Category Archives: Technology

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!

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

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

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Episode Introduction

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

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

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

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

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


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

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

The Future

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

Tips for students of Linguistics

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

English Syntax

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

Language and Psychology

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

Language and culture

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

The Influence of Technology

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

Advice for learners of English

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

 


Outtro

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

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

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

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

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

452. A Conversation About Language (with Amber & Paul)

Discussing language with Amber & Paul, including issues such as errors made by native speakers, language change, whether language standards are declining, the effects of technology on language and how to cut an avocado without injuring yourself.

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Introduction

The other day Amber and Paul came over to my flat do a podcast. We were having tea, chatting and getting ready to record something, and we just started talking about language, I think because Paul said that he found it weird that even though he can speak 3 languages really well, he knows nothing about language – he doesn’t know the grammatical terms, the rules of what makes something right or wrong or somewhere in between, and we were talking about it, and I quickly managed to press the record button and ended up recording about 50 minutes of us rambling on about language – all totally unplanned and spontaneous.

You’re about to listen to it. This is an Amber & Paul episode so you’re going to hear an unscripted and natural chat between friends so there might be a bit of swearing.

Before you listen to us discussing language-related issues, consider these questions, which are at the heart of our conversation.

  • What are some common errors native English speakers make in English?
  • How do native English speakers feel about mistakes in English, particularly mistakes made by other native speakers?
  • Are some errors worse than others?
  • How does a language evolve? Are errors a part of that process?
  • Has your language, or English, changed much in the last 100, 200, 300 years?
  • Is your language, or English, getting worse than before? Are standards of language declining?
  • Has a language ever totally broken down and died due to falling standards?
  • Why did latin die out as a language?
  • On a slight tangent, what’s the safest way to cut an avocado?
  • Back on track, how does Charles Darwin relate to language development?
  • What effect is technology having on our language? Is it making us better or worse at communicating?
  • Are we better at communicating than we used to be? Are we getting better at communicating? How do you even measure that?
  • Do you know more about English grammar and so on than most native speakers of English?
  • Do you know more about English grammar and so on than Paul Taylor?
  • Are you better at cooking than Paul Taylor?

Watch out for answers, and general rambling on the subject of those questions as you now listen to our conversation about language.


That’s it! Leave your comments below.

So there you are, that was our conversation about language.

I invite you to take part in the conversation by getting into the comment section.

Let me remind you of those questions from the beginning. (see above)

There were a few unanswered questions in there, and I think I might be asking David Crystal about some of them.

Remember that? I’m going to interview the world’s leading voice on language – Professor David Crystal. It’ll be a chance to ask him various questions about language. I’ve already collected some questions from my listeners, and I have loads to ask him too, but feel free to offer up a question or two and if I get a chance I’ll ask him.

Actually, I’ve already interviewed David Crystal, so it’s too late to send me your questions! Episode coming soon.

450. Comments & Questions

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

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Episode notes

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

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

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

David Crystal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Comments on the Website

Here are some comments which arrived recently.

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

IMG_4148Oil painting by Sasha Sokolova

Thanks for the oil painting!www.sashasokolova.com

 

JAPANESE LEPSTER GIFT VIDEO ~ I need to do this!

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

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

Orion Transcription Team

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

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

Turning Input into Intake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Club: Touching the Void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do me a favour!

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

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

Subscribe to the mailing list.

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

446. British TV: Top Gear

Talking about one of the UK’s most popular television programmes, Top Gear. This episode features lots of vocabulary related to cars, but a lot more too including your guide to how to speak like Jeremy Clarkson.

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LEPster meetup in Prague – 13 May – Click here for the Facebook page.

More British TV content. This time it’s all about cars. It’s not just a car show though. It’s kind of a comedy entertainment show with cars. And it’s perhaps the BBC’s most popular show for a long time, certainly one of their biggest exports. You’ve probably seen it. It travels well.

Overview of the Episode

  • The story of Top Gear
  • Descriptions of Top Gear and the way they speak on Top Gear
  • Some clips + language
  • The criticism of the show

The Story of Top Gear

What it used to be like…

“The Jeep Cherokee!”

How it came back in 2002.

3 things on Top Gear

  1. Car news and reviews (which are actually quite informative and inventive, even though they focus on unaffordable cars)
  2. Blokey banter between the presenters, where they share car news and take the piss out of each other.
  3. “And then we did THIS.” Ridiculous challenges in which they spend a LOT of money and create some mad entertainment all around cars.

It’s politically incorrect, wilfully irresponsible, male-centric, unapologetically macho and competitive, slightly offensive at times but very well-made television.

I must admit that I always watch it when it’s on, but I’m not completely convinced by the presenters and the general tone, but some of the special episodes were amazingly well made.

The show is popular but also controversial as it has been criticised for being slightly racist or inappropriate. The makers of the show claim they’re not to be taken seriously. Others don’t like it because it promotes irresponsible driving and that it doesn’t take into account any green issues.

The Presenters

James May, who used to live in the building over the road from me. A mischievous motoring journalist who’d never done TV before. He’s tall, scruffy, slow and sardonic. They call him Captain Slow and he’s probably the one you could stand having a drink the pub with. He seems like the nicer, milder one of the three.

Richard Hammond, who comes from the same town as me – Solihull in the West Midlands, the former local radio DJ who also had never done TV work before joining the show. Hammond famously had a big accident during a high-speed dragster race and was seriously injured, spending weeks in hospital recovering from head injuries. They call him Richard “The Hamster” Hammond, even though he’s definitely not a hamster. He’s a man.

Jeremy Clarkson, lives nowhere near me. Used to be a presenter in the early days, and had done talk shows and some other programmes before being part of the Top Gear reboot with his old school friend producer Andy Wilman. Clarkson was fired from the BBC for allegedly punching a producer of the show when he was drunk and hungry. This is what led to them leaving the show.

The BBC found new presenters and continued, but it didn’t pick up the same audience figures or ratings. Apparently the trio of May, Hammond and Clarkson is where the appeal is.
The three of them continue to make a big show about cars now on Amazon Prime in their show The Grand Tour, which as far as I can tell is pretty much the same as Top Gear but with a bigger budget.

A lot of Top Gear is on Netflix and YouTube.

How they speak (Learn how to speak like Jeremy Clarkson)

1. Pauses.
Almost – everything they say – is absolutely full – of pauses.
In fact, some of the pauses are so long – you don’t realise – that’s not even the end of the sentence – because this – is the kind of sentence – that has to end – like THIS.

2. “THIS”
It seems like all the sentences they say have to either begin or end with the word “THIS”
And then we did THIS.
THIS is the kind of car – that my Mum would drive
And THIS – is THIS.
If there’s one word which summarises everything that you need to know about Top Gear, it’s this.

3. Intonation – i.e. Going down heavily at the end of the sentence.

4. Hyperbole
“I think it’s quite possibly the best looking car in the world” I’m sure he’s said that about 5 times on the show, about 5 different cars.
“This is the most amazing feeling I have ever had… with my trousers on.”
“The level of torque is biblical.”
“It goes from 0 to 60 in negative 12 seconds. It is so fast that it actually goes back to the future.
If this car was a guitar player, it would be Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Noel Gallagher all rolled into one.”

5. Humour – some might call it “British humour”, but mainly it’s dry, sarcastic, opinionated hyperbole with loads of jokey banter and piss taking.

Car review

Porsche Carrera GT Car Review

Language

  • It isn’t styled with the verve or the passion of a Ferrari.
  • It’s form following function.
  • He was ready to take on the Mercedes.
  • Masses of wheel spin off the line.
  • He has got to tread carefully.
  • I’m surprised he’s playing his power ballads today
  • Bit of a wiggle, he’s ok coming up to the hammerhead
  • This is where he spun it before, cannot afford a mistake now.
  • This is maximum attack mode.
  • He’s really opening the taps now.
  • Really working that manual gearbox.
  • Wringing out any millisecond advantage.
  • This is the second to last bend.
  • Hard on the ceramic brake s.
  • Keep it steady.
  • He’s measuring out the power.
  • Gambon corner. Ooh he’s pushing it now, and there he is!

Blokey Banter

Cows or cars

Vocabulary

  • Can anyone see a flaw in my plan?
  • We’ll be out of a job!
  • Steer (top steer)
  • The only drawback I can see are cattle grids.

Challenge

Reliant Robin

The Criticisms of Top Gear

Excess
Decadence
Materialistic
misogyny
Casual racism
Climate change
Irresponsibility
Setting a bad example

Stewart Lee on Top Gear
“Clarkson. He’s outrageous, politically incorrect – but done just for money. He’s like The Sun.
“Hammond – a man who’s been able to carve out his own literary career off the back of his own inability to drive safely.”

Steve Coogan
It’s lazy comedy based on offensive comments. It’s not punching up.
It’s lazy, feckless and flatulent.

What do you think?

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.

418. The Rick Thompson Report: Technology and The Future (January 2017)

Talking to my Dad about developments in technology in the future.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello and welcome back to the podcast. Thank you very much for choosing to listen to this episode. How are you? Are you doing alright? Are you ready to listen to some English? You are? Good! (I’m assuming that you all said yes to that) OK, well let’s go then shall we?

It’s the new year period and it’s normal at this time to look forward to the year ahead and to think about the future in general, so in this episode I’m talking to my Dad about technological developments that we can expect to see and read about in the coming months and years and the implications of those developments.

Of course neither of us are experts in this field (my Dad is a broadcast journalist and I’m an English teacher) but we both like to keep fairly up-to-date on technological issues, and since CES happened earlier this month in Las Vegas (that’s the Consumer Electronics Show where all the latest tech products are presented) there’s been quite a lot of coverage in the media about new technology. My Dad has been reading about it, I’ve been reading about it, and maybe you’ve been reading about it so let’s talk about it.

And that’s what we’re going to do and that’s what you’ll hear in this episode – two blokes, talking about technology, including some bits about driverless cars, green energy, drones, virtual reality headsets, augmented reality, and superintelligent computers that talk to you in that slightly threatening and disturbing sounding voice. “Good morning Mr Thompson”, “Did you sleep well?” “I have noticed that you are late with your banking payments Mr Thompson.” “It’s the 3rd time this year.” “I’m afraid I am going to have to turn off your oxygen supply unless you pay the outstanding credit on your account Mr Thompson”.

As I said, we’re not experts but I am sure that I have many tech-minded listeners who know a thing or two about this subject, so if you have anything to add to this conversation then I invite you to write your comments and predictions in the comment section on my website.

From a language point of view, you’re going to hear a lot of terms relating to technology of course, but also the natural conversational English that you’ve come to expect from episodes of this podcast.

If you’re interested in transcribing this episode as part of the Orion Transcription Team, go to my website and click transcripts – the details are all there. The team is growing all the time and it’s a good way to get some intensive language practise while helping to add value to my website by working together with other podcast listeners.

OK, so without any further ado, here’s a conversation with my Dad about technology and the future.

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Moore’s Law
(n.) Moore’s Law is a computing term which originated in around 1970 based on an observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore (not Ian Moore), co-founder of Intel. The simplified version of this law states that processor speeds in computers, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years.
So, it starts as 2 and becomes 4, then 8, then 16 – doubling every two years, resulting in massive levels of development at an ever-increasing rate.

Basically: computers are getting more and more advanced all the time and eventually they’ll take over the world and make us their slaves like in The Terminator or The Matrix, maybe.

What is Moore’s Law? Webopedia Definition
www.webopedia.com/TERM/M/Moores_Law.html

How driverless cars could solve our traffic problems

Dad’s footballing predictions (wishful thinking I think!)

Leicester City will win FA Cup
Liverpool will win the Premiership

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Outtro Script

What do you think? I am sure many of you have interesting things to add to this conversation. There’s bound to be a lot of things that we missed, including things like chatbots, Uberisation and plenty of other things. Get into the comment section to share your thoughts.

Did you understand everything we said in this episode? There’s a lot to be gained from that conversation in terms of vocabulary. Taking part in the transcript collaboration is a way for you to focus on that, but also perhaps I should do another episode just focusing on the language you heard in this one. Just let me know.

Don’t forget to do these things:
Join the mailing list on my website.
Like the Facebook page for LEP and follow me on Twitter. @englishpodcast

If you’re a ninja listener, hiding in the shadows, I invite you to come forward and leave a comment on my website saying who you are and how you found the podcast.

Thanks very much to those of you who have written recently. It’s good to hear from you and to know exactly who is out there downloading my episodes.

Take care and have a good day, etc!

Luke

369. Pokémon GO – It’s just a game, OR IS IT?

Today I’m talking about Pokemon Go. It’s a global phenomenon and there are lots of things to say about it. It’s not just a stupid game, there’s a lot more to it than that. So, in this episode I’m going to describe Pokemon the game, then talk about Pokemon GO, including what it is, how it works, what people are saying about it, why it’s so significant, what some of the good points and bad points are, and what this might mean for the future.

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Introduction

It’s the craze that’s sweeping the world. Pokemon Go was released as a downloadable app for iPhone and Android about 3 weeks ago and suddenly millions of people around the world are playing it, everyone’s talking about it and the app is currently the #1 download on the iOS and Google Play app stores. It’s threatening even Twitter in terms of its number of active users. Just a few days after the release of the game, which can be downloaded onto your smartphone free, Nintendo’s stock market value soared, rising by a massive $11 billion. The number of downloads of the Pokemon Go app is estimated at over 100 million.

I wonder if it has arrived in your country yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve either heard about it, seen stories about it online, seen people playing it in your area, or have actually downloaded and played the game yourself. Some people are addicted to it and can’t stop playing it. Other people just can’t stand it and think it’s a load of complete nonsense.

Just the other day I went out for a drink with my wife and we counted 11 people playing Pokemon Go just in the streets near our house. On my lunch break from work the other day I looked around the little garden area where I sat with my sandwich and noticed about 3 people who were obviously playing it. Even some of my students in class were playing Pokemon Go during lessons. Apparently, the British Council is a Pokemon Gym, where other Pokemon players can get together to challenge each other to Pokemon battles. Next time you’re out and about, look for small groups of people wandering around staring at their phones. That happens a lot anyway, but it’s an even more common sight to see at the moment. If you get the chance to glance at their screens, you might see them attempting to throw little red and white balls at wild little creatures that they can see. They’re probably playing Pokemon.

If you don’t really understand what I’m talking about here, don’t worry because I’m going to explain it all as clearly as possible in this episode, while also discussing some of the positive and negative aspects of this game.

Wherever you stand on this new phenomenon – maybe you think it’s brilliant, you might think it’s the end of the world, or maybe you have no opinion about it at all. In any case I think there’s no arguing that this game represents something significant about global culture. It’s being played everywhere – I’ve even seen photos of it being played in war-torn parts of Syria. Apparently the whole world is captivated by the desire to capture Pokemon. It has arrived with some controversy, as we will see.

The game itself might be a flash in the pan – just a brief craze that will last for a summer and then disappear – in fact I’ve come to the subject a little bit late because the general media buzz around the game has probably peaked now, but it does represent an interesting development in global culture – in gaming, technology, lifestyle, how we interact with public spaces and also ways in which huge companies are collecting and using our data. It’s definitely worth talking about.

Is this just a fun, social game or is it part of some sinister plot by corporations intent on gaining access to yet more of our personal data?

That’s what I’d like to talk about in this episode. If you’re a vocabulary hunter – listen carefully to hear the right words and expressions we use when talking about Pokemon and the issues surrounding it.

I should state right now that this story is developing pretty quickly and by the time you listen to it the world of Pokemon might have changed a bit, with possible updates to the app and other peripheral products that might come onto the market. Also, I am not the world’s Pokemon expert or anything, but I think I know enough about it to be able to talk on the subject in this episode. You might be more familiar with the ins and outs of Pokemon than me. If you’re an advanced Pokemon player then feel free to get into the comment section to give your opinion or add any details I might have missed. Also, if you’re new to Pokemon I want to know what you think as well.

Let’s get started

1. What is Pokemon?

– We know from my conversation with Alex Love that Pokemon is a portmanteau word from Japan which means “pocket monster”.
– It’s a franchise owned by The Pokemon Company (a sort of consortium of three companies Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures.) The first version of the franchise was a Game Boy game created in Japan in 1995. Pokemon Red and Yellow, then Blue and then Silver I think. Then there were TV shows, movies, trading cards and a Monopoly game. It has massive levels of appeal and a generation of kids grew up playing it. I was a bit old for it because by that time I’d moved on to more grown-up stuff like GoldenEye and Tekken and stuff like that (yes, I was still playing computer games).
– First time I heard about it.
– Playing cards in Liverpool HMV. “Have you got any Pokémon cards??”
– The principle of the game, as far as I understand it.

2. What is Pokemon Go?

– How the app version of the game works
– Pokestations – I think these are points of interest from Google Maps – interesting spots that I guess a lot of people have taken photos of or something – some point of interest. These have been converted into Pokestations in the game. If you go there you can collect more Pokeballs. For example, there’s a fountain outside my building and that’s a pokestop, then there’s a sandwich bar on the street, that’s a pokestop. At the top of the street there is a kid’s merry-go-round and that’s a pokestop too. ON the map you see different pokestops and it encourages you to go and visit them. When you get there you click on the pokestop in your phone and it shows you a photo of the thing. It could be another landmark, like a plaque on a wall with a bit of local information on it – for example a plaque that shows you that Picasso used to live in the building. There’s one of them near me too. That’s quite cool because you might not have discovered it otherwise, but to be honest I don’t think Pokemon can really be credited with teaching people about their local area. Honestly, if you find local points of interest through Pokemon you’re probably not that interested in the point of interest. Realistically, how long will a Pokemon player stop to read a plaque about Picasso when they have other Pokemon in the area to catch. In fact, it could be considered disrespectful to the landmark to create a pokestop there because what happens is that you just get these groups of people turning up, not looking at the landmark, just standing around like PokeZombies with their heads in their phones.
– Controversy – there have been a few incidents in which people have got very angry with Pokemon players playing at certain locations. For example, at war memorials where you should be very respectful. Standing around catching Pokémon at a World War 2 memorial is not really appropriate I think, especially if players are wandering across the monument, or standing on burial sites. Apparently Pokémon has been banned at The Auschwitz museum in Southern Poland, which is the site of one of the biggest WW2 Nazi death camps has asked Niantic Labs to block Pokemon users from playing there, after there were complaints from people who saw a lot of people playing the game while visiting. That’s totally fair I think – it’s really disrespectful to be playing Pokemon at a place like that.

– Then there are Pokemon Gyms where you can battle with other Pokemon trainers and develop your Pokemon. As I said, the BC is a Pokemon gym apparently. If you beat all the other Pokemon trainers there you’ll be the owner of the gym and your winning Pokemon is like the master of the gym, and I think your Pokemon is then displayed on the roof of the gym when you check the map in the app. So, if you look around you can see some gyms in the distance, with huge monsters guarding them.
– Other content too – there may be other interesting features within the game – other locations and interactive elements at various locations.
– In-app purchases.
– Venues might use it as a way of attracting people. “Lure modules” can be dropped at certain locations to attract higher numbers of pokemon (and then users who want to catch them)

What’s the appeal?

I think we are wired for collecting things – it’s the impulse to be hunter/gatherers. That’s a basic human instinct – to go out and find things, search the area, look for treasure, look for food or resources, keep a collection, build strength, even breed and rear animals which you can use as assets in your life, compete with other people. I suppose this comes from the many hundreds of years that humans evolved as hunter-gatherers or something, except now those instincts are what drives our interest in these games, which we play for their own sake. I don’t think we can gain anything material from these things. I guess only business owners can benefit if people are being lured to your businesses because of it. Then there’s the game makers who obviously are making money from in-game purchases, the general brand value, share-price value and the sharing of data collected from the game. There are lots of revenue streams.

Also there’s the novelty of the augmented reality. It’s pretty engrossing and captivating.

The future?

This is the first really big augmented reality game. I expect we will see more and more games that will use augmented reality, which essentially means that the real world will be the playing field in which the game is played, instead of going around in a virtual world, the game world is somehow mapped onto the real world. Now if we run with this idea, this could mean that in the future more people will be going around in the street playing a game. They might be interacting with the physical world around them, but in ways that you can’t see if you’re not playing the game. If you add different technology into that, it could be a huge step. Imagine using Oculous Rift or some kind of 3D headset but you’re not walking around the game world, you’re walking around the real world but with augmented reality. So, potentially we might be able to walk around with a headset, interacting with the real world, but seeing it in a completely different way. From the inside you might be battling with aliens in your street, or collecting treasure in the park, or possibly just touching objects in the real world in order to achieve things. In the game it would be amazing because there would be actual physical feedback from playing the game. But from the outside, you’d look like you’re on acid I expect. You’d look like you were on magic mushrooms – wandering around reacting to things that aren’t there. There are also the obvious safety issues with that. Also, perhaps it might be possible to play the game in the real world – using the real world map, while sitting at home on your sofa. That might mean that you’re controlling a drone which is flying around, or travelling around on wheels in the real world, while you are either watching a screen at home, or sitting at home wearing a 3D headset which essentially allows you to see from the perspective of your drone as it travels around outside your house or somewhere else in the world, interacting with real things and people. The mind boggles!

It could also be used not for gaming, but for general life – e.g. sending your drone robot to the supermarket to collect your shopping or to pick up your kids or something. We’re really not that far away from that sort of thing, but there are of course loads of legal issues that go along with that – relating to the safety of it, and who is responsible for what these drones do, or what people do when they’re playing an augmented reality game, and the implications of letting drones operate in public spaces – that’s related to privacy and health hazards and so on.

It’s certainly pretty crazy – and Pokemon Go is just the first step in this direction. We might not see it in the next 2-5 years, but in 10-15 years we might see this sort of thing. God knows what the world will be like then. I will probably have kids, possibly teenage kids at that time. I can’t imagine what kind of world they’ll be living in. They’ll probably be robo-kids, let’s face it. Will that be good or bad? Who knows.

3. Arguments for

– exercise (my student walked 20k in 2 days)
– a way to explore areas. Imagine combining it with tourism. You can discover interesting landmarks in your area.
– it’s harmless fun. It’s just fun! What’s wrong with that.
…or is it?

4. Arguments against

– safety (not looking where you’re going, playing while driving, going into areas that are not safe, muggings – slightly paranoid maybe?)
– bizarre social patterns and human behaviour – e.g. large groups of people all stampeding across a field to catch a pokemon, not looking where they’re going.
– trespassing, or nuisance
– personal data – it’s connected to your google account – Pokemon Go had full access to your Google account. This made it pretty exposed to a hack – anyone with access to the game’s servers would be able to access everything in your google account and yep, that means your email, photos, navigation history and so on. They’d be able to know where you live and what you look like and possibly stuff like your bank details and other sensitive info that you have put into emails. However, Niantic (the game developer) has released a statement that they’ve changed the app so that it just requires basic info and not your full account. Google also say they’re working on limiting permissions to basic profile data. Still, it seems pretty dodgy right? And this is the same story we’ve seen from other apps and I think it is a major part of modern life. Personal data – it’s a hugely desirable thing for companies and has become a precious commodity in business. Here’s the pattern: Social networks or other lifestyle apps offer us addictive and immersive experiences and services. We become hooked on them and engrossed by the speed at which we can do things, like play fun games, discover information, publish our photos or whatever. But while we’re distracted but that, the app collecting our personal data, claiming rights over the information we publish or allow access to and is then using all of that data as an asset which they can sell – to god knows who! People want our data though, presumably to be able to create fine-tuned marketing campaigns to get us to buy things or do things. Now, this is still a bit unsophisticated – you’ve heard me talk about how I find Google Ads to be stupid because they try to sell me shoes I’ve already bought. But in the future, who knows how sophisticated they will get when it comes to marketing to us, or using our own preferences. One day as our reality is more and more augmented by technology and the internet, we might find that our augmented version of reality are being shaped by the data that is collected about us. What I mean is that our reality could become mediated significantly by third parties that we don’t know, and who want to take advantage of us for their own profit. This is when the future sounds like some kind of science fiction nightmare in which even our sense of reality is manipulated so that we can be exploited by corporations. Perhaps that’s a bit paranoid, but the question is: Are we being too careless with our personal data? Are these apps just harmless games or are they more sinister than that? In Pokemon we are trying to “catch ’em all” but maybe for the companies that make these games it’s a case of “gotta catch all your personal data”.

– Google is mapping the world. At the moment, all public spaces are being mapped by Google. You can use Google maps and google street view to see an almost 3D version of the world. Since Pokemon Go is connected to Google, are they using our cameras to scan everything as we play the game? The app gives the game and Google access to your camera. Maybe they’re using the images to create scans of everywhere that we play the game, particularly the interiors of buildings, private spaces – including our homes. Maybe Google is using Pokemon to scan the interiors of our homes. It’s possible. This sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, but it’s possible.

In the end, it’s about trust I think. Do you trust these companies? You might think – you’re crazy – Google wouldn’t use that data in ways that would harm us. But why do we automatically trust these companies? Who are they giving this data to? If it’s private companies, those transactions probably happen behind closed doors, not in a way that can be scrutinised by the public.

It’s not too crazy to imagine that our personal data, our images, even scans of the interior of our homes – all of these things could be being given to shady people that we don’t know and who don’t really care about us. In 50 years, who knows what the state of the world will be and who will be in power. I don’t like the idea that they might have all my info at their fingertips.

Technology is amazing. It could allow us to do so many incredible things. It has opened up the whole world to us, with the internet and everything. But it also could bring about massive levels of manipulation and limitations to people’s basic liberties. It would be ironic if the internet, which started out as this huge libertarian, open-sourced project, could ultimately be used as a way to keep everyone under control. I realise I now sound like a conspiracy theorist, because I’m just speculating, but it’s interesting isn’t it? It makes you think. It makes me a bit scared and I’m not sure where I stand on it.

A note on conspiracy theories – a lot of that is based on speculation, false logic, supposition and confirmation bias. Once you get the idea in your head that the world is controlled by shadowy, unknown powerful groups then it’s possible to interpret absolutely any phenomenon in the world as an extension of that. In reality, the world is probably a lot more chaotic and less sinister than we think. Pokemon Go is probably a little bit sinister – and that’s exaggerated by the fact that it appears to be a cute and innocent game, but I imagine that it’s no worse than just a little bit sinister. They want to get our data to sell it to marketing companies who are all desperately struggling to find ways of using it correctly. In the end, perhaps it will not be that bad and it’ll just be easier to buy shoes that you like. Either that, or we’ll all be enslaved by evil spider robots which steal all of our electromyography – they’ll steal all our body’s electrical impulses, so they can keep themselves alive in order to play Robo-Pokemon and feed batteries to their robot-children, like in The Matrix. Worst-case scenario.

5. Let’s play Pokemon Go! *Maybe in an episode soon – would you like that? Let me know*

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Leave your comments below :)

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