Category Archives: Movies

I was on The Rock n’ Roll English Podcast and The Earful Tower Podcast this week

Some news of Other People’s Podcasts

This week I’m featured in episodes of The Rock N Roll English Podcast and The Earful Tower Podcast.

The Rock n’ Roll English Podcast


This one is presented by English teacher Martin Johnston, who lives in Italy. It’s a learning English podcast for intermediate students who want to listen to people talking about normal things like sex, drugs and rock and roll, all of which are completely normal things!

Martin makes an effort to teach the vocabulary that comes up in his conversations that cover fun and interesting topics. It should be easy to understand this one as Martin grades his English a bit so that intermediate students can understand him.

In this episode Martin presented me with some very awkward social situations and we discussed my choices for each one. Often the best option was to just jump into a lake. Listen to the episode above to find out more and visit Martin’s website here.

The Earful Tower


This one was recorded a few weeks ago and has been published now. The Earful Tower podcast is run by Oilver Gee and their goal is to figure out France with the help of a new guest each week – from cooks and comedians to TV hosts and tour guides.

In the past they’ve interviewed Paul Taylor and this week it was my turn. The topic was how French people learn English.

You’ll hear three voices. Oliver Gee the host, who is half Australian and speaks with a bit of an Aussie accent and James his co-host who is half French but speaks English like a native, and me.

This one might be a little difficult to follow as Oliver has a bit of an Australian accent and the three of us talk pretty quickly.

This was a fun discussion about the ways French people approach learning English. There’s one thing I regret saying here and that is that French teachers of English aren’t good at English. What I meant was that this is always what French people say as a kind of excuse for why their English “isn’t good enough”.

It was lots of fun being on The Earful Tower. You can listen to it above and check out their website here and Facebook page here.

Thanks for reading and listening! New episodes of the podcast will be available soon. Hope you’ve been enjoying the Rick Thompson report!

Bye bye bye bye bye

Luke

451. Film Club: Alien Covenant

Another film club episode, this time about the Alien franchise and a review of the new film “Alien: Covenant”. The film is in the cinemas now and you could watch the other films at home (with or without subtitles) for some more English listening practice.

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Introduction

Here’s a film club episode about the Alien movies. I hope you’re a fan of those films. If you’re not a fan then this might not be for you I guess, but I hope you listen. In terms of language you’ll hear loads of descriptions of the events and themes of the Alien films and my opinion of “Alien: Covenant”. As ever I encourage you to listen out for language – you might notice some specific phrases. Check out the page for the episode where you’ll see a lot of the notes I made before recording. There are also a few YouTube vids there for you to see as well. OK, let’s get started.

I got a message the other day from a listener in South Korea called Ethan Lee. Ethan asked me if I was going to see the new Alien film “Alien: Covenant” and if I could talk about it on the podcast.

Well, I’m sort of a fan of the Alien movies and today I’m going to see Alien: Covenant, so here’s a film club episode all about the Alien franchise.

I’m going to describe the films, their stories, what makes them great or not so great, including Prometheus from a few years ago.

Then I’m going to go and see Alien: Covenant, the new movie and afterwards I’ll tell you what I think of it.

I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers throughout this episode while discussing these films, although I’m assuming that you’ve probably seen at least Alien and Aliens and you know some of the big moments – like probably the most famous scene in the original alien film where we first see the alien – when the alien comes to dinner, let’s say.

So I expect you know some stuff, but in any case I’ll try to avoid big plot spoilers.

I’m also going to give mini reviews of the films in the franchise, before focusing on Alien: Covenant

Episode notes

Why are you interested in the Alien films?

First time I heard about it.

First time I saw clips from Aliens in a sci-fi exhibition in America when I was about 14.

First time I saw Aliens when I was a kid.

The Alien franchise – Timeline

Alien
Plot
What type of film is it
Director
Alien
What makes it good
Mystery
Slasher film
The design by HR Geiger
Subtexts about sex, reproduction and motherhood
Limitations in filming
Ridley Scott

Aliens
James Cameron
Action movie
More aliens & explosions
New additions like The Queen
An amazing action sequence at the end where Ripley fights the Queen and then a few shocks at the end.
Annoying marines being macho, but great action sequences and Aliens on top form.

Alien 3
Disappointing
Poor storyline – killing off some of the characters from the last episode
Set on a prison colony
Bland set designs – all these characters with shaved heads
I’ve seen it a few times and even now I can’t remember what it’s all about
Poor CGI aliens

Alien: Resurrection
This was slightly better than Alien 3
It’s about a gang of mercenaries who find out that the military have cloned Ripley and used her to create aliens, which as ever they want to weaponise. The Aliens get loose in the ship and it all goes wrong while the ship heads towards earth.
There are some creepy bits about cloning including the times they’d failed to clone Ripley and also at some point a weird Ripley/Alien mix is created which is quite a horrific monster that just wants to kill everyone except Ripley who she considers to be her mother. The scene where the monster goes is both hideously disgusting but also terribly sad.
All in all it’s a weird, gross film which explored some of the themes of reproduction and motherhood.

Alien vs Predator and Alien vs Predator: Requiem
Never seen these films in full although I’ve caught some of them on TV and watched a bit but didn’t continue.
Quite horrible direction, in the dark, close up, so you can’t see anything. Generally it’s Aliens punching Predators. It could have been great but it’s not. There’s a predalien. Another weird name.
Neither of the Alien vs Predator films are considered ‘canon’.

Prometheus
Ridley Scott, back on board.
Let’s bring back the original world of Alien.
Excessive marketing with Ridley Scott really talking up the film in very high level terms – talking about ancient myths and big themes about humankind dabbling in too much power and the gods taking revenge and all this stuff, the legend of prometheus.
The film deals with humanity’s relationship with the gods—their creators—and the consequence of defying them.
I thought – this sounds amazing.
I binged on the publicity and the hype.
Went to see it expecting something huge.
What I got was cheesy dialogue, B-Movie level plot points and action sequences, pseudo-intellectualism, amazing visuals, some bizarre monsters and some extremely stupid decision making.
All in all I’m not sure what to think of Prometheus, but I am slightly obsessed with it.
There are some great things – the effects, the visuals, the performance of Michael Fassbender as the android David.
Some of the monster scenes are amazing.
It’s also mysterious and makes me wonder what it’s all about really.
It spawned numerous “fan theory” videos on YouTube with people going on at length about all the hidden meanings and real meanings – it all makes my head spin.
Here’s my take on it
Millions of years ago on earth an ‘engineer’ arrives and drinks weird black stuff that makes him disintegrate and spread DNA into the ecostystem on earth, seeding life on earth – probably human life. Alright. I wonder why he has to drink that stuff to do that. It looks cool though.
Then, cut to the present day or the near future or whatever. A couple of scientists have worked out from cave paintings where the engineers come from.
They go to find them, sponsored by the Wayland corporation.
They get there to find a seemingly deserted planet.
Find a spaceship. Apparetly this isn’t the engineers’ home planet. THere’s a ship there with loads of these kind of jars of black goo.
The ship also has some murals including one of a xenomorph. The black jars of goo look a bit like alien eggs, but not.
It looks like the engineers were loading the goo onto the ship and something went wrong. Maybe they got infected by the goo and had a bit of trouble. It looks like it. They’re dead anyway.
Apparently they were heading for earth with this load of black goo.
What’s the black goo? A kind of bioweapon.
David tests it. Doesn’t go well.
Shaw’s weird alien birth.
Two of the crew members are utterly stupid.
Apparently the black goo has infected some worms…
Find an engineer in hypersleep.
Wake him up and he’s angry.
Apparently the engineers were fed up with us and wanted to kill us. Maybe because they’ve been observing us and they’ve thought – no, start again! Humans are rubbish! Look, DOnald Trump, The Kardashians, Brexit – no, kill them all!
The remaining crew members stop the engineer sending all the goo to earth.
Engineer ends up getting impregnated
The ship crashes – stupid running away scene.
“Deacon” is born.

Alien Covenant
It’s been advertised in the same way as Prometheus.

A LOT of youtube videos. A LOT of footage released in trailers. LOADS of different versions of the trailers. LOTS of shots of the alien – as if to say “Look there are definitely aliens in this!”

But I have to say I don’t think it looks good.

Why?

First of all they appear to be repeating the same steps as the original Alien film. It looks like the same thing.

Then there are some clips of moments that look utterly cliched.

For example there’s a person who apparently has been infected by the black goo.

Black goo is rubbish by the way. It’s not as good as the Alien. It’s just goo and it’s really unspecific. If it touches you you become a monster with super strength. The alien with it’s weird reproduction cycle is far more interesting. Black goo just doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway, in the trailer one person apparently is mutating into a monster but it’s the most cliched thing of him standing under a bright light and kind of shaking while apparently possessed. We’ve seen it a million times before.

Then there’s a clip of two people in a shower and the Alien creeps up on them in the shower and you see the tail coming up between their legs while they’re in the shower. Basic sexual imagery – not like the inventive designs of Geiger, just old fashioned Freddie Kruger type stuff.

So, I don’t expect much from this but I feel like I should see it just to find out for sure. Who knows, it could be really great.

So now I’m off to see it so let’s see!


I then went to see Alien: Covenant in the cinema down the road. Listen to the episode to find out what I thought!


What do you think of the Alien films? Leave your comments below.

 

449. Film Club: Touching the Void (Part 2)

Part 2 of this Film Club episode looking at the award-winning documentary “Touching the Void” which tells the story of a mountain climbing expedition which goes wrong. Listen to this episode and then watch the film on Netflix or DVD for that extra bit of English input.

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Click here to get the book “Touching the Void”

Click here to get the film on DVD.

The Story Continues…

Their plan was to climb back down the North ridge and then abseil down a part of the north face.

Abseiling is when you use ropes to kind of lower yourself down. But the clouds started coming in again.

The walk along the north ridge was much harder than expected. It was vertical on one side (with overhangs) and steep flutings (like grooves going down) on the other side. You wouldn’t know if you were stepping on something safe or not.

As they were descending, with the weather setting in, things got a bit out of control.

They got lost and they were in a whiteout – unable to see anything.

Their plan was to get down that day. But, by the time the sun went down they were still very high up the mountain, still over 6,000m up.

That night while they were making a brew of water, their gas ran out.

Day 4

The next day they could see that they’d managed to get down the worst part of the ridge and Simon thought they’d get down the rest of the mountain that day. He thought the whole climb was “in the bag” (if something is ‘in the bag’ it means you’re certain to achieve it, you’re definitely going to get it.)

Simon thought it was in the bag. He was wrong.

Joe was climbing in the front, before Simon. He reached a vertical wall, a fall in front of him, so he started to lower himself off it.

The method of lowering yourself down an ice wall, using pick axes and spikes on your feet.
Joe swung his pick into the ice, and it made a strange sound, so he decided to take it out and place it in again.

He was about to swing again, and the whole piece of ice he was attached to with his left hand just came off like a pancake, so he fell through the air.

And he landed hard, on his leg.

It broke, really badly. Not just a fracture.

Pain flew up his thigh from his knee. Incredibly painful.

I’ve never broken my leg and I hope I never do because I’m sure it’s horrible.
I have injured myself before. Of course, I’ve cut my fingers on knives etc. When you do injure yourself there is a shock, especially a kind of shock where you think it could be serious. That kind of shock lasts a few moments, when you don’t just feel pain but you feel a kind of panic, thinking “I’ve seriously hurt myself”. Most of the time that feeling goes away when you realise it’s not bad.

But if it is serious, you get this dreadful feeling that comes on. A truly dreadful feeling that comes from the realisation of just how difficult and inconvenient things are going to get. Not just the pain, but the fact that you now have this injury which is going to make everything so damn hard for you.

Now imagine that feeling when you’re 6000 metres up the side of a freezing mountain in Peru with no water and no medical services anywhere near you.

I don’t know about you, but I would feel more than dread, I’d feel pretty hopeless. I imagine I would feel more than the pain and the inconvenience, there would also be all this emotion coming, like anger, tragedy, sadness.

Anyway, Joe at this point was mainly feeling the intense pain of a badly broken leg.

Here’s what happened, and this is really horrible, ok?

The impact of the fall caused his knee joint to actually split. The joint split and the bone from the lower leg went up through the knee joint, split the end of his femur (the thigh bone) and carried on up the leg.

Unimaginable really. All those ligaments completely ruined, the bone, cartilage, nerve endings, and of course the blood vessels broken by it.

The whole leg would have been unusable of course, and there was a lot of internal bleeding inside his leg.

Apparently he couldn’t cope with the pain at all at the beginning, but after breathing for a while he started to get a grip on it.

But he thought he was done for. He was still level with the peaks of some of the other mountains.

He tried to stand on the leg – impossible.
Simon eventually arrived, and he describes seeing Joe’s face – a complex mix of terror, pain and anguish.

Simon said “Are you ok” and Joe nearly said “I’m fine thanks” – because that’s what we say to that question, even if you’re not fine!

But he said “No I’ve broken my leg” and immediately Simon thought, “Oh god, we’re stuffed”
Now. What would you do if you were Simon and Joe here?

Let’s imagine you’re Joe.

You say, “mate, you’ve got to help me” or “Go ahead without me, I’m stuffed!” or “Don’t you dare leave me!”

Let’s say you’re Simon, what do you say here?
“Mate, don’t worry. We’ll get you down this mountain.”
“Look, you’re not going to make it. Do you have anything you want me to say to your parents?”
“Wait here, I’ll go and get help. I’ll come back for you I promise!”

Obviously, Joe is the one with the broken leg and the pain, but Simon also is in a difficult situation here because they’re partners.

According to Joe, Simon gave him some painkillers which did nothing, and they didn’t talk about it for a few moments because they both knew that Simon was going to have to leave Joe there, because they couldn’t get Joe down from the mountain without risking both their lives in the process.

Joe thought Simon would leave him there because there was no other choice.

Meanwhile, Richard, the third guy is sitting at base camp wondering what has happened to them, thinking that they both might be dead and that he’d find them at the bottom of the mountain because they’d just fall all the way to the bottom! There wasn’t really anything Richard could do because they were many many miles away from civilisation. There was no ambulance service to call. No mobile phones in the 80s. He just had to wait and see.

Back on the mountain, Simon pulled himself together to think about how he was going to get Joe down the mountain.

He decided to try and save him and had to come up with a practical solution.

The plan was, he’d just lower Joe down the mountain on a rope. Just slide him down.

He tied two 150ft ropes (there are about 3.3 feet per metre) together, with a knot in the middle and Simon was attached to one end, and Joe on the other.

Slide Joe down, letting the rope through the belay device. When the knot got to the belay device, stop letting Joe slide. Joe would stand up to take the weight off the rope. Simon would then unattach the rope from the device, let the knot through, then reattach the rope and then let it continue for the rest of the 150feet.

Then when Joe was at the end of the rope, Simon would downclimb to join him.

They continued like this for quite a long time, repeating the process. Letting Joe slide down, then letting the knot through the rope, letting Joe slide down further, then Simon climbing down.

Simon was letting Joe slide down quite quickly, conscious of the time running out and the fact they needed to get down to the bottom as quickly as possible.
It must have been excruciating for Joe.

But there were still these interpersonal things going on.

Apparently Joe kept wondering if Simon was pissed off.

These are the things you think about when you’re with a friend, doing something. Is he pissed off? Does he mind? Apparently Joe was wondering if Simon was annoyed by it all.
But I think Simon was also suffering from shock and panic too, and to an extent he held a lot of responsibility now for both of them, because Joe was out of action. It was basically a single-handed mountain rescue by Simon, in extremely difficult conditions.
It must have been a desperate desperate feeling for both of them.

What they didn’t know at the time though, was that this was just the start and that it would get a lot worse, and that something awful was approaching that they had no idea about.
They continued going down the mountain in this fashion – Joe badly injured, in shock and losing blood into his leg, both of them exhausted, both dehydrated at altitude and close to hypothermia.

A race against time.

The weather turned bad again, and within an hour or two they were descending in a full storm, with wind chill factor of something like -80 degrees.

They couldn’t dig a cave and rehydrate because they’d run out of gas. There was nothing they could do. Apparently at this point they lost control and started panicking, flying down this mountain in this desperate fashion.

As they made some good progress, albeit in such awful conditions, Simon started feeling a sense of hope because he could see that they were virtually down. Almost down at the bottom.

Things were looking up.

I say “reach the bottom” – in reality there were lots of different sections and terrains between the summit and the camp. From top to bottom it was like this:
Peak
Ridge
Face
Less-steep part of the face (approach to the face)
Glacier (like a huge river of ice that flows from the top of the mountain range down to the river bed at the foot of the mountain – slowly moving down, carving out the valley as it goes, crushing rock underneath it) – full of crevasses (massive cracks in the glacier with drops that went down all the way to the floor – to the river bed of the glacier)
The bottom of the glacier – full of huge boulders and stones, with water trickling deep underneath them.
A long section of this rocky terrain.
The base camp next to a glacial pool.

God knows how far from civilisation this base camp was.

Anyway, they were nearly down the mountain face, approaching the glacier. For Simon, he could see a glimmer of hope.

Until suddenly, Joe slipped off a cliff.

Neither of them realised it was coming, but Joe suddenly felt the ground under him get icier and more and more steep, and he started slipping faster and faster – going like a rollercoaster downwards, screaming at Simon to stop, but Simon couldn’t hear him and had no idea it was happening, just assuming that Joe was going faster over some steeper ground..
And then -whoosh, Joe slipped right off the edge of a cliff and was left dangling in the air, right above a massive crevasse – a huge crack in the mountain that went straight down into pure darkness. Joe was dangling over a huge abyss. About 80 feet between him and the opening of the crevasse.

Describe the problem from Joe’s point of view.

He gave up hope and would have died as hypothermia began to set in.

From Simon’s point of view.

Simon’s decision. What would you have done?

What Simon did.

Night fell – Simon dug a snow cave.

Meanwhile, Joe wasn’t dead. He survived the fall and had landed on a ledge in the crevasse, not far from the top.

Day 5

Follow Simon as he goes down.

He was suffering from shock and was also in a serious condition with dehydration, hypothermia and exhaustion. He was also seriously traumatised by what had happened. Apparently he said he was convinced that he was going to die too.

But what about Joe?

Attached himself to the ice wall of the glacier.

Called for Simon.

Pulled the rope.

Saw it had been cut.

Impossible to get out – broken leg, overhangs. Ice.

Joe lost it.

He came face to face with his own death.

He didn’t have a religious moment. He knew nobody was coming to save him. There was no god, just the abyss. It filled him with fear.

Imagine the worst darkness. Fear of the dark – it’s primal.

He was also extremely angry and felt like this was not the end of his life.

Joe’s bravery and refusal to give up.

One of the most impressive moments that has stuck with me.
“You’ve got to keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions, you know. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed.”

Joe could have stayed on the ledge. He could have given up.
He chose to keep making decisions. He chose to keep moving forwards.
It just shows that you must not let things happen to you. Don’t just let yourself be carried away by events. Don’t stop making decisions and let yourself be carried away.
Even if you feel hopeless, like all options are screwed and that you’ll fail no matter what happens. Don’t stop making decisions.
You have to continue and keep going.
Like the famous quote, often attributed to Churchill – “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
Don’t give up when things are hard and hellish. Keep going.
Don’t just stop and let things happen to you, especially when you’re in hell.
That’s no time to stop! You’re in hell. Keep moving! You’ll get out.
Joe decided he’d use the remaining rope he had to lower himself into the crevasse and possibly reach the bottom.

Bottom.
Crawled along.
Horrible sound – imagine the fear.
A spot of light. Hope.
The incredible joy of the light and emerging, born again.
But out of the frying pan into the fire.
This was still just the beginning of his challenge.
He started following Simon’s tracks.
Night fell. He crawled in the dark until he couldn’t go further and managed to create a snow cave.

Day 6

Simon’s tracks had gone.
He could see the massive challenge ahead of him. He nearly gave up when he realised how far he had to go. The challenge overwhelmed him almost completely.

He was presented with this massive maze near the bottom of the glacier, where it was full of crevasses, creating all these little pathways with huge holes down the sides. Joe had to shuffle through all of this.

He got to the rocks at the edge.
Much harder terrain.

Created a splint using his sleeping mat. Discarded his other gear.

Horrendous experience of trying to get through the boulders and through the rocks. Hopping, falling onto the rocks, getting up, continue. Falling virtually every hop, like breaking his leg again every time.

Just 25 yards but it took so long and with so much pain.

But he describes himself as insanely stubborn at times (spell it correctly this time!)
This worked to his advantage because he was determined not to be beaten. He wanted to have it his way.

This is where the second most impressive part came.

He broke up the challenge into bits. He said – right, I’ll get to that rock in 20 minutes. Everything became about getting to the next rock in 20 mins, then the next 20 minute challenge and so on.
He became obsessed with these targets. If he got to the rock in 18 minutes he’d be over the moon, ecstatic. If he made it in 22 minutes he’d be furious with himself.

This is another thing we can learn about achieving something big. It’s true – trying to achieve one huge thing can seem impossible. You might look at the whole challenge and think, “oh my god, there’s no way I can do that, it’s too big”. But the key to it is to set a series of small goals and just try to reach that, then another small goal. Break it down into little chunks and you will be able to do it. Looking at the whole challenge doesn’t help. It dwarfs you.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – it’s like something my Dad said to me about how to eat an elephant (that sounds weird because you might think – why are you trying to eat an elephant? But it’s just a metaphor that my Dad said to me once).

The thing about my Dad is that he often tends to be right about things. It’s quite annoying when you’re having a discussion or debate because he always somehow ends up being right, but it’s also great because I have learned some pearls of wisdom from him. I don’t know where he got this one from himself, maybe his Dad.

Anyway, when I was a child I think I was talking about how I was finding a school project difficult – I think we were even walking in the garden, but that sounds like it’s too good to be true – walking in the garden with my Dad and he gives me a piece of wisdom, like something out of a Hollywood movie or something. Tell me father, how can I train in the force and become a jedi? Etc.

Anyway, I said “I can’t do my history project Dad…” and he dropped some wisdom on me, saying “How do you eat an elephant?”

The point is this:
Seeing the challenge as one whole thing can destroy your motivation, but step by step, bit by bit – that’s how you get a big thing done. And don’t give up.
Also, you just have to have drive – you have to be stubborn, you have to be motivated. Listen to that army captain you have in your head and obey him!

Joe says that at times he felt like there were two voices in his head. One saying, “let’s rest here in the sun it’s nice” and another part of him which was completely unsympathetic, saying “No, you’ve got to get to that rock. Now get up and go!”

We all have that inside us. That cold, pragmatic voice, which seems frightening or something, but we just have to listen to it sometimes, just to get things done.

Obviously Joe was in seriously bad physical condition at this point. Exhaustion, the badly broken leg, internal bleeding, shock, frostbite, hunger, injuries from his falls.
But also he started falling apart mentally too.
That feeling of there being several voices in his head or several parts of his mind got stronger and stronger – with one part being this cold pragmatic feeling of just relentlessly getting to the next point and the next after that, and the other part of him was just almost disconnected as his mind wandered away from what was happening as if he was observing it all from a distance. It must have been seriously strange and disturbing.

Sound of water driving him mad.

Night fell and he lay on the rock staring up at the stars and his consciousness became quite unhinged, having psychedelic out-of-body experiences. He says he felt like he was becoming part of the rocks and part of the mountain itself, and he lost all sense of time, feeling that he had lain there for centuries.

Day 7 – Joe still isn’t dead!

Meanwhile, Simon and Richard are preparing to leave the next morning.

Joe finds water.
Peeing himself, enjoying the sensation.
Feeling totally robbed of his dignity.
Realises he could make it.
But hit hard by the realisation that Simon and Richard might have gone.

The delusions – thinking that Simon and Richard were, for some reason, following behind him but choosing not to come and help him because they didn’t want to embarrass him.
Then realising that they weren’t there and feeling utterly hopeless and alone and distraught.
Considered just getting in his sleeping bag. But felt it was too pathetic.

Sun went down and he completely lost it. He couldn’t hold his mind together any more.

Confusion and madness. He tried to look at his watch but couldn’t work out what time it was.
The worst thing – he got a song caught in his head. Boney M – Brown Girl in the Ring. It went on and on for hours.

You know when you can’t sleep and you get a song caught in your head, really vividly. Imagine that but 1000x worse.
Like being trapped in hell.
It really upset him because he really wanted to think of other things but he couldn’t because of the song.
“Bloody hell I’m going to die to Boney M”

He would drift off, then wake up thinking he was in a pub car park drunk, he kept losing it. Totally delirious.

He woke up (or became conscious) because of a strong smell – it acted like smelling salts.
He’d crawled into the toilet area of the camp site.
After all that – he ends up crawling through their own shit at the end.
But it gave him hope that Simon and Richard might still be there. He had reached the camp. He called out to Simon, but got no reply.
That was the end for Joe.
This is when he finally knew he was finished.
He described how he lost himself completely at that moment. Ego death.

Simon and Richard were still in their tents, ready to leave the next morning. Apparently, Richard woke up because he thought he heard something.
Imagine you’re in the tent. This is about 4 days after Simon got back. They both thought Joe was dead.

Imagine you’re in the tent, feeling terrible, ready to leave the next day. Darkness.
The wind, blowing across the fabric of the tent. The shadow of the mountains in the background, with the knowledge that the body of your friend is still up there.
You wake up and you freeze because you’re sure you’ve just heard something.

There it is again, but it can’t be true. It sounded like a voice on the wind.
Apparently Richard waited, listening, and heard it again, and it really scared him because he wasn’t sure if it was real, or he was imagining it, or if it was a ghost.
He decided to check on Simon and discovered that he was already up – Simon had heard it too and was convinced it was Joe.

They searched for him shouting his name and found him on the ground a few minutes from the camp site.

What they found was the body of Joe, like a ghost or some kind of monster.
Joe was in such bad condition, covered in earth, crap, frostbite and sunburned, thin, starving, dehydrated and nearly dead.

They carried him to the camp and began the process of trying to rebuild his strength.
That’s where the story ends. We know that eventually Joe was brought down to a nearby civilisation where he received medical attention.

The challenge was not over there of course. I understand that he received some poor medical help in the basic hospital he ended up in, had to be flown back to the UK and his leg had to be amputated.

About the decision to cut the rope.

Joe has always defended Simon’s decision, saying that he would have done the same thing.
I can’t really understand why anyone would have a problem with what Simon did. Why should they both have died? It doesn’t make sense.

In fact, when you think about it, by cutting the rope, Simon saved Joe’s life, or helped to save him.

If Simon hadn’t cut the rope, they both would have fallen and it’s likely that one of them would have died. Let’s say that Joe would have landed on the ledge like before. Simon would probably have died. It’s unlikely that he would have landed on a ledge too. He probably would have fallen into the crevasse, dragging Joe in too. They both would have died.

Anyway what do you think?

Again, I urge you to watch the documentary film on Netflix, on DVD or on what other platform you can find.

Also, consider reading the book, or Joe Simpson’s other books – because apparently he had even more near death experiences on mountains too!

Let me also leave you with this

  • If you’re going through hell, keep going.
  • How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time. How do you get down a mountain? One step at a time too! Or you slide, or you drag yourself, or you hop. But you break down the challenge into achievable steps.
  • Nobody even broke their leg learning English – so, enjoy your studies and seize the day!

Thanks for listening.

What happened next?

Returning to Siula Grande

 

448. Film Club: Touching the Void (Part 1)

A film club episode about the award-winning documentary film “Touching the Void” about a mountain climbing expedition which goes wrong. It’s an amazing true story and there are lots of things to learn from it, including lessons about motivation and attitude towards any challenge. The film is available on Netflix and DVD. Check it out and use this episode to help you understand it all.

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Introduction

This is a ‘Film Club’ episode of Luke’s English Podcast today because in this one I’m going to talk to you about a really great documentary film that you can watch on Netflix or on DVD. It’s about the true story of a mountain climbing adventure which goes horribly wrong and then turns into an epic battle for survival. It’s an incredible story and a fantastic documentary which won 6 awards including a BAFTA for best British film in 2004. The film is called “Touching the Void”.

It’s not a new one, it’s over 10 years old now, but it is a film which has stayed with me ever since I first watched it. I often remember it and I feel like there’s a lot to learn from it – in terms of language that you can hear in the film, but also life in general.

I’m going to talk about Touching the Void in some detail in order to use the film as a kind of case study for understanding the importance of motivation and attitude in achieving difficult challenges – in this case the challenge of learning English.

But it could apply to any challenge that you face in your life, especially ones that can feel overwhelming and insurmountable.

If you’re thinking – “oh, but I don’t like mountain climbing, so I’ll skip this episode”. I suggest you don’t skip it. The story in this film is amazing – it’s dramatic, it’s scary, it’s a bit funny at times and it’s really profound as well. It’s not just about going up a big piece of rock for no reason. So, stick with it ok. I think it’s worth it. I’ve put some work into this episode.

A lot of the text I’m reading is on the page for this episode, so check it out. Some of this is scripted, and some of it is improvised on the spot. But if you want to read the words I’m saying, or if you hear a particular phrase I say – you can see a lot of it written on this episode’s page.
Also, if you’re transcribing this one, don’t forget to copy+paste these words into your google document and then you can just add any extra bits I say.

You’ll also find links, some other youtube videos and more content you might want to look at because you’ll find it interesting and you can use it to help you learn English, like for example some of the specific vocabulary that you’ll hear me using in this episode.
I said before that in this episode I’d like us to consider the importance of motivation and attitude when dealing with a challenge.

Let’s start by considering the learning of English

Learning English can be tough. There’s no doubt that if you want to get to a really advanced level in adulthood it’s a challenge which must be met with effort and determination. But it can also be really enjoyable of course, and it should be. But if you’re really serious about learning English properly, it is quite a challenge that demands time and effort. You could compare it to climbing a mountain.

Learning English is like Climbing a Mountain

I’ve mentioned this mountain climbing metaphor before on the podcast, but let’s flesh it out a bit more here. When you look at the whole challenge of learning a language from the beginning, from the start point, it can seem really difficult.

It’s comparable to standing at the bottom of a mountain, looking up at the whole thing you are about to climb. Even getting to this point was a long journey, but there it is – the mountain is stretching up to the sky thousands of metres above you. The summit might even be invisible to you – you can’t even see it because it’s above the clouds.

Now, you might think – let’s go! Let’s do this! In fact, I’m sure that many of you relish that kind of challenge! That’s why you’re into learning English. Excellent!

But, I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes you look at the whole challenge – the whole mountain and think – there’s no way I can get up there, it’s so high and massive, it seems so remote. Certainly, when you compare yourself to the mountain – the relative sizes of you and the mountain, you can feel dwarfed by the challenge.

If you’ve ever climbed a mountain you’ll know what I mean.

Also, if you’ve ever had to learn a language from scratch, you’ll know what I mean.
Sometimes just getting up off your sofa to switch off a light seems like a massive effort. Just getting out of bed in the morning can seem like too much to achieve, especially on those bad days when you’re feeling depressed or something.

Now imagine standing at the bottom of a huge and ancient mountain and looking up to the top. It feels like it’s miles away. It doesn’t seem real. It feels almost unimaginable that you can get to the top of it.

For me, when I consider my French, I feel a bit like this. Every single day I am reminded of the challenge ahead of me, because I hear fluent French being spoken all around me, and even though I do understand a lot of it, it’s like each time I’m trying to play a computer game at an insanely high difficulty setting. I play the game but I rarely feel like I’m winning. So I open my French study books at home and I see the challenge ahead of me. Sometimes getting through just a page is difficult – each verb conjugation, each bit of syntax, it’s a mini challenge of its own, and then I think of all the thousands of other words and sentences I have to master in order to get the level of mastery I want and I get a bit demoralised. I get into a negative frame of mind. I know I shouldn’t, but truth be told – it happens.

I wonder if you ever feel the same about English.

Anyway, the point is, we can do it! We can achieve our goals in the language we’re learning. It’s definitely possible! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s just like any big challenge. Half the battle is in the way you approach the challenge, the way you look at it and the way you choose to deal with it. In fact, some would say it’s all in the mind.

It’s about attitude as much as it is about having the stamina and doing the leg-work. If you get the attitude and motivation right, the work doesn’t feel like work, the impossible challenge becomes possible. It’s mind over matter.

Tips for Mountain Climbing and Language Learning

Here are some tips on how to approach that challenge – the challenge of trying to climb up a mountain or to get to a high level in English, just to give you some motivation to make it up to the top: (in no particular order)

  1. Stop focusing on the top! Instead, aim for a point which is not too far ahead – somewhere attainable, just over there ahead of you and within reach and try to get there, then do that again. Each time, just place the target a few steps beyond you. Break the whole thing down into small chunks. Sometimes that means going one step at a time, just focusing on each single step you make. Sometimes you might even slip back a bit, but you keep going. With the mountain you’re trying to reach the peak of course, but with learning English the sky’s the limit – there’s always more you can learn and more ways you can become a better and better communicator. The end of the process is just the point at which you decide there is nothing left to learn, so really there shouldn’t be a top. (Tbh, this is where the metaphor breaks down a bit!) Instead it’s a repeated, systematic process which you do bit by bit every day. It’s like going to the gym. You don’t stop when you get fit, you just keep doing it, maintaining, improving, diversifying, consolidating, reviewing and covering more and more ground each time.
  2. Be positive! Accentuate the positives, rather than worrying about the challenge as a whole. Enjoy each step, take time to enjoy the view, breathe the air etc. In terms of language, enjoy the things you learn, remember to feel good about what you can do and what you’ve achieved, while also pushing yourself further. It might be difficult and even painful sometimes (for example when you make mistakes or fail to express yourself) but you are capable of great things, you just need to push yourself. When climbing a mountain, you’ll be surprised – you’ll feel exhausted, but if you ask your body to go further, it will. Similarly with learning a language – your brain can remember everything, you can string all these sentences together. It’s just a question of pushing yourself a little bit further and not accepting defeat.
  3. Remember, it’s about the journey not the destination.
  4. Enjoy the process! People climb large mountains all the time and they do it because it’s enjoyable. There’s no reason you can’t do it too as long as you take the right approach and enjoy the journey. Similarly in English, it’s vital that you enjoy it while it’s happening and that you consider it to be something you can enjoy – listening to or reading interesting and entertaining content, discovering a new way to think and express yourself, meeting interesting new people, finding out more about the world and finding your own unique voice and expressing yourself in a new language. It’s all part of the fun, like discovering a new place on your mountain climbing trip.
  5. Rhythm is important. Get a rhythm going and let that rhythm drive you forwards. Getting started is the first challenge, but keeping a habitual rhythm going is the next thing. Keep that up and you’ll make the progress you need! In climbing, it’s good to set a certain pace and keep it up. You don’t notice each step after a while because you’re beating out a rhythm. Similarly in English, set a rhythm of daily practice.
  6. Prepare yourself. Get the right equipment, food and check the weather and all that. For learning English this means – get the right attitude, make a learning plan, get some materials. Notepads, apps, grammar books, podcasts, and then using them!
    You might want to get a guide – on the mountain you need someone, maybe a local, who can help lead you along the correct path. In language learning you could find a teacher, italki or something like that, or a language partner, or someone who has already learned English and is a few steps ahead of you.
  7. Do it with other people – it’s fun to share the challenge with a group. It fun to climb with others and enjoy the camaraderie, similarly in English it’s good to have a peer group – e.g. in the comment section or with your conversation club.
  8. Train yourself with some controlled work. Go to the gym and do some intensive strength and fitness work to prepare you for the challenge of climbing the mountain, or for your English do some episode transcriptions with the transcription team here, do some shadowing – listen and repeat drills, or get a grammar self study book and work from that.

OK, I think that’s as far as I can stretch this metaphor!

What do you think? Can you think of any other similarities between climbing a mountain and learning English? What about differences?

Obviously the mountain metaphor is just that – a metaphor

Learning a language is in some ways easier than climbing a mountain. There’s a lot less risk involved for a start. I don’t think anyone has been seriously injured while trying to learn a language.

“Learning a language – be careful, you might break a leg!” “I know a guy who slipped on a phrasal verb and he’s now paralysed” said nobody, ever.
Nobody has ever broken their tongue learning a language, right?
“Oh my god, what happened to you???”
“Yeah, I’m learning French…”

Perhaps you might get a bruised ego. Your confidence might take a knock but there’s no need for emergency helicopters, helmets, ropes, first aid or dramatic documentaries about a fight for survival.

“Jose Gonzales was a student who decided to work on his English one summer. He chose to enrol on an English language course at his local college. Little did he know that this would be the start of an epic fight for survival, from which he would barely escape alive.”

It’s not the stuff of Hollywood action movies.

“Coming this summer – one man – one grammar book – no hope for survival.
DUM DUM DUM – It’s too confusing – there are too many verb forms – DUM DUM DUM – help – help! how do you pronounce this adjective? Where’s the word stress – too late motherfucker! Click, bang! – DUM DUM DUM – wait wait wait – it’s a 3rd conditional I’ve got this! – no goddamnit it’s a future prediction based on current evidence – get out of there! – she’s gonna blow! – DUM DUM DUM – in a world where the difference between present perfect and past simple – is the difference between life, and certain death – shoooooOOOO! – – – – DOOOOOOO – – DUM DUM DUM – …it’s a past perfect continuous passive verb form… nooooooo! – DUM DUM DUM – only one man has all the answers – DUM DUM DUM – Arnold Schwarzenegger – “You’ve been conjugated” – Robert DeNiro – “Are you talking to me? – DUM DUM DUM – Al Pacino – “Say hello to my little friend – the auxiliary fucking verb – hoowah! – Christopher Walken – “I like the way you constructed your sentence, but it doesn’t mean shit.” – DUM DUM DUM – Liam Neeson – “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want, because your English is awful…” – Clint Eastwood “Are you gonna conjugate that verb in the 3rd person or are you going to whisle dixie? – Michael Caine – “How many times do I have to tell you – It’s just an auxiliary verb, it’s not that important!” – Al Pacino again “Be – DO – HAVE – You’re breaking my fuckin balls here! – Barack Obama – “I don’t know, why I’m in – this – film” Sir Sean Connery – “If you can say this sentence it’ll save your life – she sells sea shells on the sea shore” – WHat did he say? I don’t know! – tick tick tick tick – BOOOOOM – Just when you thought it was safe to open your mouth – From writer director Raymond Murphy – ENGLISH EXAM 2: Language Feedback
Based on a true story.”

Obviously that movie would never get made. Learning English is not that dangerous or dramatic – thank god.

So going back to the mountain climbing analogy – of course, one big difference between learning a language and climbing a mountain is that learning the language is far far safer!

Also, you don’t need a mountain. You can do it anywhere, so it’s probably a lot easier!

Now, on this podcast I like to help you in your language learning process and I try to do that in a few ways, like telling you some stories to (hopefully) keep you engaged while you practise listening, or recommending some resources that you can use to learn English.

In this episode I’m going to try and do both of those things because I’m going to talk about an amazing documentary film that you can get on DVD or watch on Netflix. It’s an amazing true story and I think you can learn a lot of English from it.

Touching the Void

Director: Kevin McDonald (who also did “The Last King of Scotland” and “Marley” the doc about Bob Marley)

A documentary telling the true story of Joe Simpson, Simon Yates and Richard Hawking.

It features the 3 men telling the story in their own words, with some reconstructed scenes on the mountain using actors.

Released in 2003.

Won 6 awards in 2004 including a BAFTA for Best British film.

It is available on Netflix but also on DVD and I strongly recommend that you get a copy. Remember on both Netflix and DVD you can switch on the subtitles and watch like that, or just watch without, or a combination of the two.

Spoilers

So, you should be aware that I’m going to do spoilers for this film in this episode. I’m going to tell the whole story – so, spoiler alert.

That’s not going to ruin the film I think. It could even help you enjoy it more.

First of all, we already know when we watch the film that the characters survived. So, we know the outcome. How the hell they did it, is another question and that’s the interesting thing about the documentary. You get to follow this guy all the way through an unbelievable ordeal.
I think the story is strong enough for it to be engaging every time.

The purpose, ultimately, is to allow you to learn English from this film, and I’m recording this in order to make the film more accessible for you, opening up the story, hopefully creating more interest for you so you can explore the documentary and book in your own time and pick up language from them in your own way.

Suggestions for how to use this episode

You could do this:

  • Listen to this episode, listen to me telling the story and follow it all, then watch the documentary in English (you can turn on the subtitles if you like) and hopefully you’ll appreciate it more and be able to follow and understand it more.
  • Or you can stop right now, then watch the documentary and then come back to this episode later.
  • Or you just listen to this episode and never see the documentary – which I expect many of you will do because for one reason or another you just don’t get round to finding the DVD or getting it on Netflix. But I urge you to watch it because it will grip your attention and you won’t regret it. You get a proper feeling of the conditions, of the beauty of the mountain, and the harsh conditions and the nature of the environment – with the sounds of the ice and snow. It’s terrifically atmospheric. You’ll hear the characters describe it in their own words, which is fantastic. Plus, it will reinforce a lot of the English you’re picking up right now as you listen to this, and generally the English you’ll hear is clear, well-spoken and full of grammar in the form of narrative tenses, ways of talking about the past, descriptive vocabulary of the experience they had and also things like ways of expressing regrets and conditional, hypothetical language for talking about events in the past.

Touching the void on Amazon (DVD)

www.amazon.co.uk/Touching-Void-DVD-Brendan-Mackey/dp/B000S399II/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489753280&sr=8-1&keywords=touching+the+void+dvd
Touching the Void (book)

I also suggest that you get Joe Simpson’s book, which is also called “Touching the Void” It’s Joe’s full account of the story, so you get all the details in his own voice, and it’s written clearly in good English.

Book www.amazon.co.uk/Touching-Void-Joe-Simpson/dp/0099771012/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Simpson is a writer of a few books actually, all exploring the experiences of climbing and the mad adventures he’s had. Apparently there is a sequel to Touching the Void, which I haven’t read. He’s a successful writer, so you could check out his books.

Right, now let’s get stuck into the story of this film.

The STORY

I hope you’re feeling comfortable and that you’re somewhere warm and cosy, because things are going to get a little bit chilly in this story.

The main protagonists. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates.

Passionate young climbers from the UK. In their 20s. Quite experienced, in peak physical shape, but still a bit immature and probably reckless, like many young men are at that age.

Their reasons for climbing. They did it for fun.

The mountain – Siula Grande (6,344 meters) in the Andes in Peru.

They met Richard, travelling in Lima. He wasn’t a climber, but they convinced him to join them so that he could hang out at base camp.

He didn’t know what he was letting himself in for.

Siula Grande – it had been climbed on the North Face in the 1930s but nobody had ever climbed the west face, although lots of people had tried and failed.

The West face was the one they would attempt to climb.

They, perhaps arrogantly or maybe justifiably, assumed they were better than those others who had failed in the past.

They used ‘alpine style’ – you pack everything in a bag, then you just try and climb the whole mountain in one go (i.e. you don’t go up and pitch your route and then come back and do it again etc) you just go up on your own in one go. It’s risky. If something goes wrong, you’ll die.

No helicopter rescue. No facilities at base camp.

Also, no pre-set route. They just climbed up attached to each other by a rope, the first one attaching pins, devices, screws into the rock or ice and attaching the rope to it, the second one presumably unattaching as they go, so if one person falls they’re caught by the attachment to the rock or by the other guy.

If one fell, you both had to trust the few attachments that had been put into the rock, and the other one had to just hold on too. Absolutely nuts! Trusting your life to a spike of metal hammered into a crack, or screwed into the ice.

To be honest, this was a risky, even stupid thing to do.

But that’s what they lived for, and they were good at it.

The movement of climbing – it’s like ballet and gymnastics. How does it feel to climb? The joy of climbing. Getting away from all the clutter we have in our world.

The fact that they were attached to each other going up meant that they had to have an immense amount of trust in each other. There would have been moments where they thought “Do not fall here for goodness sake”. If your partner falls and his gear rips out – if it all comes out of the wall, you’re going to go to.

Trust is absolutely vital in this kind of climbing. You’re putting your trust in the other person completely. You have to rely on your partner completely.

My experiences of falling.

But for them, the risk was exactly what they were looking for.

We live in a world where there is not so much risk any more. In fact, there are whole industries around the reduction of risk. The world is relatively safe now, compared to before. It’s rare that you’re in great danger. Crossing the street is probably as dangerous as it gets, or driving.
So, some people go searching for risk because it makes them feel more alive.

Day 1

They did a lot of climbing and felt good.

To sleep/rest each night they created snow holes, ate supplies and drank water which they ‘brewed’ from snow by melting it using a gas cooker.

In any day, water is vital of course. Apparently we’re supposed to drink about 2 litres in a day, and that’s just a normal day. Now, imagine going to the gym and getting really hot and doing loads of exercise. You’d need more water, right? Imagine spending the day in the gym. Now imagine doing the whole thing at 4,000-5,000-6,000 metres up. You get a lot more dehydrated at altitude. Your body has less oxygen so it’s generally working a lot harder. I’m not sure of the science, but your body needs more water.

Apparently they needed about 4-5 litres per day, each.

Doing it with a gas stove – it takes about an hour to brew the water, again because of the altitude.

Up there the air is thin, there’s pressure, your heart beats faster and heavier (it goes like nobody’s business – meaning, a lot or fast), it makes you panic a little bit sometimes, you gasp for air, your body gets tired easily, a few steps and you need to rest. Everything takes ages. The air is actually thinner but it’s like somehow the air is thicker because you’re heavier and the air doesn’t satisfy you so much, it almost suffocates you a bit.

Water was essential, and so was the gas that they used to brew water at night in their snow caves.

They brought enough gas for what they expected was just about 3-4 days of climbing.
They also didn’t brew and drink as much as they should have done, because it took so much time and they were conserving their gas.

Little errors, which may have contributed to greater problems later.

Day 2

The started again at an altitude that they’d never climbed at before.

Much of it on day 2 involved ice-climbing. Using ice picks in both hands and spikes on your feet. Hammering in and spiking into the ice and rising bit by bit. I can only imagine that there must have been a lot of moments where they weren’t attached except for their spikes. It terrifies me, if I’m honest.

After a certain amount of time the higher they got the colder it got and the worse the conditions became.

Strong wind, heavy snow. Apparently the powder snow was coming down and across like avalanches. Imagine being on the beach with high wind, the sand gets whipped up into the air and you can’t see. It must have been like that, but at altitude and freezing cold.
The snow would stick to their clothing and then freeze and stick, and it was like wearing a suit of armour.

According to Joe, the last part of the face was some of the most nightmarish climbing he’d ever done. The snow was very unstable because it was made of powder and so he couldn’t get secure footing or anchors.

It took them 5-6 hours to climb 200 feet.

Remember, they were doing Alpine climbing, so while one climbed, the other waited. So, while waiting for Simon to climb, Joe was just motionless on the mountain, getting close to hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a condition caused by getting too cold, as the body loses more heat than it can generate and body temperature drops below 35C (95F).

Symptoms
– Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops.
– Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
– Slurred speech or mumbling.
– Confusion and poor decision-making, such as trying to remove warm clothes.
– Drowsiness or very low energy.

As the sun went down and everything went dark they decided they couldn’t go on so managed to dig a snow cave and rest.

Day 3

In the morning they saw what they’d tried to achieve the previous afternoon and evening.
Apparently the powder snow was all stuck to the side and top of the mountain in these extraordinary shapes – like big marshmallows, meringue and mushrooms, with large fluffy round lumps of snow overhanging from the top. It must have been an absolute nightmare to see. I can’t imagine how they climbed up and over it.

Apparently in the Alps, this kind of powder snow just falls off the mountain but for some reason in the Andes it stuck and formed these extraordinary shapes. For me, seeing the documentary (which contains reconstructions of the climb filmed on the same mountain) it looks like an alien planet or something, and it gives the impression of a strange unknown place with it’s own character, different to the mountains in Europe. Remember, that nobody had ever done it before. It must have been like going into outer space or something – scary but exciting, and otherworldly.

Imagine a massive mushroom made of white powder. It’s like a mushroom because of the overhanging snow.
Now imagine that mushroom 6 km up in the sky.
Now imagine trying to climb over it from the base.
How on earth did they manage it? I have no idea.

Apparently it was extremely precarious (something that could fall at any moment – literally, or figuratively e.g. the economy is in a precarious state) and unnerving (makes you nervous).

They were really scared that they might not make it.

When they got onto the north ridge, they promised never to climb an Andean mountain again. In fact, they considered stopping at that point because they were both exhausted, but they thought “we’ve come all this way, we might as well stand on the top”.

So they ascended the north ridge and made it to the top.

What a feeling. They did it – first people to climb the western face and reach the summit.
Extraordinary shots of the mountain and the feeling of epic space around – above the clouds and just sticking out into the sky.

But 80% of accidents happen on descent.

To be continued in part 2…

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

 

430. Discussing Language Learning & Life with Fred Eyangoh

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is the first thing that we talk about.


Recap – What Fred said about Learning English

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

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

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

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

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

Join the mailing list!

Speak soon, bye!

Comedians Fred Mentioned

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

Here are some of the comics Fred mentioned.

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

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

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

fred

422. Learning British Dialects with Korean Billy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s now talk to Korean Billy.

* * *

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

What do you think?

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

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

Korean Billy on YouTube

Click here for Billy’s YouTube channel

Korean Billy on the BBC

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

Also mentioned

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

Attack the Block (Film) – South London youth dialect

What have you been thinking while listening to this episode?

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

Thanks to Korean Billy for taking part in this episode.


POST-RAMBLE

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

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

LEPster Get-Togethers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick.

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

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

My thoughts on LEP Get Togethers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LEP Get Togethers.

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

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

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

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

419. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – SPOILER RAMBLE with James

Talking to my brother about the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Spoiler alert!

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Introduction Transcript

Hello, in this episode you’re going to hear me talking to my brother about the latest Star Wars film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, which was released in cinemas just over a month ago.

There will be spoilers – you have been warned.

I’ve had a few comments and messages from listeners expressing their interest in hearing us talk about this film, so here it is – a conversation about Rogue One with James.

What the critics have said about Rogue One

The film has received generally good reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 85% rating which basically means that the majority of critics liked it. Their critical summary is this:

Critics Consensus: Rogue One draws deep on Star Wars mythology while breaking new narrative and aesthetic ground — and suggesting a bright blockbuster future for the franchise. (Rotten Tomatoes)

There has been criticism too of course, with some people suggesting the film is just recycling old ideas, doesn’t have enough character development and is basically just a cynical way for Disney to squeeze more money out of the massive cash cow that is the Star Wars universe.

For example, Amy Nicholson of MTV said:

Audiences once packed theaters to gawk at the future; now, it’s to soak in the past. The emphasis is on packing in as much nostalgia as possible and tersely editing it together to resemble a film. (Amy Nicholson, MTV)

For the fans

Rogue One was arguably made to please the fans, and this episode of the podcast is for the Star Wars fans too. As you know, I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan myself. I’m a Jedi. I sometimes talk about Star Wars on this podcast. James and I talked about Episode 7 last year, which we liked. I think that was exactly 100 episodes ago. I also did an episode which was all about Star Wars in general and why I am a fan. That was episode 241. Check the page for this episode to find links to those old episodes from the archive.

From the archive:

241. Star Wars

319. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens – Reaction (No spoilers!)

321. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – SPOILER REVIEW

If you’re not a Star Wars fan, I hope we manage to get across what we find appealing about the Star Wars universe, while also dissecting the film as a piece of entertainment in itself. Our conversation is quite rambling, and we end up talking about quite a lot of other things along the way, including World War 2 movies, the moral ambiguity of war, the actions of Winston Churchill during WW2, Sherlock Holmes, Carrie Fisher, and some other films including one called “Aaaaaaaah!”, “Trainspotting 2“, “The French Connection 2“, and a couple of Jim Jarmusch films including “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (starring Forrest Whittaker – also in Rogue One) and his documentary film about Iggy Pop & The Stooges called “Gimme Danger“.

Also we make up a couple of possible Star Wars crossover films including a Han Solo film starring Indiana Jones in the Star Wars universe and an ObiWan Kenobi film set in Scotland starring Ewan McGregor, in which Obiwan is a heroin addict living in Edinburgh (like in Trainspotting).

Spoiler alert!

There will be major spoilers in this episode because we’re going to give away plot points for Rogue One and the Star Wars universe in general. So if you haven’t seen the films yet, you should probably wait, see the films and then come back to this episode later.

Plot Summary

I don’t actually read this bit in the introduction, but here it is anyway…

This is the 8th Star Wars feature film we’ve ever had, although it is not one of the numbered episodes in the series. It is set right before the events of episode 4. So this is a bit like episode 3.5.

So the Star Wars universe still can’t count, because it’s 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 7, 3.5. and next will be 8, with possibly a few other spin off films arriving too. I think the plan is to release a Star Wars film every year until the end of time.

Rogue One tells the story of an impossible rebel mission to get the plans for the Empire’s super weapon, the DEATH STAR.  We know that they get the plans in the end, because they are used to destroy the Death Star in the next movie, episode 4. But this film shows us how they did it and also explains a couple of plot points for the rest of the series.

The main character, played by British actress Felicity Jones (apparently from Birmingham) Jinn Erso is the daughter of the man who designed the Death Star. She is given a mission to find her father in order to get the death star plans which will allow the Rebels to prevent the Empire from completely dominating the universe forever. The film ends just moments before Star Wars episode 4 begins.

What did James and I think of the film? Well, listen on and you’ll find out.

Leave your comments below. What did you think of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?

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405. British Accents in The Lord of the Rings (Part 2)

In this episode we continue to analyse the various British accents that you can hear in the film version of The Lord of the Rings. Let’s consider the accents of some of the main characters, such as Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Treebeard, Elrond, Boromir, Gandalf, Saruman, Legolas, Gimli and the orcs.

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Frodo and Sam at the river (Frodo: English RP, Sam: English West Country)

Merry, Pippin & Treebeard (Merry: mild Manchester – Stockport, Pippin: Glasgow Scottish, Treebeard: old fashioned Scottish? RP with traces of Tolkien’s made-up elvish accent?)

Boromir at the Council of Elrond (Elrond: Heightened RP, Boromir: RP with traces of Yorkshire)

Sean Bean interview with Larry King (Sean Bean: Sheffield in Yorkshire, England / Larry King: Brooklyn NYC)

Gandalf and Saruman (Heightened RP / trained thespian actors at their best!)

Gimli & Legolas (Legolas: Heightened RP, Gimli: Welsh, which sounds Scottish at times)

Orcs (Cockney! Oi Oi!)


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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?

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

Secondly, In the last episode I talked about accents a bit – specifically posh accents, and it made me think about the subject a lot. 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.

IN this episode, let’s 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 aristocratic 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 Austin (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

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