Category Archives: Personal

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things we all have in common:

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

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


Vocabulary and other language points – Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk down the aisle
The altar

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

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

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

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

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

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

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.

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Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

Jilmani
My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!
Cat

Language and Psychology

Wesley
I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!
Wesley

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?
Cheers!

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.

 


Outtro

There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

453. The 36 Questions that Lead to Love (with Amber & Paul)

Listen to Amber, Paul and me answering questions designed by psychologists to help couples or friends become closer and more intimate.

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Introduction

Hello, welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast, this podcast for learners of English hosted by me Luke Thompson. Hi.

The general idea of this podcast is to help you to improve your English by providing you with content to keep you listening regularly, for longer periods of time, to authentic English as it really is spoken. Sometimes I teach you things on the podcast and other times I play conversations for you to follow, like in this episode.

This episode is entitled 36 Questions that Lead to Love

In this one you’re going to hear the tangential trio of Amber, Paul and me talking about this set of 36 questions, which was compiled by a group of psychologists as part of a study into ‘interpersonal closeness’ or intimacy between people.

Amber first found out about it in a podcast published by the New York Times. Here’s what the NYTimes website says about this study, which is where the 36 questions come from.

The study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. The 36 questions in the study are broken up into three sets, with each set intended to be more probing than the previous one.

The idea is that mutual vulnerability helps to create closeness and intimacy. To quote the study’s authors, “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal and personal self-disclosure.” Allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult, so this exercise forces the issue.

The questions are now used to help build intimacy or personal closeness typically between couples that want to fall in love, but also between anyone looking for ways of finding out more about each other and developing a closer or deeper relationship.

Amber’s going to tell you more about it in a moment.

These 36 questions are available for you to use or read online at NYTimes.com www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/modern-love/36-questions/

In this episode you’ll hear Amber, Paul and me asking each other those questions.

Let’s see what happens.

  • Will the questions bring us closer together?
  • To what extent will the intimacy level rise?
  • Will they make us fall in love with each other?
  • Or will we just learn weird truths about each other that will disturb us, ultimately causing us to drift apart as friends, and then they’ll never appear on this podcast again?
  • Will these questions help you get to know us more?
  • What could be revealed by this set of questions designed by psychologists to become more and more intimate as they go?
  • Is it possible for 3 British friends to take the whole thing seriously enough for the questions to have the intended effect?

Listen on to find out more.

Here we go…


Outtro

OK so if you were counting the questions you’ll see that we skipped some but that’s our choice isn’t it!

I think, on balance, we probably did become slightly closer than before. There were some particularly revealing moments there where Paul was talking about his lack of confidence in social situations, which is a bit of a surprise considering how I often observe him showing no obvious signs of social awkwardness.

Of course, we didn’t take it all completely seriously. For example, you’re supposed to stare into each other’s eyes at the end of the questions, for four minutes, but that wouldn’t have been particularly interesting for you to listen to.

All the questions are available on the NY Times website – here www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/modern-love/36-questions/

So check them out and use them yourselves – either on a date, with friends, or with your language partners or language groups.

They could provide a nice way for you to practise talking about feelings and personal thoughts in English.

And, if you fall in love with someone as a result, that’s a nice bonus isn’t it!?

If you’ve fallen in love with Amber’s voice and you’re wondering when Amber’s podcast is coming out – it’s not ready yet and I will announce it on the podcast as soon as it is online. It takes a long time to get these things ready – getting your head around the technology, writing, recording, working out how to publish, building a website, setting up your podcast feed, getting on the iTunes store and all of that stuff – it takes time and it’s not as easy as you might think, so just hold your horses for a bit, it’s on its way.

 

450. Comments & Questions

In this episode I’m going to go through some questions from the comment section and give a bit of news. There will be some grammar, some vocab, some reactions to recent episodes and some bits relating to how you can continue to push your English with this podcast.

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Episode notes

The comment section is buzzing with chat. Photos are being shared of people’s running routes and shots of gorgeous spring flowers and blossoms in full bloom. A listener called Sylvia is doing an illustration for every single episode and posting it in the comment section. Regular commenters are having some long and funny conversations – they’re very friendly and like a laugh so get stuck into the comment section and see what all the fuss is about.

The usual commenters are: Cat, Nick, Jack, Agnes, Marta, Antonio, Eri, Hiro, Euoamo, Sylvia, Jilmani, Mayumi, Ethan, Syntropy and more people I have probably forgotten about!

Cat is the top commenter with a total of 2795 COMMENTS
Nick is in 2nd place with 1851 COMMENTS
Jack is in 3rd place with 963 COMMENTS

David Crystal

Bit of news: I’ll be interviewing Prof. David Crystal on the podcast soon.

David Crystal is the foremost writer and lecturer on the English language, with a worldwide reputation and over 100 books to his name. He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and in 1995 was awarded the OBE for services to the English language.

I met him in 2012 when he gave me an award (with Andy Johnson). He’s really nice and I’ve always wanted to have him on the podcast.

And I am interviewing him soon, which is a serious treat.

This is the guy who knows everything there is to know about language and I’m going to interview him.

Honestly, I have millions of questions I could ask him, and I could easily fill up several episodes with him just asking all the questions in my head.

But I’d also like to give you a chance to ask a few questions. So leave your questions for David Crystal in the comment section. I can’t guarantee I’ll ask him all of them, but if there are some particularly good ones I’ll ask them.

Otherwise, I might be able to answer some of the questions myself.

Recent Comments on the Website

Here are some comments which arrived recently.

Cat – in reply to the British Humour episode
Hi Luke and Amber, thanks for your lovely chat! It was a most enjoyable and also educational episode.
I’ve got two questions:
1. You mentioned “NHS” (?) as something that each Brit is proud of. What is it exactly?
2. During the dissection of the Hugh Grant’s quote you said that he was “public school”. What does it mean?
Thanks for explanations!

IMG_4148Oil painting by Sasha Sokolova

Thanks for the oil painting!www.sashasokolova.com

 

JAPANESE LEPSTER GIFT VIDEO ~ I need to do this!

Paul
Congratulations, teacher Luke, for the podium! Great job and another great podcast, thanks!
“It’s time for me to leave Audioboom.com” = LUKEXIT!!!!!

Amber’s podcast – Paname – it’s not available yet, but soon!

Orion Transcription Team

Just a reminder about the Orion transcription team – they continue to produce transcripts, mainly under the management of Antonio from Spain, and they are always on the lookout for new recruits. Antonio regularly posts messages in the comment section saying “Episode blah blah is now available for transcription” and with a google link. E.g. the latest one is episode 444. The Rick Thompson Report.

Remember, it can be really good for your English so check it out! Transcribe just 3 or 5 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a massive commitment. If you do it regularly you’ll see that it allows you to focus your attention on what you’re hearing and you’ll be surprised at how much that focus allows you to examine the language up close. You could also try repeating out loud some of the things you’re hearing as you transcribe, that could be a good way to convert the process into a speaking exercise.

Turning Input into Intake

Here’s some vaguely academic stuff about Turning input into intake to increase your language acquisition. There’s language input, and there’s language acquisition. Between those two things, there’s intake. Intake is the stuff we really learn from.

This from the University of Austin Texas
The term “input” referred to all the exposure to a foreign language that is around us. However, as years went on, researchers realized that input was not enough. If the learners were not noticing or concentrating on the incoming flow of language, comprehension would be limited. So today, researchers in second language acquisition commonly make a distinction between input and intake. Simply put, input is all the written and spoken target language that a learner encounters, whether it is fully comprehended or not. Intake is limited to the comprehended input that impacts the learner’s developing linguistic system. For our purposes, we suggest that technology provides ways to increase the foreign language input that learners are exposed to and enhances the process of how input is converted into intake.

Without getting too fancy, let’s say that to really learn from the things you hear you need to convert what you’re hearing from input into intake.

This means listening to content which is comprehensible – i.e. basically understandable even though there may be some things you don’t get. A mix of things you already know (this is your foundation that allows you to work out the bits you don’t know) and some things you don’t know or don’t understand.

It also means sometimes really focusing and giving all your attention to certain bits of what you’re hearing. Some things might kind of pass you by a bit, but it’s important while you listen to be sort of emotionally involved in it and to interact with it while listening – to really think and feel in response to what you’re hearing. Apparently this helps turn input into intake.

Transcribing pushes this to the max. It forces you to turn everything from mere input into intake – which is the good stuff. I think it’s backed up by not just academic research but by the experiences of transcribers. It helps push your English, and remember you can just do a short chunk, you don’t have to do a whole episode, that’s crazy!

In summary – focusing all your attention on 3-5 minutes of an episode can really help turn input into intake and can maximise your learning potential with this podcast, or any audio resource.

Yuko – language question “shall”
Dear Luke, my name is Yuko. I have been a ninja listener of your pod cast for a long time, and I am originally from Japan, which makes my ninja status more authentic, doesn’t it? I am living in New York, but really fond of British English.
I have a question. When it comes to the usage of ‘shall’, it is rarely used here except for those two occasions: to suggest something, for example, “shall I do this for you?”, and to use following “Let’s”‘ for example, “let’s go, shall we”. Back in Japan, I learned that shall is also used interchangeably with will for describing the things or action in the future, but, here, all American friends said that shall is never used in daily life except for the examples above, and that if I used shall instead will, it would sound quite archaic.
However, I have a sense that sometimes I catch “shall” as description of future in bbc or British dramas even in modern setting. Would you mind telling the use of “shall” in today’s British English? Thank you very much. I always enjoy and admire your witty, and sophisticated subjects, not to mention it was quite honoring that you chose my country as the destination of your latest trip. I hope all is well and both of you and your wife have enjoyed it.

Yuko, all the right info is in your question.
You’re just not sure about it and you need confirmation.
OK then!
Shall – for suggestions (shall I? Shall we?) – after Let’s…
Shall for future (like ‘will’ – yes, old-fashioned and a bit posh, but some people still do it, like my Mum “I shan’t be coming to the cinema.” or “I expect I shall be exhausted by the end of the day!”
Also in contracts for obligations
That’s it!

Agnes – Sport
I’m just curious whether Luke is taking some exercise or not, he looks sporty and I suppose that he does some sport activities:-)) I usually jog before going work, early morning – the best time for burning calories.

Anna Mrozek
I had an English class today and my classmate asked me “how the hell do you know all these words?!”, so…
Thank you Luke, because you deserve the credit for that. :)

Leonid
Hi there everyone! Does someone know the accurate meaning of the phrase “to be on E”? Thanks in advance!

Great comment from Cat
Just keep listening to Luke’s English Podcast. And try to listen to episodes more than once. It is on the second listen that we start to notice the language consciously and start learning. After some time, you can listen to the episode for the third time. And there you will see how much you have learned in the meanwhile. Do it with your favourite episodes. And try to listen to OPPs as well. And use the same technique. It’s very effective. Also listening during a physical exercise speeds up the learning process. Because your brain is working at 5x of it’s performance capability. So use such shortcuts, especially if you are a bit lazy like I am! ;))

I would add that you can also do some transcribing, or check out previously written transcriptions – either the unproofread ones in google docs, or episodes with published scripts. That can help you notice language too.

Film Club: Touching the Void

Hope you enjoyed the “Touching the Void” episodes. I have had a few comments indicating that it moved a few people. but my stats show the episode hasn’t been listened to as much as normal episodes.

I often worry about uploading too much, but there’s always someone who says “we want more!”
I recorded an episode about Alien Covenant the other day. It’s about an hour of rambling about the Alien franchise. I’m a bit wary of uploading it straight away because it would be 3 film club episodes in a row and this isn’t strictly a film podcast. I probably shouldn’t think about it all that much.

But I’ve been quite productive lately and I have some episodes in the pipeline – Alien, 2 Amber & Paul episodes, one about music and culture with James.

Anyway, going back to Touching the Void, I’m glad to see those of you who have listened to it seemed to enjoy it.

Agnes
Have been listening to this story based on facts for the second time today I felt an incredible chill down my back and my hair stood up on both of my hands.
Luke, telling us this story, you made me be there, with them, I saw this horribly broken leg, I saw as Joe dropped down, I saw everything, even though I haven’t watched the documentary yet.
just thank you

Ethanwlee
One step at a time – this is my biggest takeaway from this episode. At the end of the day, that’s the mantra that keeps us going, staying focused. This story leaves me lots of food for thought. Thanks Luke!

Jilmani
Thank you so much Luke! It’s an amazing episode I can’t express how amazing it is. I want to tell you my personal story about climbing. My parents are both climbers and they had a club for climbers. They worked there a lot to train and coach also they took a lot of people in trips for camping. And I always went with them when I was a child. I liked climbing and adventurous trips more than anything else. I had always climbed and camped before I had an accident in 2014 in Lebanon. I was terribly injured and they expected that I’d die. Luckily I managed to survive. I needed a lot of eye surgeries because my cornea was damaged. Now I can’t climb at all not because I’m afraid of it, but my doctor prevented me. I got rid of all my pictures and anything that might remind me of climbing or my adventures. I haven’t climbed since that day, but I skydived a lot. Climbing always helped me to relax and forget about the troubles that we have in the Middle East. Also I’m a religious person it always made me feel happy and close to God. My doctor told me that I will be able to climb again when he removes the stitches. Thanks again Luke. I’ll watch the episode tonight luckily I have a Netflix subscription and I love documentaries a lot. Waiting for the next episode!

Luke: Be careful if you climb again! Be like me, just stay at home and watch other people do it on YouTube, it’s safer (except maybe I should do more exercise)

daav
Wow! Thank you, Luke! I really appreciate the topic you’ve chosen for a new episode. The film is pretty good and the book as well. I’ve got one in my bookcase. I have just little experience with high mountains because after my wedding I decided to bury my climbing gear to the very bottom of my wardrobe and since that day I’ve been “only” a hiker. But anyone, who has ever spent some time in the mountains without any support, just with a climbing mate on the other end of the rope, an ice axe in hands and a pair of crampons knows, that the fact Joe Simpson survived the Siula Grande ordeal is a …. real miracle, nothing else than a real miracle…
If someone wants to buy a book I recommend Bookdepository instead of Amazon. They offer free worldwide delivery which is a real bargain in my opinion. I buy books from them regularly (from The Czech Rep.) and it works well.

Cat
Daav, but why did you put away your climbing gear?! It’s like giving up on a part of your true self. Can you be happy with that for long?

daav
Hi Cat. At first I must admit I was never a climbing machine. I used to climb few times a year. Let’s say just few weekends and one or two trips to the Tatra Mountains or to the Alps. So it wasn’t so difficult to give up. In the Czech Rep. climbing is very popular and there are many people who spend every possible moment climbing a piece of rock in their surrounding area. So I can’t say I was a climber. I usually say that I have done some climbing :c) One day I considered that my wife meant a lot more to me than climbing. She had never asked me to stop climbing. She had even climbed with me once. But any time I had packed my climbing gear I had seen the same wish in her eyes – please, stay alive. During my last climbing trip I had a minor accident I have never told my wife about. Fortunately nothing comparable to Joe and Simon :c) But I realized that I was being very selfish. I enjoyed it, I liked it, but my parents and other people who truly love me were frightened to death every time I left them with a rope in my bag. Now I know that it wasn’t the climbing that I liked. It was mainly a peaceful and calm space around me. It was the fact I can leave all my daily routine behind me. Now i know it’s not adrenalin that I need. It’s just some kind of feeling I am alone, just on my own in some remote area. So today, long distance hiking is an activity that gives me everything I need. I just pack my rucksack, a tent, a fuel stove, some food, maps and a compass and I just walk. It’s different to climbing. It’s definitely not so dangerous. However it provides me the same pleasure. Unfortunately the Alps are full of people and there are so many huts. But some parts of the Pyrenees are amazing, the western part of Ukraine as well and the Andes are a dream for any hiker. I have many dreams, CDT in USA is one of them as well as many others around the world. The only disadvantage of long distance walking is that it’s very time-consuming compared to climbing. Are you a climber Cat?

Cat
Daav, if I were Luke, I would read your comment out in the next episode. It is deeply felt and full of love. :)

daav
Thank you Cat. But I’ve noticed that some people don’t like long episodes. And my comment is so long that Luke would have to record an extra episode just to read it out :c)

Success story from Erick in Brazil
Hello Luke,
This is Erick from Brazil.
Today when I was listening to your #429 podcast while running, I felt encouraged to share my listening experience with you.
I have been listening to you for about 1,5 years usually when I go running, so you have been my partner twice or three times a week. Strange, but I feel as if I have known you for a long time…
I actually think your podcast is more than just a teaching one, but it is more like a variety show with news, entertainment, fun stuff, etc. I really enjoy your ‘long talks’ which can be just some information, funny talk or more deep issues which are very good for getting immersed into the English language.
It is gratifying to hear other points of view of the various subjects on the media agenda especially when you bring guests to your show, like your Father, Amber and Paul, etc.
Sometimes it can be very hard for me to understand, but I took your advice, I keep going, listening to some episodes more than once, trying to get as much as I can.
Now I can say that I broke through the language barrier and I can really understand and talk in English because of you! So, I just have to thank you for all the material that you provide for free and especially for your success in making your podcast so popular and genuine!
Cheers from Brazil,
Erick Takada

I didn’t share that just to remind you of how wonderful I am, but also to just remind you that if you find it difficult to follow everything you hear on this podcast that you should keep going and battle through the moments of difficulty and you’ll find that bit by bit you build your understanding.
I can’t understand how anyone could expect to learn English properly without listening to a lot of it. I think it’s vital.

Do me a favour!

If you know someone who might like this podcast, share it with them! Recommend it to that person. It’s a good way to spread the word.

Another thing you could do is to write a nice review on iTunes – that’s really good for the podcast because it helps things like algorithms and getting my podcast featured in the ‘recommended’ section on iTunes. Also it looks good when new people check it on iTunes, and it would just make me feel good and put a smile on my face, which ultimately will feed back into the podcast.

Subscribe to the mailing list.

Watch this space for news of a potential LEP app for your phone or tablet which could include some bonus app-only content!

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…

445. British Podcast Award / Hello to New Listeners / 17 Vocabulary Expressions

In this episode I’m going to talk a little bit about the results of the British Podcast Awards and also do a sort of introduction to the podcast for new people who might be listening for the first time. I’m going to bring you up to speed on what this podcast is all about and also recommend a few episodes from the archive that you could listen to. Also – for the dedicated language learners, at the end of the episode I’m going to explain 17 expressions which you’ll hear as I’m talking. Which expressions will they be? You’ll have to wait and see.

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As ever, I encourage you to listen out for words, phrases, bits of grammar and so on, so that you can notice them and add them to your vocabulary. It’s notoriously difficult to notice new language when listening because unlike when you’re reading, if you don’t know a new word when you hear it, it’s hard to even notice that it’s there. You tend to just follow the bits you understand and the new language can pass you by if you’re not careful, so I always encourage you to just pay a little bit more attention when you’re listening and try to notice new any interesting phrases as the podcast goes along. I’ll be picking out 17 of them and explaining them at the end. You can try to guess which ones I’ll be explaining.

The British Podcast Awards – LEP WON BRONZE IN THE LISTENERS’ CHOICE AWARD!

For the last couple of months I’ve been asking you to vote for LEP in the BPA, saying things like “I need all your votes if I’m going to stand a chance of winning this!”
I honestly didn’t believe I could win. I thought, “it’s a long shot but it might just happen!”
The awards event was this weekend in London but I didn’t get tickets because I didn’t think my podcast was going to win anything. I was up against some pretty stiff competition. But damn it, I should have got tickets! I shouldn’t have underestimated the awesome power of my audience!
I have to thank you, my listeners soooo much, because I actually won the bronze medal in the Listeners’ Choice Award.

This means I came third, and I beat some other really great podcasts in that category and I’m blown away.

This means so much to me.

The winner was Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review – my favourite podcast of all time. I’ve been listening to Mark and Simon forever. Hello to Jason Isaacs. The silver award went to The Anfield Wrap Podcast, which is the #1 podcast for Liverpool Football Club and then I am in 3rd place, and I beat so many of these giant podcasts that I love to listen to all the time, like Athletico Mince, Distraction Pieces with Scroobius Pip, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Adam Buxton Podcast (although Adam did win an award in another category), The Empire Film Podcast, Unexplained, Monkey Tennis The Alan Partridge Podcast, Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or RHLSTP as the cool kids call it) and more.

This is mind-blowing and immensely satisfying.

Here are some phrases to explain how I feel

  • I’m blown away
  • I’m over the moon
  • I’m buzzing today
  • I’m feeling pretty good about myself
  • I’m feeling on top of the world
  • I’m absolutely delighted
  • I’m very flattered
  • I’m immensely proud
  • I am feeling quite smug, self-satisfied and a bit pleased with myself

My podcast is featured on the front page of the iTunes store today right next to Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo, and other podcasts that I am a fan of. I’ve been tweeted by the British Podcast Awards and there’s my podcast in the winners list with these other big names, for the whole world to see.

I feel like I’ve just won a Bronze medal at the Olympics of podcasting.

Actually, I’m still yet to find out if I get anything at all. Obviously the winners (Mark & Simon) got a nice glass award. I don’t think I’ll get anything, but I hope they send me some sort of badge that I can display on my website because that would help a lot to give a good impression when people visit my site for the first time.

But I might get a bit more exposure from this. I’m not sure how much, but I expect a few people might be checking out my podcast at the moment, which is nice. Hello!

Now the things is, I owe this to you my listeners because without your support I wouldn’t have got this boost.

So, really – thank you thank you thank you if you voted for the podcast. I really appreciate it.
I especially want to thank all those ninja listeners out there who normally just hide in the shadows listening but never coming out and revealing yourselves.

If I can just activate you lot more often I could be in a position to actually take over the world, in the best possible way of course.

It’s brilliant, isn’t it, this? Podcasting. I still find it incredible that I can produce these episodes in my home and have people around the world listen to them.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, never before have we had language learning resources available to us so conveniently. In the past, previous generations found it very difficult to get access to sources of English to help them learn. They had to use books mainly, or records, tapes, CDs and they were hard to come by and costly. Now it’s all here for you online and I’m sure this is going to have an impact on the world as this generation takes advantage of these resources and uses them to become genuinely much better at speaking English and communicating.

Some people are out in the world right now arguing that globalisation is a bad thing, but let’s not forget the positives – that the fact we’re all more connected today means we can learn to understand each other a bit more, communicate better and hopefully make things work well for everyone, rather than retreating into closed off worlds where we don’t trust people from other places and we harbour resentments and rivalries. Basically, I’m saying that podcasting will save the world, and this podcast specifically is going to save the world, or at the very least people will know more phrasal verbs than they did before, but it’s something isn’t it!?

Hello to new listeners

I expect that various new people will now be having a look at the podcast. If you are new then hello! Welcome to my podcast. I guess you’ve worked out that it’s a podcast for learners of English, but everyone’s welcome to listen.

I’m an English language teacher – a TEFL teacher. That’s been my full-time job for about 16 years now and I’ve been doing the podcast for about 8 years. I’m also a stand-up comedian and what I try to do on the podcast is just create content which is enjoyable as well as being educational. I do teach English on the podcast but over the years I’ve worked out that my audience responds best to content which is quite genuine, personal or entertaining, so that’s what I try to do. I just try to make it easier for my audience to listen to lots of English on a regular basis. I’m not sure I’m always successful but I do try to make the content engaging and funny as well as of some educational value.

Most of the time it’s just me talking about different subjects relating to British culture, the English language and just life in general, but I try to get lots of guests on the show too including members of my family, friends who are comedians and anyone interesting. Hopefully this gives my listeners a bit of variety in terms of the types of English they can listen to and also a few different types of interaction.

Generally, the plan is to create diverse personalised content covering a range of different topics, to make sure I am always presenting real English in context and to help my listeners to get as much English into their lives as possible. Basically, I’m trying to inject English directly into the brains of my listeners as much as I can, in any way I can.

It’s backed up by a few principles of language learning including the idea that people learn more effectively when they are personally engaged with what they’re hearing and that they’re motivated by more than just the desire to learn the language. Also, it’s important to listen regularly, and for as much time as possible. The longer the better.

I’m from Hammersmith in London but these days I spend most of my time living in Paris where I work at the British Council and also do stand-up comedy in English. I often travel back to the UK and record episodes there in London where I used to live or in the midlands where I grew up.
I have a brilliant, lovely audience from all around the world who regularly contact me with comments, questions and general encouragement and I’m really flattered that so many of them chose to vote for me in this award. I’m blown away by it really.

My audience

My biggest countries are China, Russia, Japan, the UK, Spain, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine, Germany, Italy and the USA.

They are really the ones who really make the podcast great because I don’t really do any marketing and so I think most of my publicity is done by word of mouth, which is the best form of publicity I think.

Some listeners are really active in the comment section of my website and they have some funny conversations there.

I meet my listeners sometimes at comedy gigs, or in classrooms by coincidence. I went to Japan recently and did a show there and I was treated like a celebrity with a big queue of people waiting to take my autograph. It was amazing.

Transcriptions

For learners of English, having transcriptions for episodes is very useful because it allows them to check the words they’re hearing and also practise sound scripting where you write notes on the script to indicate where the stresses, pauses and intonation patterns are. This helps to identify speech patterns and then practise copying them. It’s really useful.

I don’t usually script my episodes. Some of them are scripted but most of the time I try to talk off-the-cuff. I think it’s a better indication of how people actually speak when they’re thinking on their feet and therefore is better practice.

So a lot of my episodes don’t have scripts, BUT there is a team of LEPsters called the Orion Transcription Team that work together to transcribe portions of my episodes and then proofread and correct each other’s work. The result is that they end up transcribing many of my episodes and those scripts are available for everyone to see on Google docs. It’s a cool way for my audience to generate scripts for my website and work on their English in a very effective way at the same time.

Some recommended episodes

You can get all the episodes in my archive on my website at teacherluke.co.uk and so just check it all out there.

Click here to visit the episode archive

It’s really hard to know which episodes I would recommend if you’re new to this podcast. You could just look in the archive on my website and just listen to whatever takes your fancy.

You could choose (and this is based on what my listeners tend to enjoy)

  • Ones where I teach language or learning strategies. These ones are designed to help my listeners learn the language more effectively – either by exploring methods for motivation and self-study or by teaching specific language like grammar, vocab or pronunciation. I like to do episodes about regional accents in the UK.
    174. How to Learn English with LEP
    385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau
    405. Accents in The Lord of the Rings movies
    40. Health and Feeling Ill – vocabulary
    176: Grammar – Verb Tenses
    29: Mystery Story: Narrative Tenses
  • Episodes about British culture. My listeners tend to be interested in the UK’s culture and I think it helps to learn the language if you learn some things about the mindset and lifestyle of that language. I’ve done episodes about British humour, tea drinking, holidays and festivals, British comedy, communication style and more.
    432. British TV: Gordon Ramsay
    427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show
    411. British Holidays & Festivals
    420. Let’s Have A Nice Cup of Tea
    261. What is Britishness?
    83. How to Swear in British English
  • Ones where I have my friends Amber & Paul. These ones tend to be a little more difficult for my listeners but they are so popular with my listeners just because we have a good dynamic between the three of us, Amber has the loveliest voice in the world and Paul’s laugh is very infectious. We usually play games or respond to comments from the website. Amber and Paul are both stand-up comedians. Paul is now quite a famous because he has his own TV show on Canal+ and YouTube (Amber and I help him write it) – it’s called What The Fuck France? You might have seen it. An angry English guy going on about French culture and swearing a lot? Yes, that’s him. He gets away with it because he speaks French like a native and really the show is quite an affectionate piss-take of French culture from a British point of view.
    435. Catching Up With Amber & Paul #5
    436. The Lying Game Returns
    410. Teaching Idioms in the Street / On the set of WTF France.
    272. Bad Haircut
  • Ones where I have my Dad on the podcast. My Dad used to be a BBC journalist and he generally keeps a close eye on current affairs, particularly in Europe, so he’s the ideal person to talk to about politics. Every now and then I ask him for his thoughts on Brexit and other issues. He is very good at breaking down these complex issues clearly and concisely.
    444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election
    390. The Rick Thompson Report: Hard Brexit / US Election
  • I also have other members of my family on the podcast quite a lot, particularly my brother who is known for being quite sardonic and a bit grumpy. Generally though, my listeners seem to enjoy hearing the 4 of us rambling on about various things.
    415. With the Family (Part 3) More Encounters with Famous People
  • Silly comedy stories. As a comedian I like to do some episodes just for the sake of fun and laughs. Every now and then I like to improvise stories with lots of tangents and different characters. They’re basically long shaggy dog stories. The most well-known one is The Pink Gorilla Story – and there’s part 1 and the sequel, part 2.
    125. The Pink Gorilla Story
    400. The Pink Gorilla Story 2
    173. The Curse of the Lambton Worm
  • Travelling stories. Whenever I go away on holiday somewhere I usually do an episode about the experience and they often involve some story telling, bits of history and general reflections on the different culture. I’ve done ones about Japan, Thailand, California, Indonesia and France.
    443. The Trip to Japan (Part 2)
    377. Holiday in Thailand Parts 1 & 2
    209. Travelling in Indonesia Part 2

So, that’s a selection of recommended episodes, but really – I hope you just have a look at the episode archive and pick whatever seems interesting to you and have a listen.
Remember, this podcast is primarily for people who don’t have English as a first language, although I try to make it as entertaining as any other podcast out there.

If you like it – great! If it’s not your cup of tea, no worries!

But if you do enjoy it then I hope you listen regularly and really get into it. Join my community of listeners – you’re all welcome, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
I do have native speakers listening to this as well, which I’m very happy about!
Anyway, thanks for listening.

Technical stuff – moving to a new audio host

It’s time for me to leave Audioboom.com They’ve been great hosts. I like their service a lot. Their embedded players look fantastic and I have had hardly any problems with them over the years.
But for one reason or another it’s time for me to move on. I want to be able to offer more things for my listeners, so I’m moving to a new podcast host.

This is going to be a bit more expensive for me, but I think it’ll be worth it.

I’m moving to Libsyn which is probably the biggest podcast host online. The cool thing with them is that I get a lot more control over the things I can do. This might not mean a lot to you, but essentially I can start controlling my catalogue and I can also launch an LEP app for Android and IOS, which could include bonus content only available in the App, as well as premium content and more. So, hopefully things will develop in a good way over the coming months.
This podcast has gone from strength to strength every year, and I want that to continue. In 2016 I got about 9 million downloads. This year I already look set to smash that number. My listening figures are more than double what they were this time last year. It’s brilliant.
So, watch this space!

Moving to a new host might cause a few technical problems, so if you experience anything, just hold in – it should all be fixed soon.

Those 17 Expressions

Remember at the beginning I said I’d pick out 17 expressions and explain them?
Why 17? No reason.

Did you notice any language that you think I would be explaining?

Here’s my list – and the only criteria for me picking these expressions is because I think you might not know them, or they’re just idioms or fixed expressions which I think are useful and you could add them to your vocabulary if you want.

If you know them already – excellent, but that’s only about 30% of the battle won – you also have to be able to pronounce them properly and use them correctly in a variety of ways (e.g. in different tenses and so on).

  • to bring you up to speed (on something) = give someone all the updated information about something, so they know the same as everyone else. If you come to something late, you’ll be behind everyone else, you need to catch up with everyone. If I tell you all the info that you’re missing, I’ll bring you up to speed. “Let me just bring you up to speed on what we’ve done so far.” “Could you bring me up to speed on this?”
  • to stand a chance of + ing = to have a hope/likelihood of winning or being successful. “I wouldn’t stand a chance if I had a fight with Anthony Joshua or Wladimir Klitschko.”, “They didn’t stand a chance, the attack came without warning.”
  • it’s a long shot (but it might just work!) = something that’s unlikely to succeed but it’s worth trying anyway
  • to be up against some pretty stiff competition = up against competition (competing with people), stiff competition (difficult competition)
  • to be/feel blown away = impressed, shocked (positive)
  • to be/feel over the moon = delighted
  • to be buzzing = feeling happy and excited, with a really good feeling inside.
  • to feel pretty good about yourself = it’s quite clear, but the construction is worth noting – feel good about yourself
  • to be/feel on top of the world = delighted
  • to be/feel flattered = pleased about something because it makes you feel important or special. It’s also a slightly embarrassing feeling. It’s how you feel when people say very nice things about you. “Don’t flatter me” “You’re flattering me.” “I feel very flattered” “That’s very flattering, thank you.”
  • to be/feel immensely proud = you know the word proud, but how about immensely?
  • to be/feel smug = (negative) feeling pleased with yourself to the point it becomes unattractive
  • to be/feel self-satisfied = smug
  • to be/feel pleased with myself = smug, sometimes not negative
  • to be backed up by (evidence, research) = supported
  • off-the-cuff = unprepared (apparently it comes from the idea that if you did a speech which wasn’t fully prepared you had to write notes on the cuff of your shirt)
  • to think on your feet = think without any preparation – to react to things in the moment

443. The Trip to Japan (Part 2)

Describing my recent trip to Japan and exploring the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.

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*I’m just an English guy trying to understand Japanese culture. Please forgive me if I get anything wrong! :) ❤️ 🇯🇵

Food & Drink

It’s simply delicious and I don’t know why! What’s the secret, Japan? Why is your food so delicious?

Communication style & language (but I’m planning a whole other episode about English)
Location?
Saying “no”
Politeness
Constant sounds of “gozaimasu”
Heeeee, hoooooo etc
Certain words you always hear and could use: arigato gozaimasu (levels of politeness) doitashimashite, sumimasen, onegaishimasu, nama biru no futatsu onegaishimasu, kawaii, sugoi, gaijin, chotto, dekimasu, desu, desu ka, hai, so desu ka, ne, so desu ne.

Weird and scary things that people don’t often talk about
Natural disasters
North Korea
Some weird sexual stuff
No need to dwell on anything else. Every country has its dark side. I guess that it seems a bit more interesting in Japan because there’s so much emphasis on the cute, childish things. Also, because of the slightly ambiguous religion in Japan it makes you wonder where the moral lines are. A lot of that stuff seems a bit vague, probably because I come from a christian culture where morality is written down in the form of rules – very clear lines which we’re always aware of.

Godzilla
Before coming my brother was staying with me and we watched the new Godzilla film – not the Hollywood version directed by Gareth Edwards, but the recent Japanese one directed by Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi.
Shin Godzilla

What does Godzilla mean? What does it tell us about Japanese culture?
He’s created by nuclear tests in the ocean. He kind of represents the consequences of nuclear testing on nature, or the destructive power of nuclear weapons in Japan, or simply the vast destructive power of nature. At one time or another Japan has been subject to massive levels of destruction from either natural disasters or nuclear weapons. The nuclear attacks are obvious of course – but there were also nuclear tests by the US army after WW2 in waters affecting Japanese fishermen etc. The metaphor of natural disasters is easy to see. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami which affected Fukushima’s nuclear power plant – lots of scenes of destruction similar to what you see in the films. Godzilla kind of represents all of that. It’s interesting that Godzilla has been accepted as a sort of mascot in Japan. They love Godzilla, and in fact he’s sort of a protector of Japan, which I see as them owning this destructive power and turning it into something positive and uniquely Japanese.

The film also portrays the government as very inefficient and unable to make decisions quickly. So many people at various levels of status – all asking for second and third opinions and approval from above before making a decision. Some say this is a comment about the way the government responded to the Fukushima situation – slow to react, a lack of transparency, an inability to make the right decision quickly enough.

Mystery
I don’t have all the answers about this place. There are a lot of mysteries. I think of all the sliding doors, the silence, the shadow, the ambiguity of the religious aspects of life, the weird things in Japanese cartoons that I just don’t understand, and simply wondering what Japanese people are really thinking behind their exterior which is hard to read, and the polite manners. Part of me believes there is just open space inside people, which is a kind of peaceful place where there’s no judgement, where there is no dogma, but there’s a kind of natural balance, like the space between rocks in a zen garden. But maybe I’m romanticising it just a little bit! I expect Japanese people are just as mysterious as the rest of us, because ultimately who does understand the secrets at the heart of the human soul?

Friendship
One thing I can say is cool – I have made friends with some Japanese people in a more sincere way than many others I have met, and I’ve had moving connections with Japanese people that I don’t tend to have with others. I don’t know why. My Japanese friend for example, he said some moving things to me on my wedding day, and on the day I left Japan that seemed to come from some deep place of ancient Japanese wisdom. Yoda stuff, basically.

What did you do?

The basics of where we went and what we did.
Met by our friend, drove to Asakusa, sushi place. Food, beer.
Kamakura – drive – Tokyo skyline etc. Back in Kamakura – “natsukashii” – ‘good old’ or ‘Wow, it feels amazing to be back!’. Cherry blossom in the hills. Time with Moto’s family. Dinner at Matchpoint.

Karaoke
What is special about Karaoke?
Perfect way to have a party. There are whole buildings devoted to it in Tokyo. There are girls in the street who are like karaoke room dealers. You speak to them, book a little room. Go to the building and usually there are loads of drunken salary men pouring out of it. You get into your room – somewhere on the 9F of a big building. They bring you beer and food, direct to the room. There’s a computer database with thousands of songs on it. They’ve got everything. Everyone becomes a performer with their favourite song. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, the machine helps you a bit. Some people are brilliant. Everyone comes out of themselves a bit. It’s just you and your friends. Favourite songs get everyone in the mood. Singing is amazing fun. The videos on the machine are hilarious too – totally nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. Usually it’s a couple of people on a date in a random city. Often the lyrics are completely wrong too. We sang a lot of British pop and rock. David Bowie, Oasis and Pulp. My Japanese friend dances like Jarvis Cocker and really gets into the performance. He’s a “plastic gallagher”.

A day in Kamakura – Daibutsu, Cherry blossom avenue, noodles for lunch. Hookokuji temple & bamboo forest. Car drive to Ishiiki beach in Hayama with views of Mt Fuji. Yakitori restaurant in the evening, then another dinner of Japanese barbecue after that! Taxi ride back to the guesthouse – pristine taxi, automatic door.

Travel to Kyoto on Shinkansen. Bento boxes. Arrive in Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan during many important periods and was also the base of Buddhism. Also there are plenty of Shinto temples there since it was such an important place. Impossible to see everything in just a couple of days. More yakitori that evening and a lovely stroll by the river in the dark.

Kyoto shrine day. Early start and then these temples: Ninna-ji (beautiful rock gardens and pools, plus tons of cherry blossom everywhere. Interesting buildings – It is the head temple of the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and was founded in 888 by the reigning emperor. Various interesting buildings including the Goten, the former residence of the head priest in the southwestern corner of the temple complex. Built in the style of an imperial palace, the graceful buildings are connected with each other by covered corridors, feature elegantly painted sliding doors (fusuma) and are surrounded by beautiful rock and pond gardens.
Then to Ryoanji Temple – with its amazing rock garden.
Then Kinkakuji – the golden temple.
Lunch at a convenience store – just rice balls!
Then across town to Ginkakuji – where there is an amazing sand garden with a kind of replica of Mt Fuji. It’s bizarre. Crowded.
Philosopher’s Walk – cherry blossom everywhere. Also crowded :(
Some shopping for Yukata – found a place selling second-hand yukata in perfect condition. One for me, one for the wife. Lovely patterns. Not too expensive. Met a friend from London, dinner. Matsusaka beef! Apparently it’s more tender because it comes from virgin cows. What, less trauma because the cow had never had sex? How does that work? I remember being distinctly more relaxed after sex (and not just immediately after) but perhaps for cows it’s more traumatic, anyway…
Hot bath at the guesthouse in the communal area. Far less “public” than my experience in Thailand.
Tiny room.

Next day – early start for Fushimi Inari Shrine, an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of red torii gates, which cover a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

Basically there are these trails that go up to the top of a hill and most of the way is covered by these red gates. The red tori gates are common in the entrance to shrines and represent your movement from the normal world into the spirit world. They’re beautiful and this shrine with rows of thousands of red gates is stunning. The gates are donated by local businesses.

Then more walking around and some shopping for gifts and souvenirs. Shinkansen back to Shinagawa station – meet our friend again. Hotel in the Meguro area.
Gig that evening.

How was the comedy show in Tokyo?

I didn’t know what to expect.
No people, loads of people? Not sure.
Arrived, place was already totally packed. Got upstairs, room goes “huuuuuuu!” as I enter. People are going “luku? Luku? Heeeeee~!” Gasps etc.
Upstairs with other comics, introduce myself etc. We chat. People are surprised and going – can’t you stay? Let’s arrange other shows!
There’s a scene there but mostly for expats in English. This room was full of Japanese people (and a few others) and they’re all here for me!
I walk around upstairs trying to get myself ready, trying to decide what to do.
Audience is lovely, but I think they’re mainly waiting for me.
Apparently some people can’t get in the place. There are people in the stairs just listening.
I did about 45 minutes. Lovely audience of course. They’re lepsters. Interesting to see what worked and what didn’t work. The bits that didn’t work were some of the film references – e.g. Ratatouille, and surprisingly Taken
A lot of my routine is for a French audience. Taken is actually quite specific to a French crowd because the film is set in Paris.
Some bits the audience took on face value – like they took it as being true. E.g. some bits in my star wars routine about how my Dad is an evil strict overbearing tyrant like Darth Vader – not true, but just full of parallels about my life and Star Wars.
Especially the bits about Japan. I’ll play you some extracts later.
A few requests:
The jingle. The italki promo. Some impressions, Obama, Hobson’s Choice!
I wish I’d gone bye bye bye at the end!
Then after the show there was a massive queue of people who wanted to get my autograph. So bizarre.
Also, selfies, handshakes, talking to each person. Gifts.
It was actually an incredible experience meeting each person and hearing about how they listen to my podcast and how it obviously means a lot to them. I’m very glad to know that as always, because I put a lot into it myself.
It was bizarre – I was a celebrity for that evening, with people staring at me and taking my photo and stuff.

*This is where the episode ends, but feel free to read the rest of my notes which I didn’t read out*

Rest of the trip – in Tokyo. Hanging out in Meguro avenue, Daikanyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku. Shopping, sightseeing, eating tasty food. Taking photos. Just enjoying the sunshine.
Dinner at The New York Grill – where Lost In Translation was filmed.
Another day in the Ginza area – shopping for some more gifts like tableware and stuff from Muji which is my wife’s favourite shop. Driving around the imperial palace. Views of Tokyo tower – like The Eiffel Tower but sort of misshapen and not quite as beautiful but iconic in its own way. Went up the World Trade Centre for amazing views of the sunset. Everyone on a date.
Visited a couple of friends – including one at a super cool photography studio that allows you to take 3D photos.
Shabu shabu dinner in Shinjuku with Peter who I used to live with. He was featured in this episode actually (below)

203. The Flatmate from Japan

Visited Asakusa temple – one of the biggest in the Tokyo area and very crowded.
Airport and home! So quick!

Song

You Are Here by John Lennon
www.bananachords.co.za/john-lennon-chords-you-are-here

Photos & Video

Gets!

 

442. The Trip to Japan (Part 1)

Describing some thoughts about Japan after my recent visit. Exploring the culture and lifestyle in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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As you know I just came back from a little holiday in Japan that I had with my wife last week. We spent about 8 days there in total and I’m going to talk about it here because I thought you might like to know about the trip. You know, sometimes I do these episodes about travelling experiences that I’ve had and they seem to be quite popular. For example, I’ve done ones about going to India, Vietnam, Indonesia, New York, different parts of France, California and Thailand. In this episode (or these episodes) I’m going to do another one, this time it’s all about my recent trip to Japan from last week.

So, here’s another travel episode with a few stories, some descriptions of places, culture and experiences and other general ramblings about my reflections on the time spent in the land of the rising sun.

For the dedicated language learners and orion team transcribers, a lot of what I’m saying is written in the form of notes and I’ll put these notes on the page for this episode. So, you can read them and check any new words you hear, or if you’re transcribing this you can use my notes, copy them into your google doc and then just fill in the blanks – the bits where I improvise details and speak “off script” which I will probably do as I go along.

No idea how long this is going to take, but it’ll take as long as it takes. I’ll divide it into several episodes if it gets too long.

I’ve done at least one episode all about Japan before. That’s number 118 “Sick in Japan”(Full transcript)

118. Sick in Japan

It tells the story of how I ended up sick in a hospital bed in Japan more than 15 years ago, feeling physically terrible and mentally very panicked, not knowing what was wrong with me. Do you remember? If you haven’t heard it, I recommend listening – you might enjoy it! Basically, I got very sick there and spent two weeks (even before I went to hospital) essentially lying on my bed in my apartment at home getting more and more ill, unable to eat, unable to sleep even though I was very tired, in a lot of pain from a horrible infection. Eventually I got to a doctor who agreed to treat me and after taking a blood test he informed me in slightly broken English that I had liver damage, I needed to go to hospital and I needed an operation. To be honest, his diagnosis was a bit lost in translation and it wasn’t as bad as I thought but I assumed the worst! I thought I needed a liver transplant because I had some sort of weird liver disease! I remember the first night in the hospital bed feeling like I was going to die or something, not knowing what was wrong with me, thinking that I was going to be given an operation to get a liver transplant and the worst thing was that I worrying that they would give me a Japanese liver! For some reason this scared me because I thought “Maybe it won’t work with my body and maybe I won’t be able to drink beer like I could before!” That was the worst thing – I won’t be able to drink beer! Even if I survive! Weird paranoia and fear and ridiculousness. Naturally, it turned out ok in the end, and in fact it all turned out to be part of a really great adventure. That was one experience I had during the two years I spent in Japan in 2002 and 2003. To hear the whole story listen to episode 118. It also explains a lot of the reasons I went to live in Japan in the first place and what happened to me while I was there, especially the difficulties, even though the majority of my experiences were really great.

This episode

  • Why did you go?
  • What’s it like in Japan? Let’s explore the culture, the people, the way of life and the mentality etc.
  • What did you do, where did you go and what did you see?
  • How was your gig? Tell us about the comedy show you did.

Why did you go to Japan?

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you come to my country Luke? My country is a wonderful place with many fantastic things to offer. Come, Drink our favourite drinks, eat our national dishes, let me sing you the song of my people!” I’d love to visit everywhere all the time of course! But this time, it was Japan – a place where I used to live and which I’ve always wanted to return to, for my own personal reasons.

I have a connection to the place. 2 years of my life there. I made strong friendships and became attached to some specific places and things. It was hard to break away from it when I left years ago. It was an important period so I still have a connection with Japan. When I originally left Japan I thought I would never go back. I remember looking around at the places I used to go and I’d think – I may never come here ever again. That’s a strange feeling actually. When I first went to Japan I was a bit depressed and lost to be honest. When I returned I felt much more confident and positive in many areas, including work, how to live, how to connect to people, even how to perform etc. When I arrived I was feeling that there wasn’t much I could do. Everything was negative and a bit difficult. When I left I felt like I could do whatever I wanted! The place really lifted me up. Also I learned about the kindness of people and about how to relax and look after myself in the middle of chaotic stress. It was a good time and a place where things changed for me a bit, so naturally I have a soft spot for the place.

Now it’s 15 years later and I’m married. My wife loves Japanese things, she loves travelling, and I love her so I wanted to show her this important place. That was quite important to me.
Birthday – my wife wanted us to celebrate, anniversary. It was a special occasion.

What’s it like in Japan?

In no particular order, here are some reflections on the culture, lifestyle, psychology and general feeling of life in Japan, especially Tokyo.

Crowded
About 130,000,000 people – more than double the number of people in the UK or France. Just under the number of people in Russia – but consider the relative space. Greater Tokyo has about 40,000,000 people, making it the most populated city metropolis in the world. But they make it work. Despite the large number of people, the place functions very efficiently. There’s not a lot of space but it’s amazing how interiors are designed to make the most of the space they have, and how everyone manages to keep everything peaceful and tidy.

Geography
The place is 70% mountain, so a lot of people are crammed into the city areas where it’s more practical to build. Also, the country sits on a whole series of fault lines which means there are regular earthquakes, more than a thousand in a year. Not all of them are noticeable, but many of them are. Mount Fuji is the biggest mountain in the country and it looms in the distance – sometimes visible from Tokyo, much more visible from areas in Kanagawa where you can see it from the beach or you get glimpses when travelling on the train, especially in winter when the air is clear and mountain is covered in snow. It’s a spectacular and beautiful sight – symmetrical, powerful, peaceful and majestic. It’s also an active volcano, which makes it seem a little threatening and powerful. If it erupted – it would be pretty devastating. qz.com/236129/what-would-happen-if-mount-fuji-right-next-to-tokyo-erupted-for-the-first-time-in-207-years/

I’m sure this has an effect on life there, but it’s kind of below the surface. I don’t know if Japanese people really think about it a lot, or whether it bothers them when they’re alone. I don’t really know. But there’s always this feeling of “the big one could come at any time” perhaps that contributes to the uniqueness, the energy, the weird zen-like feeling of the place.
Queueing and other forms of social order. Coming from France, where public moments of conflict are very common, Japan seems incredibly orderly considering the number of people living in quite a small space. I suppose this comes from necessity – that people need to be able to get along in order for the whole system to work. Generally, people respect each other’s personal space, there’s a lot of effort made to maintain the common good. It’s almost a subconscious duty to make sure you do your bit – don’t drop litter, don’t make loud noise, don’t take up too much space, be respectful to those around you. There’s a real sense of collective consciousness in Japan. In the UK, I remember coming back from Japan feeling that everyone seemed so individualistic and ego-centric. Also I was surprised by the way some of my friends behaved in an anti-social way – speaking loudly in public places, dropping cigarette buts outside doorways and so on. People also seemed to do a lot of talking about themselves. In Japan that seems to happen less, and it’s distasteful to talk about yourself too much. These are just observations I’ve had – I might be wrong about it all, and please correct me if I am, but I feel like Japan has more of a sense of collective consciousness, and collective duty and less individualism – that’s not to say people aren’t individuals, of course they are, but people seem to just pay more attention to things that will be for the good of everyone, and as a result the place is efficient, clean, tidy and peaceful.

The charisma man
I thought I’d talk about this now, since I’m on the subject of some differences between JPN and let’s say ‘western culture’. There’s this idea of the charisma man, which used to be a comic strip popular in the expat community. It’s quite interesting and a little bit controversial but it does tell us something about the way western people (especially men) can be treated in Japan, or at least one phenomenon which can occur (not necessarily every time with everyone). What’s a charisma man?

Wikipedia: Concept of the Charisma Man
“Charisma Man” manipulates the superhero genre to ridicule the often unjustified self–confidence of some foreign men in Japan. Although something of a loser in his home country Canada—the home of Charisma Man’s creator—when around Japanese people the central character transforms from a skinny nerd into a muscle-bound hunk, extremely attractive to women and admired by men. Like other superheroes, however, Charisma Man has one major weakness: “Western Woman”. Whenever in the presence of western females his powers disappear and he becomes an unattractive, skinny wimp once more.[2]
“Charisma Man” is thus a statement on the relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan. According to Rodney:
“The Japanese seem to see Westerners through some kind of filter. An obvious example was all the geeks I saw out there walking around with beautiful Japanese girls on their arms. These guys were probably social misfits in their home countries, but in Japan the geek factor didn’t seem to translate.
“The dichotomy between the perception of these guys in their home countries and in Japan was amazing to me. This made me think of Superman; on his home planet of Krypton, Superman was nobody special, and he certainly didn’t have superpowers. But when he arrived on earth — well, you know the rest.
“He was somebody — that was the whole premise of the first strip.”
— Larry Rodney, in a 2003 interview with the Japan Times

I still see Charisma men in Japan quite a lot. Imagine some western guy who is acting a bit arrogant and self-important when really he’s not that great. The inflated ego of a western man getting attention from Japanese women. Partly it’s a bit unfair to Japanese women, that’s what some people say. It shows two things – one being that there is a certain filter through which some Japanese people will view western men – i.e. that they see them as more impressive and charismatic than they really are (or perhaps they’re just being polite) but the other thing is the way some western guys react to the attention they get in Japan. Some blokes let it go to their heads and they end up being tiresome egomaniac would-be alpha males who let all the adulation go to their heads. This is probably why they’re not that popular in their own countries – they’re just not that nice or charming, and it becomes more obvious in Japan when you see the way these guys become smug, arrogant self-important guys with an inflated sense of ego.
It’s just interesting to note the way in which people’s perceptions of themselves and each other can change depending on the cultural context. On one hand this is kind of a bad thing, but on the other hand it’s what makes Japan so special – people do treat you well, it’s really nice to have people show interest in you and to be genuinely impressed by where you come from and to be impressed by the differences. E.g. when we told people we were from Paris and London – this seemed to be impressive information. It’s nice! I’d rather have that than be met with indifference. Even if it’s even a little bit fake (which I’m not sure it is actually – I think people are genuinely curious) even if it’s slightly fake, it’s better than genuine rudeness. So it’s a double-edged sword – it’s lovely to be considered as slightly special because you’re different, but that can go to some people’s heads and make them act a bit arrogant, it can also get a little tiring after a while when you just want to be considered as a normal person like everyone else. I remember that I used to get a little fed up with people immediately being impressed by me when they first met me. Like, “where are you from?” “I’m from London” “Oh you are so cool guy! You are a gentleman!” and I thought “Well, I’m not really. I’m just a bloke – not all that cool really, just normal, and not that much of a gentleman really.” In the UK we tend to be a little bit wary of those big compliments and in fact when you really get to know someone you tend to just take the piss out of them, even when you don’t know them and first meet them, you might take the piss quite a lot – it’s a form of bonding and friendship building.

Quietness & “zen” feeling
Japan is officially a peaceful country.
But it’s more than that. The place can be incredibly peaceful. I’m not sure where this comes from to be honest!

Service
Excellent – the customer is god. Polite in the extreme. Attentive. Generally everything is of high quality and you’re looked after well. Can be a bit robotic though, and I find that there’s a certain kind of high-pitched woman’s voice that you hear everywhere, from machines and announcements. Also there was an actual robot at the airport.

Cleanliness
You could eat your dinner off the floor. The metro is shiny and reflective. Many indoor places ask you to remove your shoes and this is an excellent idea.
There are no bins anywhere! But also no litter on the streets. Very few cigarette butts. They all go in little cigarette butt bins, or people put them in their own little portable ashtrays.

Aesthetics
A lot of natural forms. Not as robotic and futuristic as you might expect. There’s a lot of wood, lots of stone. Natural forms – imperfect shapes combined with symmetrical lines. Patterns, textures and surfaces which are imperfect. E.g. the texture of stone, or wood, or rough surfaces with random patterns and textures. The same kinds you find in nature, often combined – stone, wood, moss, water. Different textures next to each other, with natural lines, shapes very neatly presented. It’s extremely satisfying and peaceful, relaxing – Zen.

Cherry Blossom
This is one of Japan’s big moments in the year. There are cherry trees everywhere, especially in certain spots and when the blossom comes out in early April it’s a beautiful sight to see. It’s a delicate pink colour and it looks like snow all over the branches. It contrasts beautifully with the blue sky and when the wind blows the blossom falls from trees again like snow. It lands on the ground carpeting it and also on rivers. It’s fleeting, transient beauty of the highest order. Japanese people celebrate it by having little picnics and parties in the park in cherry blossom areas. Lovely.

Cuteness – “Fluffy bunny land”
Cuteness rules – “kawaii”
Examples: Everything has a cute logo, everything is anthropomorphised with a cute little face – bread, chicken shops, cash machines, safety rules. Everything has a cute melody – constant little melodies like the music that plays when the green pedestrian light shines, bus doors, bus stops, cash machines, some streets just play music from the lamp posts. It’s like Super Mario Land, it really is.

Everyone has cute bags, badges, pencil cases. Even the people are adorably cute. They’re quite small, sweet, laugh and giggle easily, are self-contained (neat and tidy) quite easily scared (I mean, a bit socially awkward and shy) often have quite big fluffy hair, round faces. Extremely cute and adorable, especially the kids. Basically, Japanese people – you’re like cartoon characters to me, or ewoks or teddy bears.

Is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but Japanese people can come across as cute in those ways. But are Japanese people like Ewoks? Maybe. I’m sure Japanese people are perfectly capable of being mean, nasty, cruel, selfish and everything like that – I’m sure I’m just applying a filter to them just like they might apply a filter to me. Who knows… But I quite like the Ewok metaphor. Ewoks are cute and loyal, but they can also be deadly can’t they! When you think about it – the ewoks are perhaps the most dangerous creatures in the Star Wars universe. They basically stopped the Galactic Empire and helped the rebels destroy the second death star. You wouldn’t want to have to fight against them would you, even if they do look like cute little fluffy bears. Also, if you remember, in Return of the Jedi the ewoks were originally planning to eat Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, until C-3P0 stopped them. They were going to eat Luke Han and Leia. They’re vicious carnivores! Don’t underestimate them. Anyway, what I originally planned to say was simply that Japanese people seem very cute to me and cuteness or (kawaii seems to have an important role in Japanese life).

Why is everything so damn cute??? Why is cuteness so important in the culture?
Paul Ratner from BigThink.com
While you may dismiss cuteness as a regional peculiarity, there is science to back up the unexpected usefulness of kawaii in life. A study by researchers from the University of Hiroshima did several experiments on students and found that their performance on a variety of tasks like fine motor dexterity and non-visual searches improved after viewing cute images of puppies and kittens. The scientists concluded that this is due to the increase in narrowing attentional focus that resulted from viewing the cute images. They advocated the use of cute images and objects in work spaces to improve productivity.

I often wonder how Japan manages to be so efficient, and I’ve always thought that there was just something in the air here which means that people find the most convenient stress free ways of getting on with things. Partly that atmosphere is created by just focusing on certain pleasing things and trying to stay calm at all times. I guess it’s similar to the way the Brits just keep calm and carry on and try not to let emotions stop you from just getting things done. In Japan they seem to emphasise the cuteness just because it makes you feel good, makes you feel protected, reduces stress and allows you to be more productive. Perhaps that’s because Japan is quite a stressful place when you think about it – the potential for natural disaster is quite high. If you think about it too much you could freak out a bit – tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, Godzilla – they could all wipe everything out! Cute stuff helps you deal with that. Perhaps also the Japanese worship nature, like animals and so on – Shintoism believes in the gods of every creature or object, and you feel this level of respect in everyday life, kind of. It’s as if everything has it’s own Pokemon character which is both cute and potentially powerful and the Japanese are just in tune with all of that.

So, objects, animals and so on are given this cute personality just because this is the level of kind of respect that Japanese people attribute to things that in our culture would be basically meaningless. Maybe I’m wrong about that, if so – let me know what you think. Why are the Japanese preoccupied by cuteness? Are they the only ones?

Yumi Nakata from GaijinPot.com – 3 reasons

Reason 1: Kawaii usually refers to small children, babies and small animals. They are helpless and need to be cared for. In a culture that values youth, both men and woman are attracted to anything youthful. Women want to appear youthful and Japanese men are attracted to young girls, just look at the popularity of bands like AKB48.

Reason 2: Japanese people work very long hours and they are under enormous social pressure. Cuteness is the total opposite of Japan’s harsh reality. My sister who works in IT says she enjoys going to stores full of cute products especially after working long overtime hours. Cuteness is cool and soothing for Japanese people and allows them an escape from the realities of their life.

Reason 3: Japan is collectively a society with a 12 year old’s mentality and for many there is a strong resistance to grow out of this prepubescent stage. As adults Japanese people are expected to conform to strict social norms and expectations. However as I mentioned above, children are always taken care of in Japanese society. Therefore to cope with the harsh realities of adulthood, many Japanese people seek the comfort of cuteness.

End of part 1 – Part 2 coming soon.

The Robot in the Airport

Photos coming in part 2…