Category Archives: Social English

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

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things we all have in common:

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

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


Vocabulary and other language points – Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk down the aisle
The altar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some news of Other People’s Podcasts

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

The Rock n’ Roll English Podcast


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

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

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

The Earful Tower


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye bye bye bye bye

Luke

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!

454. David Crystal Interview (Part 1) Professor of Linguistics

Talking about language with one of the world’s top linguists, Professor David Crystal.

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Introduction

Hello everyone, thank you for choosing to listen to this episode of my podcast. I am particularly pleased to be able to present this episode to you. It is, in fact, a privilege for me to say that today on the podcast I am talking to Professor David Crystal.

I’m now going to give a quick introduction just to make sure that you are all fully aware of the calibre of this guest and to emphasise to you just how lucky we are to have him on the podcast today.

According to The Guardian newspaper, David Crystal is the world’s foremost writer and lecturer on the English language.

He isn’t an English teacher, but he is an expert on linguistics. That’s the study of language and all the issues relating to it.

David Crystal

David Crystal has a worldwide reputation and has published something in the region of 120 books including numerous academic reference works and encyclopedias of language, and books for the general reader covering topics such as English grammar, spelling, punctuation, accents, connections to Shakespeare, the influence of technology and the development of language throughout history.

He is currently patron of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) and the Association for Language Learning (ALL), president of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the UK National Literacy Association, and honorary vice-president of both the Institute of Linguists and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales and in 1995 he was on the Queen’s honours list when he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (the OBE) for services to the English language. The OBE is the second highest honour which you can receive from The Queen – the highest being the knighthood or damehood.

So he’s Britain’s favourite language expert and he regularly makes appearances at literary festivals and teaching conferences, appears on British radio and television, writes articles for newspapers and magazines and researches all kinds of language-related topics.

But the main thing he does is to write books…

David’s Books

Some of his most popular books include:

  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
  • The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
  • The Story of English in 100 Words
  • You Say Potato: The Story of English Accents (written with his son Ben)
  • Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain (Written with his wife Hilary)
  • Txting: The Gr8 Db8
  • Pronouncing Shakespeare: The Globe Experiment – a fascinating project investigating how English was pronounced by the original actors in the Globe Theatre when Shakespeare was alive
  • Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling
  • Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life in Language (which is both his autobiography and a highly accessible introduction to the field of linguistics)
  • And from this year “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar”

Many of those titles can be purchased as ebooks from David Crystal’s website – www.davidcrystal.com or from any good bookseller. There are also audiobook versions which are read out by the man himself.

David Crystal’s writing is clear, entertaining, informative and simply a pleasure to experience. The same can be said about his public speaking. I’m always impressed by his ability to take a complex academic subject like linguistics and turn it into the sort of thing that anyone can understand and enjoy.

I met David once at a teaching conference where he presented Andy Johnson and me with an award for a presentation we did. I had a chat with him afterwards and was delighted to discover how down-to-earth and friendly he is and I’ve always wanted to interview him for this podcast, but it’s only recently that I actually plucked up the courage to ask him. Thankfully he agreed.

David Crystal is a nothing short of a national treasure and I can’t believe I’m talking to him on my podcast.

Right – I think you get the idea now – he’s kind of a big deal for anyone interested in language and language teaching and so without further introduction, here is my conversation about language with Professor David Crystal.


Questions for David Crystal

Grammar

Your recent book from this year is called Making sense: the glamorous story of English grammar.

Is grammar really ‘glamourous’?

In my experience, a lot of learners of English feel a bit bored or intimidated by grammar, leading some teachers out there to say that you can learn English without grammar – learn English without thinking, etc.

Do you think it’s possible to learn English as a second language without studying grammar?
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?

You recently wrote a political history of grammar in the UK as a supplement to your book “Making Sense”.

What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today, in your experience?
Has this attitude changed over the years? How has it changed?

Language Decline

I was recently having a conversation about language with a couple of friends on this podcast and we arrived at several questions that we couldn’t really answer. I thought you might be able to help.

People often complain about the so-called decline of the English language – citing things like poor grammar, punctuation, spelling, acronyms or text-speak as evidence that standards of English are slipping. Do you agree with that? Are standards of English declining? How do we even measure that?

People seem to be afraid that what they see as falling standards will result in “the death of the English language”. Has a language ever completely “died out” due to declining standards? What causes languages to die?

Are we better or worse at communicating than we used to be? (answered later)

‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’

Are you bothered by those so-called ‘errors’ in English that make some people angry?

Non-native speakers influence on English

My mate Paul says (as a bit of a joke) that because there are more non-native speakers of English in the world than native speakers, we’re actually the ones who are using the language incorrectly. E.g. because more Chinese people pronounce some English words in a certain way, it’s the native speakers who are pronouncing those words wrong.
Does he have a point or is he talking nonsense like he usually does?

French Pronunciation example

My French students often feel bad about their pronunciation because it’s so ‘French’. We understand everything that they say, but they’re really hung up on the fact that they sound so French – e.g. they can’t pronounce TH sounds in words like strengths, clothes, thirty three etc and it seems to be impossible to fix it.
Do they need to feel so bad about it?

How should my listeners feel about their relationship with English, and the version of English that they speak?


End of part 1

That’s the end of part 1. The conversation will continue in part 2 where you’ll hear me asking some questions sent in by listeners, and there were some really great questions including predictions about English in the future, the role of AI in language learning, the impact of Brexit on English in the world, and the way Donald Trump and Barack Obama use English.

I hope you’re enjoying listening to this, and that you’re able to follow some of the slightly complex points being made.

David gave so many really interesting answers and made some very important and useful points, and he continues to do that in part 2.

I think David speaks very clearly, with that slightly Welsh or Scouse twang in his voice. He lives in Hollyhead, in Northern Wales, not far from Liverpool, and he lived in Liverpool for a while as a child, which accounts for the slight accent that he has, if you noticed that.

As he said, his accent is a mix of different things, caused by the time he has spent living in different places and interacting with different people – RP speakers in the south east, locals in Wales and Liverpool and so on. It all contributes to the way he speaks. He also happens to be very articulate and I really admire the way he expresses his thoughts so clearly.

I hope you agree that we really are rather lucky to have David Crystal on the podcast and I think it’s worth listening to this episode several times so you can really absorb everything he’s saying because he really does know what he’s talking about and there’s a lot of knowlege there.

I think I should do a follow-up episode to this in which I just restate the main points that he made, just to consolidate it all, and I plan to do that. I could also talk about some of the questions which I didn’t have a chance to ask David.

I also hope you noticed that David Crystal helped to clear up some of the things I was discussing with Amber and Paul in episode 452. I should go over those things again if I do a follow-up episode, just to make it “crystal clear” – pun intended. I totally intended to make that joke and I think you should know it’s a brilliant joke which nobody has ever made before and this is sarcasm but it also isn’t.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com for all his work, his blog, videos of him speaking publicly and more information, including the opportunity to send him a message if you want to.

I strongly recommend getting some of his books, which should be available from any good bookseller. You could try “Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar” for example.

Also, don’t forget that you can get audiobook versions of his work.

For example, I listened to You Say Potato – the one about accents in the UK and I think the audiobook is better than the printed book because you can actually hear his son Ben doing all the accents. You could get that as part of a trial with Audible – and remember I have that deal with them – you can get a free audiobook if you go to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke or click an audible logo on my site. They’ve got a lot of DC’s work there. Start a trial, download your audiobook, listen to it using the Audible app on your phone and you can cancel the membership and not pay anything, or continue your membership for about $15 dollars per month and get another free book next month and so on…

So, that’s the end of part 1. Part 2 should be available for you very soon and you can hear David answering questions from listeners, and that’s brilliant because the questions were very diverse and David Crystal answers them – what more do I need to say? I still can’t believe I spoke to him on the podcast. I need to contact other awesome people for interviews now I think.

Thank you very much for listening to this. Don’t forget to join the mailing list to keep up with every new episode and to get convenient access to the page for each one where you’ll find various bits of supporting information, transcriptions, links, videos and the comment section. Just visit teacherluke.co.uk and pop your email address in the subscription form and Bob’s your uncle.

I look forward to reading your comments in the comment section.

Reminders

LEPsters are still getting together and spending time socialising in English.
In Moscow there is a group that hangs out every Sunday. Their FB group is called “Conversational English for Free – Moscow LEP Club”. https://www.facebook.com/groups/734996946664425/

Also in St Petersburg there is a similar group which gets together on Sundays. You can find them on FB by searching for “SPB LEPsters Conversational Club” – I understand they have get togethers on Sundays. Kristina from Russia who won the LEP Anecdote Competition last year often takes part – friendly people, speaking English, playing games, hanging out. https://www.facebook.com/spbenglishLEPclub/

LEPsters in Tokyo have got together a number of times, and I attended one in April to do some stand up – you can hear all about that in my Trip to Japan episodes (part 2).

Also, recently a group got together in Prague in the Czech Republic – in fact you can hear their conversation because it was recorded and published on Zdenek’s English Podcast.

Again I’m flattered because they talked mainly about LEP – including, shock horror, their least favourite or “worst” episodes of the podcast.

Listen to both episodes below.

Also, if you’re in Spain I have heard rumour that there will be at least one meetup group getting together there, somewhere, sometime soon.

If you’re thinking of setting up something similar, let me know because I can publicise it on the podcast and get the word out.

Speak to you in the next episode!

Luke

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

This episode is entitled 36 Questions that Lead to Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see what happens.

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

Listen on to find out more.

Here we go…


Outtro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I was invited onto the “English Across The Pond” Podcast

Hi podcast people,

I was recently invited to appear on another podcast for learners of English, called English Across The Pond presented by Dan (UK) and Jennifer (USA).

You can listen to the episode below and check out their website at www.englishacrossthepond.com

Dan and Jen produce quite a lot of extra material to help you learn English from their episodes. Check out this link where you can get a vocabulary list, comprehension questions or just download the full episode guide from their website.

Dan and Jen are really friendly and both have lots of English teaching experience. You might enjoy listening to their podcast too.

Cheers!

Luke

447. What is this, British Humour? (with Amber Minogue)

What is British Humour? Is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style and culture? In this episode I go through the main points of my British Council Teacher Talk about British Humour. Amber and I discuss the definition of British humour, the way it works, how it’s different or similar to other humour in other places, and some examples of typical humour in the UK.

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Introduction

Last week I did a Teacher Talk at the British Council in Paris. Teacher Talks are when the BC invites guests to an event involving a talk on a specific topic and then drinks afterwards. All teachers are invited to talk at these events and this time I thought I’d have a go. The topic was completely up to me, so I chose to talk about British humour because it’s always something I’m thinking about and I thought it might also be a way to promote English language comedy in Paris.

The talk was sold out and went well. I was hoping to upload the recording of the talk here but it’s not good enough. It just sounds very echoey and muffled. Next time I will mic myself up properly. So I’m not going to play the recording, which is a big pity because there were some moments of interaction with the audience and some funny things. But it’s just not clear enough on the recording so I’m not publishing it. The room at the BC where we do these talks is a big high ceiling place with mirrors on the back wall and high windows and walls so the sound bounces around a lot.

Anyway, I’ve still got all the ideas in my head so I’m going to put them into this episode, recorded in the normal way. So, I went to Amber’s place and decided I’d discuss all the points in my talk with her, since I think she’s probably got some interesting things to say on the subject. We both have experiences of living in other countries and we both do stand up so we think about humour quite a lot.

So you’re going to hear us attempting to answer questions like: what is British humour, what’s it like?, is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style? What does it say about us as a culture?

The main aim is just to describe and demystify humour in Britain. You’ll see that I don’t subscribe to the idea that British humour is somehow better than other forms of humour. In fact, in many ways it is very similar to humour in plenty of other places.

But as I describe it here, just think about whether this kind of behaviour is likely to be found in the culture or cultures that you know, and consider the role that humour plays in people’s daily lives where you are from. You might notice differences or similarities.

Let’s now go to Amber’s place and get to the bottom of this.


Main points covered:

British Humour doesn’t exist

OK, it does exist, but we don’t really use any different types of humour than anyone else. We don’t have a monopoly on humour or anything, but we do value it highly.

British Humour isn’t funny

It’s not always designed to make everyone laugh. Instead, humour is used in our interactions to avoid being too serious, keep things light and make you seem like a normal person.

Self-deprecation

This means making fun of yourself. It’s a bit of a crime to take yourself too seriously in the UK, so people make fun of themselves to show that they’re not above everyone else.

Understatement

This is where you make a strong statement sound less strong. E.g. “It’s raining outside is it?” “Yeah, just a bit”

Deadpan delivery

This is where humourous statements are delivered with a straight face, making it hard for some people to notice that a joke has happened.

Sarcasm/Irony

This is where you say one thing but you mean the opposite. It’s used for insults, for disappointments or to make fun of everything in general.

Innuendo

This is when one innocent statement can also mean something quite rude. Innuendo often happens by accident and other people say something to reveal the dirty second meaning.

E.g. “I like the taste of a cox” (apple)   … “I bet you do!”


Other things I didn’t cover

Puns

These are just word jokes. They work when one word means two things at the same time, connecting two previously unrelated ideas together in one statement. The brain explodes because one thing means two things at the same time.

They’re best when they are instant responses to something, rather than pre-planned jokes.

Here are some examples of pre-planned ones

How does Bob Marley like his donuts?
Wi’ jam in.

For more, check out my episodes about telling jokes in English.

Vocabulary
We have a wide variety of synonyms, homonyms which make it easy to say one thing that sounds like another, creating endless opportunities for word jokes (puns) and euphemisms.

Pisstaking
This means making fun of each other. We do this all the time.
Perhaps it’s because we’re incapable of expressing genuine emotions and we tend to avoid sincerity because it makes us feel uncomfortable, so we interact with our loved ones by teasing them, poking fun at them, mocking them and so on.

We’re emotionally crippled, basically.

E.g. I’ll always poke fun at my brother when I see him.
Like, oh my god what have you done to your hair?
Nice of you to have made an effort today.

Pisstaking has two functions:
To express affection
To knock someone down to size if they’re getting too big for their boots

You need to be able to take a joke in the UK. You’ve got to be able to both take a joke and dish it out when necessary.

If you can, you’re alright.

Surreal humour
Essentially surreal humour involves making fun of absolutely everything around you. It makes fun of existence itself. It means making absurd statements to highlight the absurdity in life. It’s about subverting boring reality. Maybe this is something to do with our weather (it’s dull, generally) or it’s a form of indirect anarchy or something.

Inappropriate humour
Although we use humour all the time, it’s worth noting that it can get you into trouble if you do it badly.
If you use self-deprecating humour, you have to be sure that everyone else gets it.
Be careful who/what is the target of your humour. It’s very politically incorrect to make jokes about certain groups in society – particularly groups that are lower status than you. So, these kinds of jokes are generally outlawed: ethnic jokes, sexist jokes. It’s very bad taste and old-fashioned and not cool at all.

Comedy

British comedy shows, the difference with American comedy, some recommended shows…

This is another episode for the future.

Thanks for listening to this episode. I look forward to reading your comments!

441. Andy Johnson at the IATEFL Conference

A conversation with Andy Johnson, talking about the IATEFL teaching conference, millennials, more tales of Andy’s appearance and the possibility of a WWE wrestling match between Andy and me.

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Get 10% off all courses at London School Online.

Hello hello hello! I’m back from my trip to Japan. It’s great to be back. We had an amazing time! We did all the big Japanese things – we saw the cherry blossom, enjoyed lots of delicious food, explored parts of Kyoto and Tokyo, saw a mix of the busy metropolitan city areas and the more peaceful natural spots too and had an amazing evening entertaining Japanese LEPsters at a comedy show in Tokyo. It was an amazing and intense week, it was really great to be back in the country I called home for several years and I will be recording a couple of episodes about it soon and I will tell you all about the trip including descriptions of what we did, what we saw and how it all felt, so you can look forward to that.

In the meantime here is an episode which I recorded before going away on holiday.

This one is another conversation with my friend and former colleague from the London School of English, Andy Johnson, recorded on Skype while he was attending the IATEFL conference in Glasgow earlier this month.

Before we start that, let me just make a couple of announcements here at the beginning.

Announcements

  • It’s LEP’s 8th Birthday!
  • British Podcast Awards – voting actually closes on 28 April. If you haven’t voted, please do it! If you have – thank you. I have a slim chance of winning this one so I need all of you to vote please. www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote
  • My Teacher Talk at the British Council – make your reservation at www.britishcouncil.fr/evenements/teacher-talk-quoi-humour-britannique
  • I’m also performing comedy on Monday in Paris – all the details on my page on Facebook for my comedy stuff – Luke Thompson – Comedy
  • Moscow LEPsters get together – Friday 21 April – I can’t actually be there, but I will be talking to the group via Skype – responding to some questions. Check Moscow LEPsters Conversation Club on FB for more details.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

This episode

In episodes 423 and 424 you might remember that I spoke to my former colleagues Andy Johnson and Ben Butler – English teachers from The London School of English. They were in Paris to take part in a teaching conference. We sat in the foyer of their hotel drinking overpriced beer and talked about loads of things including teaching, Andy & Ben’s presentations, millennials, teaching English for specific purposes, our teaching experiences and a few anecdotes about our appearances including a couple of funny stories about how Andy sometimes gets mistaken for Moby, the American musician.

They were fun and popular episodes, sparking quite a lot of discussion in the comment section, including a debate about who is the best teacher between Andy and me and how we should settle that debate by having a high-profile wrestling match… Yes, I know – that sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it.

Well, Andy is back in this episode today, and he’s at another conference – this time the English teaching industry’s biggest event, the IATEFL conference which this year is taking place in Glasgow.

Ben wasn’t available for this one – he was attending a session at the conference, but I spoke to Andy and asked him about this year’s conference and we continued our conversation about millennials from last time. You’ll also hear a couple of stories about what happened in Paris in November after we recorded our previous conversation and a number of other things, including the idea of us going head to head in a no holds barred wrestling match in order to determine who really is the greatest English teacher.

So without any further introduction, here is Andy Johnson in Glasgow.


That was my conversation with Andy. I hope you enjoyed it.

I just want to remind you that you can get 10% off all of the courses at London School Online. Just head over to londonschoolonline.com and use the offer code LUKE10 at checkout.

Also, Andy wanted me to let you know about a free webinar that they are putting on this Friday. If you’re interested in IELTS, check it out.

IELTS Workshop: Your questions answered
Friday, April 21, 2017 3:00:00 PM GMT (London time) – 4:00:00 PM CEST (Paris time)
This is the third in their series of free webinars. This is a webinar about IELTS and will take place on their eLearning platform, London School Online. It is suitable for anyone who is preparing to take the IELTS exam, or for teachers of the exam.

The idea is that you can use this webinar to get answers to your IELTS questions.

It’s being hosted by Daragh Brady, who I used to work with at LSE. Daragh is an excellent teacher who has wide experience in lots of areas, and he’s an IELTS examiner so he really knows all the ins and outs of this tricky but important English exam.

It’s totally free and everyone’s welcome but you do have to register.

Find the link here on the page for this episode or on the LSE Facebook page.

Click here for the LSE Online IELTS Webinar

Don’t forget also…

My teacher talk at the British Council in Paris. Thursday 27 April. I’ll be doing a kind of TED Talk about British Humour and Comedy. It’s also free and everyone’s welcome, but you need to register. You’ll find the relevant link on the page for this episode below.

Click here to reserve your place at my British Council Teacher Talk in Paris

Thanks for listening!

Watch this space for some episodes about the Japan trip with some stories, comments about Japanese culture and descriptions of the comedy show I did in Tokyo.

Cheers! Bye.

Who do you think would win in a battle between Andy and me?

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436. The Return of The Lying Game (with Amber & Paul) [Video]

Amber, Paul and I play another round of The Lying Game, in which we each tell a story and the others have to guess if it’s true or a lie. Listen for story telling, questions and general fun, plus some jokes at the end of the episode. Video available.

Audio


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Video

First, this comment from a LEPster

Jan Struve
Last year when my listening skills in english improved I started listening to an english podcast which was spoken at normal speed. Two men and a woman took part in the podcast and they spoke and played a game like this : One of them started telling a story and the others had to guess whether the story had really happened or was only fictional. They called it the Lying game. I remember that I was listening to the podcast when I was driving by car to work. My workplace was about 35 km away from my hometown and I was heading towards the highway. On the way, I got very deep into the conversation of the three guys and their equally fascinating and exciting stories. I was driving and listening and felt happy having improved my english so far and was able to listen to such driven and awesome podcasters that I forgot everything around me.
I drove and drove and after half an hour when the podcast finally ended I found myself way north on the wrong highway. I had missed the exit west and had driven more than 60km without noticing anything but the podcast. That was my first experience with the great and awesome Luke´s English Podcast.

Please take care when driving or operating heavy machinery.

It’s time to play the Lying Game again

Let’s call this season 2. It’s ‘even stevens’ again.

Rules

  • Someone tells us something – often a little story about their life. It can be either true or a lie.
  • We ask lots of questions like a detective and then decide if we think it’s true or a lie.
  • If you guess correctly, you get a point. If you guess incorrectly, the story-teller gets a point.

Listeners – just try to follow the conversation and try to guess if we’re lying or telling the truth.


Final Scores

Amber: 0 / 1 / 0

Paul: 1 / 1 / 1

Luke: 1 / 0 / 1

Jokes you heard at the end of the episode

Why are there no aspirins in the jungle?
Because the parrots-eat-em-all (paracetamol)

What’s the difference between snow-men and snow-women?
Snowballs.

I read an article on Japanese swordfighters. It’s quite long but I can samurais it for you. (summarise it)

How do you count cows?
With a cow-culator. (calculator)

Visitors to Cuba always enjoy themselves.
You could say they were “Havana” good time. (having a…)

How do astronomers organise a party?
They “planet”. (plan it)

I saw a band last night. They came from an island just of the south of Malaysia.
Singapore?
Yes, but the drummer was good.
(Was the singer poor? – was he a bad singer?)

My wife’s gone to the West Indies.
Jamaica?
No, she went of her own accord.
(Jamaica – “Did you make her (go)?”)

My wife’s gone to Indonesia.
Jakarta?
No, she went by plane.
(Did you ‘cart’ her?)

A man got hit in the head with a can of coke
But it was alright because it was a ‘soft drink’.

Why did the can crusher quit his job?
Because it was soda-pressing (so depressing)