Category Archives: Prepositions

457. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 2)

A follow-up to episode 455 consolidating the insights of Professor David Crystal including various pearls of wisdom about language learning.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hamid
If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!

Jilmani
What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.

Jairo wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.

Cat
English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.

Wesley
Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.

Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.

Mayumi
Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.

Synchronic not diachronic method.

Wikipedia:
Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.

DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.

Antonio
Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.

Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“Booyakasha”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website.
Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.

Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.

How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).

Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.

These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

456. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 1)

Discussing and clarifying what David Crystal said in episode 454. Conclusions about language learning and linguistics.

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Transcript

Here we are back once again with an episode of this podcast for learners of English. This one should contain insights about the English language and the process of learning that language, straight from the horse’s mouth.

That’s an expression, “straight from the horse’s mouth” which means you get information directly from a reliable and trusted source. In this case that source (or horse) is Professor David Crystal, who of course isn’t a horse – that would be very bizarre. No, he’s of course, he’s not a horse, he’s a great expert on the English language, the author of many books, known by anyone studying linguistics, he’s described as the world’s leading voice on language. I was very happy to have that leading voice on my podcast and there’s certainly a lot of good information to take in – whether you’re learning English or simply interested in languages and what makes them tick.

In this episode the plan is to go through some of the ideas David talked about and see if I can point out some specific bits of relevance for learners of English.

Let’s unpick the wise words of Prof David Crystal and really clarify some truths, tips and general conclusions about language learning, and perhaps explain some of the vocabulary you heard as well.

Essentially, I am going to repeat the main points DC made here, but the aim is to clarify it all and make it a bit more digestible. I will constantly be attempting to answer the question – how is this useful for learners of English? So, you should be able to take away quite a lot from this episode, in combination with the other two.

Is grammar glamorous?

Glamour and grammar come from the same word – because grammar, language etc used to be considered like magic. But grammar seems to have lost its magic these days, in the way people think about it. These days its considered to be boring, prescriptive and all about rules you learned at school.

It’s not glamorous if you study it like they used to in school. Just parsing sentences and working out what the part of speech is.

It only works if you ask why people are using those forms.

Semantic (focusing on meaning) vs pragmatic (why people say the things they say).

Understanding the motivations of the people who use grammar (the pragmatic side) is the interesting part and that’s when grammar really comes alive and becomes glamorous in the old sense of the word.

For learners of English this means exploring not just the form of the language you’re studying but also the reasons why each different form is used. The challenge is to get the semantic side and the pragmatic side into your studies.

So, don’t just study grammar rules on their own in a list. You need to examine the living language and notice those forms and the way they are used to perform specific functions.

Can you learn English without studying grammar?

Children do it, and you can do it too but it takes a long time for all the language to be assimilated by exposure. You can cut out a lot of that time by studying the rules. As adults we can apply what we already know and take apart the language by studying. So, studying grammar is an essential part of the learning process and goes together with a more long-term process of acquiring English through exposure.

But it’s no good just learning the rules and being able to explain it all on paper, you have to know when and why and where all the grammar is used. So it’s about applying yourself to the pragmatic aspects of the language you’re using and letting that guide your choice of language.

So, as I’ve said before – listen a lot, read a lot – like this podcast or any other material you fancy, but it’s best enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Do some grammar work too, like self-study exercises in English Grammar in Use or another decent workbook, but make sure you are always asking yourself – why are these people using this language like this? How are the motivations affecting the choice of words and structures? When you’re doing your listening try to notice bits of language which you’ve studied. Could you say the same thing another way? What would be the difference and how is language related to that. Try experimenting with different ways to put something and get used to the slight nuance it adds. E.g. using a passive structure or an active one.

I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?

No! Not a teacher!
Some linguistic-y tips – basically to know what all the grammar is, but also to be aware of the English that’s being used in the real world and how all that applies to the grammar you’ve studied.

I would add:
don’t be afraid of it, it’s more interesting than you might think, you might need to learn some abstract terms but don’t be put off, the more you learn the more you can learn, always look for examples.

Learning about why certain grammar forms are used really opens up the way you can see language. For example, learning that passive forms are used when you don’t want to mention who did the action allows you to see all those situations. You might want to write an impersonal formal letter, or give a general notice, or describe a process or simply talk about something that happened to someone without constantly talking about who did it. E.g. imagine a story about a guy who is a victim. People keep doing things to him but you want the guy to be the centre of the story. Like, John was kidnapped. He was bound and gagged and thrown into the back of a taxi. It took two hours for him to be rescued.

You wrote a political history of grammar in the UK (published online at www.davidcrystal.com)
What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today?

Essentially, Brits have an up and down relationship with grammar, based on the fact that grammar study came in and out of fashion and grammar was learned in a two-dimensional way. People are often a bit prescriptive about grammar as they think it should be about rules and regulations, but they’re really only attempting to impose controls over something which evolves over time.

Knowledge of Grammar in the UK
In the 50s kids all learned basic grammar at school, getting examined at 16. Told to identify parts of speech in a sentence.
Then it went out of fashion in the 70s.
Several generations of kids who didn’t study any grammar at all.
Now they’ve grown up and some of them are teachers.
They don’t know any grammar.
The ones who grew up in the old style had learned grammar.
The younger ones were teaching but had no knowledge of grammar.
“The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater”
A language awareness programme was brought back, with a modicum of grammar back in the syllabus/curriculum.
David had to do lots of basic grammar training for these teachers. He wrote “Rediscover Grammar”.
Now, it’s back again.
Kids are examined for their ability to recognise parts of speech and do sentence parsing.
But the semantics and pragmatics aren’t there – it’s just mechanical analysis of sentences. Some teachers are very unhappy.

Now there are 3 types of audience.
The oldies who are in their 60s who know about the old style grammar teaching,
The middle generation, some of whom know a lot about grammar and some who don’t.
Then the modern generation for whom grammar is back. They have to come to terms with it.

One positive thing for learners of English is that you probably know more grammar than the average native English speaker. You should feel quite good about that.

Questions about language from Amber & Paul

People complain about the decline of the English language. Are standards of English declining?

That Q comes from 2017 but you can see exactly the same question being raised at any time.
The English language is in a state of terminal decline. (according to people)
This also applies to spelling and pronunciation and punctuation, plus discourse politeness. Grammar gets more mentions because there’s less of it to complain about than say ‘vocabulary’. Grammar has only 3000 or so basic points of grammar to master.
So, people feel that if you can’t manage that then there’s something serious to worry about.
People look to contemporary examples to justify their complaints.
IN the 1860s it was because of Americans.
Today the internet gets a lot of the blame, especially texting, tweeting, SMS.
Uneducated people will blame what they sense to be a reason for what they perceive to be a decline.
But when you study it you realise there’s no correlation between the signs of decline and the features they mention.
Usually people cite old prescriptive rules.
You should never end a sentence with a prep. You should never split an infinitive.
The English language has survived very well even though people have been breaking these so-called rules for 200 years.
This is the man I was talking to. – Any modern person realises it’s a stylistic distinction. “To whom” is more formal.
The informal usage also has a history as old as the English language. It’s in Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question… Or fight others that we know not of.” (ending a sentence with a prep – Hamlet)
It’s a huge puzzle to understand why the old grammarians decided to be so prescriptive.
They were blinded by their views.

For learners of English – realise that the language is always in flux. Keep up with it. Remember also that some people have slightly traditional views about language. E.g. more people in the world say “schedule” with a /k/ sound, but I continue to say “Schedule” with a /sh/ sound because it annoys people to do it the American way. Similarly, I think there’s nothing too bad about splitting an infinitive, but I tend to avoid it because it makes people a bit annoyed too.

They’re grammar nazis who don’t know what they’re talking about, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re right.

It’s not such a big problem for learners of English really. You have your own issues with accuracy. But remember that everyone struggles a bit with the language, even native speakers. We should have a progressive view of how language rules evolve, but a lot of people don’t share those views.

If you encounter people who say “It’s the death of the English language”, they’re talking out of their bum. Remind them that English is alive and well and shows no signs of dying, quite the opposite. They’re just being reactionary and hyperbolic.

Language Death

Almost half the languages in the world are endangered.The reasons are many. It could be linguistic genocide – forbidding the use of the language, or opting not to use it for political reasons (e.g. because you want to side with a particular faction on your country), but when a language is endangered, when another language starts taking over the functions of that language, people no longer find themselves able to use that language for everything – certain facilities kind of disappear because people have got used to doing it in the other language.

Welsh is quite successful these days because of activism, but a few years ago English was taking over Welsh, and also some rules of Welsh grammar weren’t being used. You get a sense that the structure of the language is declining. Certain Welsh structures stopped being used. It looked like a kind of structural erosion of Welsh, because of the influence of English. Vocab is more common – many foreign languages contain English words. #Franglais

But there’s no hint of decline in relation to English which is actually going from strength to strength. Spoken by 2.3 billion people. It’s nowhere near death.

They just mean it’s changing, it’s not death.

Language change is difficult for lots of people to take and they talk about death but it’s irrelevant. The only languages that don’t change are dead ones. They go in very unexpected directions and you can’t predict them.

Petty language gripes don’t bother him. They don’t bother me either.

Partly it’s to do with identity – people are annoyed that British identity is changing or being influenced by American identity. But getting annoyed at the language usage, which is a symptom, is a bit redundant.

Some people don’t like change at all, but David sees it as a natural part of the way languages develop. Be like David.

My mate Paul often says that we’re actually using the language incorrectly because there are more non-native speakers than native speakers of English. Is he right or talking nonsense.

Error: Talking about right and wrong.
Correct: The perception that there are more non-natives than natives.

It’s a global situation now, not local (e.g. North vs South England). Global language differences are the same as local ones – equivalent – just different communities using English differently, on a global scale.

Now it’s Irish English, Indian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Singaporean English and many many more including French English, Japanese English and so on – all versions of English spoken by people who have learned it to a proficient level as a 1st or 2nd language.

It’s just different communities that are right in their circumstances.

Standard English and non-standard English.
Standard English is traditionally viewed as the correct version, but NSE has it’s own justification. There are reasons why non-standard English exists and they’re perfectly good ones. Non-standard English and standard English are equal in terms of their status.

A standard promotes intelligibility. Standard English has lots of users, but there’s also a huge number of dialects (international), many different kinds of English reflecting community backgrounds. You can’t say “right and wrong” in these circumstances. It’s just a number of different communities using English in a way that is appropriate for their conditions.

When you start looking at individual cases like a foreign learner is breaking a rule of standard English, then you’ve got a transitional situation. BrE and AmE. They coexist. It’s not possible to say “wrong” or “right” when millions of people are using both versions.

In China there are very fluent speakers of English, not learners but proficient speakers, who have developed a certain usage which is basically Chinese English. Local features of grammar and vocab don’t keep communities apart, we just learn to understand each other.
“Informations” vs “information” – no problem of intelligibility.
Anyway, Chaucer wrote “informations”.

These small differences are expressions of identity and rarely get in the way of intelligibility. This is one of the reasons the UK has proud diversity in its English accents. They’re all statements of local identity, and although we see the differences, we are able to communicate with each other.

It’s a Q of whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate for that circumstance and the two criteria are
Intelligibility – do we understand you. If we understand you, it’s appropriate.
Identity – differences are an expression of local identity. Lang is adapted to reflect the locale, especially the vocab – all the reference points to important things in culture. Local terms, idioms, expressions etc.
If the English you use is wrong for that context because of the way it expresses a certain identity then you have a problem of appropriacy.

If Ali G went to the Houses of Parliament to speak with politicians and civil servants, his English would be considered inappropriate (even if intelligible) because people would think it’s not the proper way to address people and so on. Similarly if Theresa May went to a skatepark and tried to talk to some locals, she’d have a hard time as well.

English is always in tension between intelligibility and identity (against global anonymity)

Local versions need to be different enough to express their identity, but not so different that nobody understands them.

My French students feel a bit bad about their pronunciation.
Do they need to worry?

This is perhaps the #1 concern of my French students who judge each other harshly for their accents and also feel bad about it. It may be the same in your country, but I find in France people are very disdainful of a strong French accent. I don’t mind that much.

The bottom line is, once upon a time they would have felt bad because people would have said “you’re speaking English badly” and that’s not so long ago.

Now, there is no such thing as a single version of universal English accent. RP is spoken by less than 2% of the population of England. It’s a minority accent but a powerful one.

Why should people be expected to speak this minority accent when other accents are now considered acceptable in their own right.

RP is important because of tradition but miniscule compared to American, Indian and so on. It’s no longer possible to condemn an accent because it doesn’t fit in with this small version of the language. You have to analyse it on its own terms, with its local identity. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the need for intelligibility.

So the main thing is – can we understand you? If “yes” then no worries. Does it matter if you sound a bit French? What’s wrong with sounding French?
I was very impressed by Emmanuel Macron who made a speech in English. It wasn’t perfect, but he got his message across and it showed him to be a really open, confident, modern person. Compare that to Francois Hollande who couldn’t string a sentence together. You don’t need to speak English perfectly in the traditional sense, but you do have to speak it. Stop worrying about being 100% accurate – concentrate on being 100% intelligible. The main criteria is “can you express what you want to say?” not “can you express this flawlessly?”

“But my accent isn’t good”
Well, develop a different mindset. Start thinking more positively about all this!
“I don’t speak received pronunciation” (french accent)
“Well nor do I!”
Mixed accents are the norm everywhere.
English accents are much more mixed than ever before.
There are now hundreds of millions of people who understand each other but have local accents as a reflection of their national pride.
Why are the French worried about sounding French?
There’s nothing wrong with sounding a bit French. (But it’s hard to convince them of this – French people can have very negative views about some things, especially their position on the world’s stage – they beat themselves up quite a lot, which is odd. In comedy, they seem ok about being insulted about their national character. They quite enjoy the masochistic approach it seems! Either that or their just happy to have a foreign comedian talking about French things during a show, even if it is criticism. Making fun or insulting people is quite normal in French comedy – I think this is linked to the way French people often beat themselves up about stuff like English.

The main job of the teacher is to expose the students to a wide range of accents. Let them hear the English in different accents, to prepare for the real world, to develop a sense and an awareness of diversity which inevitably will help to change their mindset.

*By hearing lots of different types you get more of an overall understanding of the entire language and how it can have a core structure which is changed slightly in different versions of English.

So – I should keep playing you extracts of English spoken in a variety of accents so that you can hear the whole range.

But also, don’t get hung up on your accent too much. It’s very hard to cut out the traces of your origins, and it’s unnecessary. Just focus on being intelligible – fix your pronunciation, vocab, grammar, punctuation etc following this criteria and you’ll be on the right path.

END OF PART 1 – PART 2 COMING SOON

432. British TV: Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Part 1) [Video]

Talking about restaurant culture in the UK, an introduction to one of the UK’s most famous chefs and a chance to learn some authentic English from a popular British TV show featuring Gordon Ramsay. Video available. Includes swearing.

Audio


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Video

Introduction Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to this podcast for learners of English. Here is a new episode for you to listen to and indeed watch, because I’m videoing this one. You’ll be able to find the video on the page for this episode on my website, or by visiting the YouTube channel for Luke’s English Podcast.

A lot of what I am saying here – particularly in this introduction is written on the page for this episode. So you can read it with me, or check it for certain words you hear me using. The best way to get access to these pages is to subscribe to the mailing list.

In the last episode of this podcast you heard me talking to Amber about restaurants and hotels and some crazy TripAdvisor reviews.

At one point in the episode we talked briefly about Gordon Ramsay – one of the UK’s most famous chefs, and his TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” which was a really popular show in the UK a few years ago, and I thought it could be interesting to do a whole episode about that.

So in this one I’m going to talk a little bit about Gordon Ramsay and then we’re going to listen to some YouTube clips from one of his TV shows and I will help you understand all the language that you’ll hear. No doubt there will be some new vocabulary in the process – probably on the subject of food, cooking, restaurants and kitchens but lots of other natural language that just comes up, including plenty of swearing, because Gordon Ramsay is known for his frequent use of swear words.

Yes, there will be quite a lot of swearing in this episode, and you know my position on this. I’m choosing to show you the language as it is really used and that includes the rude words, but don’t be tempted to start throwing swear words into your everyday English. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that swear words are a short cut to sounding exactly like a native speaker. Often it just gives people a bad impression of you. We’ll go into it more later, because there are quite a lot of unwritten social rules around swearing that you need to be aware of – the main one being, that with swearing it is much much easier to sound rude and inappropriate than it is to sound cool. Think of swearing as a motorbike – you might think it’s cool but unless you really know what you’re doing you’re likely to seriously injure yourself. Similarly, swearing can be cool when it’s done in movies or even by someone like Gordon Ramsay, but if you try and do it in your normal life there’s a good chance you’ll just offend people.

So anyway, we’ll listen to some of the English in these YouTube clips and analyse the things they’re saying so that in the end you can understand it all just like I do, which should help you learn some real English in the process. You’ll also learn a thing or two about restaurant culture in the UK and about Gordon Ramsay who is one of the most well-known people in Britain.

Who is Gordon Ramsay and what’s the TV show?

Gordon James Ramsay, is a British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality.

*Difference between a chef and a cook? Basically, a chef is someone who’s had professional training – at least a culinary degree, but a cook is just someone who cooks food. Both might work in a kitchen, but mainly being a chef is about having the status of culinary qualifications and experience.

Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the UK and probably in the world too. He has a reputation for being an excellent restaurateur and chef, and also for his extremely strict and direct style. He’s often very rude, saying exactly what he thinks about the people he’s working with in the strongest most colourful language. Imagine an army captain shouting at a platoon of soldiers during military training, but with really good food.

Ramsay was born in Scotland, but he grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is in fact not far from where I grew up in England). So, he is Scottish but doesn’t speak with a Scottish accent.
Ramsay now has restaurants all over the place – in London, in Paris and in New York. During his career he has trained at the highest level with French chefs in the UK and in Paris. He specialises in Italian, French and British recipes, and his cooking is known for being simple, unpretentious, high quality and delicious.

His restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars in total. The term “Michelin Star” is a hallmark of fine dining quality. Michelin stars are very difficult to win and restaurants around the world proudly promote their Michelin Star status if they have one. His signature restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London, has held 3 Michelin stars since 2001, which is a mark of extremely high quality in restaurant dining.

As well as being a top chef, Ramsay is also a TV presenter. He first appeared on TV in the UK in the late 1990s, and by 2004 Ramsay had become one of the best known celebrity chefs in British popular culture, and, along with other chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Delia Smith, he has influenced viewers to become more culinarily adventurous.

As a reality TV personality, Ramsay is known for his fiery temper, strict demeanour, and use of expletives. He often makes blunt and controversial comments, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their cooking abilities.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on British TV a few years ago – probably around 10-15 years ago now. These days you can find most of the episodes on YouTube.

Local restaurants vs manufacturing companies and processed food

Ramsay is actually very passionate about local restaurants in the UK.

In the UK our eating out culture is vibrant and successful but it is being undermined by a number of factors. One is the industrialisation of food culture. THis means that big businesses are involved in preparing food at an industrial level and then selling it to restaurants as part of a large corporate chain.

These chains might be restaurants which are all owned by one company, or food manufacturers who dominate the wholesale market, driving down their prices and pushing out competition such as local producers who sell fresh products.

In these industrial food manufacturing companies, the food is prepared in high quantities and then sold off to other companies and restaurants as part of a corporate supply chain for food.

There’s a big infrastructure for food purchasing in the UK which is dominated by these big food manufacturers. As a result, many smaller restaurants are forced to buy industrialised and mass-produced food because it is cheaper and more convenient than fresh food which you can buy direct from farms or markets.

If you were a struggling restaurant owner in a town in the UK, what would you do? Buy your food fresh from a local producer and then make sure you sell it in a short-term period, or buy similar products from a mass producer but at a lower price, and it’s food which you can store for longer because it has been processed to stay fresh.

In the end, people choose to eat at home, especially during an economic crisis.

So, economic factors are having a negative effect on the restaurant culture in the UK to an extent. Family owned restaurants should be where you get proper traditional and delicious local food, but these restaurants are being squeezed economically and forced to go along with the industrialised food manufacturing process.

Also, there are many chain restaurants which you find on high streets in the UK. These are not locally run, but are owned by big companies who have a single business model which they apply to all their restaurants. The fact that these places are part of a big corporate chain means that they can drive down their prices, making it very hard for local restaurants to be competitive. As a result, these smaller places suffer, struggle and often close down.

Gordon Ramsay believes that these local restaurants are the backbone of our restaurant culture in the UK, and he strongly believes that they need to be supported so they can compete with the corporate chains, and given training so they can serve the best food possible. Essentially that’s the concept behind Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but also it’s just entertaining watching him shouting at incompetent chefs. You sort of let him get away with the way he bullies people because you believe that really he’s just trying to help them to learn the discipline you need to run a really good restaurant.

But he does seem really passionate about proper restaurant culture in the UK and I like that about him. Even though he’s making this reality show and he’s making money from doing it, I think he really does care about improving restaurant culture in the UK.

On the other hand, he is very good at TV. He knows how to make entertaining TV, and he’s got a good formula for it. Basically, this means that he takes the harsh discipline and the no-nonsense brutally honest approach that he applies to his kitchen management, and uses it when giving feedback to the restaurants which he visits.

Let’s listen to a few scenes and I’m going to make sure you understand everything that’s going on and everything that’s being said.

Let’s learn English with Gordon Ramsay

The TV Show

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on UK TV about 10-15 years ago.
The format is this – Gordon Ramsay visits a failing restaurant somewhere in the UK. So, restaurants that are failing – e.g. losing money, getting terrible reviews etc. He goes into the restaurant and spends a week there, observing the way the owners run the kitchen, how the business works and what’s going on at all levels. Usually he starts by sitting down to eat the chef’s speciality dish, and it’s nearly always disgusting, and Ramsay comments on how it tastes, how it looks, and also the decor of the restaurant and the service from the staff.

Then Ramsay gives his feedback to the owner and the chef, and it’s always a massive reality check, and it usually involves very strong words and lots of swearing. This is what happens when a top-level chef enters the world of a crappy low-level restaurant.

Then over the course of the week, Gordon helps the managers turn the restaurant around. It’s almost always a huge challenge and often the most difficult part is dealing with the psychological aspects – the stubborn chefs, the relationship issues in the kitchen, the fact that these people have personal issues which are causing the business to go horribly wrong.

It is car-crash TV. We see arguments, meltdowns, unhappy customers and so on.
In almost every episode Gordon seems to go hopping mad as he can’t believe the incompetence or shockingly low standards of service shown by the people in the restaurant. He then tries to help them change everything and turn the business around. It all makes really great telly.

And by the end of the episode, with Gordon’s help they have usually turned the restaurant into a successful business again.

There’s a UK version and a US version.

If you search for Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube you will probably find the US version first, but I think the UK version is better!

But really, it is better because the US version is horrible. It’s full of really fast editing and there’s loads of music which is added in order to tell you how you should be feeling about what’s happening. It’s distracting and patronising.

Example of the US version (just listen to all the distracting sound effects and music)

The UK version just has some rock music in the background at the start, but then during the show it’s more simple and you can just focus on what’s happening without constant sweeping sounds and tense music.

Let’s listen to some scenes from one of the episodes.

These scenes actually come from an episode called “Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmares” which was shown on TV between series 5 and 6 of Kitchen Nightmares. It’s basically the same as any other episode of the series.

Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare – Dovecote Bistro

Summary
Gordon goes to visit a restaurant in Devon called Dovecote Bistro, which is run by a guy called Mick.
Mick is a former truck driver and burger van operator who has opened this bistro with his wife and adopted daughter, Michelle. Ramsay is firstly appalled by the psychedelic wallpaper decorating the restaurant, and then his attention turns to the food and the way it is cooked. While Ramsay is impressed with the simple menu, he is furious to find that Mick has very little cooking ability, using orange squash to make a sauce and using vacuum-sealed pre-cooked lamb shanks in a microwave bag. Not only does he show little responsibility in the kitchen, he is also secretive with his spending and is hugely in debt. Mick is adamant that the problems in the kitchen are not his fault, and his stubbornness causes a rift with his wife and daughter. Ramsay solves the crisis by taking the business matters out of Mick’s hands and kicks him out of the kitchen. His daughter, Michelle, is placed in charge of the kitchen despite having no cooking experience. She rises to the challenge, and while Mick is not convinced over replacing his microwave food, the reopening is a success.
Months later, Ramsay returns to find that the restaurant is making profit. He sent Michelle for further culinary training, and she impresses Ramsay with freshly cooked food.
The restaurant was renamed Martins’ Bistro during production.

Video 1 – Flourescent duck cooked in orange squash

Vocabulary

Let’s see what this ex-trucker can do
Lamb shanks
Fuck me! (surprise / shock)
Your blouse matches the wallpaper
I feel like I’m tripping out!
I’ve never touched the stuff but I feel like I just swallowed an E.
The hideous wallpaper
On paper it looks delicious
Orange squash
A spoonful of gravy
Fuck me do I need sunglasses!
That’s worse than fucking Benylin
They’re actually vacuum packed
They can last for about a year
They’re bought in, they’re vacuum packed
They’ve got a shelf life of about a year
Well, fuck me!
That might be the worst food I’ve ever come across
He might be beyond my help
It doesn’t need refrigerating
How in the fuck could you charge 11 pounds for that?
E numbers, like Tartrazine
Do you feel like having a shit?
Thank fuck I didn’t eat it.
I’m surprised you haven’t killed off half the population of Okehampton

End of part 1 – part 2 available very soon!

429. RAMBLENEWS!

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

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Video (with some extra content)

Links

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

LEPster get togethers

Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

Doing YouTube videos

Advantages

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

Disadvantages

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

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

Tokyo!

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

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

Transcript collaboration

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

Play the podcast at different speeds!

At 0.5x speed – I sound totally drunk.

Comments on the website

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

Phrasal Verb Question

Frank asked me about the expression ‘in on’

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway – ‘in on’. Let’s have a look.

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

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

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

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

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

Mainly these are intransitive phrasal verbs with a dependent preposition.

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

Just like normal verbs, some phrasal verbs are intransitive.

Intransitive means the verb doesn’t need an object.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Phrasal Verb a Day

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

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

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

Click here for A Phrasal Verb a Day – Episode Archive

Spotify playlist

Song

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

 

 

276. Q&A Session #5

Hello and welcome to another episode of the podcast. If you’re new to LEP then you should know that this is a long-running podcast for learners of English. The idea is that I provide you with regular content to help you improve your English. My intention is to provide you with listening material that is not only good for your English but also a pleasant and fun experience to listen to. Check out teacherluke.co.uk where you can add your email address to the mailing for new episodes, or find my podcast on iTunes where you can also subscribe. There are lots of transcripts, discussion forums, videos and all kinds of other stuff at teacherluke.co.uk so check it out. If you’re an old listener, then ahoy there! Welcome back to the good ship LEP.

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I’m in the skypod again to record another episode and this time I’m responding to more questions from my listeners. These are all questions that found their way to me via the discussion forum or as comments or emails.  This one is Q&A Session #5.

A Spoonful of Mustard – June 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm
Hello Luke,
This particular question has been bothering me for donkey’s years. Even though it may sound a bit silly, I would be most grateful should you answer it seriously. Let me put you in the picture.
Essentially, the question stems from a sci-fi film I watched a couple of years ago. A part of the plot is set on a planet that orbits three stars in a solar system a zillion light years away from the Earth. At some point in the film, a bunch of fugitive inmates gets stranded on the deserted surface of this remote planet. By and by, the presence of the three stars in the sky dawns, literally and figuratively, on the gang, and one of them yells out, unconvincingly acting-wise, ‘it’s got three suns!’
This particular usage of the word ‘sun’ baffles me. Even though it is crystal clear what the protagonist means, it seems to me he should have said, ‘it’s got three stars!’ since ‘sun’ is the name of the star the Earth goes round. On the other hand, another question comes up: if you were on a planet in a different solar system, could you get a suntan or, indeed, go sunbathing? Could you enjoy watching awe-inspiring sunrise over there, or you would have to resort to relishing observing Alpha Centauri-rise or something of the same sort?
Based on your expert knowledge, what do you think of all this?
All the best,
A Spoonful of Mustard

Luke: So, can we call the stars orbited by other planets in the universe “suns”. Yes, I think we can. I would say that a star being orbited by planets is a sun. We call our sun ‘the sun’ because, for us, it’s the only one. We know there are others, but this is the main one for us. It’s like “Let’s go to the pub” – here we mean our local pub, the one that we live near. Any pub can be “the pub” – it depends where you live, or where you are at that time. If you live near The Kings Head – that’s The Pub. If you live near the Golden Lion, that’s “the pub”. Similarly, if you live on earth then the star at the centre of our solar system is “the sun” but I would say that if you live on another planet in another solar system (please leave a comment if you do – we’d love to hear from you) then I think it’s fair to say that you could call your local star, “the sun” too, or perhaps “our sun” or even “suns” if there are several.
“Look at the sun” means our local sun. But if you were on another planet, and that planet orbited a star – I think it would be fair to call it a sun as well.
Luckily, I don’t think this is something that troubles most of you on a daily basis. :)

Anonymous – April 26, 2015 at 2:09 pm – in the comments section of my website.
The difference between can and can’t.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=cahVeRxiZBc
I personally found this extremely difficult to catch! I hope this can help somebody.

Luke:
I think there are a few points to deal with for this question. Also, there are several ways of saying the word can, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on – there’s the British way and then the wrong way. Haha that’s a joke. No really, Americans and Brits say the words slightly differently. We’ll come to that in a moment. I’m dealing with the UK version of “can” and “can’t”.
1. The difference between the words when they’re not in a sentence. Can /kæn/ can’t /kɑːnt/ – mainly it’s about the vowel sound (can is short, can’t is long) but also that can’t has a /t/ sound at the end.
2. When the words are used in the middle of a sentence, fluently. Firstly, there’s the issue of the weak form of ‘can’ with a schwa sound, and with ‘can’t’ the /t/ sound can disappear, making it sound a bit like ‘car’.
Weak form of ‘can’
Yes, I can do that. Here, can is /kən/
Elision of /t/ in ‘can’t’
Sorry, I can’t do that. I can’t see it. I can’t wait. – in all of those, the /t/ of ‘can’t’ disappears.
It’s normal for /t/ and /d/ sounds to be lost when followed by another /t/ or /d/ sound, but it’s not just then. Frankly, /t/ sounds are often dropped in fluent speech.
Sorry, I can’t eat it.
So, can and can’t sound alarmingly similar sometimes. But they’re not the same. Native speakers can identify the difference. There is a difference, it’s not telepathy, although context may help too (like, tone of voice or body language)
The key thing is that the vowel sound is still long.
“I can meet you at 3.”
“I can’t meet you at 3.”
Can you hear the difference?
How about the tone or intonation of the sentences?
Listen to these sentences, am I saying ‘can’ or ‘can’t’? Sometimes my intonation or other words might help. Repeat the sentences after me.
a. I can be there earlier if you need me to.
b. I just can’t work this one out.
c. I can just do it for you if you want.
d. You can just take the bus, it’s much easier.
e. He can’t get any reception in his room, so he’s going to use the landline.
f. They can just download it and stick it on the laptop.
g. You can’t help me with this can you?
h. I can’t stop thinking about last night.
i. It can be a bit difficult to hear the difference between can and can’t sometimes, can’t it?

3. American English may be a bit different. “can’t” might sound more distinct.

Daniel – June 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm
Hello Luke,
First of all, I want to say I regard your work with podcasts the best I’ve ever seen for ESL learners so far. You show a 100% spontaneous conversation in English that supports listening skills a lot. Thanks mate!
Getting back to my question for you I have to tell you I’m trying to learn how to speak with authentic British accent, but, it seems the process to me is becoming increasingly slow. I’ve been  self-taught for more than 2 years. In fact, I want to sound like you,and, so that, at the moment, I try to mimic you by memorising what you say and then repeating that as many times as possible. Am I in the right technique? I’m not so sure about that!I’d like some guidance from you as regards the pronunciation learning. So,here are  my questions: how could somebody speed up the process of internalising the British accent ? What method you’d suggest to come near faster and effectively to this accent? Thanks in advance for your attention.

Luke: This kind of relates to the question from Edgar. Let’s say you’ve decided to learn to speak with a British accent (Standard Received Pronunciation I imagine – because there are many British accents, as you know). How can you do it? Here are some ideas: Learn the phonemic script. Learn all those sounds and symbols. This is the palette of English. Once you learn all the sounds that are used in English, you’ll be able to identify and hopefully copy the sounds as they are used by people. Learning the phonemic script is like learning the musical theory. Transcribe words and sentences in phonemic script, and then check a dictionary. Yes, do plenty of listening and repetition. Use the BBC’s pronunciation pages for help www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/pron/ Use a mirror to see the way you are pronouncing words and compare that to the videos on the BBC’s pronunciation page. Listen to loads of British English and just have fun trying to copy it. Think about things other than the vowel sounds – e.g. intonation, certain phrases that are typical, rhythm, the attitude and mentality, body language. These can all be tags to help you learn. But again, the main thing is that you speak clearly and that you are yourself. Don’t fake it too much, except for fun. If possible, spend time with lots of British people – humans are designed to adapt to be similar to those around us (if you just relax and let it happen) and so spending time with Brits is perhaps the best way. Go drinking with British people! If you can’t do that, just keep listening to Luke’s English Podcast, it’s bound to rub off on you.

Naz – June 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm
I just wanted to ask about my personal problem with English . I know many people have some problem with spoken English but some of them are lazy and they don’t study hard and they are often just complaining. But I am not a lazy person and everyday I regularly try to study English.
I’ve been living in London for two years. When I came here I didn’t know any English words except “yes or no” , couldn’t understand what people talk about. But later I discovered your website and another amazing website like yours. I’ve been listening regularly your podcasts. Now My English has evolved without any course. It really helped me and I appreciate and I am really grateful. Thank you very much for this selfless labour.

My problem is that I can’t make a kind of self-confidence about speaking. My personality doesn’t allow me to speak confidently. I can’t say any words in English especially while I am in Turkish communities who are speaking very well. I am a high perfectionist person and my subconscious is ordering me an excellent speech. I feel like I will not speak without having a perfect fluent English and accent. I never will have this perfection but I cannot tell myself it somehow.

Only for this reason I missed many opportunities about my job in the UK.(architecture) I wish I could see my life from a higher level…

I am sure you will give me some advice about my issue.

Thank you very much,

Naz…

Luke: You’ve got to stop judging yourself. Just relax and try. Nobody starts perfect, you have to fail before you get there. People respect bravery. Be brave, make errors, don’t let them bother you, learn from your mistakes and carry on. Nobody is judging you that much! You’re too hard on yourself. People will respect you for making the effort. I’ve seen it time and time again in classes, and I’m guilty of it myself too – the ones who make progress are the ones who don’t care about making mistakes in front of everyone. They speak up, the make some mistakes (not that many really) and they improve, and they move up to the next class. Everybody respects them. Everyone looks up to them like they’re extraordinarily confident. It’s not a magic quality that only some people have, it’s just about having priorities. Prioritise your learning, your progress and your communication. They’re more important than total perfection. Also, do it step by step. Every successful interaction or bit of communication is something to celebrate and feel good about. You need positive reinforcement and stimulation when you’re learning. Be happy about the progress you’ve made. You’ve done well. Now choose to proceed with confidence. It really is a choice.

Phil – June 13, 2014 at 4:41 pm
Dear Teacher Luke,

I just wanted to ask about the subjunctive mood. I’m still quite confused about it and even my English teacher was not able to answer my questions (she is american, from Chicago).

Partly, I think it may be due to the incorrect use of the subjunctive that many native speakers do and partly to the fact that it is actually a hard topic. I’ve read some grammar websites and that just made me even more confused.I understand that there’s a slight difference between BrE and AmE sometimes too.

THANK YOU =D
CHEERS

Luke: Could you give me a more specific response?

Here’s another example from Phil (I asked him for a more specific example)
Phil: Ok =D
All right I know (from Beyoncé) that I am supposed to say ‘if I were a boy'(though I am actually a boy…Well I conveyed the message at least). On a website I read that there’re actually 2 tenses (present and past subjunctive) but only for the verb ‘to be’ there’s a difference (be and were). For all the other verbs there are the present and past tenses that are actually the same (like work and work). here is the website www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-subjunctive.htm do you think it’s trustful? And I really wonder if this part is really correct (copied and pasted):

Notice that in these structures the subjunctive is always the same. It does not matter whether the sentence is past or present. Look at these examples:

Present: The President requests that they stop the occupation.
Past: The President requested that they stop the occupation.
Present: It is essential that she be present.
Past: It was essential that she be present.

Thank you Teacher Luke =D whichever comment on this matter will receive my deepest gratitude.

Luke: I’ll refer to a couple of web pages for this. This one for a brief explanation of its form and use: www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-subjunctive.htm (Englishclub.com)
This one has some lists of verbs and expressions which are followed by the subjunctive www.englishpage.com/minitutorials/subjunctive.html (englishpage.com)
P.S. in my zombie episode in which I looked at conditionals, I didn’t say “If I were a zombie”, I said “If I was a zombie” – technically not correct, but so many people do it that it’s considered ok if a bit colloquial.
Q&A5

239. Prepositions: Verb Collocations

In the last episode I attempted to explain ways that prepositions are used in English, and I failed because I wasn’t prepared. I managed to get across the idea that prepositions are complicated because they’re used in combination with other words, and that you have to remember vocabulary in ‘chunks’ but the idea was also to present you with some useful lists of preposition collocations. This time around I’ve done some more preparation. I’ve spent a bit more time on it and so for round 2 I think we should get a proper grip on the subject, while also having some fun noticing prepositions in an improvised story. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonWe all know that prepositions are one of the most difficult aspects of English grammar and vocabulary. That’s also why they’re hard to teach. They don’t conform to easy-to-teach rules, like other aspects of grammar. Instead, it’s about patterns and collocations. So, often the best way to learn these collocations is to see them as chunks of vocabulary, and try to notice them as they are used naturally. In this episode the idea is to give you a chance to do that by listening to a made-up story which includes loads of verb + preposition collocations.

Some Facts
Let me break it down in a simple way. Here are some “facts” about prepositions.
1. A preposition is always followed by a noun or something like a noun (e.g. a gerund or a noun phrase).
2. We use prepositions to talk about time, position and movement – and these are the easy ones. For example, “The cat is on the chair, the mouse is under the table, the monkey is on the branch. I’ll see you on Sunday at 3 o’clock. The train went into the station. The monkey fell out of the tree. The cat jumped off the chair.” etc etc. These are ‘easy’ because the prepositions seem to have specific meanings of their own, and they don’t change depending on which noun or verb you’re using.
3. The more difficult part is the way we use prepositions to attach nouns to other parts of the sentence. Prepositions tend to collocate with different adjectives, verbs and nouns. For example we say “He’s been accused of murder” and “I’m accustomed to the smell from the restaurant downstairs” and “This flat has really good access to the underground station”. What does collocate mean? It means that these words ‘just go together’. They’re friends. They always hang out with each other. Why? That’s the difficult thing to explain. I’d say – don’t focus on the individual meanings of prepositions. Instead focus on the way they just collocate with other words, and then learn those words together. So, don’t just learn the word “accuse” but learn the phrase “to accuse someone of something”. Don’t just learn the word “doubtful” but learn the phrase “doubtful about”, don’t just learn the word “comply” but learn the phrase “to comply with” and also the noun “compliance” and “to be in compliance with”.
4. Prepositions can be hard to hear because of the way they’re pronounced. They’re not usually the ‘meaning words’ in sentences, and so they can be pronounced using ‘weak forms’ of pronunciation (schwa sounds). Pay attention to the way prepositions are pronounced by native speakers in fluent speech.

There are 4 key points about prepositions, and also reasons why they’re tricky for learners of English.

Sorry.

Really, I am sorry. This makes life much more difficult for you, but you must get used to it right here and now. Accept that you’re now learning phrases, and once you’ve accepted that, every step you’ll take from now on will be in the right direction.

So, it’s these preposition collocations which are the tricky things. Learners of English struggle to know which preposition to use in the right moments. Sometimes these are influenced by the first language. For example, many French people say “It depends of…” e.g. “It depends of the cost” and of course it should be “it depends on the cost”. Watch out for the L1 influence.

What can you do?
– When you’re learning words – don’t learn them in isolation. See how they connect with other words in a sentence. Remember the prepositions that go with them. This will actually help you to become more fluent as prepositions are good transition words. They help you turn individual words into phrases, and those phrases into full sentences.
– Notice when you listen. Just pay attention to the preposition collocations you hear.
– Listen a lot and read a lot. Eventually, a lot of the most common preposition collocations will just go into your subconscious after being exposed to them so many times. After a while you’ll develop an instinct for the right collocation.
– Check out some lists to help you. You could test yourself by looking at some collocation lists (e.g. on this page). Cover the preposition and then try to remember it. Say it out loud. Check your answer. Say the phrase (it’s important that it passes through your mouth, and across your lips). Make full sentences, in different tenses in order to practise.
– Listen to Luke’s English Podcast (of course!)

Let me explain my approach for this episode of the podcast.
In this episode I’m planning to do this:
– I’ve prepared fairly long lists of common collocations with prepositions. Verb + prep, adjective + prep and noun + prep lists. You can check them out on the webpage if you like. Those lists are really useful in themselves. So this is already a really useful resource.
– I’m not just going to read out the lists. That would be boring and not that useful.
– I’m going to try and just make up some kind of story – completely improvise it – and use as many of the preposition collocations as I can. Try to notice them. You could go through the list and kind of ‘tick’ them off as you hear them, or try to notice them without the list.
– Bear in mind that the story is completely made up. The main thing is I want to keep it fun and interesting, while also presenting some language to you.
– There are 3 lists. They’re all quite long. I don’t know how much I can achieve in one episode. I might end up dividing this into three stories. One for verb + prep collocations, one for adj + prep and one for noun + prep. We’ll see.
– When I’ve finished I’ll go through the lists, and I’ll give you a chance to test yourselves.
– Then you can revise by testing yourselves using the lists, you can write your own stories using the prepositions and vocabulary, or you could record yourself reading or improvising a story. Don’t worry if you can’t improvise. That’s a different thing altogether. You should try to produce meaningful sentences using these phrases though. It’ll help you to remember them. Try to make your sentences personalised and very vivid – that’ll help you remember them all.
– You’ll also be picking up vocabulary here from the verbs, adjectives and nouns that collocate with all these prepositions. Just google them or look them up in a dictionary if you don’t know what they mean. I’m not explaining word meanings here, just presenting language.

That’s it!

Verb + Preposition
Let’s go with the first story.oldbaileycourt-room
*Start by opening your eyes – you’re standing in a courtroom. You ask the lawyer what’s going on. You’ve been accused of stealing a biscuit. You’ve got no idea what happened. Then the judge comes in…*

accuse (someone) of ([doing] something)
add (something) to (something else)
admire (someone) for ([doing] something)
agree on (topic)
agree with (someone)
apologise to (someone) for ([doing] something)
apply to (a place) for (something)
approve of (something)
argue with (someone) about (topic)
arrive at (a building, room, site, event)
arrive in (a city, country)
ask (someone) about (someone/topic)
ask (someone) for (something)
believe in (something)
belong to (someone)
blame (someone) for ([doing] something)
borrow (something) from (someone)
care about (someone/something/topic)
comment on (topic)
compare (something) to/with (something else)
complain to (someone) about (something)
concentrate on ([doing] something)
congratulate (someone) for/on ([doing] something)
consist of (some things)
consent to ([doing] something)
contribute to (something)
count on (someone) to (do something)
cover (something) with (something else)
decide on (topic)
depend on (someone) for (something)
discuss (something) with (someone)
distinguish (something) from (something else)
dream about/of (someone/something)
escape from (somewhere)
explain (topic) to (someone)
excuse (someone) for ([doing] something)
forgive (someone for ([doing] something)
get rid of (something)
graduate from (a place)
happen to (someone)
help (someone) with (something)
hide (something) from (someone)
insist (up)on (something)
introduce (someone) to (someone else)
invite (someone) to (an event)
keep (something) for (someone)
matter to (someone)
object to (something)
participate in (something)
pay (price) for (something)
plan on ([doing] something)
pray for (someone/something)
prefer (something) to (something else)
prevent (someone) from ([doing] something)
prohibit (someone) from ([doing] something)
protect (someone) from (something)
provide (someone) with (something)
recover from (something)
rely (up)on (someone/something)
remind (someone) of (something)
rescue (someone) from (something)
respond to (someone/something)
save (someone) from (something)
search for (something)
separate (something) from (something else)
scold (someone) for ([doing] something)
smile at (someone) for ([doing] something)
speak to/with (someone) about (topic)
stare at (something/someone)
stop (someone) from ([doing] something)
subscribe to (something)
substitute (something) for (something else/someone)
subtract (something) from (something else)
succeed in ([doing] something)
suffer from (something)
take advantage of (someone/something/ situation)
take care of (something/someone)
talk to/with (someone) about (topic)
thank (someone) for ([doing] something)
travel to (somewhere)
vote for (someone)
vouch for (someone)
wait for (someone/something)
wish for (something)
work for (company/something/someone)

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238. Prepositions (Part 1)

In this episode I decided to teach you about prepositions! Yes! Everyone’s favourite words in English! OK, that’s sarcasm – most learners find prepositions to be confusing and frustrating. However, the episode didn’t quite go as planned and I didn’t manage to deal with the subject as I had intended. Nevertheless, this episode contains some comments and information about prepositions, which works as an introduction to other episodes on the subject. Listen to this one before you listen episode 240, which deals with the subject in more depth. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonI’ve been meaning to do this episode for ages and now finally I’ve managed to get round to it. Well, that was the plan anyway.

Following notes I made over a year ago (which weren’t actually finished) I thought I would be able to deal with this topic without much preparation, but prepositions tend to be complex little creatures to get a hold of, and the topic proved too slippery to deal with fully in this episode, so I have promised to continue the series in the next episode, when we will look at the way prepositions collocate with other words.

So for this episode, I didn’t manage to succeed in my overall mission, but you can see this as like ‘part 1’ in a series about prepositions.

What? Another series? Yes, that’s right! The next episode will focus on ways prepositions collocate with verbs, and will feature an improvised courtroom drama featuring a whole list of verb + preposition collocations. You’ll just have to wait for that one. But for now, join me as I begin to explain prepositions, and end up going on about poor sales techniques and why you shouldn’t buy an iPhone 3 from me. Enjoy!
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