Category Archives: conclusions

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.

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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!

398. US Election Result Ramble + Message + Song

In this episode I want to talk about two things: My first impressions of the US Presidential election result, and then some things I said in the last episode of this podcast. I just want to clear up some comments I made last time. I just want to get straight into it. So here we go.

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It’s a mad mad mad mad world!

Everything will be alright, in the end. And if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.

(I have to thank Mark Kermode for that one)

Bloody hell! Donald Trump got elected!

Oh my god, can you believe it? You’d better believe it because it’s true. More on that in a minute.

I just want to record this episode and get it out there to you quickly without spending time on pre-production and all that stuff so it might be a bit rambly and a bit sketchy.

The main reason I’m recording this is that I have a couple of things I want to get off my chest in response to the previous episode of this podcast. Just some things on my mind that I want to communicate to you, and that’s the main reason I’m recording this quickly now on Tuesday 9 November.

But also, of course the big news of the day is the US presidential election – and that’s what’s going on, certainly in my world – probably in your world too – it’s all about the election because the result came in just a few hours ago that Trump has been elected president.

Let me say that again – Donald Trump is the 45th President of the USA.

So, I have got to talk about that a bit at the top of the episode here.

I hope you don’t press stop ❤️

Please do stick around for the whole episode. I do hope you listen to it all because I have some sincere things to say to you. Yes, don’t press stop! Please do listen! Please feel completely welcome at all times while listening to this! I hope you don’t press stop! In the last episode I know that I said some dismissive and glib things like “you can stop listening if you don’t like it” – sorry, I hope you didn’t feel that was dismissive and unfriendly sounding. I was just feeling a bit… ‘hangry’ or frustrated. Of course I always want you to listen and I am extremely happy when people do listen. I’ll talk more about that stuff later. I’ve got some things to say to you my audience – so I hope you do stick around for that.

But first – Donald Trump

Yes, the joke going round is that the UK is no longer the most stupid nation on earth. After Brexit we had the title for about 5 months and now it’s gone back to the USA, back to normal. Back to that good old feeling that we had when they elected George Bush twice in a row. Ah… That is the joke that people are making…

Except this time it seems worse somehow – at least it seems more shocking, I don’t know – what do you think? Are you shocked, glad? A lot of feelings will be flying around today I expect, especially if you care about this subject at all.

That Brexit feeling is back again.

It’s a strange feeling.

A huge event has happened. It’s a historic moment.

What a year it has been.

I’ve tried to capture how it feels.

How did Trump win?

An interesting article from TheWeek.co.uk: www.theweek.co.uk/theweekday/story/78497

398

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

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

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

Quora www.quora.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are about 12 answers from different people.

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

OK, so here goes!

Anthony Lauder’s Presentation at the 2013 Polyglot Conference

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

Mnemonic Dictionary

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

lep-mug-painting

381. Discussing Cultural Differences (with Amber & Paul)

In this episode I’m talking to my friends Amber and Paul about cultural differences, particularly in the ways we communicate with each other in different countries.

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You should know that there is a bit of swearing in this one as well as a few dodgy jokes and references to previous episodes of the podcast, which you should probably listen to before you listen to this one in order to understand a couple of references and in-jokes. The previous episode is number 380. As for the swearing, I see it as just evidence of the fact we are all talking in a totally relaxed, genuine and natural manner, like we normally do in this social situation.

I just want to say that our aim in this conversation was to compare different cultures and not to criticise other cultures. We’re just expressing our own personal experiences from our point of view. Since we all live in France and we’re from England, there are quite a lot of comments about differences between French and English culture. If you’re French I’d love to read your points of view on many of the things we’re talking about and I am sure that you could make loads of similar comments about life in England – like, why the hell do we have separate taps in the bathroom? Or, why do girls go out on a Friday night with hardly any clothes on? Don’t they get freezing cold? And why do Brits drink so much? These are all things that might seem strange to visitors to the UK. So, I’m well aware that all cultures and behaviours can seem strange from the outside and it’s all just a matter of context.

In fact, I have already done several podcast episodes all about culture shock experiences of people moving to the UK (specifically London) from foreign countries. Check out the links to listen to those episodes.

192. Culture Shock: Life in London (Pt.1)

193. Culture Shock: Life in London (Pt.2)

I am sure you have points of view on this that you would like to express, so feel free to leave comments on the page for this episode. Don’t forget to join the mailing list on the website to get easy access to the page for every new episode when it is uploaded.

So without any further ado, here’s a podcast about cultural differences with Amber and Paul.

Discussing Cultural Differences

Luke’s Intro

Although we are all the same, we’re also different.

Ways we’re the same:

We all fall in love, go to the loo, get hungry, get tired, like laughing, listen to LEP.

But we’re all different – individually we are all unique, but we are also different as groups, tribes, nationalities or cultures.

Although it’s bad to generalise, it seems that cultures – like ethnicities or nationalities, tend to have certain shared behaviours and customs that mark them out as different to others. For example, although the English and French share a lot of things in common there are certain things which mark us out as different. Not just the language we speak, but the way we behave and the things we think are important. Like the way we queue.

 

So anyway, that’s just an example of culture shock I suppose. But it shows that there are cultural differences. Of course there are! Everyone knows it.

If you’ve ever been abroad or had contact with other cultures you’ll know that sometimes it’s incredibly obvious that our cultures are different. Sometimes it’s shockingly obvious, sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s just weird, but we have to remember that they’re just differences and while they can be confusing, frustrating and also funny, ultimately we need to find ways to look beyond these differences and not let them become a barrier to things like communication, understanding, business, diplomacy and relationships.

In this episode I’d like to have a discussion about cultural differences that we’ve noticed around the world. These could be different types of behaviour, like certain customs and habits, or just different values – like, what people seem to think is important, and how those values reveal themselves in the way things are done.

Amber & Paul

What are your credentials in terms of your cross cultural experiences?

  • How long have you lived in France?
  • Have you visited many other places? Which other places have you been to?
  • Have you had cross cultural experiences?
  • Have you been in a relationship with someone from another culture?
  • Have you done business with people from other cultures?

I have a list of different behaviours and values. Just stuff I’ve noticed or heard about. Well go through the list.

We can answer these questions:

  • Where do they do this?
  • Do we do this in the UK?
  • Do we consider this to be weird behaviour or not? Is there a reason for this behaviour?
  • Do you have any experiences of this? Would you like it if we introduced this into our culture?

The list: (please note that we are not talking about ‘two-taps in the bathroom’)

  • Kissing or hugging someone when you meet them (Paul did a successful video about this)
  • Looking people in the eye
  • Indirectness/diplomacy/politeness (or hypocrisy) vs directness/straightness/clarity (or rudeness) – e.g. certain cultures tend to be indirect when giving negative feedback, other cultures favour direct negative feedback
  • conflict vs non-conflict
  • Smiling in public

earth-1639775_1280

 

For discussion in future episodes… PLEASE ADD MORE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN THE COMMENT SECTION SO WE CAN DISCUSS THEM IN THE FUTURE :) 

  • Eating early vs eating late in the evening
  • Having milk in tea
  • Eating scorpions / spiders / toads / frogs
  • Eating with your hands / chopsticks / a knife and fork / not your left hand
  • Burping or farting after eating
  • Girls wearing miniskirts in the middle of winter
  • Hawking / spitting in the street
  • Saying “good morning” or “good afternoon” in shops/post offices before you can get anything done
  • Kissing in public
  • Begging
  • Crossing the road – waiting for cars to stop vs just walking into the street vs using pedestrian crossings
  • Driving on the left
  • Queuing in an organised and patient way vs Not queuing – “every man for himself” (or something in between)
  • Public transport – following the rules vs no rules (e.g. queueing, letting people off before getting on, etc)
  • Falling asleep on public transport
  • Talking to strangers on public transport
  • Having a strict attitude towards health and safety (e.g. wearing safety belts in cars) vs Having a relaxed attitude towards health and safety (e.g. not wearing safety belts, overtaking on corners)
  • Bribing police or other people
  • Having more than one wife, or having affairs
  • Saying “yes” in order to save face
  • Having carpet in the bathroom
  • Wearing shoes indoors
  • Sitting down to go to the toilet vs Squatting on the floor when you go to the toilet (or any other toilet related comments)
  • Putting The UK at the centre of the map

Is there anything else you’ve found to be weird or different?

I was interviewed by Olly Richards on his podcast, called “I Will Teach You a Language” and we talked about language learning

Did you enjoy episode 332 of my podcast, with Olly Richards? It seems to have been a popular one. If you did enjoy it, you might want to check out this new episode of Olly’s podcast, because he interviewed me. *I’m so proud right now*

button-18

I was very happy to be interviewed by Olly because I listen to his podcast and think it’s great. He always gives such practical and motivating tips for language learning and all his advice comes from his own valuable experience as a learner of many languages. I was glad to be considered a worthy guest.

Olly chose to ask me about being a teacher and podcaster and what I’d learned from those experiences. Like in LEP#332 we continue to talk about some key principles about being a good language learner – attitude, time, practice and material. We also reflect on 7 years of Luke’s English Podcast (has it really been 7 years?!) and the pros and cons of the language classroom as a learning space.

Head over to Olly’s website to find out more, and to listen to the episode.