Category Archives: Grammar

440. This Pile of Books on my Desk

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

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

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

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

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

books

439. Reading Books to Learn English

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Some self-study books for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar

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

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

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

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

Writing
Email English by Paul Emmerson

The value of reading books

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

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

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

How to choose the right book for you

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

How to learn English from reading books

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

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

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

Your comments: What books in English can you recommend?

438. Hi Luke, I have a question!

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

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Japan show – 13 April

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

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

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

London LEPster meetup

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

Russian LEPsters in St Petersburg

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

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

Other Comments & Questions

Mattia Andrao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons

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

Solutions

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

Jane
Hi Luke!

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

 

LEP on ZEP – My recent interview on Zdenek’s English Podcast

Hello email subscribers and website users! This is not an episode of LEP but keep reading because I have 5 cool things to share with you (below).

In this post you will find 5 episodes of a podcast. It’s not my podcast but I am featured in the episodes.

It’s a 5-part series of interviews between English teacher Zdenek Lukas and me on his podcast, “Zdenek’s English Podcast”, including 2 episodes of language analysis. You’ll hear lots of conversation between us about teaching, learning and behind-the-scenes information about Luke’s English Podcast. Also in the language analysis episodes Zdenek will help you pick up 50 features of English grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation from the interview.

You can listen to and download the episodes below.

Part 1

We discuss our experiences of taking the Cambridge DELTA qualification (it’s seriously challenging!) and then we try to break the commonly-believed stereotype of a native speaker teacher of English being superior to a non-native one.

[DOWNLOAD PART 1]

Part 2

In part 2 we talk about each other’s podcasts and I give some behind the scenes information about some popular episodes of LEP, including some stories about the episodes Sick in Japan, Travelling in Indonesia and California Road Trip. At the end, we also talk about our experiences of teaching English for specific purposes, namely business English and English for engineering.

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Part 3

In this part you can hear us talk about what we both like teaching the most in classrooms, some of my favourite teaching techniques, what it was like recording Pink Gorilla Story 1 & 2, and also what episodes I enjoy doing the most on the podcast. Also, you can find out more about the secret of Paul Taylor’s success and what it would take to do a live LEP meet-up with listeners.

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Part 4 – Language analysis

Zdenek picks out 25 features of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation for analysis. He applies his knowledge of linguistic features of English to clarify meaning, highlight usefulness, correct some of his own errors and help you to avoid common mistakes.

[DOWNLOAD PART 4]

Part 5 – Language analysis

Zdenek picks out 25 more features of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation for analysis and gives them the teacher treatment.

[DOWNLOAD PART 5]

About Zdenek Lukas…

I’m really impressed by what Zdenek is achieving with his English as a second language.

He’s from Czech Republic and he has learned English as a second language in adulthood. He’s now a teacher of English, just like me and he does his own podcast, just like me.

He has a masters degree in English language teaching. He’s got a CELTA and DELTA (pending) in English teaching to adults. He’s really well qualified.

Also, he’s been doing Zdenek’s English Podcast for years and it’s still going. Admittedly he says the podcast is influenced by my podcast, and I’m ok with that. It’s his way of pushing his English and it seems to be working for him.

You’ll hear in our interview that Zdenek has just passed a significant part of his DELTA qualification with a really good grade. That is not easy to do. You need to be a good teacher to get a good result in your DELTA and you really need to know about grammar and linguistics.

So, don’t underestimate Zdenek. He’s achieved a hell of a lot, just like many of you have also achieved a lot in your language learning. Sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and realising how much you’ve achieved.

I was very happy to be interviewed by him and I really hope you listen to the episodes, and in fact check out his other episodes too. A lot of them contain interviews with other interesting people, many of them English people he knows. Other episodes cover Zdenek’s personal journey with English and also you can hear him interacting with his students too.

You’ll find links to Zdenek’s English Podcast here on this page. www.audioboom.com/channel/zdeneks-english-podcast

Zdenek has an FB group where he communicates with his listeners. Here’s the link www.facebook.com/groups/zdeneksenglishpodcast/

But you can also leave comments here and I’m sure that Zdenek will read them at some point.

Cheers,

Luke

429. RAMBLENEWS!

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

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Video (with some extra content)

Links

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

LEPster get togethers

Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

Doing YouTube videos

Advantages

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

Disadvantages

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

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

Tokyo!

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

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

Transcript collaboration

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

Play the podcast at different speeds!

At 0.5x speed – I sound totally drunk.

Comments on the website

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

Phrasal Verb Question

Frank asked me about the expression ‘in on’

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway – ‘in on’. Let’s have a look.

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

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

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

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

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

Mainly these are intransitive phrasal verbs with a dependent preposition.

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

Just like normal verbs, some phrasal verbs are intransitive.

Intransitive means the verb doesn’t need an object.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Phrasal Verb a Day

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

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

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

Click here for A Phrasal Verb a Day – Episode Archive

Spotify playlist

Song

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

 

 

406. Grammar (Past Continuous Tense) / UK Media Bias / Brazil Football Tragedy

More responses to questions and comments from listeners, including a comparison of past continuous & past simple verb tenses, comments about bias in the UK’s media, the BBC, the newspapers, the Chapecoense Plane Crash in Colombia, and more.

[DOWNLOAD]
Small Donate ButtonIn this episode I’m going to continue going through a few more questions and comments I’ve received from listeners recently. I started this in episode 403 which covered a few things like a WW1 story from a listener, a language question about noun phrases, and some details about my Dad’s accent. I didn’t finish, because I’ve got a couple of questions left and that’s what I’m going to cover in this episode.

A lot of this is scripted because I wrote some notes in preparation, which I’m reading from. So check out the notes on the page for this episode. I expect I’ll go off script at times as well and I’ll try to keep it as natural sounding as possible. If you’re transcribing this, don’t forget to copy + paste these notes into your transcript and just add any other things I say.

Here’s an overview of what I’d like to achieve in this one.

  • A grammar question about the difference between past continuous and past simple tenses
  • A question about media bias in the UK
  • A comment about the Chapecoense Plane Crash (Monday 28 Nov)

There will be a couple of other bits and pieces too I expect.

GRAMMAR – Differences between past simple & past continuous

Vadim G.
Hello, Luke! I have a question. I hear people say:
a)’I worked all day yesterday’
and
b)’I was working all day yesterday’
c)’I waited for you for 3 hours yesterday’
and
d)’I was waiting for you for 3 hours yesterday’
And they say it without any further information. So I can’t see any real difference between those pairs. What’s the difference between a) and b), c) and d)?
I trawled through plenty and plenty of information on that matter, but I’m still confused. I’d appreciate your clearing this up.
Vadim G.

So, what do you think listeners? How would you answer this question? What’s the difference? Are they both correct? Is there a difference?

MY RESPONSE
WIthout more context, sometimes the same sentence in two different tenses can basically mean the same thing. It’s possible. There is a bit of crossover between tenses.

That is probably the simple answer to this question, that in the examples Vadim has given, there’s no difference.

The lack of bigger context and the fact that they both specify a duration “all day” and the time period “yesterday”. Those time expressions narrow down the meaning of the verbs to such an extent that they basically mean the same thing.

Time expressions are important for narrowing down the meaning of a sentence. It’s not all about the verbs, every time. You could even say “I work all day yesterday” and we would know exactly what that means, although it’s incorrect of course because we don’t use a present tense (work) to refer to yesterday.

“I worked all day yesterday” or “I was working all day yesterday”.

So, they do basically mean the same thing here.

But Vadim and indeed everyone else listening, might not be completely satisfied with that quick(ish) answer.

Because we all know that past simple and past continuous are different. So, let’s see if we can go deeper into the difference between these tenses.

Strap yourselves in. Brace yourselves, grammar is coming. Here comes the longer answer. I’ll try to make it easy to understand, without it getting too abstract. Wish me luck!

So – What are the differences between past simple tense and past continuous tense (sometimes called past progressive tense) using these sentences as a starting point?
“I worked all day yesterday” and “I was working all day yesterday”. (I’m exhausted already! But let’s keep going!)

There’s a slight difference in nuance, which would be much easier to establish with more context – understanding the pragmatic concerns of the speakers. Why did the person say these things? The intention of the speaker is massively important, because language is used to convey certain specific ideas at a certain moment, and sometimes the situation itself can lend meaning to an utterance. Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Remember, context is everything.

Vadim says that the speaker doesn’t add any other information beyond the words “all day yesterday”, and we see there are no other accompanying clauses, a second verb or other supporting sentences. We don’t know how the sentences or the situation continues.

But Vadim, I doubt that these were the only utterances or messages that were communicated. These people didn’t just walk up to you out of nowhere, say the sentences and then disappear in a cloud of smoke.

“I was working all day yesterday” – who was that??

What’s the situation? Are these responses to questions? Why is the speaker saying these things? Without this context, the sentences on their own become pretty abstract. Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. All utterances are given meaning by the context in which they are used.

It’s a bit like the way chords or notes in music only create emotions, they only have emotional resonance, when they are combined with other ones. It’s the same with language. Phrases are given meaning by the implicit meaning of the words but also the situation.

But anyway, without getting too pretentious or anything, let me try to answer the question.

On their own, basically these tenses are used like this:

  • Past simple – “I worked” – single, finished events in finished time periods. E.g. I worked yesterday. The work is considered to be a single, finished thing. It might have taken a long time, but we’re looking back on it now as a finished unit. “I worked yesterday”. Here we have no idea how long you worked, but adding ‘all day’ shows that it happened, from the beginning to the end.
  • Past continuous – “I was working” – emphasises that the action was in progress at a specific moment in the past. The moment could be a time – e.g. with a prepositional phrase like at 8AM, or a clause like when I heard the news.
    “I was working all day yesterday” Pick a moment in the day – I was working at that moment.

10Am? – I was working, just before lunch? – I was working. At 1pm? – I was working. When you called me? – yep, I was working then too.

Compare that with past simple “I worked all day yesterday” – this feels like the speaker is expressing the action as one single unit of activity.

e.g. What did you do last night? “Well, last night I just came home and I went straight to bed, because I worked all day yesterday and I was really tired.” (You might also say “I had worked all day so I was really tired” – past perfect)

Sounds abstract. Yes it is!

So, we need some examples. They’re coming in a moment.

But yes, this stuff does get pretty abstract and quite slippery. That’s quite normal, especially when you’re just looking at grammar on its own without a context.

To an extent we’re groping around in the dark looking for concrete meaning here. You’re looking for an equivalent in your language. Sometimes there is no equivalent.

Examples

Let’s use some examples to illustrate the way these verb tenses are used. This should make it much easier.

Put yourself in the shoes of the teacher. How would you explain this? Trying to teach something is often the best way of learning about it yourself. So, put yourself in the shoes of the teacher and you might learn it more effectively.

E.g. (past continuous) A girlfriend who is upset with her boyfriend.
Why didn’t you phone me? It would only have taken a second, just to let me know you were alright. “Sorry I was working all day yesterday. I didn’t get a single opportunity to use my phone.”

That would seem to be a more satisfying answer than “I worked all day yesterday… etc” It emphasises on a moment by moment basis that you were busy.

E.g. (Past simple) Two friends talking
I feel so tired today!
-why’s that?
I worked all day yesterday without a break. And then I had to drive my brother to the airport and it took ages.

This emphasises the complete nature of the action and therefore the result of it, rather than focusing on the moment-by-moment nature of it.

Past continuous isn’t usually used on its own. It’s usually combined with a time expression or another verb to express a moment.
E.g. He said they tried to deliver the package at 12.
– Ah sorry, I was talking to Jeff on Skype at 12. I must have missed them.
Yeah, well they said they tried to deliver the package every hour and nobody answered the door all day.
– I was working in my studio all afternoon. I must have missed them. When they arrived, I was working.

So, it’s accompanied by another clause – usually past simple. “I was working when Jeff called.” or a specific time “I was working at 12.”

There are other rules about continuous tenses, like the fact that we don’t use them with state verbs. E.g. I was knowing that you had the answer. (wrong) ‘know’ = a state verb.

A rule of thumb about state verbs and action verbs – if you can mime the verb, it’s probably an action verb. If you can’t mime it, it’s probably a state verb.

have (for posession) = a state verb. E.g. I’m having an iphone 5. (wrong) I have an iphone 5. (correct)

But sometimes ‘have’ is an action verb, e.g. when it means ‘eat’.

I’m having an iphone 5 for breakfast. (What??? – this is correct grammatically but obviously a bad idea!)

I’m having toast for breakfast. (correct, and a better idea, especially with strawberry jam – yum)

More examples

Which one do you think is right? Which one sounds more natural to you?

Criteria: Is the verb expressing an event or action as a single unit? (Past simple)
Or is it expressing it as a repeated action, long action, or action in progress at a point or a number of points in time? (Past continuous)

Bloody hell that sounds abstract!

Sometimes I think that way to describe language is far more complex than the actual target language itself!

I finished the book yesterday. (One single, finished action) [listen for examples]
I was finishing the book yesterday. (This sentence seems incomplete)

Sorry I’m late for the meeting. I got lost on the way here. I took a wrong turn and got stuck on the ring road. (normal)
Sorry I’m late for the meeting. I was getting lost on the way here. I was taking a wrong turn. (Strange. Either you’re lost or you’re not lost, so ‘getting lost’ doesn’t make a lot sense. To get lost is a short event – it happens when you realise you are lost – also “I was taking a wrong turn” – what again and again?)

Ronaldo scored a goal in the last 5 minutes. (Sounds normal)
Ronaldo was scoring a goal in the last 5 minutes. (What, was there a glitch in the matrix?)

Sorry I’m late. I found a parking space. (strange – surely that would mean that you shouldn’t be late) More information: “I found a parking space, but it took ages.” or “It took ages to find a parking space”.
Sorry I’m late. I was finding a parking space. (good – it seems like you tried again and again to find one – it was a long or repeated action)

OK! Grammar – DONE

Media Bias – Is the UK’s media biased?

Juliana from Brazil
Comment on the media bias of news outlets
Hey Luke, how r u? I’m a long time Lepster. Your job is amazing! Firstly, let me explain what I’m asking you about. I’m Brazilian and my particular opinion about the media here in Brazil is: it is not impartial, especially, about policy. I’m following the news about Brexit and I usually read the BBC and The Telegraph. I’d like to ask a question: Do you think that the BBC/Telegraph are impartial about policy? Thanks you for your attention! You’re great! (I’m sorry about my english, I’m learning). Best, Juliana

The newspapers aren’t completely neutral. More on that in a few minutes.

Is the BBC neutral?
This is the subject of some debate.
Officially the BBC is neutral. The government has no say over what they broadcast. The content is monitored by independent regulators. The BBC is funded mainly by the licence fee – and they have a duty to try and represent the diversity of licence fee payers in their programmes. BBC News has a network of reporters stationed around the world and tries to get the stories at the source.

Generally the BBC has a long tradition of independent coverage. But I think it’s almost impossible to be completely neutral about everything and the individual decision makers at the BBC have to make choices about what they think is more or less newsworthy – so there will be some value judgement in there when the editors decide to prioritise certain stories over others. But be sure that there are long, complex meetings and discussions between people in which they make these decisions. It’s not all decided by one person with a specific agenda. It’s also not directed by the government like some TV stations.

The BBC is sometimes attacked by critics who argue that it’s biased. But these critics come from various positions. Some people feel the BBC favours left-wing views, others believe it favours right-wing views.

Some think the BBC is too radical, others think it is too conservative. The fact is that they have a duty to present balanced opinions so you often hear both sides of the debate.

This means that if you want to prove that the BBC is biased you can probably find plenty of evidence of that bias in the BBC by just picking the bits that seem to support your case, and ignoring the other bits.

E.g. Let’s say… in a BBC debate about radical islam, the BBC chose to invite a few different people to represent different sides of the debate. This included a right-wing journalist who is a harsh opponent of what was described as radical islam, a moderate and liberal non-muslim guest, a moderate muslim guest and a radical muslim cleric. Now, anti-islamic right-wing groups argued that the BBC was sympathising with radical Islam by inviting the radical cleric onto the show. Equally, more liberal viewers got upset that the right-wing journalist was allowed to express his anti-Islamic views on the TV. So is the BBC a moderate liberal TV channel which somehow sympathises with extremists and apologises for them, or is it pushing a right-wing agenda? If you’re so inclined you can bash the BBC from pretty much any angle.

On balance, I think the BBC is known for trying to be impartial, even if this is almost impossible to achieve. The BBC is essentially a public service and has a certain duty to be neutral.
Other TV news channels have a worse reputation than the BBC. ITV is criticised for focusing more on commercialised output at the expense of standards. Channel 4 news seems pretty good. Sky News in my opinion is not that reliable because they’re owned by Rupert Murdoch who has displayed seriously questionable standards of practice as the owner of many media outlets, including FOX News in the USA and tabloid newspapers in the UK. Murdoch is criticised for putting personal gain, profit and corporate/political coonections ahead of balanced journalism. Of all the TV news outlets we have it seems the BBC is good.

But then again, I have no idea how much we can really believe what we see in the TV news and I wonder if it is just somehow intrinsically limited as an information medium. Is it possible to get a genuinely realistic and rounded view of what’s going on by watching coverage from news media? It’s extremely difficult to get the full picture so your view is always going to be mediated to an extent. That’s why it’s called the media. But on balance I think the BBC takes greater steps to be impartial than many of the newspapers, which proudly present their bias to the public.
Most newspapers have an editorial position. This means that the people who run the paper have pretty-much chosen their position on everything, and they run their stories and comments along those lines.

UK Newspapers
Two types of paper – broadsheets and tabloids.
Main differences & positions.
Another episode in the pipeline?

Talking of news, that brings us to a news story that a listener wrote to me about today.

Brazil’s Chapecoense football team plane crash in Colombia

Roberto Geronimo
Hi Luke, how are things? I do like your work and I believe your website is great not only to learn English but also to be involved in interesting topics. Thinking about that I would like to suggest a topic: As a very cosmopolitan person I guess you’re aware about the flight tragedy involving Chapecoense – a Brazlilian footbal team – It’s devasted people around the world, especially here in Brazil but also in Colombia. This week has been very sad and difficult. Talking with friends about how sports – especially football – can raise such good feelings in all of us and we can use our solidarity to bring some peace to people who are suffering such pain.
I know it’s a very complicated topic, but I also know that you’re a very sensitive person and like to contextualize football and cultural aspects in our modern society.
That’s my suggestion!
Keep doing this great work!
#ForçaChape – Vamo, Vamo, CHAPE!
Hugs, from Brazil!

It’s a terrible tragedy for sure. Apparently Chapecoense were having a great season. They got promoted to the top Brazilian league a couple of years ago and apparently were really on the up. Apparently when the accident happened they were on their way to play in the South American cup final against Athletico Nationale. Reports seem to show that the plane ran out of fuel and had electrical problems, and finally crashed near Medellin, Colombia. Almost everyone on board was killed except for a few survivors. At this stage we’re still not sure why the plane had problems and why it crashed.

This is an awful tragedy and I’m sure it has hit people pretty hard because these these players would have been real heroes and role models for so many people, especially young football fans who look up to football players so much. Football is a sport which unites people, gives them a passion, gives them something to believe in – gives young people a sense that they have opportunities for the future and that they can better themselves and their situations. The importance of a sport like football can’t be understated. It can be a great source of joy and strength for the fans, and also for the players it is a platform for them to achieve truly great things. This team will have been really important to a lot of people. Also, they had done so well to get promoted year after year, beating bigger teams. It’s an underdog story and that makes it even more tragic. For a whole team to be lost in one event is just terrible. I have listeners in Brazil and in Colombia – so, I just want to say on behalf of LEP – if you’re feeling upset by the event, wherever you are, then our thoughts are with you.

A similar thing happened to Manchester United in 1958 when a plane carrying the team crashed during a take-off in Munich and 23 people were killed, many of them young members of the team. It’s similar in that at the time M.U. were a young team full of promise. To the people of Manchester they represented hope and opportunity for the future. This was an amazing team and they could have achieved so much. I don’t know if it’s any consolation but Manchester United since became one of the most driven and successful teams in English football, going to dominate the football league years later.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that because I got the message from Roberto. Best wishes to you, and I was very sorry to read about what happened.

Other bits and pieces

“Hello to Slava from Ukraine”

Hello to anyone else who has sent me a message recently.

Why don’t you post to VK more often?!
I’ve forgotten my password! Hootsuite doesn’t allow me to post to it automatically. Also, I’m just not on it generally – i.e. all my friends are on FB so I naturally go on there quite a lot, but I should post to VK. If you’re a user of VK there are several LEP pages there – search for Luke’s English Podcast. Feel free to update it for other members of the VK community!

Generally – spread the word about LEP. Word of mouth is always the best form of marketing.

Join the mailing list.

Take part in the transcript collaboration. There’s an email list for that. Go to the Transcript Collaboration page and email antonio, saying “I’d like to take part in the transcript collaboration” You can start by transcribing just 3 minutes of an episode. Then you can do more as you get better and better. Don’t forget to read the rules of the project. It’s all on the transcript collaboration page.

That’s it – thanks for listening! Bye!

papers

403. Competition Results / War Story / Grammar & Punctuation / My Dad’s Accent

The final results of the LEP Anecdote Competition, some podcast admin and responses to some comments & emails from listeners including a war story, some grammar & punctuation (noun phrases, possessives & apostrophes) and a question about my Dad’s accent.

[DOWNLOAD]

The LEP Anecdote Competition – Final Results

The voting closed at midnight last night. So, here are the results in reverse order.

  • 10th position: Weija Wang from China (talked about how his female friend embarrassed him by admitting that she had fallen in love with him, but he suspects it might have been a practical joke)
  • 9th position: Shujaat from Pakistan (told us the story of how he narrowly avoided a terrorist attack near his college)
  • 8th position: Elena from Russia (told us the nightmare story of how she went on a wild goose chase to find the daughter of one of her friends, who appeared to go missing one Saturday evening)
  • 7th position: Frankie from Sicily, Italy (talked about how he narrowly escaped death in a walk around a lake that turned into the day trip from hell)
  • 6th position: Vasily from Tashkent (told the sweet story of how he met his wife, accompanied by the lovely sound of the accordion – this story was a cult hit in the comment section, prompting lots of speculation about Vasily’s virtuoso accordion playing skills)
  • 5th position: Jose from Spain (told a creepy story about a suspicious character he used to know)
  • 4th position: Zdenek from Czech Republic (told an amusing anecdote about a lesson learned on the London Underground about how to say “please” to strangers)
  • 3rd position: Marla from Germany (in her lovely voice told us about how she found herself on the set of the brilliant BBC TV series “Sherlock”, and met one of the main cast members)
  • 2nd position: Saaya from Japan (Told us a story involving a pyjama-based family coincidence which proved to her that she’s truly is a chip off the old block)
  • 1st position! DRUM ROLL! … Kristina from Russia! (who told us about her nerve-wracking experience of doing a completely unprepared live simultaneous translation for a famous film director, on stage in front of a large audience of people)

CONGRATULATIONS KRISTINA!
Also, congratulations to everyone who took part. It was really great to listen to your stories.
You can still hear the anecdotes, by visiting the page for episode 387 (all anecdotes).
I hope you join me in congratulating the winner and the runners up.
screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-10-42

Adverts at the beginning of episodes

You might have heard some adverts being played at the beginning of episodes. For example, you play an episode on your podcasting app or on the website and before the episode begins you hear about 20-30 seconds of advertising. I’m not talking about the bit where I mention my sponsor for the podcast, but another ad – not featuring my voice. The ads are region specific. For example, here in France I hear adverts for Mini (coincidentally enough, voiced by my mate Tom Morton from episode 344). Some of you won’t be hearing these ads, but many of you will, and you might be wondering what they are. Let me explain. They’re not added by me. They’re added by Audioboom and I’m hoping that they’ll be a temporary thing. Audioboom, my audio host, are now inserting ads into podcast content which is hosted by them. I’m one of many podcasts which are hosted by Audioboom. They don’t just do podcasts. They do audio hosting service for lots of other purposes – e.g. for news websites that want to embed audio clips onto their websites, or journalists who want to publish pieces of audio. They’ve recently started featuring adverts on audio content in order to monetise their service. I’m in discussion with them about this. Personally, I don’t really want the ads. I have my own sponsors – italki & Audible and some others that I’m talking to. They’re working pretty well because I like their services, we have a good relationship and they’re services that reflect the aims of my podcast. I don’t really want other ads in addition to those. Some sponsorship is definitely necessary in order to keep this podcast free, and I want it to stay free. But too much advertising is definitely not a good thing. I want to make sure your listening experience is enjoyable, as much as possible. I personally find it annoying and a bit jarring to hear certain types of advertising at the beginning of episodes.

So, I’m in talks with Audioboom about how we can enter a new agreement in which those ads are not featured on my content. That new arrangement is now pending, meaning that we’re in the middle of sorting it out. I’m waiting for Audioboom to get back to me with some other options. Hopefully we’ll find a solution which is satisfying, or I might move to a new podcast host, which would be pretty inconvenient for me, but in the long run might be better for the podcast.

In the meantime, you might hear some ads inserted at the beginning and the end of my episodes, but I expect it won’t be a long-term thing. They’ll just be there until Audioboom and I have figured out a way to either remove them, or improve them to the point that I’m happy to keep them.

You might think – “you could earn money from them Luke, to help monetise your podcast”. Yes, that’s a good point, but as I said, I already have sponsors which I feel are working for me well enough, and allow me to cover costs like website services and just the time I devote to the preparation, recording and production of the podcast. The main thing for me at this stage is that the listening experience is good for you.
I need to balance all these things: the monetary support I might get from advertising or sponsorship, your experience of listening to my episodes, the workload that I have and the time I have to devote to the project.

So, in brief – if you’ve heard slightly intrusive sounding advertising at the beginning of episodes – I am aware of it, I didn’t insert those adverts myself and I expect it will only be a temporary thing until Audioboom and I have reached some kind of agreement.

A family story from WW1 – A Turkish POW in Russia

This is Deniz’s comment after my episodes about D-Day and in relation to the episode I did about my Grandfather, who died at the beginning of 2015.

Related episodes

183. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 1)

184. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 2)

259. Eulogy for Dennis

In episode 183/184 I went to the D-Day commemoration to remember what happened in Normandy in 1944. My Grandfather was an officer in charge of a group of men on that day. I asked listeners to share any stories they had about family members who got caught up in WW2.

Deniz’s comment

Hey Luke,
This was an intense episode, wasn’t it? I can understand what you feel about your grandpa. I listened this episode recently, and came here to check if any commentator mentions anything about World War 1 or 2, which is related with their family. As a reminder: you asked for it in the podcast.
As you probably know Turkey kept its neutral status during WW2. So as a Turkish person, my family do not have any WW2 memories (except how hard those state of emergency years were) on the other hand WW1 was a really intense chain of events in Turkish history, since so many Turkish people were killed during the battles and even infants had to fight for the very reason after a while it had became “defending the mainland” for Turks.
So here is the memory from the father of my grandfather (my grandfather): The Caucasus Campaign had been a real disaster for the Turks, since fighting with the Russians during winter conditions is always a bad idea and “the sick man of Europe” Ottoman army lacked equipment for such a formidable campaign. In a nutshell, so many Turks died because of the winter conditions and the situation became a piece of cake for the Tsardom of Russia.
The father of my grandfather (my great-grandfather) was really lucky to stay alive and became a POW after the Russians surrounded them. As a POW he had to do whatever the Russians decided for him and in the end he was sold to an aristocratic Russian family and became a stableman for them. After a while that Russian family let him marry since they thought there was no turning back for him anymore. So he married a low-class serf woman, and they even had two babies!
But then… the Tsardom of Russia also collapsed and the October Revolution stormed through all of Russia. This incident had serious effects on aristocratic families, which is not a surprise. So during all that mess, my great-grandpa managed to escape by boat and came back to Turkey again… Of course he had to leave his Russian wife and those 2 children there, because he had no any other choice.
After he came to Turkey, he fought in the Turkish War of Independence and after that finally married a Turkish woman, which led to me, in the long run. So Luke, isn’t it weird? There are some people in Russia, who are my distant relatives in a way, and there is almost no way for us to find each other. I just wanted to share that story here, since I know many Russians listen your podcast and who knows… It’s a small world with weird coincidences. :)
Thank you for all the podcasts!

Does that story sound familiar? If it does – get in touch!

Grammar: Nouns adjuncts, noun phrases, possessive ‘S’ and apostrophes – A question about the title of “An 80-Minute Ramble”

Yaron’s question about the title of episode 397 “An 80-minute ramble”
Hi Luke,
It’s been a while… good to have you back…
I haven’t listened to this episode yet (I probably will in the evening)
Anyhow…I have a small question:
Should it be “An 80 minute Ramble” or “An 80 minutes Ramble”?
I find that all the subjects with the “S” at the end of the word in English to be very confusing (You need to add “S”, with ‘ sign before/after the “S”, etc…. )
I would really appreciate ii if you could clarify it.
Thanks,
Yaron

My reply
Hi Yaron,
It’s ‘an 80 minute ramble’ not ‘an 80 minuteS ramble’.
As you know, plural nouns (unless irregular) do take an ‘S’ – e.g. “I’m going to talk for about 80 minutes” but not in the case of ‘an 80 minute ramble’ because ’80 minute’ here is like an adjective for the word ‘ramble’ and adjectives in English aren’t pluralised.
What kind of ramble? An 80-minute ramble. ’80 minute’ is performing the function of an adjective.
More information en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noun_adjunct

That’s the theory, but it’s a bit abstract isn’t it? It might be easier to learn this when you consider all the common examples of this kind of structure, e.g.

  • a 5 star hotel
  • a 10 pound note
  • a 4 year old girl
  • a 5 minute walk
  • a 10 dollar fine
  • a 10,000 pound reward
  • a 9 hour flight
  • a 4 hour drive
  • 10-year cave-aged cheddar cheese

‘S
This is either: ‘is’, ‘has’, possessive

Check this page from Oxford Dictionaries Online for all the details about how to use ‘S

en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/apostrophe

Rick Thompson’s accent

Sebastian
Hi Luke, I hope you’re all right. I’ve got a question: Where’s your Dad’s accent from or what kind is it? Is it posh? Thanks.

The ‘short’ answer:
My Dad speaks standard British RP (Received Pronunciation), also known as BBC English. This type of accent is generally associated with middle and upper-middle class people, probably university educated, from England, particularly the South East of England, but possibly from any other part of the UK too.

I think, by the standards of most Brits his accent is slightly posh because there aren’t many regional inflections in his voice, but I don’t think he is properly posh, like someone who went to Eton school for example.

What does ‘posh’ mean? (screenshot from Oxford Dictionaries Online – click it for more details)

en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/posh

You could say there are slight regional variations of RP (e.g. in Scotland, the north of England or Wales) But it’s not a truly posh accent, like the way the royal family speaks, or David Cameron speaks, for example.

I reckon you could break it down like this (and this is making it really simple)

  • Regional dialects (strong accents, particular words and phrases used – all specific to certain areas)
  • Regional accents (strong accents specific to certain areas)
  • Standard RP with slight regional variations (e.g. the way some vowel sounds are produced)
  • Standard RP from the South East of England
  • Heightened RP (like David Cameron)
  • Very heightened RP (like The Queen)

Depending on your social background, you’ll consider some accents to be more posh than others. Generally, if the accent is associated with a higher social class (based on the old model) than yours, you’ll say it’s posh.

Posh can be either positive or negative. It depends on your view of the situation.

I guess by a lot of people’s standards, my Dad sounds quite posh. For me he isn’t that posh. He’s just really neutral and clear. I think a truly ‘posh’ accent has different qualities to it.

To do justice to this subject I’ll need to do full episodes on the way different people speak.

That’s it! Speak to you again soon. Bye!

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

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

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

Quora www.quora.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are about 12 answers from different people.

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

OK, so here goes!

Anthony Lauder’s Presentation at the 2013 Polyglot Conference

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

Mnemonic Dictionary

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

lep-mug-painting

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

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

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Measure your progress – test yourself

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

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attitude

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

Be positive!

Yes we can!

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

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

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

Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can/want to/will:

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

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

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

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

Step by step

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

Repetition

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

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

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

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

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

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

Grammar

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

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

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

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

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

Writing to get through the Plateau

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy it 

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

Here are some motivational quotes

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

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

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

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

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

mountain-climbing-768813_1280

 

385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

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

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Jim’s Music

234. Making “Choons” with My Brother

Jim’s music on Soundcloud

Jim’s music on Bandcamp

Mailing List, etc

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

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

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

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

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

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

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

What is intermediate?

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

CEFR B1 descriptions

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

CEFR C1 descriptions

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

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

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

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

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

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

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort zone.

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

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

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

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

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

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

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

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

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

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

Challenge

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

Habit

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

Exposure

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

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

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

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

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

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

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

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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