Category Archives: Pronunciation

461. 25 Deceptively Difficult Questions (with Amber, Paul & Sarah)

An episode about the tricky little questions that we use when socialising. What are the appropriate answers? What are the subtle differences? How do native speakers use these questions? Can you take the test and get all the right responses to my list of deceptively difficult questions?

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25 Deceptively Difficult Questions – Proper Introduction Transcript!

Hi everyone,

This is an episode about social English, the kind of English you use when you’re socialising, particularly the little things you say when you greet someone or at the beginning of a conversation.

There are many ways to say “hi” and also lots of ways to say “how are you?” or “what are you doing?” The tricky thing is being able to judge the subtle differences in the questions with the presence of auxiliary verbs or modals which change the meaning slightly from the past, to the present to the future or with slightly different levels of formality.

I’d like to do a test in this episode today. I am going to test you, so get ready.

A Test

Here’s what’s going to happen.

I’ve prepared a list of 25 questions. I’m going to read them to you in a moment.

As I say each question, what I want you to do is to think really quickly and really naturally about the first thing you would normally say when you hear that question. What’s the first answer that comes into your mind?

Let’s see if you answer correctly.

To find out the proper answers we’re going to listen to me directing those questions at Amber, Paul and Sarah. Then you can listen out for how they answer them and the comments we make afterwards, which should explain these tricky little bits of English.

Not only can you learn some essential social English in this episode, you can also hear plenty of humorous conversation between the four of us.

Sarah’s baby is also there in the background. I’m sorry if this bothers anyone. I’ve removed some of those noises but a few are still there. I think it sounds fine and adds a bit of atmosphere and after all she is a very cute baby.

So, the test. Let’s get started.

Are you ready? Just give the first answer that comes to mind.

Also, you should know that some of the questions are intentionally incorrect. So, if you hear a question which is grammatically wrong or just not used ever, you can say “wrong”.

Ok, so, your quick answer to the question, or “wrong” if it’s incorrect.

I’ll say the question once quickly, once slowly and once again quickly.

Some of these questions may seem extremely simple – the point of this is the pragmatics of social English and how you should give certain stock answers to some questions. They get a bit harder as they go along.

Also, you can try to repeat the questions too.

They’re going to come pretty quick, so use the pause button if you want.

Here we go. You might think these are easy, but that’s why this is called ‘deceptively’ difficult questions.

*4 questions are intentionally incorrect. Can you spot them?

  1. What are you doing?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. How’s it going?
  4. How are you going?
  5. What’s happening?
  6. What’s going on?
  7. What’s going down?
  8. What’s going up?
  9. What’s up?
  10. How do you do?
  11. How are you?
  12. How have you been?
  13. How have you been up to?
  14. What are you up to?
  15. What have you been up to?
  16. How long has it been?
  17. Can I use your phone?
  18. I can’t use your phone, can I?
  19. Do you mind if I open the window?
  20. You don’t mind if I open the window, do you?
  21. What are your plans for later?
  22. What are you up to later?
  23. Can you tell me where is the best bar in town?
  24. Do you know how long is it going to be?
  25. Would you be prepared to give me a 5% discount?

Ta = thanks

You’re now going to hear all those questions and how Amber, Paul and Sarah will respond to them. See if you got them right or wrong!

I’ll go through them again quickly at the end.

Listen to the whole episode for all the correct answers and explanations.

Don’t be a ninja! Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

Cheers!

Luke

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.

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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!

430. Discussing Language Learning & Life with Fred Eyangoh

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is the first thing that we talk about.


Recap – What Fred said about Learning English

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

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

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

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

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

Join the mailing list!

Speak soon, bye!

Comedians Fred Mentioned

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

Here are some of the comics Fred mentioned.

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

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

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

fred

427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show

traffic.libsyn.com/teacherluke/427-british-comedy-limmy-s-show.mp3An episode analysing more British comedy, this time focusing on a couple of sketches from Limmy’s Show, an award-winning TV comedy produced by BBC Scotland. See below for transcriptions, notes and videos.

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Introduction

I was vaguely planning to go through a sort of history of British comedy in chronological order, over a series of episodes, but I just feel like doing an episode today about a series called Limmy’s Show because I’ve been enjoying it recently.

In this episode you’ll get

  • Listening (obviously) but this one’s going to be a little tricky because you’ll be listening to a couple of sketches that might be hard to understand for various reasons.
  • Culture. Since this is comedy, there’s a lot of unspoken meaning which you might not notice. Humour is well-known for being one of the most difficult things to pick up on in another language, which is precisely why it’s a good idea for me to go through some comedy with you on the podcast. Of course, you might not get it. You might not find it funny. That’s fine. What I find enjoyable might leave you completely cold. That could be a question of taste, but it could be a question of cultural context. In fact, in my experience of being a teacher, I’ve noticed many cases of my students just not getting comedy when it’s shown to them. Even stuff that’s considered by the majority of people to be funny, just doesn’t work with learners of English. It’s not until you get to a proficient level of English that you start to notice the unspoken humour or subtlety of a piece of comedy in English. This is because it requires really advanced English skills to notice the nuances that make something amusing, but also because of the difference in mindset or cultural context. You simply might not find it funny just because of cultural conventions. This is why some people disparagingly refer to “British comedy” as being weird, unfunny, very surreal or conceptual. It’s not really that intellectual, it’s just subtle and I think we have a broad scope for comedy. Anyway, I’m not going to get bogged down in trying to explain British comedy, it’s better to just show it to you and try to help you understand it as best I can. But the point I was trying to make is that I want to try and close the gap between what I understand and enjoy about a comedy sketch, and what you might understand and enjoy about it. So, hopefully I can bridge a cultural gap as well as a linguistic gap by doing this sort of episode.
  • Vocabulary – there’s is some good, meaty vocab in the sketches we’re going to hear, from several different registers. You’ll hear some slightly formal spoken English from an executive level business man talking to the police, and some informal English with slang, spoken in a dialect. There will be vocabulary.
  • Accent – the sketches we’re going to study are all set in the Glasgow area of Scotland, so you’ll be hearing some English spoken with Glasgow accents – some quite mild and some really strong.
  • Amusement. Who knows, as well as all this English practice, you might also simply enjoy the sketches! I hope so.

What is Limmy’s Show?

Limmy’s Show is a sketch show which was broadcast on the BBC in Scotland a few years ago. A lot of the sketches from the show are on YouTube and in fact that’s where I’ve seen all of it.

Limmy’s Show is written and directed by a guy from Glasgow called Brian Limond. I think he got his show after getting quite well known from doing a podcast and some YouTube videos. He also did performances at the Edinburgh Festival. Basically, he got a sort of cult following on the internet and that led to him getting his own TV sketch show on BBC Scotland. The thing is, his show was never broadcast in England, only on TV in Scotland, which is a pity for the English because it’s a really good show.

Buy Limmy’s Show on DVD here

I guess that the Scottishness is a large part of the appeal of the show. I think it has a lot to do with it. All the characters in the sketches are Scottish and speak mostly with Glaswegian accents, and the scenes all take place in and around Glasgow.

The sketches feature different characters, mostly played by Limmy. He plays a range of characters from different social backgrounds.

The sketches are often quite surreal, bizarre or dark. Often they feature characters with weird behaviour, or Limmy talking directly to the camera about an aspect of life that he’s noticed. Some sketches just make me think, or just confuse me a bit – but in a good way.
Sometimes they’re laugh out loud funny, sometimes just amusing and sometimes just a bit curious in the way they present quite odd observations about everyday life. Some sketches are a bit disturbing, and others are even a bit sad. All in all, Limmy’s Show is original and refreshingly unconventional, as well as being funny.

It’s worth mentioning again the significance of the accents you’ll hear in Limmy’s Show. As I said, they’re all Scottish, specifically Glaswegian. Some of the characters speak with very heavy Glaswegian accents, and I think that’s part of the appeal to be honest. You don’t often hear those accents on TV. Sometimes they’re difficult to understand if you don’t come from there. Even people from the UK, like people from London struggle to understand the show sometimes, especially when certain characters are talking. There are loads of comments on YouTube from foreigners around the world, including native English speakers in America, saying that they can’t understand anything. Some people on YouTube request transcriptions because they can’t understand the sketches and you can see that other people have written out full transcriptions to the sketches in the comment section on YouTube, and there are loads of other comments from people saying “Oh, thanks so much, I never could have understood this without the transcript!”

So, you get the idea that this is going to be some proper Glaswegian English that you’re going to hear.
For me, that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. I love the accent. It’s awesome. I love hearing the particularities of the way these characters pronounce words and phrase their sentences. In a way it becomes more expressive and characterful, to the extent that the accent and speech pattern is a large part of what makes the sketches so fascinating and enjoyable.

So, let’s enjoy listening to Glaswegian English here.

I’ve got a few sketches I want to deal with, from a couple of characters. I’d like to go through loads of these sketches but I can’t do them all. So, I’ve picked out just a couple of ones that I like and that feature slightly different accents and characters, showing a bit of diversity in the way they speak.

Mr Mulvaney

We’ll start with a sketch featuring a character called Mr Mulvaney, who is an executive level business man from Glasgow.

Here’s how we’re going to do it.

  • I’ll just play the sketch to you first without a lot of explanation.
  • Simply listen and try to follow what’s going on. If you don’t find it funny, then no bother.
  • Just try to work out what’s going on. I’ll give you a little bit of detail at the start.
  • Afterwards I’ll explain what happened and talk about why I think it’s funny.
  • Then I’ll go through it in more detail, pausing after each bit, explaining vocabulary, accent differences and repeating what he says.
  • You can find the videos on my site if you want to watch them again.
  • So that’s the process.

Mr Mulvaney – Creme Egg

The scene
Mr Mulvaney is sitting in his modern looking office. He’s the director of the company. It looks very corporate. He’s in a suit and has grey hair. The company logo shows that this is the Mulvaney Group – it must be a large corporation. Mulvaney looks serious. His office building is open plan, with glass partitions between each section, so Mulvaney is alone in his room but he can see outside into the rest of the floor through the glass walls.

He calls his secretary to order a taxi for later. It’s all businesslike and serious. Then he sees a couple of police in uniform enter the building and talk to someone on reception. At this point, Mr Mulvaney panics!

A summary of the whole sketch

An executive business man overreacts when he sees the police in his office building and assumes they have come to question him about a crime he has committed. It looks like he’s committed a very serious crime, like a murder, and he frantically tries to work out his story by having an imaginary conversation with the police. On his own he practises telling his story as convincingly as possible, even adding authentic sounding questions from the police. It turns out that he hasn’t done anything very serious. He’s just stolen a chocolate bar from a shop, but he’s acting as if it’s a capital offense. In the end we realise that the police aren’t even looking for him and we don’t really know why he’s doing the things he’s doing. He could in fact be suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.

What I find funny about it this sketch

  • The fact that he’s a high-powered business man who is involved in petty theft is sort of funny because of the contrast between his high status and the low status nature of the crime.
  • There’s a contrast between the serious way he is acting and the pettiness of the crimes he’s committed.
  • Comedy sometimes comes from the reveal of something previously hidden. These scenes reveal something about his personality and what he’s done – he’s the managing director of the company, a very serious role, but his life is on the edge of spinning out of control, like in some kind of thriller.
  • The performance. Limmy’s performance is really funny. He switches between different attitudes quickly: calm controlled businesslike manner, the panic and fear of being caught by the police, him getting a grip on himself, playing the part of the police officer very convincingly, him acting all indignant and shocked when the police suggest that he might have committed the crime, protesting his innocence, the relief of getting away with it, the determination to stop this kind of crazy behaviour and make sure it never happens again.
  • Playing with TV conventions. This is the sort of thing we have seen many times in TV shows, books and films. There are loads of thrillers in which someone in a high status position has committed a crime and when the police come to ask questions they act cooperative and yet completely innocent, while silently panicking on the inside. Every other murder mystery has a character like that in it. This time it’s played for laughs because the crime is not serious at all – it’s just a stolen chocolate bar or something.

Mr Mulvaney – In The Car

Mr Mulvaney – Fire Alarm

Part 2 coming soon…

With analysis of a completely different sketch by Limmy.

Other episodes about British comedy from the archive

 

422. Learning British Dialects with Korean Billy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s now talk to Korean Billy.

* * *

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

What do you think?

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

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

Korean Billy on YouTube

Click here for Billy’s YouTube channel

Korean Billy on the BBC

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

Also mentioned

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

Attack the Block (Film) – South London youth dialect

What have you been thinking while listening to this episode?

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

Thanks to Korean Billy for taking part in this episode.


POST-RAMBLE

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

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

LEPster Get-Togethers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick.

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

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

My thoughts on LEP Get Togethers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LEP Get Togethers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[DOWNLOAD]

Why this subject, Luke?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another summary of accents in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Lord Of The Rings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the accents in LOTR?

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

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

Characters / Races

Frodo – speaks in standard RP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lotr

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

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

The LEP Anecdote Competition – Final Results

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

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

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

Adverts at the beginning of episodes

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

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

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

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

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

A family story from WW1 – A Turkish POW in Russia

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

Related episodes

183. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 1)

184. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 2)

259. Eulogy for Dennis

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

Deniz’s comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/apostrophe

Rick Thompson’s accent

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

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

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

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

en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/posh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

370. In Conversation with Rob Ager from Liverpool (PART 1: Life in Liverpool / Interest in Film Analysis)

Today on the podcast I’m talking to Rob Ager from Liverpool, who is probably best known for his film analysis videos on YouTube in which he discusses classic Hollywood thrillers, sci-fi and action movies in quite astonishing levels of detail, often focusing on deep psychological and political themes and hidden messages that most viewers probably wouldn’t even notice. His videos are carefully constructed documentaries, made for educational purposes and all of them feature a voice-over commentary by Rob in which he analyses the film and gives his observations.

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Click here to visit Rob Ager’s website collatedlearning.com

I think I first came across Rob’s work on YouTube about 5 or 6 years ago. Sometimes I start watching YouTube and I get sucked into a kind of YouTube worm hole. That’s where you start watching one video, and that leads you to watch another one and then another one and eventually you find yourself watching something really fascinating and unexpected and that you wouldn’t normally have come across. I think that’s what happened with Rob’s videos. I think I first came across a short documentary he made about a horror movie called The Thing by John Carpenter, which is one of my favourite films. It’s really scary, tense and well directed, and it has a terrifying monster in it. Also it has a complicated story line which creates an eerie sense of paranoia that invites the viewer to speculate on who is or who isn’t a monster. It was really interesting to listen to Rob talking about The Thing in so much detail and it made me think about the movie in ways that I hadn’t considered before.

Then after that I kept noticing other videos by Rob and I would always watch them with interest. He has videos about The Matrix, Star Wars, The Shining, Alien and more.

Sometimes I find his comments to be a bit too specific, like he is perhaps over-analysing the films, but then again I think this is what’s great about movies – that everyone can interpret them in any way they want – and that a film might mean one thing to you, but mean a completely different thing to someone else. Even the director of the film might have a very specific message in the movie, that most of us don’t even notice. I think most modern film makers understand these ideas and they often leave their movies open to interpretation. Think, for example about the ending of Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio – what does it really mean? We’re supposed to imagine and discuss our own interpretations of it, and I think it’s one of the strengths of the film and one of the reasons it is so popular. Everyone can leave the movie with their own theory on what it was about and what had happened at the end. Rob Ager takes this principle – that there are multiple readings of a movie – and really runs with it in his documentaries, suggesting that many of these great films that we love could in fact be about political events in the real world, our deep desires and psychological motivations or even about hidden power structures.

Another interesting thing for me is that Rob comes from Liverpool. He’s a scouser (that’s the word for people who come from Liverpool) and he speaks with a scouse accent, which really reminds me of the people I used to meet, talk to and work with when I lived in Liverpool years ago. The Liverpool accent is really distinctive, and I always want to feature different British accents on this podcast, so on this one you’ve got the chance to get used to listening to a scouse accent, or Liverpool accent.

Also, I think Liverpool is a fascinating city and not enough people know about it. Most people know The Beatles or Liverpool and Everton football clubs, but there’s more to Liverpool than that. I’m hoping that Rob will tell me a few things about what it’s really like to live and grow up in this important English city.

His website – CollativeLearning.com reveals all sorts of interesting things – like that fact that Rob is a filmmaker himself and he is very prolific with his analysis videos. He has loads of documentaries which you can download from the website. What becomes clear after reading and watching his work is that Rob is a very observant and articulate person with a great interest in film, but he is also knowledgeable about a wide range of academic theories and he incorporates ideas from psychology, sociology and philosophy in his film analysis. All of that reminds me a lot of the things I read and wrote about while doing my Media & Cultural Studies degree at university in Liverpool. What’s also notable about Rob though is that he has received no formal academic education or training in all of these subjects – he’s completely self-educated.

I’ve never spoken to Rob before, and I’m recording this introduction before our interview, which is due to start in just a few moments. I’ve got no idea how the conversation will go or what directions our conversation will take but I really hope it’s an insightful and engaging listening experience and that Rob and I get on with each other. I suggest that you listen out for differences between my standard Southern British RP accent and Rob’s accent, and let’s see what kind of vocabulary emerges from our talk.

Alright, it’s time to speak to Rob now. So, here we go.

*Conversations starts (after I remembered to press ‘record’ on my device)*

Links & Videos

Rob’s website www.collativelearning.com

Some interesting videos from Rob’s YouTube channel

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