listeners, and there were some really great questions including predictions about English in the future, the role of AI in language learning, the impact of Brexit on English in the world, and the way Donald Trump and Barack Obama use English.

I hope you’re enjoying listening to this, and that you’re able to follow some of the slightly complex points being made.

David gave so many really interesting answers and made some very important and useful points, and he continues to do that in part 2.

I think David speaks very clearly, with that slightly Welsh or Scouse twang in his voice. He lives in Hollyhead, in Northern Wales, not far from Liverpool, and he lived in Liverpool for a while as a child, which accounts for the slight accent that he has, if you noticed that.

As he said, his accent is a mix of different things, caused by the time he has spent living in different places and interacting with different people – RP speakers in the south east, locals in Wales and Liverpool and so on. It all contributes to the way he speaks. He also happens to be very articulate and I really admire the way he expresses his thoughts so clearly.

I hope you agree that we really are rather lucky to have David Crystal on the podcast and I think it’s worth listening to this episode several times so you can really absorb everything he’s saying because he really does know what he’s talking about and there’s a lot of knowlege there.

I think I should do a follow-up episode to this in which I just restate the main points that he made, just to consolidate it all, and I plan to do that. I could also talk about some of the questions which I didn’t have a chance to ask David.

I also hope you noticed that David Crystal helped to clear up some of the things I was discussing with Amber and Paul in episode 452. I should go over those things again if I do a follow-up episode, just to make it “crystal clear” – pun intended. I totally intended to make that joke and I think you should know it’s a brilliant joke which nobody has ever made before and this is sarcasm but it also isn’t.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com for all his work, his blog, videos of him speaking publicly and more information, including the opportunity to send him a message if you want to.

I strongly recommend getting some of his books, which should be available from any good bookseller. You could try “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar” for example.

Also, don’t forget that you can get audiobook versions of his work.

For example, I listened to You Say Potato – the one about accents in the UK and I think the audiobook is better than the printed book because you can actually hear his son Ben doing all the accents. You could get that as part of a trial with Audible – and remember I have that deal with them – you can get a free audiobook if you go to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke or click an audible logo on my site. They’ve got a lot of DC’s work there. Start a trial, download your audiobook, listen to it using the Audible app on your phone and you can cancel the membership and not pay anything, or continue your membership for about $15 dollars per month and get another free book next month and so on…

So, that’s the end of part 1. Part 2 should be available for you very soon and you can hear David answering questions from listeners, and that’s brilliant because the questions were very diverse and David Crystal answers them – what more do I need to say? I still can’t believe I spoke to him on the podcast. I need to contact other awesome people for interviews now I think.

Thank you very much for listening to this. Don’t forget to join the mailing list to keep up with every new episode and to get convenient access to the page for each one where you’ll find various bits of supporting information, transcriptions, links, videos and the comment section. Just visit teacherluke.co.uk and pop your email address in the subscription form and Bob’s your uncle.

I look forward to reading your comments in the comment section.

Reminders

LEPsters are still getting together and spending time socialising in English.
In Moscow there is a group that hangs out every Sunday. Their FB group is called “Conversational English for Free – Moscow LEP Club”. https://www.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425/

Also in St Petersburg there is a similar group which gets together on Sundays. You can find them on FB by searching for “SPB LEPsters Conversational Club” – I understand they have get togethers on Sundays. Kristina from Russia who won the LEP Anecdote Competition last year often takes part – friendly people, speaking English, playing games, hanging out. https://www.facebook.com/spbenglishLEPclub/

LEPsters in Tokyo have got together a number of times, and I attended one in April to do some stand up – you can hear all about that in my Trip to Japan episodes (part 2).

Also, recently a group got together in Prague in the Czech Republic – in fact you can hear their conversation because it was recorded and published on Zdenek’s English Podcast.

Again I’m flattered because they talked mainly about LEP – including, shock horror, their least favourite or “worst” episodes of the podcast.

Listen to both episodes below.

Also, if you’re in Spain I have heard rumour that there will be at least one meetup group getting together there, somewhere, sometime soon.

If you’re thinking of setting up something similar, let me know because I can publicise it on the podcast and get the word out.

Speak to you in the next episode!

Luke

431. Restaurants & Hotels / Really Strange TripAdvisor Reviews (with Amber)

Talking to Amber about experiences in restaurants & hotels and some truly bizarre TripAdvisor reviews.

[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction

[No video for this one – next time, probably]

The other day I was on Facebook and I came across an article called “21 Really Strange TripAdvisor Reviews”, which was a collection of funny and strange reviews of restaurants and hotels on TripAdvisor, a website where customers can leave reviews and ratings for restaurants and hotels.

I opened the article and I read a couple of the reviews and found them funny, bizarre and in some cases quite horrifying, and generally just amusing.

For example, one of the reviews goes:

Tripadvisor review

Eugh! He scraped off the mayonnaise with his hand!

A: Hello, I’d like a chicken burger please, but with no mayo. Thanks…
B: OK sir, here’s your chicken burger.
A: Oh, sorry, I said no mayo.
B: Oh right. Here… (scrapes off with hand) That’ll be 1.99 please.

There are about 20 other reviews like that on this page I found, and most of them are much stranger and more horrible than that one.

I thought “This could be a fun thing to talk about on the podcast. Restaurant and hotel experiences.”

Now, I’ve worked in hotels and restaurants before, in my time. I’ve had various dead end jobs working in kitchens and bars and restaurants and hotels and stuff, and so has my friend Amber Minogue who you know from this podcast. I did ask Paul to join in as well but he was too busy filming so it’s just Amber and me.

I went over to her place to talk about this and to see what she thought of some of these bizarre TripAdvisor reviews that I’d found, and that’s what you’re going to hear in this episode.

You’ll hear lots of conversation about that subject, which will of course include vocabulary relating to the hospitality industry in our descriptions of working in restaurants and hotels. You’ll hear some bizarre and slightly disgusting anecdotes and various tangents in our conversation as we end up talking about all kinds of other things, as usual.

Some of the scenarios that are in these reviews are quite disgusting, so just bear that in mind. Some of the stuff is a little bit gross.

You should also know that the episode does contain swearing. There’s quite a lot of swearing in this one and that’s for various reasons, partly because we imagine the scenarios, imagine the situations that these people were in these reviews and act them out, and that does just involve some swearing, plus we talk a little bit about the British TV chef Gordon Ramsay and Gordon Ramsay is famous for his bad language. He’s probably one of the world leaders in swearing. He’s probably the best in Britain. He’s one of the best swearers in Britain I would say. So, talking about Gordon Ramsay also involved using some ‘F words’.  And also, for some reason, Quentin Tarantino, the Quentin Tarantino movie Reservoir Dogs comes into our conversation as well and that naturally involves lots of swearing as well. So, the episode contains swearing.

I know that you might not expect a teacher to use swear words, but on this podcast (as you know if you’re a long-term listener) I do try to present you with the kind of normal informal English that friends use when they’re talking to each other in private, and people do swear when they’re together with their friends, and that is the kind of English that I’m choosing to present to you on this podcast. Now, it’s usually not appropriate to use swearing in public situations like in classrooms, at work, with host families, in comments on public social media forums etc. I feel like I should say that because sometimes learners of English aren’t completely aware of the rudeness and inappropriacy of swear words in English and how swearing fits into the culture of the English language. Just bear that in mind before you decide that swearing is a sort of short cut to sounding natural in English.

Before we get onto the subject of restaurants and hotels there is a bit of rambling chat about some English phrases that Amber keeps noticing recently. Amber has been doing some research for her own upcoming podcast project about the history of Paris. Apparently she’s been preparing an episode about a famous murder that happened, and in her research she came across the word “burlap sack” – something about a couple of murderers hiding a body in a burlap sack. If you remember, this word “burlap” came up several times in our recent episode about the Victorian detective story. In that one, a kidnapper wore a burlap sack over his head to hide his face. So, burlap is a kind of material which is used to make sacks, like the kind of sack or bag that you would use to carry loads of potatoes.

Burlap is quite an obscure word and you’ll hear us laughing about this because neither Amber nor I were aware of that word until we did the Victorian detective story on the podcast recently (“hessian” is the word we knew) so it’s sort of a coincidence that Amber read the word again in a book recently, and that leads us to talk about how it’s strange that when you learn a new word you suddenly start to notice it everywhere. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that. You learn a new word that you didn’t even know existed before, and then suddenly you notice it all the time.

Amber then gives a couple of other examples of that happening to her recently, with the phrases “Hobson’s choice” and “gaslighting”. “Hobson’s choice” basically means “take it or leave it” – it’s a choice of one thing, or nothing – so it’s basically an illusion of choice. It’s not really a choice at all because there’s no alternative – either you take this one thing, or you take nothing, and that’s known as Hobson’s choice. To be honest, it’s not a very common phrase so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The other one was “gaslighting”, which means to psychologically manipulate someone into doing something by making them doubt their own sanity – so you make someone think they’re going insane in order to then take advantage of them. Like, stealing biscuits from your housemate by somehow convincing him that he’s just going mad and that maybe he’s just been eating the biscuits and forgetting about it. We give a couple of examples in the conversation.

The point is, you’ll hear us talk about how Amber recently became aware of these phrases and then started noticing them everywhere, and we have a laugh speculating about how they came into the language in the first place, but then we do start talking specifically about restaurant and hotel experiences after all that!

Right then, that’s enough of an introduction, now let’s get started properly and by the way, you can see a link to all the TripAdvisor reviews we’re talking about on the page for this episode.


Hobson’s choice

www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hobsons-choice.html

Reviews of Archie’s in Looe

www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g186237-d1158226-Reviews-Archies-Looe_Cornwall_England.html#REVIEWS

Really strange TripAdvisor reviews

21 Seriously Strange Tripadvisor Reviews


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the collection “How to be British” by LGP www.lgpcards.com/cards-1.html 

Outro

So, that was Amber and me talking about hotels and restaurants.

  • I’d just like to say a couple of things and ask a couple of questions at the end of the episode here.
  • What is your best or worst restaurant or hotel experience? Let us know in the comment section.
  • Thank you to all the members of the Orion Transcript Collaboration team – you’re doing a fantastic job. A google document for this episode should be available soon so you can put your name next to a 3 minute chunk and start transcribing it. We spoke pretty quickly in this one, so – may the force be with you! If you want to join the transcript collaboration then you are welcome to – everyone’s welcome. Just go to my website and click Transcript Collaboration in the main menu, all the information should be there.
  • We mentioned Gordon Ramsay in this conversation and since then I’ve started preparing an episode about him and his TV show “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” – I have used clips from his TV show in my lessons before and it was very successful, entertaining and interesting and Ramsay is quite an interesting and impressive person, not just for his approach to cooking and restaurant management, but because of his creative and compulsive use of swearing. So, expect a Gordon Ramsay episode of this podcast soon (although I haven’t actually recorded it yet).
  • I’m glad to see that the episodes about Limmy were popular. Do check out more of Limmy’s videos on YouTube. You’ll get used to the Glasgow dialect after a while, and I kind of think – if you can understand these different dialects of English your listening will become a superpower. Imagine being able to understand all the different versions of English, it would be amazing, and it is possible – it’s just a question of exposure and practice.
  • How’s your English coming along? If you set a new years resolution in January, are you keeping it up? Sometimes we all need a bit of support with our language learning, so I hope to do something motivational about that soon.

OK, time to end the episode or it’ll never end will it?! Nice one for listening to the end, have a biscuit or three, and next time you go to a hotel, make sure you check inside the kettle before you make a cup of tea…

Oooh, what a weird thought. Perhaps it’s best not to leave you with that thought. Instead you can just imagine being in the safety of your own home, where you know the kettle is completely safe and you can gaslight your housemate into buying some cake or biscuits or just cook a delicious Gordon Ramsay recipe and then settle down to watch Reservoir Dogs on the TV and then go to sleep in your own bed and just dream the night away.

Alright, speak to you soon, bye!

430. Discussing Language Learning & Life with Fred Eyangoh

Talking to Fred about history, geography, comedy, learning English and cutlery.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction

On the podcast today I am talking to a friend of mine called Fred Eyangoh. English is not Fred’s first language but he’s learned it to a proficient level – enough to complete a Master’s’ program in Business Management and Marketing in English and to do regular comedy shows in English too.

I’ve invited Fred onto the podcast because I want to talk to him about, how he develops and maintains his English, what life is like in the country that he originally comes from, and we do talk about those things – Fred says some interesting points about how he’s has pushed his English on his own, but also we ended up talking about lots of other things like history, geography and cutlery (that’s knives, forks and spoons).

You’ll hear that Fred speaks with an accent which is quite difficult to put your finger on – it’s hard to identify exactly where he comes from, and I’m not going to tell you right now, because I want you to guess, based on his voice. Where do you think he comes from?

You’ll see that although it’s his second language Fred’s English is precise and accurate in terms of grammar and he uses a wide range of vocabulary, and to a large extent that is down to the way he has applied himself to his acquisition of English.

We ended up talking for about an hour and fifteen minutes in this conversation, and I’ve decided to publish all of it in this one single episode, rather than dividing it into two episodes because I think it’s best enjoyed without interruption, as one continuous flowing conversation.

OK, let’s begin. The first thing you’ll hear us talking about is the First World War, because Fred has been listening to a podcast called Hardcore History, and he’s been listening to an episode of that podcast about the First World War. Click here to check out Hardcore History with Dan Carlin about World War I.

And that is the first thing that we talk about.


Recap – What Fred said about Learning English

Let’s recap some of the things Fred said about improving your English.

Now, I know some of you are thinking – but he had some English lessons when he was 4, that’s cheating! Sure, that must have helped, but I know people who had English lessons from childhood at school but they still don’t have a great level of English. It’s not just that, it’s also the other things you do in your life.

  • Immerse yourself in English content that you really like – in the case of Fred it’s comedy and films. We all know about this, but it’s worth repeating. Get some English into your everyday life and make it some content that you’re fascinated by.
  • Notice/Track vocabulary and go the extra mile. This doesn’t just mean watching films with subtitles on. That bit of advice has been said a million times, and it is true. But while you’re watching, listening or reading you should ‘track’ the language or ‘notice’ the language while you’re consuming it. Make a point of noticing specific bits of English, like vocabulary items and then research that language by investigating it online, reading around it, finding more active examples of it using google or wikipedia. As Paul Taylor has said “Just Wikipedia it!” and it’s good advice of course when you’re doing self study. Find examples of new words and expressions, not just definitions and read plenty of examples (e.g. by using the News tab in Google search results, or by exploring Wikipedia) until you’ve made plenty of connections and associations with that new word and you know it well enough to start using it.
  • Work with audio and transcripts. Listen and then check out some words that you don’t know by circling or highlighting them and then researching them as we just said. For example, most TED talks have transcripts on the TED.com website. Now, we all watch TED talks from time to time, but how often are you playing around with the interactive transcripts and really exploring the vocabulary that you can find there?
  • Broaden your range. Push yourself to use the language you’re picking up by finding new ways to say the same thing – e.g. avoid just using the simple verbs like ‘be’ or ‘have’.
  • Be creative – write down your ideas. You could write some comedy, some poetry, some stories and if you feel like it, find a place where you can share your work, like a spoken word open mic night or something like that.
  • Socialise and be outgoing. Go out and meet people who you can speak English to. Find your own peer group for socialising in English.

OK, that’s it! Go the extra mile and push your English, but do keep enjoying it – that’s one of the most important things.

Check the website for some videos of the comedians Fred mentioned.

Join the mailing list!

Speak soon, bye!

Comedians Fred Mentioned

Fred is a great fan of comedy, and I always think that stand-up must be a great source of English you can listen to, and there’s so much of it on YouTube, and if you have Netflix you can find lots of great stand up comedy shows and they all have subtitles, so switch them on and go for it!

Here are some of the comics Fred mentioned.

Maria Bamford
She’s one of the top comedians in the USA right now. She tells stories using different voices to let us understand (and laugh at) the problems she experiences in her everyday life. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and she deals with both of those subjects in the most adorable and hilarious way, changing her voice to represent the different people in her life, cleverly revealing their attitudes and treatment of Maria. This video is a good example of the way she changes her voice to become a different person in her routines.

Chris Rock
An absolute mega-legend in comedy. Brave, sharp, honest and one of the funniest stand-up comedians ever. *Warning: rude content*

Louis CK
He’s generally considered to be one of the hottest standups in the world at the moment. Comedy is a question of taste of course (and Louis talks about some quite dark, edgy and offensive subjects) but Louis is really great. *Warning: rude content 

fred

399. The Return of Molly Martinez (with Dane Nightingale)

Talking with two American friends about journalism, how the internet works, the US presidential election results, California’s new marijuana laws and puffins.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]
In this one you’ll hear me in conversation with Molly Martinez and Dane Nightingale.
Molly has been on the podcast before – she was in episodes 198 and 199 – have you heard those? They’re fun episodes. In those episodes we talked about her studies as a journalist, we tested each other’s general knowledge of the UK and the USA and I tried to teach her how to do different regional accents in British English. That was episodes 198 and 199, in 2014 – ah, 2014, such fun times, such innocent times… Those episodes are still available for you to hear in the episode archive.

198. A Cup of Tea with Molly Martinez

199. The UK/USA Quiz

For a few days Molly is back in Paris seeing friends and visiting her old haunts, and this time she is accompanied by Dane Nightingale, who I think you will agree has a rather fantastic surname. (by the way, a nightingale is a bird that sings a beautiful song but only during the night time).

They’re both here for a couple of days and thankfully I managed to grab them both (not physically of course, just figuratively) for about an hour of conversation on this podcast.

Overview of this episode (to help you keep up)

This episode has a light-hearted bit at the beginning, then quite a serious bit in the middle, then another light-hearted bit at the end. The serious bit is when we start talking about the election, and there is a palpable shift in tone in the conversation at that point – so look out for that.
In the first light-hearted bit we establish these things:
They’re an item – they’re going out with each other – they’re going steady (I think this is the expression in NAmE) – they’re boyfriend & girlfriend, but they don’t live together – so they’re not living in sin, as you’ll hear them say.
Molly is a journalist for CBS in SF. She’s mostly on the production side but she does some on-air stuff (like reports to camera) as well as video editing and writing for anchors.
Molly is also a stand-up comedian who tells jokes on stage. She also tells quite a lot of jokes off-stage too. I think it’s fair to say that she’s something of a compulsive joke teller, which is alright in my book.
You’ll hear that Molly makes a joke about how I’m the heir to the BBC fortune, which makes me sound like I’m set to inherit the entire BBC (quite funny). I then explain in huge detail how in fact the BBC is publicly funded (not very funny).
Dane works for a start-up called Fastly, which makes the internet faster.
He tells us how the internet is basically just a series of tubes, and how my audio episodes travel from my servers in Tower Bridge, London to users all over the world, and how the start-up company that he works for, Fastly, aims to make this process faster by allowing data to be stored locally. I’m not sure I understand how it works!
Molly tells us about the 5 things that make something newsworthy: relevance, time, novelty, proximity and cats.
Then the serious bit begins when I ask them about their reaction to the US election. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting to hear about this story directly from the mouths of two US citizens from San Francisco. We try to understand how Trump won and Hillary lost, including the motivations of the voters, the campaigns of both candidates and also how the electoral system had an impact on the result.
Then the podcast becomes slightly less serious again and  the conversation turns to the subject of marijuana laws in the USA, how Molly once met Tommy Chong (one half of the stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong on an airplane – high in the sky, especially him) and then how both Molly and Dane are going to Iceland where it might be very cold, and where people might eat puffins – lovely little birds with colourful beaks.
You should also be aware of the meaning of these two words:

puffin

A puffin, puffing.

Puffins – cute birds which are protected by law in the UK but are very common in Iceland and apparently eaten there as a traditional delicacy.
Puffing – the gerund form of the verb ‘to puff’ which means to take smoke from a cigarette or perhaps a pipe, or a perhaps joint in the case of California. “To puff a joint, or take a puff from a joint, or toke a joint or take a toke from a joint”.

So – “enjoy your puffin”, can have two meanings – enjoy eating a little Icelandic bird as a delicacy, or enjoy smoking some weed (especially in California where it has recently been made legal).

Right, you are now ready to listen to the conversation, so here we go!

*Conversation starts – light-hearted bit – serious bit – light-hearted bit – conversation ends*

I just want to thank Molly and Dane again for coming on the podcast. They took some time out from their holiday to talk to me, and you, and some of that time was spent going over the election, and things did get a little heated during the serious part of that conversation.

Molly expressed her frustration about the standards that people seem to have about women in positions of power – something which Sarah Donnelly also talked about when she was on the podcast talking about Hillary Clinton recently.

Specifically regarding the public’s perception of female candidates, maybe it is harder for a woman to capture the trust of the nation, because she’s expected to have so many conflicting qualities all at the same time. If she’s too warm she’s considered too emotional, but if she keeps the emotions in she’s judged as cold. That’s, I think, what Molly was talking about when she said it’s a double-standard. The point I was trying to make was that I think voters respond to certain personal charisma regardless of their gender, but thinking about it maybe women are judged differently than men and it’s harder for them to strike the right balance.

Anyway, that’s quite enough politics for this episode. I just wanted to say thanks to Molly and Dane for talking about the election because they’re on holiday and this is probably a story that they’re quite sick of, after a year and a half of election coverage in the media back home, and I expect they’re glad to be away from it all for a few days. So, I hope you’ll join me in expressing your gratitude to them for taking the time to talk about it to us on this podcast. I very much enjoyed having them on the podcast, for their honest reactions and for the light-hearted bits at the beginning and the end.

Notes

~Lots of people have shown interest in hearing a conversation with my Dad about the recent news, including the election results and about recent political developments in the UK. I am planning on talking to him soon, so that episode should arrive before long – as long as I don’t get snowed under with work, or snow, or fall into a wormhole or something like that. I’m a bit wary of doing politics too much, for obvious reasons, but many of my listeners have sent me messages assuring me that they appreciate the commentary, so I won’t abandon the subject, but I will be getting on to other topics on this podcast as well as getting back to basics with some episodes about language.

~The next episode is #400, which is cool isn’t it? Not bad really, considering how long some of my episodes are. That must be about 400 hours of podcasting for you to hear. I’m quite proud to have made it this far. It’s mainly thanks to my listeners, your enthusiasm for this podcast, your support and the support of my sponsors. I’m not sure to what extent I’ll celebrate during episode 400 or anything. I did quite a lot of celebrating in episode 300 in which I had contributions from many of the guests I’ve had on this podcast over the years, as well as a few daft celebrity impressions by me and my brother. We’ll see… perhaps I’ll just switch on the mic and have a ramble, perhaps I’ll have some guests. We’ll see.

~Amber and Paul are both very busy at the moment. Paul continues to have success with his TV series which is called WTF France – an affectionate piss-take of French culture from the English point of view. It seems the French, generally speaking, are being very good-natured about it and are lapping it up. The show is now being broadcast now on Saturday evenings on Canal+, which is one of France’s major TV channels. That’s quite a big deal. Paul is now Saturday evening prime time entertainment! Amber and I are proud of him of course, and also pleased because we helped him to write some of the episodes. You can see them all on the YouTube channel called “What The Fuck France”.

“What the Fuck France” – YouTube Channel

Now, you might not understand the appeal of the videos if you don’t understand the specifics of French culture and it might just look like he’s insulting everyone, but the humour comes from the familiarity with French life, particularly in Paris and really he’s saying the sorts of things that most Parisian people think, but doing it in English. Also, the videos are really nicely produced and directed. They look great.

~The LEP anecdote competition is still open – in episode 396 you heard 10 anecdotes so please do vote in the poll. You can find that page by clicking the blue button on my website. I’ve decided that as a prize I’ll spend some time talking to the winner 1-to-1 on Skype. I hope the winner considers that to be a prize. It may or may not be recorded and published, we will see.

~Don’t forget to join the mailing list
~Follow me on FB and Twitter where I post other bits and pieces from time to time.
~Thank you if you have sent me messages in various forms and apologies if I haven’t replied.

More episodes are coming. I have lots of ideas and things in the pipeline, but there’s no telling sometimes what’s coming next. Often I just record and publish on an episode by episode basis – and the topic and content is often decided by whatever inspiration strikes me at a given moment. It seems quite random, but there’s a method to the madness.

Have a lovely day, night, evening, morning or whatever and speak to you soon. X

395. “Have you ever…?” with Paul Taylor and Robert Hoehn

In this episode I’m joined by Paul Taylor and Robert Hoehn and we do a speaking exercise that I often use in my classes to help my students to practise using different grammatical structures in their speaking. I thought it would be interesting to record some native speakers doing the exercise too, so that’s what you’ll hear in this episode, as well as various little anecdotes, a few jokes and general chat. The conversation contains swearing and a few humourous comments which shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

[DOWNLOAD]

Today I’m joined by a couple of guests. First of all I have Paul Taylor with me, fresh from an appearance on French TV.

And also, Robert Hoehn is back on the podcast.

Last time Rob was on was in episode 143, in which we hung out together in Rob’s kitchen, we made some tea cocktails and then Rob offended everyone with some obnoxious comments about American foreign policy.

Since then I have never invited Rob back onto the podcast.

Until now.

I thought it was time to bring him back on since his name has been mentioned a few times recently.

First of all, we have to deal with the fallout from his last appearance (which actually wasn’t that bad) before going on to talk about some other stuff.

How Rob offended everyone last time (well, not everyone…)

Last time Rob said some comments which were not supposed to be taken seriously. Just some stuff about America bombing other countries.

He hasn’t been on the podcast since. (except for a brief appearance during one of the Star Wars episodes, and a telephone call to Paul once)

So I think we need to deal with that and perhaps roast Rob a bit before moving on. Once he’s been roasted, his name will be cleared and his debt to my audience will have been paid.

Jokes from Rob’s roast

A roast is something that American comedians do. It usually happens on someone’s birthday. All the comedians take turns to insult the roastee. It gets pretty harsh and insulting, but that’s the whole point and everyone gets roasted. You’re not supposed to get offended. It’s a tradition.

Here’s what I said during Rob’s roast.

Hanging out with Rob is a profound experience. After you spend time with him you might have a crisis of religious faith. Not because he has persuasive arguments against the existence of god, but because if god does exist that means he has created everything, including Rob – and the question is “Why?” “Why would he bother?” “Why would an intelligent creator choose to invent Rob Hoehn? what would be the point?” It’s impossible. It wouldn’t have happened. So, Rob’s existence is basically proof that we are alone in the universe. No intelligent designer would have decided to create Rob, so there is no god and this is all the result of random chance.

But it’s exciting hanging around with Rob.

I imagine it’s a bit like spending time in the company of a great ape, like an orangutan.

It’s exciting, because you never quite know what he’s going to do next, and it’s fun to speculate on just how intelligent he really is. Whenever he manages to do something, like communicate a complex message it’s always very exciting, “Ooh! he asked for a banana! Ooh he offended everyone! Amazing!” but there’s always a fear that he’s going to get confused and start throwing things around or pull someone’s arms out of their sockets.

Rob of course is American. He’s from Minnesota in the mid-west of the USA, and he’s a great ambassador for the USA because he basically embodies all of the values that we associate with the united states. Basically I’m saying that he’s fat and ignorant.

I invited Rob onto the podcast a few years ago. I thought it would be a good idea. I’d now like to read a selection of comments that I got in response to that episode.

The first one is a message from a regular commenter, someone who regularly commented on every episode I uploaded.

“Hello Luke, as you know we all love your podcasts because they’re authentic and full of life…”

That’s nice.

“…However…”

Ooh

“However, this American was utterly arrogant and full of himself. I’ve never heard such a smart alec person in my whole life, I feel like jumping off a bridge.”

I never heard from that person ever again. Never left a comment ever again. He disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him.

Here’s another one.

“Hello Luke. I’m afraid…”

That’s not a good start.

“Hello Luke. I’m afraid I am completely disgusted by Robert. At 42mins50seconds…”

So this person continued to listen, despite being completely disgusted.

“At 42mins50seconds, on the subject of American attitudes to other countries, he said ‘The truth of the matter is that we just do not fucking care. We do not care at all what anyone thinks, because we Americans know that we can completely dominate everyone and if someone pisses us off too much – BOOM! Smart bomb.”

I’m actually quite proud of these comments because I don’t know if you noticed but they are very well written. In fact, I have used Rob’s comments a few times in class because they are very motivating. The students can’t wait to give all kinds of angry and abusive responses to what he said. They just keep producing more and more English in response to his statements. So thanks Rob you have definitely helped to improve the motivation and productivity of my listeners.

Rob originally moved to France to train to become a clown, which wasn’t necessary, let’s be honest. He wanted to become a clown because he was so inspired by his hero Ronald McDonald.

So there we are Rob – all is forgiven. You’re back to square one again. Welcome back to the podcast.

Have you ever…?

This is a conversation generator that I use in class. I usually use it in fairly low level classes in which they’re just learning to use structures like:

  • present perfect for life experiences – “Have you ever ridden a Segway?” “Yes, I have / No, I haven’t”
  • Questions in past simple tense – “When did you ride it?” “How was it?” “Did you enjoy it?”
  • ‘would like + infinitive / wouldn’t like + infinitive’ – “Would you like to ride a Segway?” “Yes, I would / No, I wouldn’t”

Have you ever…?

  • seen a ufo
  • eaten an insect
  • flown in a helicopter
  • done a jump in a car
  • made a complete fool of yourself in public
  • killed an animal by mistake
  • had a public argument or fight
  • gone scuba diving
  • slept outside (not camping)
  • met a famous person

Tell us about them in the comment section. Have a good day, evening, morning, afternoon or night and I’ll speak to you again on the podcast soon. Bye.

Luke

Paul’s TV Show

Paul is currently having a lot of success on French TV (and on YouTube) with his series of mini TV shows in which he makes fun of French culture. The show is also produced with the help of Rob Hoehn, and Amber and I have writing credits on some episodes. Check out a couple of recent episodes below.

 

Photos

grasshopper-guacamole

Paul’s grasshopper guacamole

391. Discussing Language, Culture & Comedy with Alexander van Walsum

Here is a new episode featuring a conversation with a friend of mine who originally comes from the Netherlands but he has lived all over the world. You’re going to hear us talking about cultural differences, Dutch stereotypes, doing business in France, the UK and the USA, the different communication styles in those places, doing stand up comedy and getting Darth Vader’s signature. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]

Alex performing at Le Paname Art Cafe in Paris

You can see Alex performing at “WTF Paris? – Comedy Therapy for Expats” with Amber Minogue at the SoGymnase comedy club in Paris every Friday evening at 8pm. Details here https://www.weezevent.com/wtf-paris
14699828_10154359870410804_763494392_navwpic