Category Archives: Learning

417. New Year’s Resolutions and Language Learning in 2017

Let’s look towards the coming year and talk about new years resolutions for language learning in 2017. I talk about the UK’s most common new year’s resolutions, my resolutions for improving my French and then talk about ways we can work on our language learning this year.

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The UK’s Most common New Year’s resolutions

Source: ComRes poll

  1. Exercise more (38 per cent)
  2. Lose weight (33 per cent)
  3. Eat more healthily (32 per cent)
  4. Take a more active approach to health (15 per cent)
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby (15 per cent)
  6. Spend more time on personal wellbeing (12 per cent)
  7. Spend more time with family and friends (12 per cent)
  8. Drink less alcohol (12 per cent)
  9. Stop smoking (9 per cent)
  10. Other (1 per cent)

www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/health-advice/common-new-years-resolutions-stick/

www.theweek.co.uk/80420/the-most-common-new-year-resolutions-and-who-has-stuck-to-them

Making New Year’s Resolutions about Language Learning

We don’t usually stick to our new year’s resolutions. I think it helps to make one resolution which is quite specific.

There are a lot of things I would like to achieve this year but I’ve decided to focus on my French because I’ve neglected it.

Stop making excuses, release the pressure and enjoy it.

I want to improve my French because it’s still not good enough, even though I live in France.

As I often say, my French isn’t doing very well but my excuses are improving all the time.

So, as ever I plan to stop making excuses and to apply my own knowledge about language learning to my learning of French. Olly Richards’ advice from episode 332 still stands of course, and we know it to be true:

  • Add little bits of language learning practice into your daily routine and make it a habit.
  • With regular, habitual practice your learning will progress properly.
  • Then you can build on those habits and spend more and more time per day.

I’m pretty embarrassed by my lack of French and so I have to pull my finger out. It just shows, and we already know this, that learning a language doesn’t happen magically, that you also have to use specific techniques, work at it, do it regularly and be organised.

I should do an episode all about my French and I plan to.

My specific aim for my French this year is to read graphic novels in French, like this one. (pics)

Some suggestions for resolutions about English

It’s important to start the year in a positive and determined way and then keep it up! Not many of us maintain our resolutions.

Maybe we should to maintain our resolutions for 3 months, and then revisit them, making new ones or reestablishing the old ones. So, perhaps at about Easter we can evaluate them.

I encourage you to make some resolutions about your English. Just choose to do one thing on a regular basis and make it a habit. You could write about it in the comment section.

Another idea is to get a Netflix account and switch on the subtitles. Then get addicted to a show (e.g. The Crown) and before you know it you’ll have binge watched 10 hours of TV in English while noticing all the language in the subtitles.

You could keep your vocab notebook with you to note down new words, or note them down in your phone. Perhaps you could use the voice recorder on your phone to record yourself saying some sentences with those new words and then at the end of the month you review them all and listen to yourself saying the words and phrases – in some sort of meaningful sentences. That could be a great way of teaching yourself some language.

Remember that when you’re practising language, like new words or expressions, to use meaningful examples. Make sentences that are expressions of your real opinion or which are about something important to you. You might find the words stick more easily that way.

Think about one area of your English that you need to improve and focus on that this year. For example if you need to improve your writing in particular, try getting a book on email writing (e.g. Email English by Paul Emmerson) or if you have a job interview coming up consider getting some italki lessons specifically to practise interview scenarios.

There are plenty of other ideas that you could come up with. Feel free to share some ideas in the comment section if you like.

Thanks for listening. Speak to you soon.

Luke

410. Teaching 12 Idioms in the Street / On the Set of Paul’s TV Show (with Amber)

Amber & I teach you 12 idiomatic English phrases while attending the filming of an episode of Paul’s TV show on the street in Paris. See below for videos and photos, and a list of the idioms with definitions.

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Introduction

In the last couple of episodes do you remember what happened? Do you remember what our plans were? Yes, Amber & I talked about Christmas and all that. But also, you might remember that we were planning to go and visit Paul on the set of his TV show and record a podcast while we were doing it, and that’s what we did last Thursday afternoon. We went to the 7th Arrondissement – a rather posh district on the left bank of the river Seine. We saw the film crew, a few scenes being filmed and Amber & I even appeared in one of those scenes as extras in the background. When the video is released you’ll be able to see us, briefly! It will be the one about French cinema, when that is released. By the way Paul’s TV show is broadcast on Saturday evenings on French TV station Canal+ and then released onto YouTube the following week. His YouTube channel is called “What the Fuck, France?”

Unfortunately they weren’t filming in the English pub as expected because they did that in the morning – so no beer or crisps or warmth or beer. Instead we joined them while they were filming in the street outside a little church. So, a street, a church and no warmth or beer.

Despite the harsh conditions and lack of beer I brought my recording equipment and we did a podcast while standing around with the film crew there, and all the local Parisian people in the street going about their lives, walking past us and even talking to us at certain moments.

You’re going to hear descriptions of what was happening during the recording, and some general chat with Amber. There were also a couple of moments where Paul stopped shooting and came over to join us, with a few other people too in some cases, including Robert Hoehn who you might remember from the “Have you ever…?” episode recently.

As well as the conversation and descriptions, there’s some English teaching in this episode because while standing there on the street I realised I had 12 idioms in my pocket, written on little bits of paper. Of course I did because as an English teacher that’s the kind of thing I have in my pocket – a bunch of idioms in pieces of paper. It pays to always be prepared as an English teacher! I sometimes have teaching materials in my pocket or up my sleeve! I actually had the idioms on me for another podcast episode that I’d planned ages ago but didn’t do – but the idioms came in handy this time and provided us with some teaching content for you.

All of the idioms you’re going to hear were taken from the Oxford Idioms Dictionary and I chose them quite carefully because I think they’re all expressions which are commonly used today.

You can find the list of those idioms on the page for this episode. I wonder if you know them all. You might know some, but do you know them all, and do you use them?

Now, I could list them all for you here in the introduction in advance, and even teach them to you in advance, but I’m not going to do that because I want to encourage you to notice them for yourselves. That’s a good skill to develop if you can. You should always be on the lookout for bits of language which you can identify and eventually make part of your active vocabulary. So, listen carefully to notice the idioms, and then keep listening because in the second part of the lesson Amber & I explain all the idioms for you.

So, that’s what you’re going to get – a podcast recorded in the street in Paris, with all the sound effects of what was happening around us, a couple of guest appearances, and then 12 common English idioms taught by Amber and me!

So, I hope you are feeling comfortable and that you’re cosy and warm – because it was bitterly cold on the streets of Paris when we recorded this! I recommend listening to this one when you are indoors, with the heating turned on and a hot drink nearby, or if you are outside make sure you’re wearing a pair of thick woolen mittens or gloves and a warm hat – unless of course you’re in a hot place like Australia or something, in which case you can just bask in the hot weather and try to avoid being bitten by a snake or spider or something. If you’re in Brazil then go to the beach or something like that and get ready for that big party you’re going to have on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, now let’s go back in time to last Thursday afternoon on the very chilly streets of the 7th Arrondissement of Paris with a film crew and rich old Parisian ladies walking around, and let’s begin the episode, and remember – can you spot the 12 idioms, do you know them and can you use them? Here we go.

The 12 Idioms

  1. To cost an arm and a leg = to be expensive (those cameras must have cost an arm and a leg)
  2. As a rule of thumb = as a general rule
  3. To flog a dead horse = to be futile
  4. To get back to the drawing board = to start again
  5. To be over the moon = to be delighted
  6. To hit the nail on the head = to say something which is totally accurate
  7. To drive someone up the wall = to drive someone mad / to make someone very annoyed
  8. To find your feet = to establish yourself
  9. Break a leg! = good luck! (for performers)
  10. Hold your horses! = hold on! Wait! Slow down!
  11. To go the extra mile = make an extra effort
  12. The ball is in your court = it’s your turn to make a decision

Also

  • To get fired / to be let go
  • A housewarming party
  • To see red
  • To have your cake and eat it too

Over to you!
What is your version of the idiom “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”?

Photos & Videos

Introduction

On the street

From left to right: Rob, Amber, Luke, Josephine (costume lady), Paul

From left to right: Rob, Amber, Luke, Josephine (costume lady), Paul

 

with Josephine (costume lady), Vlad (Director of Photography) & Robert Hoehn

Outro (with mistakes & no edits!)

Other stuff

Message from a Chinese LEPster about “Pudong” near China

I’d like to just clarify something that was said on the podcast in episode 408 when Paul and I made some silly jokes about the word “Pudong” and we talked about Pudong area near Shanghai in China. Paul brought it up when we were talking about pudding and none of us were too sure about the name Pudong and what it really means. I got a message which clarifies that.

Here’s the message from Sylvia from China. I was a bit worried that she was offended by our crappy jokes (particularly mine), but she assures me that she’s not offended and that she still loves us, so that’s alright. In any case I wanted to read this out because it’s got proper information about Pudong. If you remember, Paul said that he wasn’t sure exactly what the name meant and that one of our listeners could clear it up. Well, here is that clarification.

Dear Luke,

I want to make several things clear here in episode 408, in which Paul talked about Pudong in Shanghai. I live in Shanghai now, and the content of the conversation made me a bit uncomfortable.

1. It’s not ‘Pudong River’, it’s called ‘Huangpu River’.
2. It is ‘Pu’, not ‘Poo’.
3. ‘dong’ in Chinese means ‘east’, Chinese character ‘东’.
4. ‘Pudong’ is an area, which is on the east bank of the Huangpu River.
Pudong is situated on the east coast of the Huangpu River of Shanghai, and sits at the intersection of China’s coastal belt for international trade and the Yangtze River estuary. It is backed up by the Yangtze River Delta urban megalopolis and faces the boundless Pacific.

Pudong New Area (“Pudong” or the “New Area”), in eastern Shanghai, is named because it is located to the east of the Huangpu River.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-16-10-08

Now Pudong New Area has become the economic, financial, trade and shipping center regionally and internationally. In 20 short years, a dramatic change has taken place in Pudong, changing from farmlands into high buildings and from out-of-the-way villages into a prosperous urban area. Pudong has become the “Pearl of the Orient” with world attention, acclaimed as the “epitome of Shanghai’s modernization” and the “symbol of China’s reform and opening up”.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-16-10-16

Cruising on the Huangpu River, you can see many European style buildings on the western bank, because Shanghai used to be a foreign concession before 1949. At that time, Shanghai was known as the ‘paradise of foreign adventures’. Many foreigners, mostly Europeans, came to try their luck here. That’s why you can see buildings of different architectural styles here, Spanish, Greek, Roman and Russian. While on the other bank, skyscrapers in the Pudong New Area rear high into the sky, which were all built by Chinese people after 1990.

Luke, welcome to China, welcome to Shanghai, welcome to Pudong. And I hope when Paul comes to your place again, you can show him this, and let him make it clear.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Luke
I’m sorry this made you uncomfortable. No offence intended – I was just making a joke, and failing (as usual). I appreciate the information about Shanghai – would you mind if I read out your message on the podcast?

Sylvia
hello Luke
I knew it was a joke, that’s okay. It’s just that Pudong New Area has alway been a prosperous Area in my mind, but from now on everytime i think of it or come to there it will remind me of those jokes you made…Haha…
It would be great if you could read it on the podcast. Because i don’t want Paul to mislead people around the world thinking that China has a ‘poo dong river’. You can say my name, that’s okay.
And I know Amber And Paul didn’t mean any offence.
Always love you!
Sylvia

spoken_full_logo_transparentSPOKEN

Don’t forget to check out Spoken. 2 free lessons and then 20% off! English lessons for Professionals on WhatsApp, sent straight to your phone by an English teacher. www.getspoken.com/lep

407. Reflections on Language Learning & Working as a Translator: Interview with Kristina from Russia, Winner of the LEP Anecdote Competition 2016

In this episode you’ll hear me talking to Kristina from Russia, the winner of the LEP anecdote competition this year. We talk about her work as a translator and interpreter, her reflections on language learning, how she learned English to a good level and some other bits and pieces.

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Introduction transcript

Hello! Welcome back to the podcast. In this episode I am talking to Kristina from Russia. If you’ve heard episode 403 of this podcast you’ll know that she is a listener who won my anecdote competition this year. Her anecdote was about how she ended up having to interpret for Emir Kusturica – the famous Serbian film director, on stage at a film festival in front of an audience of movie industry people with absolutely no preparation.

It sounded stressful and it’s also impressive that she managed to get through the whole thing successfully, without running screaming from the building.

Kristina’s story was the clear winner in the final round of the competition. It was interesting to hear about how she described that stressful and exciting experience and how her language skills were involved. The prize for winning, as suggested by one of my podcast listeners, was to have a one-to-one Skype conversation with yours truly (that’s me).

We did that the other day. We chatted on Skype for nearly an hour, with her in Saint Petersburg and me in Paris, and I thought it might be interesting to record part of the conversation for an episode of this podcast. Kristina agreed and so, in this episode you can hear the result.

So in this episode you are going to hear Kristina talking about

  • How she became a translator and interpreter
  • The differences and challenges of those two types of work
  • How she has learned English to her current level, and some general reflections on language learning (by the way she speaks several other languages including Norwegian and German)
  • The way she maintains her level of English and how listening is an important part of that process

I think Kristina is an example of someone who has not only managed to learn English to a proficient level but has also built a career around her language abilities. It was lovely to speak to her and I hope you enjoy listening our conversation.

So, without any further ado, here is Kristina from Russia, the winner of the LEP anecdote competition 2016.

* CONVERSATION *

Announcement: LEP Meeting for Conversation in Moscow

Here’s a message from a listener in Moscow called Dmitry:

Is here anybody from MOSCOW?!
A friend of mine is organizing the first MEETING of The Moscow LEPsters Conversation Club – a club for those who study English, like Luke’s podcast and want to develop speaking skills as well! Everybody is welcome on Sunday, December 11th at 4pm in the Wooden Door anti-cafe. We intend to discuss Luke’s podcast, your favorite episodes, drink tea/coffee, eat cookies, SPEAK and have fun! The meeting itself is absolutely free BUT the anticafe charges everybody 2 roubles per minute. Coffee and cookies included in this standard price. [Luke: About 1.7E per hour for free cookies and coffee? Not bad!] REGISTRATION: just send your name and several words about you (if you wish) to smartnb@mail.ru or click “I will participate” on the Facebook page
Link here: www.facebook.com/events/275649646170689/
It will be great to share emotions and ideas! See you on Sunday at 4pm!

Let me know if you’re planning an LEP Get Together in your area

If you’re planning an LEP Meeting in your area, let me know and I can spread the word!
Getting together with like-minded people and having some fun speaking English is a great idea! It can be a great way to practise speaking and you can make some friends too.

Music

Background music (introduction): Jukedeck – create your own at http://jukedeck.com

Other background music: Jim Thompson soundcloud.com/jt-2000 and here jt2000.bandcamp.com

404. British Accents in The Lord of the Rings (Part 1)

Talking about the different accents you can hear in the Lord of the Rings movies.

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Why this subject, Luke?

Lord of the Rings is brilliant and it’s nice to talk about it.

In the last episode I talked about accents a bit – specifically posh accents, and it made me think about accents so much. There are so many ways of dealing with the subject. I started thinking about the different British accents you can hear in Lord of the Rings, and I thought that the movie is so popular and well-known that it could be a good way to get into the subject of accents.

Identify the different accents that you can hear in the films and consider the reasons why these accents were chosen for these characters. Along the way the plan is to listen to a few different British accents and get to know them a bit. There will probably be some general chat about LOTR too, but that’s not the main subject of the episode. I’d like to do other episodes later about the story of LOTR.

Actually, this is just one episode about accents that I’ve been inspired to do today. If I have time I might record another one in which I go into some more specific details about “posh” accents and “posh” people.

And I’d like to do similar ones about other accents you can find in the UK.

But this one will cover quite a lot of different accents because there is quite a bit of variety in the LOTR film universe.

Another summary of accents in the UK

It’s based on region – different accents for different regions.

It’s also related to class – generally speaking, people from a working class background tend to speak with the regional accent from the area where they live or grew up. Those regional accents get less strong as you move up the social classes, with middle and upper-middle class people speaking a less region specific accent known as RP (received pronunciation) or BBC English (like me). There are still some regional variations of RP but generally if people speak like me they’re speaking standard British RP. Then as you continue to the upper-class people, who you might describe as “posh” you start hearing a kind of heightened-RP or “posh” accent. The Queen is the poshest person in the country.

This isn’t always the case of course. You might find someone who comes from a very posh aritocratic family who doesn’t speak heightened-RP. Similarly, you might find someone who is very wealthy and powerful who speaks with a regional accent. There are exceptions, and also there’s an argument to say that the class system doesn’t apply any more, etc. But, honestly I think that it’s still true. Working class background – you’ll probably speak with a regional accent (unless you lost it somewhere along the way) and if you’re middle class you’re more likely to speak RP like me, and if you’re upper class you’re more likely to speak heightened-RP or “posh” English.

It also relates to time. Heightened-RP used to be a lot more normal and it sounds pretty old fashioned by today’s standards. There was a time when everyone on the BBC spoke with heightened-RP “This is the voice of the BBC”. Nowadays most of the voices are standard-RP and plenty of TV presenters have regional accents, especially on shows that have a broad popular appeal. E.g. An entertainment show which is on the TV at 7pm in the UK and attracts a huge audience features middle-class presenters who speak with slight regional accents because these days people like that. It means you’re a normal person who comes from a normal local place. The news is still read by people with RP, because it’s neutral and sounds educated and therefore well-informed.

We do have certain associations with different accents, and these associations are quite complex. E.g. people say they find certain accents more or less trustworthy, warm, sexy, irritating, urban, rural, high-class, low-class etc.

In the UK people judge each other by their accents all the time, without realising it. It’s a big indicator of social class, education or even wealth for example. We shouldn’t judge each other by our accents, but we do.

I’m not talking here about how you can learn to speak with a British accent. THat’s another topic for another time. One thing I will say is that I think the most important thing is that you speak clearly and the other people around you can understand exactly what you want to say. Let clarity guide you, not how you perceive the social status of different accents. If you’re looking for an accent that makes you sound posh, watch out because other people might not have positive associations with “posh” for example.

“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”
George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion (1916) preface

This means that there isn’t one single accent which is completely neutral and free of prejudice from others. This proves that the class system still exists. If I open my mouth in some places, people will immediately assume that I’m well-off and will probably hate me. Just a few people, I hope. E.g. if I went to do a comedy show in Liverpool on a Saturday night in front of a large crowd of slightly drunk Scousers, I’m sure some of them would take an instant dislike to me because I have a middle-class London accent.
So, there is no accent which is universally neutral. The main thing is that you’re clear and that you’re not ashamed of your roots. OK!

What about Lord Of The Rings?

First of all, LOTR is set in a fantasy world. The writer JRR Tolkein created this world originally as an exercise in linguistics. He was a linguist and he created his own languages, and then needed a world for them to exist in. He was also interested in the idea of creating a mythology for the UK, because all our old myths and legends had been lost due to all the times we’d been invaded over the years. Our old Celtic mythologies have been replaced by Saxon or Norse ones from Denmark for example, or replaced with Judo-Christian narratives from the old testament, or Greek myths and so on. So, he created a made-up world, wrote his own myths and legends and created different languages for the made up races of people, elves, orcs, dwarves, hobbits, ents and others to speak.

The characters either spoke different languages, or spoke English with different accents. The accents in the book were never aligned with real accents in the real world. We had to just imagine the accents in our heads – but the characters in the book are so well described, and the context is so rich that it’s not difficult to imagine these voices full of richness, roughness, smoothness, humour, spirit, courage, malice etc. We just imagined the accents in our heads, or just had a gut feeling about how the characters would speak.

Gandalf, for example, you imagined could be so warm and entertaining, like a fantastic old teacher in some dusty old school, but then he could be incredibly sharp, complex and frightening too. You imagined the Hobbits to have local accents of the countryside, reflecting their limited worldview, their proximity to nature. It makes you think of local accents from countryside areas of the UK. But the accents were never really directly described in the books.

So, turning the books into films was always going to be a challenge, because the filmmakers had to turn those made up accents into real world accents.

Which accents should each character have? This question was probably just as important as choosing what they should look like, or what they should wear. Perhaps it was more difficult because their appearances are clearly explained in the books. Choosing the accents though, was a matter of matching the right accent to the personality traits of the characters.

This is quite interesting because it tells us a little bit about how we immediately judge people based on their accents. E.g. some accents make you think of royalty, of ruralism, of rugged countryside etc. The accents to an extent are part of the landscape. The accents are quite closely connected to certain geographical locations in the real world.

So, the rolling hills of Hobbiton, the sharp peaks and deep chasms of the Misty Mountains and the large halls and palaces of Gondor. All of these have accents that seem appropriate to them.

What are the accents in LOTR?

All the accents are British. There are no American accents in the film, even though some of the actors are American, notably Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn), Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee) and Liv Tyler (Arwen). Also there are several Australian actors – Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Cate Blanchett (Galadriel).

Why are the accents all British? I thought British accents in movies were just for the bad guys?
‘Otherness’
‘Old world’
Recordings of Tolkien’s readings of his own work – Tolkien’s own voice

Characters / Races

Frodo – speaks in standard RP

Hobbits – Generally the Hobbits are associated with a kind of rural, local charm. They’re warm characters with a strong sense of local identity. They work on the land. Imagine any part of England about 100 years ago. Farmers, local shopkeepers and things like that. All the hobbits have accents to give this kind of colour to their characters. Frodo speaks with RP because he’s from a slightly higher class than the others. Interestingly, the Hobbits don’t let their class differences come between them, which is another attractive thing about them.

Sam – comes from the South West – a stereotype of the country ‘bumpkin’. it’s a soft and homely accent. Working class because Sam is definitely a working class country boy to Frodo’s upper class master.

Pippin – Scottish. Again there’s no real reason for this beyond giving him slightly old world foreign charm. But it’s a fairly middle-class Scottish accent. Wikipedia: The filmmakers originally planned for Boyd to adopt an English accent for the role, in keeping with the other hobbits; however, Jackson found that Boyd’s comic timing was not as keen when he was not using his native accent. Therefore, it was decided to allow Boyd to play the role with a Scottish accent; the decision was justified by the observation that the Took-land in which the Took clan lived was a very hilly region of the Shire and was therefore vaguely similar to Scotland, and that the Tooks invented the game of golf, just like the Scots.

Merry – the actor comes from Stockport near Manchester and keeps his normal accent. Again, a bit of local ‘colour’. It’s not really strong.

Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman – RP / Heightened RP – all slightly old fashioned. These are the high-class people in the story, particularly the elves who all speak high RP (upper RP). An old, posh type of language which makes them all sound like thespians or ex-public schoolboys. This reflects their high status in the story and the richness and depth of their culture.

Boromir – Sean Bean (the actor) has a Yorkshire accent. He could easily have spoken RP just like the other stewards of Gondor but Sean Bean’s natural Yorkshire accent gives his character a bit of authenticity and northern ruggedness. It’s an accent with character and some sense of landscape, like the film. Also, Boromir doesn’t have the same lineage as Aragorn. In the film his family are the stewards of Gondor – they’re just there while the proper royal family is not around. He’s high-class, but not as high-class as Aragorn.

Gimli – Welsh. it’s supposed to be Welsh I think. I guess this reflects the harshness but warmth of the dwarves. Certainly they are parochial and characterful. In The Hobbit the dwarves all have local accents, except Thorin who speaks RP. Basically, if you want characterful accents with an old world flavour, go with British dialects. If you want that old world flavour with a touch of class – it’s old school RP.

Orcs – cockney. We associate this with thugs, gangsters and criminals (not every time of course!)

Other characters: Gollum, Bilbo, Eomer, Theoden, Eowyn, Treebeard, Sauron.

In part 2 let’s listen to some spoken samples in these different accents

lotr

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you? Are you doing alright?

Transcript Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creativity is a big part of the mastery of a language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this relate to learning English?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But be careful – choose the right moment.

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

So, there you go.

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

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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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384. Teaching Grammar & Social English

In this episode I’m talking about recent things I’ve been teaching in my classes including some grammar and some social English. There’s an absolutely massive amount of grammar crammed into this episode and quite a lot of silly improvisation too!

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Introduction

I’ll give an overview of the groups I’m teaching,and what I’m teaching them including some grammar and vocab. Essentially you can learn what my students have been learning. I’ll also talk about some considerations I make as a teacher and activities I use.

The classes are quite low, probably lower than the average listener of this podcast.

Two classes – A2 (pre-intermediate) and B1.2 (good intermediate)

CEFR A0 – A1 – A2 – B1 – B2 – C1 – C2

Needs of the groups

Gradable and ungradable adjectives

I’ve been using Cutting Edge Intermediate 3rd edition, but a little bit of googling reveals several pages online with good sources of info and some exercises, such as this one from Espresso English . net, which I am paraphrasing.

Regular Adjective

Graded with:

  • a little, a bit, slightly, fairly, rather
  • very, extremely, immensely, intensely, hugely
  • Really
  • pretty
Extreme Adjective (absolutely, completely)

Graded with:

  • absolutely
  • completely
  • Utterly
  • Really
  • pretty
angry furious
bad awful, terrible, horrible
big huge, gigantic, massive, enormous
clean spotless
cold freezing
crowded packed
dirty filthy
funny hilarious
good wonderful, fantastic, excellent
hot boiling
hungry starving
interesting fascinating
old ancient
pretty gorgeous
scary terrifying
small tiny, minute
surprising astounding
tired Exhausted, knackered
ugly hideous

Absolute Adjectives

Another type of extreme adjective is called an “absolute” adjective.

These are words that are either “yes or no.” It’s binary, black and white, there’s no grading – not even with words like ‘completely’. For example, dead – you can’t be “a little bit dead” or “very dead” – either YES, you are dead, or NO, you’re not dead.

Here’s a list of some absolute adjectives and their opposites:

It’s fun to play with these ones. I find it funny to grade these absolute adjectives and when you do it knowingly it starts to reveal how you can bend the language to make it humourous or ironic.

Absolute Adjective Opposite
complete incomplete
Equal (all animals are equal…) unequal
essential non-essential; extraneous
dead alive
fatal not fatal
full empty
ideal not ideal
impossible possible
infinite finite
married single / divorced / separated / widowed
perfect imperfect
pregnant not pregnant
unique not unique
universal not universal
unknown known
true false

Exercises here www.espressoenglish.net/extreme-adjectives-in-english/

Present simple vs present continuous

Present simple: Facts, always true, habits (things you do every time) and also permanent situations.

Present continuous: What you’re doing right now. Temporary truths. Things that are changing (e.g. social trends). Future plans.

Present continuous, going to & will for future

Social English

Making polite requests

Borrow and lend

Could you lend me your

Could I borrow your

Could I borrow your xxx from you?

Do you mind _ing

Would you mind _ing

I was wondering if you could

Do you think you could…

You couldn’t… could you?

Invitations

What are you doing on Saturday?

I’m not doing anything.

Would you like to have a drink?

Do you fancy having a drink?

Shall we have a drink?

Let’s have a drink shall we?

Do you want to have a drink?

How about we have a drink?

What about having a drink?

Sure that sounds great.

I’d love to.

That sounds great, but…

I’d love to, but…

I can’t

I can’t make it

The Lying Game

Mystery Story Narrative Tenses

Murder Mystery

LEPCUPPIC

381. Discussing Cultural Differences (with Amber & Paul)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussing Cultural Differences

Luke’s Intro

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

Ways we’re the same:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Amber & Paul

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

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

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

We can answer these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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