Category Archives: Teaching

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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LEP on ZEP – My recent interview on Zdenek’s English Podcast

Hello email subscribers and website users! This is not an episode of LEP but keep reading because I have 5 cool things to share with you (below).

In this post you will find 5 episodes of a podcast. It’s not my podcast but I am featured in the episodes.

It’s a 5-part series of interviews between English teacher Zdenek Lukas and me on his podcast, “Zdenek’s English Podcast”, including 2 episodes of language analysis. You’ll hear lots of conversation between us about teaching, learning and behind-the-scenes information about Luke’s English Podcast. Also in the language analysis episodes Zdenek will help you pick up 50 features of English grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation from the interview.

You can listen to and download the episodes below.

Part 1

We discuss our experiences of taking the Cambridge DELTA qualification (it’s seriously challenging!) and then we try to break the commonly-believed stereotype of a native speaker teacher of English being superior to a non-native one.

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Part 2

In part 2 we talk about each other’s podcasts and I give some behind the scenes information about some popular episodes of LEP, including some stories about the episodes Sick in Japan, Travelling in Indonesia and California Road Trip. At the end, we also talk about our experiences of teaching English for specific purposes, namely business English and English for engineering.

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Part 3

In this part you can hear us talk about what we both like teaching the most in classrooms, some of my favourite teaching techniques, what it was like recording Pink Gorilla Story 1 & 2, and also what episodes I enjoy doing the most on the podcast. Also, you can find out more about the secret of Paul Taylor’s success and what it would take to do a live LEP meet-up with listeners.

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Part 4 – Language analysis

Zdenek picks out 25 features of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation for analysis. He applies his knowledge of linguistic features of English to clarify meaning, highlight usefulness, correct some of his own errors and help you to avoid common mistakes.

[DOWNLOAD PART 4]

Part 5 – Language analysis

Zdenek picks out 25 more features of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation for analysis and gives them the teacher treatment.

[DOWNLOAD PART 5]

About Zdenek Lukas…

I’m really impressed by what Zdenek is achieving with his English as a second language.

He’s from Czech Republic and he has learned English as a second language in adulthood. He’s now a teacher of English, just like me and he does his own podcast, just like me.

He has a masters degree in English language teaching. He’s got a CELTA and DELTA (pending) in English teaching to adults. He’s really well qualified.

Also, he’s been doing Zdenek’s English Podcast for years and it’s still going. Admittedly he says the podcast is influenced by my podcast, and I’m ok with that. It’s his way of pushing his English and it seems to be working for him.

You’ll hear in our interview that Zdenek has just passed a significant part of his DELTA qualification with a really good grade. That is not easy to do. You need to be a good teacher to get a good result in your DELTA and you really need to know about grammar and linguistics.

So, don’t underestimate Zdenek. He’s achieved a hell of a lot, just like many of you have also achieved a lot in your language learning. Sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and realising how much you’ve achieved.

I was very happy to be interviewed by him and I really hope you listen to the episodes, and in fact check out his other episodes too. A lot of them contain interviews with other interesting people, many of them English people he knows. Other episodes cover Zdenek’s personal journey with English and also you can hear him interacting with his students too.

You’ll find links to Zdenek’s English Podcast here on this page. www.audioboom.com/channel/zdeneks-english-podcast

Zdenek has an FB group where he communicates with his listeners. Here’s the link www.facebook.com/groups/zdeneksenglishpodcast/

But you can also leave comments here and I’m sure that Zdenek will read them at some point.

Cheers,

Luke

424. With Andy & Ben from The London School of English (Part 2)

Talking to Andy Johnson and Ben Butler about teaching English to millennials, cross-cultural experiences we’ve had as English teachers and some funny stories about Andy.

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London School Online offer – 10% discount with offer code LUKE10

Before we get started here I would just like to remind you that The London School of English, where I used to work, is running a promotion for my listeners, and for a limited time you can get 10% off all their online courses, and those are proper, extensive, professionally developed courses for general English, business English, IELTS and TOEIC exam preparation, legal English and English for other specific purposes. So, if you or perhaps someone else you know is looking for a decent online course that will arm you with practical skills and language you need to be competitive in English – check out London School of English Online at www.londonschoolonline.com and use the offer code LUKE10 at checkout to get your discount.

Intro

OK here is part 2 of this conversation which I recorded with Andy & Ben in a hotel lounge recently. If you haven’t listened to part 1 yet, you might want to check that one out first. At the end of part 1 we paused the podcast in order to buy another overpriced and undersized beer from the hotel bar, and in this part we’ve bought our tiny, expensive beers and we then continue the podcast by discussing Andy’s presentation on the subject of millennials. Millennials – that generation who came into adulthood in the 21st century. This generation that so many people have written about and done management training seminars about. This generation of young people who have been labelled by some as lazy, entitled, self-centred, distracted by technology and hard to manage. This group of people that probably makes up the majority of my audience. This generation of people that probably includes you! What do you think? Is that a fair assessment? Are millennials lazy, entitled, self-centred, distracted by technology and hard to manage? Or is this just small-minded prejudice against a younger generation that’s facing just as many challenges as previous generations, but just in ways that are harder to notice?

And, how should we be teaching this generation in our English language classes? So, there’s some discussion on that – because that’s how we like to spend our Friday evenings, clearly! As you’ll hear the conversation does turn into a kind of anecdote sharing session about some cultural misunderstandings we’ve experienced as English teachers and then there are plenty of other tangents, including some detailed descriptions of what we all look like and how we’re dressed and one particularly funny story from Andy near the end of the episode … you know what? I don’t need to tell you everything you’re going to hear in this episode, do I? I don’t need to go into all the details. All you need to know is that it’s going to be brilliant and even more amazing and awesome than the last one, so strap in, let’s fly back the hotel lounge in Paris on a Friday evening, in the not too distant past, with some mini bottles of beer with giant prices and here we go.

***

Moby and Richard Ashcroft

Moby and Richard Ashcroft

I have to say it was a lot of fun to have Andy & Ben on the podcast. I hope you enjoyed it too.

London School Online

Don’t forget that you can get 10% off all the online courses run by The London School of English by going to www.londonschoolonline.com and using the offer code LUKE10 at checkout.

Previous episodes of the podcast with Andy & Ben

45. Luke & Andy’s Crime Stories

9. Travelling in India

Andy & Luke’s Presentation at The BESIG Symposium 2012

Andy’s Presentation about Millennials

Here are the slides which Andy used in his presentation about millennials. This might not make sense without Andy talking, but you can see some of the statistics, quotes and facts that relate to this subject. Click the –> arrow to move between the slides.

423. With Andy & Ben from The London School of English (Part 1)

Talking to Andy Johnson and Ben Butler from The London School of English about many things including teaching English for specific purposes, and a couple of funny anecdotes.

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Pre-Jingle Introduction

This episode features a conversation with my good friends Andy Johnson and Ben Butler who I used to work with at The London School of English. You’re going to hear us talking about lots of different things in this episode, including a few funny old anecdotes, some descriptions of the unusual location in which we were recording and then some discussion about English teaching methods.

The London School of English, where they both work, is known as the world’s oldest accredited language school and they’ve been teaching English as a foreign language to adults there for over 100 years (not Andy and Ben, but the school itself) LSE is generally known for the high standards of its training courses and in my experience it was a good place to work as a teacher. I was there for over 6 years and it’s where I had some of my best and most formative English teaching experiences. I’ve worked at a lot of English schools, some of them good and some of them not so good, and LSE is definitely one of the good ones. I learned a great deal about English teaching from my colleagues there and from my time spent in classrooms teaching various courses.

Andy, Ben and I all joined London School of English as teachers at around the same time and we regularly worked together on projects, sharing classes, developing courses, writing material and just hanging out in the pub a lot after work. I imagine that some of you listening to this might have studied at London School of English too, perhaps with me or with Ben or Andy. If you are a London School of English student, then hello!

Andy and Ben were both really helpful when I started doing this podcast back in 2009, by generally giving advice and ideas. I left London School of English in 2012 when I moved to France so these days I don’t get to see Andy & Ben as much as I would like so I was very glad to see them and have them on the podcast again as you will hear in this episode.

In the last few years Andy & Ben have both been promoted to senior positions at the school. Ben is now the Academic Manager at their centre in Hammersmith, which is just a couple of minutes walk from where I used to live in London. In fact my flat was so close to the school that I could actually see my own front door from inside one of the classrooms when I was teaching. I could actually stand inside my own flat, and look through the peephole in the door and see the school. You might think that’s living a bit too close to your workplace but it had its advantages. It certainly cut down my commute in the mornings. I would sometimes even take my breakfast to work with me in the morning if I was running a bit late. I’d literally walk to school with my bowl of cornflakes and finish it in the teachers’ room to save time. I felt like I practically lived in the school. So, Ben is now in charge of that centre near Hammersmith, and Andy is now in charge of London School Online, and that’s their web platform, because you don’t actually need to go to London to study at London School of English, you can take one of their online courses, and if you’re looking for a good quality and reliable online course in general or business English you might consider a course on London School Online.

And as a matter of fact since recording this episode, Andy and I have managed to work out a little deal that you might be interested in. “What’s the deal, Luke?” you might be asking. Well, Andy is offering you a 10% discount on all their online courses. So, for a limited time you can get a 10% discount on all online courses at London School of English.

Now, that’s not the reason Andy & Ben are on this podcast today, we worked out this offer after doing the recording, and I’m just telling you about it now before the episode starts properly because I think you genuinely might want to check that out. They have fully-developed and in-depth courses for general English, business English, legal English, IELTS and TOEIC exam preparation, and more… So, these are carefully prepared online courses, from a really good school – and if you or someone you know is looking for an online course in English then this might be for you, and that discount is available for you because you know about this podcast.

All you need to do is go to londonschoolonline.com and use the offer code LUKE10 at checkout to get a 10% discount, and that works on all their courses.

www.londonschoolonline.com and use the offer code “LUKE10” at checkout.

Alright, now let’s start the episode properly!

***

Outro

Actually, this is a natural place for me to divide this episode. So that’s the end of part 1.

Part 2 should be available very soon for your listening enjoyment.

That pretty much wraps up part 1 of this episode.

Thanks for listening, and as ever, thank you for your messages. I’m glad to hear from random people from around the world who get in touch every day. Sorry if I don’t get a chance to get back to you all.

I’m quite curious to know if any of my former students from London School of English are listening to this episode. If you are, then get in touch! It’s been over 10 years since I started working there and I met loads of different students from around the world – so many interesting people from different backgrounds. If that’s you then get in touch.

Lots of people told me they enjoyed listening to Korean Billy in the last episode. Nice one.

Episode Length

Episodes are getting a bit longer again! Judging by comments on the website and emails I receive, people are fine with that. To be honest, most of the time it’s people who haven’t listened to the podcast who tell me that episodes are long. People expect podcasts for learning English to be short. Anyway, most people who actually listen say they like the longer episodes, but maybe that’s because they actually listen! Those people who stop listening because episodes are a bit long for them probably wouldn’t write a comment. Anyway, I go back to my original position on this: I feel longer episodes are completely normal in other podcasts (in fact many of my favourites have episodes of 2 hours or more), radio shows are usually about an hour long or more, many listeners tell me they like the longer episodes, I think it’s better for your English to listen for longer, you can use the pause button if you want, most podcasting apps will save your position so you can continue later, the most popular episodes of last year were all more than 75 minutes long, and in any case – why would you want less of this!? Maybe that sounds a bit self-important or something, but whatever – if you like it you like it and so that’s that. OK, enough rambling – this is the end of part 1, and this will all continue in part 2 – which you should look forward to because there are some good moments, particularly a couple of stories from Andy which I always enjoy hearing.

Part 2 should be available really soon

Join the mailing list on the website to get an email in your inbox whenever I publish a new episode. That’s a good way to stay up-to-date with the podcast. Also, you can subscribe on iTunes or any other podcasting app, although if you’re in the mailing list you’ll get instant access to the website page for the episode where you’ll find notes, transcriptions, links, videos, the comment section and other extra details.

End of part 1

423b

 

410. Teaching 12 Idioms in the Street / On the Set of Paul’s TV Show (with Amber)

Amber & I teach you 12 idiomatic English phrases while attending the filming of an episode of Paul’s TV show on the street in Paris. See below for videos and photos, and a list of the idioms with definitions.

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Introduction

In the last couple of episodes do you remember what happened? Do you remember what our plans were? Yes, Amber & I talked about Christmas and all that. But also, you might remember that we were planning to go and visit Paul on the set of his TV show and record a podcast while we were doing it, and that’s what we did last Thursday afternoon. We went to the 7th Arrondissement – a rather posh district on the left bank of the river Seine. We saw the film crew, a few scenes being filmed and Amber & I even appeared in one of those scenes as extras in the background. When the video is released you’ll be able to see us, briefly! It will be the one about French cinema, when that is released. By the way Paul’s TV show is broadcast on Saturday evenings on French TV station Canal+ and then released onto YouTube the following week. His YouTube channel is called “What the Fuck, France?”

Unfortunately they weren’t filming in the English pub as expected because they did that in the morning – so no beer or crisps or warmth or beer. Instead we joined them while they were filming in the street outside a little church. So, a street, a church and no warmth or beer.

Despite the harsh conditions and lack of beer I brought my recording equipment and we did a podcast while standing around with the film crew there, and all the local Parisian people in the street going about their lives, walking past us and even talking to us at certain moments.

You’re going to hear descriptions of what was happening during the recording, and some general chat with Amber. There were also a couple of moments where Paul stopped shooting and came over to join us, with a few other people too in some cases, including Robert Hoehn who you might remember from the “Have you ever…?” episode recently.

As well as the conversation and descriptions, there’s some English teaching in this episode because while standing there on the street I realised I had 12 idioms in my pocket, written on little bits of paper. Of course I did because as an English teacher that’s the kind of thing I have in my pocket – a bunch of idioms in pieces of paper. It pays to always be prepared as an English teacher! I sometimes have teaching materials in my pocket or up my sleeve! I actually had the idioms on me for another podcast episode that I’d planned ages ago but didn’t do – but the idioms came in handy this time and provided us with some teaching content for you.

All of the idioms you’re going to hear were taken from the Oxford Idioms Dictionary and I chose them quite carefully because I think they’re all expressions which are commonly used today.

You can find the list of those idioms on the page for this episode. I wonder if you know them all. You might know some, but do you know them all, and do you use them?

Now, I could list them all for you here in the introduction in advance, and even teach them to you in advance, but I’m not going to do that because I want to encourage you to notice them for yourselves. That’s a good skill to develop if you can. You should always be on the lookout for bits of language which you can identify and eventually make part of your active vocabulary. So, listen carefully to notice the idioms, and then keep listening because in the second part of the lesson Amber & I explain all the idioms for you.

So, that’s what you’re going to get – a podcast recorded in the street in Paris, with all the sound effects of what was happening around us, a couple of guest appearances, and then 12 common English idioms taught by Amber and me!

So, I hope you are feeling comfortable and that you’re cosy and warm – because it was bitterly cold on the streets of Paris when we recorded this! I recommend listening to this one when you are indoors, with the heating turned on and a hot drink nearby, or if you are outside make sure you’re wearing a pair of thick woolen mittens or gloves and a warm hat – unless of course you’re in a hot place like Australia or something, in which case you can just bask in the hot weather and try to avoid being bitten by a snake or spider or something. If you’re in Brazil then go to the beach or something like that and get ready for that big party you’re going to have on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, now let’s go back in time to last Thursday afternoon on the very chilly streets of the 7th Arrondissement of Paris with a film crew and rich old Parisian ladies walking around, and let’s begin the episode, and remember – can you spot the 12 idioms, do you know them and can you use them? Here we go.

The 12 Idioms

  1. To cost an arm and a leg = to be expensive (those cameras must have cost an arm and a leg)
  2. As a rule of thumb = as a general rule
  3. To flog a dead horse = to be futile
  4. To get back to the drawing board = to start again
  5. To be over the moon = to be delighted
  6. To hit the nail on the head = to say something which is totally accurate
  7. To drive someone up the wall = to drive someone mad / to make someone very annoyed
  8. To find your feet = to establish yourself
  9. Break a leg! = good luck! (for performers)
  10. Hold your horses! = hold on! Wait! Slow down!
  11. To go the extra mile = make an extra effort
  12. The ball is in your court = it’s your turn to make a decision

Also

  • To get fired / to be let go
  • A housewarming party
  • To see red
  • To have your cake and eat it too

Over to you!
What is your version of the idiom “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”?

Photos & Videos

Introduction

In the street

From left to right: Rob, Amber, Luke, Josephine (costume lady), Paul

From left to right: Rob, Amber, Luke, Josephine (costume lady), Paul

 

with Josephine (costume lady), Vlad (Director of Photography) & Robert Hoehn

The finished episode of WTF France

This is the episode that was being filmed during this episode. Check out the cameo apperances by Rob (2:26), Amber (2:30) & me (2:35).

Outro (with mistakes & no edits!)

Other stuff

Message from a Chinese LEPster about “Pudong” near China

I’d like to just clarify something that was said on the podcast in episode 408 when Paul and I made some silly jokes about the word “Pudong” and we talked about Pudong area near Shanghai in China. Paul brought it up when we were talking about pudding and none of us were too sure about the name Pudong and what it really means. I got a message which clarifies that.

Here’s the message from Sylvia from China. I was a bit worried that she was offended by our crappy jokes (particularly mine), but she assures me that she’s not offended and that she still loves us, so that’s alright. In any case I wanted to read this out because it’s got proper information about Pudong. If you remember, Paul said that he wasn’t sure exactly what the name meant and that one of our listeners could clear it up. Well, here is that clarification.

Dear Luke,

I want to make several things clear here in episode 408, in which Paul talked about Pudong in Shanghai. I live in Shanghai now, and the content of the conversation made me a bit uncomfortable.

1. It’s not ‘Pudong River’, it’s called ‘Huangpu River’.
2. It is ‘Pu’, not ‘Poo’.
3. ‘dong’ in Chinese means ‘east’, Chinese character ‘东’.
4. ‘Pudong’ is an area, which is on the east bank of the Huangpu River.
Pudong is situated on the east coast of the Huangpu River of Shanghai, and sits at the intersection of China’s coastal belt for international trade and the Yangtze River estuary. It is backed up by the Yangtze River Delta urban megalopolis and faces the boundless Pacific.

Pudong New Area (“Pudong” or the “New Area”), in eastern Shanghai, is named because it is located to the east of the Huangpu River.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-16-10-08

Now Pudong New Area has become the economic, financial, trade and shipping center regionally and internationally. In 20 short years, a dramatic change has taken place in Pudong, changing from farmlands into high buildings and from out-of-the-way villages into a prosperous urban area. Pudong has become the “Pearl of the Orient” with world attention, acclaimed as the “epitome of Shanghai’s modernization” and the “symbol of China’s reform and opening up”.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-16-10-16

Cruising on the Huangpu River, you can see many European style buildings on the western bank, because Shanghai used to be a foreign concession before 1949. At that time, Shanghai was known as the ‘paradise of foreign adventures’. Many foreigners, mostly Europeans, came to try their luck here. That’s why you can see buildings of different architectural styles here, Spanish, Greek, Roman and Russian. While on the other bank, skyscrapers in the Pudong New Area rear high into the sky, which were all built by Chinese people after 1990.

Luke, welcome to China, welcome to Shanghai, welcome to Pudong. And I hope when Paul comes to your place again, you can show him this, and let him make it clear.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Luke
I’m sorry this made you uncomfortable. No offence intended – I was just making a joke, and failing (as usual). I appreciate the information about Shanghai – would you mind if I read out your message on the podcast?

Sylvia
hello Luke
I knew it was a joke, that’s okay. It’s just that Pudong New Area has alway been a prosperous Area in my mind, but from now on everytime i think of it or come to there it will remind me of those jokes you made…Haha…
It would be great if you could read it on the podcast. Because i don’t want Paul to mislead people around the world thinking that China has a ‘poo dong river’. You can say my name, that’s okay.
And I know Amber And Paul didn’t mean any offence.
Always love you!
Sylvia

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Don’t forget to check out Spoken. 2 free lessons and then 20% off! English lessons for Professionals on WhatsApp, sent straight to your phone by an English teacher. www.getspoken.com/lep

406. Grammar (Past Continuous Tense) / UK Media Bias / Brazil Football Tragedy

More responses to questions and comments from listeners, including a comparison of past continuous & past simple verb tenses, comments about bias in the UK’s media, the BBC, the newspapers, the Chapecoense Plane Crash in Colombia, and more.

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Small Donate ButtonIn this episode I’m going to continue going through a few more questions and comments I’ve received from listeners recently. I started this in episode 403 which covered a few things like a WW1 story from a listener, a language question about noun phrases, and some details about my Dad’s accent. I didn’t finish, because I’ve got a couple of questions left and that’s what I’m going to cover in this episode.

A lot of this is scripted because I wrote some notes in preparation, which I’m reading from. So check out the notes on the page for this episode. I expect I’ll go off script at times as well and I’ll try to keep it as natural sounding as possible. If you’re transcribing this, don’t forget to copy + paste these notes into your transcript and just add any other things I say.

Here’s an overview of what I’d like to achieve in this one.

  • A grammar question about the difference between past continuous and past simple tenses
  • A question about media bias in the UK
  • A comment about the Chapecoense Plane Crash (Monday 28 Nov)

There will be a couple of other bits and pieces too I expect.

GRAMMAR – Differences between past simple & past continuous

Vadim G.
Hello, Luke! I have a question. I hear people say:
a)’I worked all day yesterday’
and
b)’I was working all day yesterday’
c)’I waited for you for 3 hours yesterday’
and
d)’I was waiting for you for 3 hours yesterday’
And they say it without any further information. So I can’t see any real difference between those pairs. What’s the difference between a) and b), c) and d)?
I trawled through plenty and plenty of information on that matter, but I’m still confused. I’d appreciate your clearing this up.
Vadim G.

So, what do you think listeners? How would you answer this question? What’s the difference? Are they both correct? Is there a difference?

MY RESPONSE
WIthout more context, sometimes the same sentence in two different tenses can basically mean the same thing. It’s possible. There is a bit of crossover between tenses.

That is probably the simple answer to this question, that in the examples Vadim has given, there’s no difference.

The lack of bigger context and the fact that they both specify a duration “all day” and the time period “yesterday”. Those time expressions narrow down the meaning of the verbs to such an extent that they basically mean the same thing.

Time expressions are important for narrowing down the meaning of a sentence. It’s not all about the verbs, every time. You could even say “I work all day yesterday” and we would know exactly what that means, although it’s incorrect of course because we don’t use a present tense (work) to refer to yesterday.

“I worked all day yesterday” or “I was working all day yesterday”.

So, they do basically mean the same thing here.

But Vadim and indeed everyone else listening, might not be completely satisfied with that quick(ish) answer.

Because we all know that past simple and past continuous are different. So, let’s see if we can go deeper into the difference between these tenses.

Strap yourselves in. Brace yourselves, grammar is coming. Here comes the longer answer. I’ll try to make it easy to understand, without it getting too abstract. Wish me luck!

So – What are the differences between past simple tense and past continuous tense (sometimes called past progressive tense) using these sentences as a starting point?
“I worked all day yesterday” and “I was working all day yesterday”. (I’m exhausted already! But let’s keep going!)

There’s a slight difference in nuance, which would be much easier to establish with more context – understanding the pragmatic concerns of the speakers. Why did the person say these things? The intention of the speaker is massively important, because language is used to convey certain specific ideas at a certain moment, and sometimes the situation itself can lend meaning to an utterance. Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Remember, context is everything.

Vadim says that the speaker doesn’t add any other information beyond the words “all day yesterday”, and we see there are no other accompanying clauses, a second verb or other supporting sentences. We don’t know how the sentences or the situation continues.

But Vadim, I doubt that these were the only utterances or messages that were communicated. These people didn’t just walk up to you out of nowhere, say the sentences and then disappear in a cloud of smoke.

“I was working all day yesterday” – who was that??

What’s the situation? Are these responses to questions? Why is the speaker saying these things? Without this context, the sentences on their own become pretty abstract. Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. All utterances are given meaning by the context in which they are used.

It’s a bit like the way chords or notes in music only create emotions, they only have emotional resonance, when they are combined with other ones. It’s the same with language. Phrases are given meaning by the implicit meaning of the words but also the situation.

But anyway, without getting too pretentious or anything, let me try to answer the question.

On their own, basically these tenses are used like this:

  • Past simple – “I worked” – single, finished events in finished time periods. E.g. I worked yesterday. The work is considered to be a single, finished thing. It might have taken a long time, but we’re looking back on it now as a finished unit. “I worked yesterday”. Here we have no idea how long you worked, but adding ‘all day’ shows that it happened, from the beginning to the end.
  • Past continuous – “I was working” – emphasises that the action was in progress at a specific moment in the past. The moment could be a time – e.g. with a prepositional phrase like at 8AM, or a clause like when I heard the news.
    “I was working all day yesterday” Pick a moment in the day – I was working at that moment.

10Am? – I was working, just before lunch? – I was working. At 1pm? – I was working. When you called me? – yep, I was working then too.

Compare that with past simple “I worked all day yesterday” – this feels like the speaker is expressing the action as one single unit of activity.

e.g. What did you do last night? “Well, last night I just came home and I went straight to bed, because I worked all day yesterday and I was really tired.” (You might also say “I had worked all day so I was really tired” – past perfect)

Sounds abstract. Yes it is!

So, we need some examples. They’re coming in a moment.

But yes, this stuff does get pretty abstract and quite slippery. That’s quite normal, especially when you’re just looking at grammar on its own without a context.

To an extent we’re groping around in the dark looking for concrete meaning here. You’re looking for an equivalent in your language. Sometimes there is no equivalent.

Examples

Let’s use some examples to illustrate the way these verb tenses are used. This should make it much easier.

Put yourself in the shoes of the teacher. How would you explain this? Trying to teach something is often the best way of learning about it yourself. So, put yourself in the shoes of the teacher and you might learn it more effectively.

E.g. (past continuous) A girlfriend who is upset with her boyfriend.
Why didn’t you phone me? It would only have taken a second, just to let me know you were alright. “Sorry I was working all day yesterday. I didn’t get a single opportunity to use my phone.”

That would seem to be a more satisfying answer than “I worked all day yesterday… etc” It emphasises on a moment by moment basis that you were busy.

E.g. (Past simple) Two friends talking
I feel so tired today!
-why’s that?
I worked all day yesterday without a break. And then I had to drive my brother to the airport and it took ages.

This emphasises the complete nature of the action and therefore the result of it, rather than focusing on the moment-by-moment nature of it.

Past continuous isn’t usually used on its own. It’s usually combined with a time expression or another verb to express a moment.
E.g. He said they tried to deliver the package at 12.
– Ah sorry, I was talking to Jeff on Skype at 12. I must have missed them.
Yeah, well they said they tried to deliver the package every hour and nobody answered the door all day.
– I was working in my studio all afternoon. I must have missed them. When they arrived, I was working.

So, it’s accompanied by another clause – usually past simple. “I was working when Jeff called.” or a specific time “I was working at 12.”

There are other rules about continuous tenses, like the fact that we don’t use them with state verbs. E.g. I was knowing that you had the answer. (wrong) ‘know’ = a state verb.

A rule of thumb about state verbs and action verbs – if you can mime the verb, it’s probably an action verb. If you can’t mime it, it’s probably a state verb.

have (for posession) = a state verb. E.g. I’m having an iphone 5. (wrong) I have an iphone 5. (correct)

But sometimes ‘have’ is an action verb, e.g. when it means ‘eat’.

I’m having an iphone 5 for breakfast. (What??? – this is correct grammatically but obviously a bad idea!)

I’m having toast for breakfast. (correct, and a better idea, especially with strawberry jam – yum)

More examples

Which one do you think is right? Which one sounds more natural to you?

Criteria: Is the verb expressing an event or action as a single unit? (Past simple)
Or is it expressing it as a repeated action, long action, or action in progress at a point or a number of points in time? (Past continuous)

Bloody hell that sounds abstract!

Sometimes I think that way to describe language is far more complex than the actual target language itself!

I finished the book yesterday. (One single, finished action) [listen for examples]
I was finishing the book yesterday. (This sentence seems incomplete)

Sorry I’m late for the meeting. I got lost on the way here. I took a wrong turn and got stuck on the ring road. (normal)
Sorry I’m late for the meeting. I was getting lost on the way here. I was taking a wrong turn. (Strange. Either you’re lost or you’re not lost, so ‘getting lost’ doesn’t make a lot sense. To get lost is a short event – it happens when you realise you are lost – also “I was taking a wrong turn” – what again and again?)

Ronaldo scored a goal in the last 5 minutes. (Sounds normal)
Ronaldo was scoring a goal in the last 5 minutes. (What, was there a glitch in the matrix?)

Sorry I’m late. I found a parking space. (strange – surely that would mean that you shouldn’t be late) More information: “I found a parking space, but it took ages.” or “It took ages to find a parking space”.
Sorry I’m late. I was finding a parking space. (good – it seems like you tried again and again to find one – it was a long or repeated action)

OK! Grammar – DONE

Media Bias – Is the UK’s media biased?

Juliana from Brazil
Comment on the media bias of news outlets
Hey Luke, how r u? I’m a long time Lepster. Your job is amazing! Firstly, let me explain what I’m asking you about. I’m Brazilian and my particular opinion about the media here in Brazil is: it is not impartial, especially, about policy. I’m following the news about Brexit and I usually read the BBC and The Telegraph. I’d like to ask a question: Do you think that the BBC/Telegraph are impartial about policy? Thanks you for your attention! You’re great! (I’m sorry about my english, I’m learning). Best, Juliana

The newspapers aren’t completely neutral. More on that in a few minutes.

Is the BBC neutral?
This is the subject of some debate.
Officially the BBC is neutral. The government has no say over what they broadcast. The content is monitored by independent regulators. The BBC is funded mainly by the licence fee – and they have a duty to try and represent the diversity of licence fee payers in their programmes. BBC News has a network of reporters stationed around the world and tries to get the stories at the source.

Generally the BBC has a long tradition of independent coverage. But I think it’s almost impossible to be completely neutral about everything and the individual decision makers at the BBC have to make choices about what they think is more or less newsworthy – so there will be some value judgement in there when the editors decide to prioritise certain stories over others. But be sure that there are long, complex meetings and discussions between people in which they make these decisions. It’s not all decided by one person with a specific agenda. It’s also not directed by the government like some TV stations.

The BBC is sometimes attacked by critics who argue that it’s biased. But these critics come from various positions. Some people feel the BBC favours left-wing views, others believe it favours right-wing views.

Some think the BBC is too radical, others think it is too conservative. The fact is that they have a duty to present balanced opinions so you often hear both sides of the debate.

This means that if you want to prove that the BBC is biased you can probably find plenty of evidence of that bias in the BBC by just picking the bits that seem to support your case, and ignoring the other bits.

E.g. Let’s say… in a BBC debate about radical islam, the BBC chose to invite a few different people to represent different sides of the debate. This included a right-wing journalist who is a harsh opponent of what was described as radical islam, a moderate and liberal non-muslim guest, a moderate muslim guest and a radical muslim cleric. Now, anti-islamic right-wing groups argued that the BBC was sympathising with radical Islam by inviting the radical cleric onto the show. Equally, more liberal viewers got upset that the right-wing journalist was allowed to express his anti-Islamic views on the TV. So is the BBC a moderate liberal TV channel which somehow sympathises with extremists and apologises for them, or is it pushing a right-wing agenda? If you’re so inclined you can bash the BBC from pretty much any angle.

On balance, I think the BBC is known for trying to be impartial, even if this is almost impossible to achieve. The BBC is essentially a public service and has a certain duty to be neutral.
Other TV news channels have a worse reputation than the BBC. ITV is criticised for focusing more on commercialised output at the expense of standards. Channel 4 news seems pretty good. Sky News in my opinion is not that reliable because they’re owned by Rupert Murdoch who has displayed seriously questionable standards of practice as the owner of many media outlets, including FOX News in the USA and tabloid newspapers in the UK. Murdoch is criticised for putting personal gain, profit and corporate/political coonections ahead of balanced journalism. Of all the TV news outlets we have it seems the BBC is good.

But then again, I have no idea how much we can really believe what we see in the TV news and I wonder if it is just somehow intrinsically limited as an information medium. Is it possible to get a genuinely realistic and rounded view of what’s going on by watching coverage from news media? It’s extremely difficult to get the full picture so your view is always going to be mediated to an extent. That’s why it’s called the media. But on balance I think the BBC takes greater steps to be impartial than many of the newspapers, which proudly present their bias to the public.
Most newspapers have an editorial position. This means that the people who run the paper have pretty-much chosen their position on everything, and they run their stories and comments along those lines.

UK Newspapers
Two types of paper – broadsheets and tabloids.
Main differences & positions.
Another episode in the pipeline?

Talking of news, that brings us to a news story that a listener wrote to me about today.

Brazil’s Chapecoense football team plane crash in Colombia

Roberto Geronimo
Hi Luke, how are things? I do like your work and I believe your website is great not only to learn English but also to be involved in interesting topics. Thinking about that I would like to suggest a topic: As a very cosmopolitan person I guess you’re aware about the flight tragedy involving Chapecoense – a Brazlilian footbal team – It’s devasted people around the world, especially here in Brazil but also in Colombia. This week has been very sad and difficult. Talking with friends about how sports – especially football – can raise such good feelings in all of us and we can use our solidarity to bring some peace to people who are suffering such pain.
I know it’s a very complicated topic, but I also know that you’re a very sensitive person and like to contextualize football and cultural aspects in our modern society.
That’s my suggestion!
Keep doing this great work!
#ForçaChape – Vamo, Vamo, CHAPE!
Hugs, from Brazil!

It’s a terrible tragedy for sure. Apparently Chapecoense were having a great season. They got promoted to the top Brazilian league a couple of years ago and apparently were really on the up. Apparently when the accident happened they were on their way to play in the South American cup final against Athletico Nationale. Reports seem to show that the plane ran out of fuel and had electrical problems, and finally crashed near Medellin, Colombia. Almost everyone on board was killed except for a few survivors. At this stage we’re still not sure why the plane had problems and why it crashed.

This is an awful tragedy and I’m sure it has hit people pretty hard because these these players would have been real heroes and role models for so many people, especially young football fans who look up to football players so much. Football is a sport which unites people, gives them a passion, gives them something to believe in – gives young people a sense that they have opportunities for the future and that they can better themselves and their situations. The importance of a sport like football can’t be understated. It can be a great source of joy and strength for the fans, and also for the players it is a platform for them to achieve truly great things. This team will have been really important to a lot of people. Also, they had done so well to get promoted year after year, beating bigger teams. It’s an underdog story and that makes it even more tragic. For a whole team to be lost in one event is just terrible. I have listeners in Brazil and in Colombia – so, I just want to say on behalf of LEP – if you’re feeling upset by the event, wherever you are, then our thoughts are with you.

A similar thing happened to Manchester United in 1958 when a plane carrying the team crashed during a take-off in Munich and 23 people were killed, many of them young members of the team. It’s similar in that at the time M.U. were a young team full of promise. To the people of Manchester they represented hope and opportunity for the future. This was an amazing team and they could have achieved so much. I don’t know if it’s any consolation but Manchester United since became one of the most driven and successful teams in English football, going to dominate the football league years later.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that because I got the message from Roberto. Best wishes to you, and I was very sorry to read about what happened.

Other bits and pieces

“Hello to Slava from Ukraine”

Hello to anyone else who has sent me a message recently.

Why don’t you post to VK more often?!
I’ve forgotten my password! Hootsuite doesn’t allow me to post to it automatically. Also, I’m just not on it generally – i.e. all my friends are on FB so I naturally go on there quite a lot, but I should post to VK. If you’re a user of VK there are several LEP pages there – search for Luke’s English Podcast. Feel free to update it for other members of the VK community!

Generally – spread the word about LEP. Word of mouth is always the best form of marketing.

Join the mailing list.

Take part in the transcript collaboration. There’s an email list for that. Go to the Transcript Collaboration page and email antonio, saying “I’d like to take part in the transcript collaboration” You can start by transcribing just 3 minutes of an episode. Then you can do more as you get better and better. Don’t forget to read the rules of the project. It’s all on the transcript collaboration page.

That’s it – thanks for listening! Bye!

papers

392. What are the most essential skills of a good foreign language learner?

This episode is full of what I hope will be more useful insight and advice on how to learn English as an adult so that you don’t end up sounding like a robot, because you’re learning English or at least maintaining your English and it’s a long-term process, there are right and wrong ways of doing it and I want to support you along the way. The main aim of this podcast is to help you stay on track as you continue to develop your English, trying to find new ways and improving the old ways so that you get a grip on this language.

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This episode represents not just my ideas but also the thoughts, conclusions and recommendations of plenty of other linguists and polyglots who certainly should know what they’re talking about because they’ve either studied the process of language acquisition or they’ve learned multiple languages themselves. Contained in this episode is a distillation of lots of experiences, research and common knowledge about language learning, including my own thoughts and practical tips which I’ve picked up after 15 years of teaching English as a foreign language. I hope this will be a motivating, inspiring and interesting episode for you to listen to as part of your English learning journey. So, let’s go.

Quora www.quora.com

Do you know about a website called Quora? Quora.com

It’s a good website where people post all kinds of thoughtful questions and then other users chip in with answers.

The answers are then read and upvoted by members of the community, which helps the best information to be presented to everyone.

The result is that you get a selection of some of the best advice and information from people who actually know what they’re talking about.

It’s not a new concept. It’s been done before by Yahoo, Reddit and so on. But it seems that Quora is used by slightly more serious people and as a result the content on Quora is pretty reliable and intelligent.

You can sign up and choose what types of topic you’re interested in. I selected “Language learning” and came across this post. In fact I often get emails from Quora with interesting language learning questions and answers and they’re very interesting to read.

I also selected a bunch of other options, but I now can’t remember what they are – but I think they were pretty random ones, like I think I selected questions about gun control, science and technology. As a result, along with the language learning questions I also get sent some pretty bizarre Q&As about things like “Can you get shot in the head and survive?” and “What’s the worst bear attack in human history?” and “What happens to you when you die?” – all of which, I admit, I find fascinating too! Perhaps I’ll make podcast episodes about them too one day.

But this one is not about bears and stuff, no it’s about learning languages, and the question we’re looking at here is:

“What are the most essential skills of a good foreign language learner?”

www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-essential-skills-of-a-good-foreign-language-learner 

There are about 12 answers from different people.

This is perfect for an episode for LEP because I don’t need to prepare anything – I can just read through the different answers and make comments along the way.

OK, so here goes!

Anthony Lauder’s Presentation at the 2013 Polyglot Conference

Here’s that great presentation by Anthony Lauder at the 2013 Polyglot Conference. It has a slightly slow start, with a couple of technical difficulties (and I found it slightly offputting that he was presenting in shorts and flip flops but I suppose that shouldnt’ matter) but it really gets going after a few minutes. It’s very amusing and has some truly great insights into how to learn languages.

Mnemonic Dictionary

“libel” – www.mnemonicdictionary.com/?word=libel

lep-mug-painting

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-6Wl

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Measure your progress – test yourself

Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages.[1][2] Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.[1]

DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.[1]

Dialang was funded by the SOCRATES programme and by some 25 institutions, largely universities, throughout the European Union.[3]

Also, ExamEnglish.com www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)

Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.

A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.

Attitude

It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.

Be positive!

Yes we can!

A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.

A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.

When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.

Goals

Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.

Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.

Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.

Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.

Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.

www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/cambridge-english-advanced-handbook-2015.pdf

I can/want to/will:

(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)

  • Writing
  • Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
  • Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
  • Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
  • Write a personal email in a friendly style.
  • Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
  • Speaking
  • Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
  • Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
  • Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
  • Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
  • Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)

You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.

That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.

Step by step

How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.

Repetition

Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.

Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.

Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.

Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.

Grammar

Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.

Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.

Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.

Writing to get through the Plateau

I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.

You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.

So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or  you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.

Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.

Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.

Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.

Enjoy it 

Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.

Here are some motivational quotes

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
‒Sarah Caldwell

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
‒Chinese Proverb

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
‒Charlemagne

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❝ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

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385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

This episode is about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. I’m talking about a very common phenomenon in English learning called the intermediate plateau. It usually happens at an intermediate level. I wonder if this applies to you? I would love to read your thoughts so please do write in the comment section.

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So now, let’s talk about the intermediate plateau and how to push your English to new levels even if you feel like your progress has stalled.

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

What is the intermediate plateau?  Why does that happen and how can you get out of it? Generally, how do you keep making progress with your English?

People often get stuck at an intermediate level. They feel their English is not improving as fast as before. In fact it feels like you can’t progress further and your learning is blocked. It’s very frustrating.

This applies to moving from intermediate to a higher level, but much of it can be applied to making progress at a higher level too.

What is intermediate?

Moving from intermediate to advanced is a tricky phase and it often takes longer than moving from elementary to intermediate. It’s harder to make the distinction between intermediate and advanced than it is to make a distinction between intermediate and elementary.

CEFR B1 descriptions

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

CEFR C1 descriptions

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

How do you know if you’re at the intermediate plateau? How do you know if your learning is at a plateau in general (not just at intermediate level)?

We’re talking about 2 things – what your level is, and the progress you’re not making.

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

Take a test, use the criteria for the CEFR, consult your teacher. (See links to tests below)

ExamEnglish www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

How do you know if you’ve reached a plateau – probably at intermediate level?

You started with a low level of English and have made some effort to pull yourself up to a functional intermediate level. Perhaps you studied, maybe you have lived in an English speaking environment in which you were forced to learn the language.

You can basically express yourself and get by in most situations, but when you’re under stress or when it’s a new situation your English crumbles.

Or perhaps you have a jagged profile – you might be good at one area, but other areas are really weak. E.g. you might be good at reading and writing but your spoken English is a disaster. Or perhaps you’re great at oral communication but you can’t write full sentences, can’t spell etc.

You can talk, laugh and have fun in English when you’re with fellow non-native speakers, but as soon as you’re with a group of natives, you suddenly feel lost and don’t understand the humour.

If you really concentrate and focus you can watch a film or TV in English and understand most of it – especially with English subtitles, but if you go to the cinema full of native speakers and watch a comedy film or something you realise how little you understand because everyone else is laughing but you’re just sitting there. You assume that everyone’s a bit stupid or that they have no taste. In fact, you just don’t understand the jokes.

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

You can basically survive with an intermediate level of English. In fact, you can get by with about 3000 words whereas the average native speaker is able to use about 20,000. This is the difference between a basic operational intermediate level of English and a fully rounded vocabulary of a native speaker.

Suspected learning curve. You expect learning to be linear. When you start you learn rapidly, the curve is steep. When you have got through the early stages and you can basically express yourself and understand others. It’s harder to see progress. Your progress becomes more shallow and there’s less stress involved.

People expect the learning to continue in a straight line of progress, but they don’t realise that it goes up and down.

The actual learning curve is more like a bell, and it involves many ups and downs too.

The more of a language you learn, the less there is to learn. It’s a process of diminishing returns.

Comfort zone.

Goals and study habits are not well defined. Often the first goal is just to get out of that painful confusion you experience at the start. When you hit intermediate your goals need to be more achievable and specific. Then you need to match them with an organised study plan.

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

There’s no magic formula or single way to do it. It comes down to attitude, time and practice.

The study methods you used to get to intermediate might need to change.

Merely ‘getting by’ in the language is not enough any more. You need to explore, push it further, test yourself and increase the challenge.

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

You want to develop a more advanced level of vocabulary and grammar, especially the vocab but there is so much of it! How can you cover it all? Instead of just scraping the surface of a few topics, try going into loads of depth in just one or two topics.

Following a subject you’re fascinated in will take you down a rabbit hole of English and you will learn a great deal of more complex language on the way. It’s hard to learn all the English of everything, so focus on one specific thing and let that be your entry point to advanced English.

This means finding loads of information on this single topic you’re interested in – reading articles and books about it, finding podcasts and videos about it, video documentaries on youtube and so on. For example, right now I’m reading about The Beatles in French and it’s much better than just reading stuff I don’t care about and it keeps me interested.

Learn how to talk and write about your specialist subject too. Learning one thing in a lot of detail is more achievable than trying to learn the vocabulary of everything. You will learn tons of vocabulary about the subject but also you’ll learn the kind of English you need to construct and understand complex and in-depth ideas – so, not just technical terms but also complex sentences, grammatical forms and linking devices.

Challenge

One of the reasons you made so much progress before was that everything was a challenge. You met a lot of resistance. It was frustrating but you pushed through. Now there is less resistance but don’t stop pushing. Challenge yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone, teach the language to someone else – or at least prepare yourself as if you’re going to teach, find your weaknesses and push them. Don’t give up. Jump in at the deep end and try to swim.

Habit

Honestly – how many of you are going to do all these things? Not many of you. You’ll probably listen and agree but not take action. Right there – that’s where the difference is between progress and not progress. Choose to do even a couple of these things and you’ll be on the right path. Just make a few little changes and do them regularly and it should become part of your habit. Build habits into your life.

Exposure

Exposure to some comprehensible input combined with some stuff on the verge of what you don’t understand. Some stuff that’s fairly easy to follow, and some stuff that’s hard to follow. So, that means listening to podcasts like this in which you understand quite a lot, but you’re also challenged sometimes, but it also means reading and listening to content designed for native speakers. Get an audiobook, get some real books, listen to BBC radio, subscribe to some podcasts for native speakers (listen for some recommendations soon).

236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

237. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 2)

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

Keep an organised notebook for vocabulary and use some mnemonic techniques. They’re proven to work again and again, but how many of us use them?

Listen to an old episode of my podcast called Memory, Mnemonics and Learning English.

Basically, the trick with remembering vocabulary is to a) link the new memory to an existing memory and b) make new memories visual, vivid and attached to a space that you know in the real world. This sounds a bit strange, but it’s proven to work. If you can attach a new word to an existing word somehow, perhaps with a very vivid picture in your mind perhaps connected to a space you know, like your house, then memories will stick like glue.

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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384. Teaching Grammar & Social English

In this episode I’m talking about recent things I’ve been teaching in my classes including some grammar and some social English. There’s an absolutely massive amount of grammar crammed into this episode and quite a lot of silly improvisation too!

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Introduction

I’ll give an overview of the groups I’m teaching,and what I’m teaching them including some grammar and vocab. Essentially you can learn what my students have been learning. I’ll also talk about some considerations I make as a teacher and activities I use.

The classes are quite low, probably lower than the average listener of this podcast.

Two classes – A2 (pre-intermediate) and B1.2 (good intermediate)

CEFR A0 – A1 – A2 – B1 – B2 – C1 – C2

Needs of the groups

Gradable and ungradable adjectives

I’ve been using Cutting Edge Intermediate 3rd edition, but a little bit of googling reveals several pages online with good sources of info and some exercises, such as this one from Espresso English . net, which I am paraphrasing.

Regular Adjective

Graded with:

  • a little, a bit, slightly, fairly, rather
  • very, extremely, immensely, intensely, hugely
  • Really
  • pretty
Extreme Adjective (absolutely, completely)

Graded with:

  • absolutely
  • completely
  • Utterly
  • Really
  • pretty
angry furious
bad awful, terrible, horrible
big huge, gigantic, massive, enormous
clean spotless
cold freezing
crowded packed
dirty filthy
funny hilarious
good wonderful, fantastic, excellent
hot boiling
hungry starving
interesting fascinating
old ancient
pretty gorgeous
scary terrifying
small tiny, minute
surprising astounding
tired Exhausted, knackered
ugly hideous

Absolute Adjectives

Another type of extreme adjective is called an “absolute” adjective.

These are words that are either “yes or no.” It’s binary, black and white, there’s no grading – not even with words like ‘completely’. For example, dead – you can’t be “a little bit dead” or “very dead” – either YES, you are dead, or NO, you’re not dead.

Here’s a list of some absolute adjectives and their opposites:

It’s fun to play with these ones. I find it funny to grade these absolute adjectives and when you do it knowingly it starts to reveal how you can bend the language to make it humourous or ironic.

Absolute Adjective Opposite
complete incomplete
Equal (all animals are equal…) unequal
essential non-essential; extraneous
dead alive
fatal not fatal
full empty
ideal not ideal
impossible possible
infinite finite
married single / divorced / separated / widowed
perfect imperfect
pregnant not pregnant
unique not unique
universal not universal
unknown known
true false

Exercises here www.espressoenglish.net/extreme-adjectives-in-english/

Present simple vs present continuous

Present simple: Facts, always true, habits (things you do every time) and also permanent situations.

Present continuous: What you’re doing right now. Temporary truths. Things that are changing (e.g. social trends). Future plans.

Present continuous, going to & will for future

Social English

Making polite requests

Borrow and lend

Could you lend me your

Could I borrow your

Could I borrow your xxx from you?

Do you mind _ing

Would you mind _ing

I was wondering if you could

Do you think you could…

You couldn’t… could you?

Invitations

What are you doing on Saturday?

I’m not doing anything.

Would you like to have a drink?

Do you fancy having a drink?

Shall we have a drink?

Let’s have a drink shall we?

Do you want to have a drink?

How about we have a drink?

What about having a drink?

Sure that sounds great.

I’d love to.

That sounds great, but…

I’d love to, but…

I can’t

I can’t make it

The Lying Game

Mystery Story Narrative Tenses

Murder Mystery

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