Category Archives: Vocabulary

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

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

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25 Deceptively Difficult Questions – Proper Introduction Transcript!

Hi everyone,

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

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

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

A Test

Here’s what’s going to happen.

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

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

Let’s see if you answer correctly.

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

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

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

So, the test. Let’s get started.

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

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

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

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

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

Also, you can try to repeat the questions too.

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

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

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

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

Ta = thanks

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Luke

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things we all have in common:

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

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

Questions

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

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

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

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


Vocabulary and other language points – Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk down the aisle
The altar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes & Transcriptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synchronic not diachronic method.

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

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

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

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

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

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

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

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

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Is grammar glamorous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you learn English without studying grammar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions about language from Amber & Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF PART 1 – PART 2 COMING SOON

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.

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?

445. British Podcast Award / Hello to New Listeners / 17 Vocabulary Expressions

In this episode I’m going to talk a little bit about the results of the British Podcast Awards and also do a sort of introduction to the podcast for new people who might be listening for the first time. I’m going to bring you up to speed on what this podcast is all about and also recommend a few episodes from the archive that you could listen to. Also – for the dedicated language learners, at the end of the episode I’m going to explain 17 expressions which you’ll hear as I’m talking. Which expressions will they be? You’ll have to wait and see.

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As ever, I encourage you to listen out for words, phrases, bits of grammar and so on, so that you can notice them and add them to your vocabulary. It’s notoriously difficult to notice new language when listening because unlike when you’re reading, if you don’t know a new word when you hear it, it’s hard to even notice that it’s there. You tend to just follow the bits you understand and the new language can pass you by if you’re not careful, so I always encourage you to just pay a little bit more attention when you’re listening and try to notice new any interesting phrases as the podcast goes along. I’ll be picking out 17 of them and explaining them at the end. You can try to guess which ones I’ll be explaining.

The British Podcast Awards – LEP WON BRONZE IN THE LISTENERS’ CHOICE AWARD!

For the last couple of months I’ve been asking you to vote for LEP in the BPA, saying things like “I need all your votes if I’m going to stand a chance of winning this!”
I honestly didn’t believe I could win. I thought, “it’s a long shot but it might just happen!”
The awards event was this weekend in London but I didn’t get tickets because I didn’t think my podcast was going to win anything. I was up against some pretty stiff competition. But damn it, I should have got tickets! I shouldn’t have underestimated the awesome power of my audience!
I have to thank you, my listeners soooo much, because I actually won the bronze medal in the Listeners’ Choice Award.

This means I came third, and I beat some other really great podcasts in that category and I’m blown away.

This means so much to me.

The winner was Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Review – my favourite podcast of all time. I’ve been listening to Mark and Simon forever. Hello to Jason Isaacs. The silver award went to The Anfield Wrap Podcast, which is the #1 podcast for Liverpool Football Club and then I am in 3rd place, and I beat so many of these giant podcasts that I love to listen to all the time, like Athletico Mince, Distraction Pieces with Scroobius Pip, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Adam Buxton Podcast (although Adam did win an award in another category), The Empire Film Podcast, Unexplained, Monkey Tennis The Alan Partridge Podcast, Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or RHLSTP as the cool kids call it) and more.

This is mind-blowing and immensely satisfying.

Here are some phrases to explain how I feel

  • I’m blown away
  • I’m over the moon
  • I’m buzzing today
  • I’m feeling pretty good about myself
  • I’m feeling on top of the world
  • I’m absolutely delighted
  • I’m very flattered
  • I’m immensely proud
  • I am feeling quite smug, self-satisfied and a bit pleased with myself

My podcast is featured on the front page of the iTunes store today right next to Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo, and other podcasts that I am a fan of. I’ve been tweeted by the British Podcast Awards and there’s my podcast in the winners list with these other big names, for the whole world to see.

I feel like I’ve just won a Bronze medal at the Olympics of podcasting.

Actually, I’m still yet to find out if I get anything at all. Obviously the winners (Mark & Simon) got a nice glass award. I don’t think I’ll get anything, but I hope they send me some sort of badge that I can display on my website because that would help a lot to give a good impression when people visit my site for the first time.

But I might get a bit more exposure from this. I’m not sure how much, but I expect a few people might be checking out my podcast at the moment, which is nice. Hello!

Now the things is, I owe this to you my listeners because without your support I wouldn’t have got this boost.

So, really – thank you thank you thank you if you voted for the podcast. I really appreciate it.
I especially want to thank all those ninja listeners out there who normally just hide in the shadows listening but never coming out and revealing yourselves.

If I can just activate you lot more often I could be in a position to actually take over the world, in the best possible way of course.

It’s brilliant, isn’t it, this? Podcasting. I still find it incredible that I can produce these episodes in my home and have people around the world listen to them.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, never before have we had language learning resources available to us so conveniently. In the past, previous generations found it very difficult to get access to sources of English to help them learn. They had to use books mainly, or records, tapes, CDs and they were hard to come by and costly. Now it’s all here for you online and I’m sure this is going to have an impact on the world as this generation takes advantage of these resources and uses them to become genuinely much better at speaking English and communicating.

Some people are out in the world right now arguing that globalisation is a bad thing, but let’s not forget the positives – that the fact we’re all more connected today means we can learn to understand each other a bit more, communicate better and hopefully make things work well for everyone, rather than retreating into closed off worlds where we don’t trust people from other places and we harbour resentments and rivalries. Basically, I’m saying that podcasting will save the world, and this podcast specifically is going to save the world, or at the very least people will know more phrasal verbs than they did before, but it’s something isn’t it!?

Hello to new listeners

I expect that various new people will now be having a look at the podcast. If you are new then hello! Welcome to my podcast. I guess you’ve worked out that it’s a podcast for learners of English, but everyone’s welcome to listen.

I’m an English language teacher – a TEFL teacher. That’s been my full-time job for about 16 years now and I’ve been doing the podcast for about 8 years. I’m also a stand-up comedian and what I try to do on the podcast is just create content which is enjoyable as well as being educational. I do teach English on the podcast but over the years I’ve worked out that my audience responds best to content which is quite genuine, personal or entertaining, so that’s what I try to do. I just try to make it easier for my audience to listen to lots of English on a regular basis. I’m not sure I’m always successful but I do try to make the content engaging and funny as well as of some educational value.

Most of the time it’s just me talking about different subjects relating to British culture, the English language and just life in general, but I try to get lots of guests on the show too including members of my family, friends who are comedians and anyone interesting. Hopefully this gives my listeners a bit of variety in terms of the types of English they can listen to and also a few different types of interaction.

Generally, the plan is to create diverse personalised content covering a range of different topics, to make sure I am always presenting real English in context and to help my listeners to get as much English into their lives as possible. Basically, I’m trying to inject English directly into the brains of my listeners as much as I can, in any way I can.

It’s backed up by a few principles of language learning including the idea that people learn more effectively when they are personally engaged with what they’re hearing and that they’re motivated by more than just the desire to learn the language. Also, it’s important to listen regularly, and for as much time as possible. The longer the better.

I’m from Hammersmith in London but these days I spend most of my time living in Paris where I work at the British Council and also do stand-up comedy in English. I often travel back to the UK and record episodes there in London where I used to live or in the midlands where I grew up.
I have a brilliant, lovely audience from all around the world who regularly contact me with comments, questions and general encouragement and I’m really flattered that so many of them chose to vote for me in this award. I’m blown away by it really.

My audience

My biggest countries are China, Russia, Japan, the UK, Spain, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine, Germany, Italy and the USA.

They are really the ones who really make the podcast great because I don’t really do any marketing and so I think most of my publicity is done by word of mouth, which is the best form of publicity I think.

Some listeners are really active in the comment section of my website and they have some funny conversations there.

I meet my listeners sometimes at comedy gigs, or in classrooms by coincidence. I went to Japan recently and did a show there and I was treated like a celebrity with a big queue of people waiting to take my autograph. It was amazing.

Transcriptions

For learners of English, having transcriptions for episodes is very useful because it allows them to check the words they’re hearing and also practise sound scripting where you write notes on the script to indicate where the stresses, pauses and intonation patterns are. This helps to identify speech patterns and then practise copying them. It’s really useful.

I don’t usually script my episodes. Some of them are scripted but most of the time I try to talk off-the-cuff. I think it’s a better indication of how people actually speak when they’re thinking on their feet and therefore is better practice.

So a lot of my episodes don’t have scripts, BUT there is a team of LEPsters called the Orion Transcription Team that work together to transcribe portions of my episodes and then proofread and correct each other’s work. The result is that they end up transcribing many of my episodes and those scripts are available for everyone to see on Google docs. It’s a cool way for my audience to generate scripts for my website and work on their English in a very effective way at the same time.

Some recommended episodes

You can get all the episodes in my archive on my website at teacherluke.co.uk and so just check it all out there.

Click here to visit the episode archive

It’s really hard to know which episodes I would recommend if you’re new to this podcast. You could just look in the archive on my website and just listen to whatever takes your fancy.

You could choose (and this is based on what my listeners tend to enjoy)

  • Ones where I teach language or learning strategies. These ones are designed to help my listeners learn the language more effectively – either by exploring methods for motivation and self-study or by teaching specific language like grammar, vocab or pronunciation. I like to do episodes about regional accents in the UK.
    174. How to Learn English with LEP
    385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau
    405. Accents in The Lord of the Rings movies
    40. Health and Feeling Ill – vocabulary
    176: Grammar – Verb Tenses
    29: Mystery Story: Narrative Tenses
  • Episodes about British culture. My listeners tend to be interested in the UK’s culture and I think it helps to learn the language if you learn some things about the mindset and lifestyle of that language. I’ve done episodes about British humour, tea drinking, holidays and festivals, British comedy, communication style and more.
    432. British TV: Gordon Ramsay
    427. British Comedy: Limmy’s Show
    411. British Holidays & Festivals
    420. Let’s Have A Nice Cup of Tea
    261. What is Britishness?
    83. How to Swear in British English
  • Ones where I have my friends Amber & Paul. These ones tend to be a little more difficult for my listeners but they are so popular with my listeners just because we have a good dynamic between the three of us, Amber has the loveliest voice in the world and Paul’s laugh is very infectious. We usually play games or respond to comments from the website. Amber and Paul are both stand-up comedians. Paul is now quite a famous because he has his own TV show on Canal+ and YouTube (Amber and I help him write it) – it’s called What The Fuck France? You might have seen it. An angry English guy going on about French culture and swearing a lot? Yes, that’s him. He gets away with it because he speaks French like a native and really the show is quite an affectionate piss-take of French culture from a British point of view.
    435. Catching Up With Amber & Paul #5
    436. The Lying Game Returns
    410. Teaching Idioms in the Street / On the set of WTF France.
    272. Bad Haircut
  • Ones where I have my Dad on the podcast. My Dad used to be a BBC journalist and he generally keeps a close eye on current affairs, particularly in Europe, so he’s the ideal person to talk to about politics. Every now and then I ask him for his thoughts on Brexit and other issues. He is very good at breaking down these complex issues clearly and concisely.
    444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election
    390. The Rick Thompson Report: Hard Brexit / US Election
  • I also have other members of my family on the podcast quite a lot, particularly my brother who is known for being quite sardonic and a bit grumpy. Generally though, my listeners seem to enjoy hearing the 4 of us rambling on about various things.
    415. With the Family (Part 3) More Encounters with Famous People
  • Silly comedy stories. As a comedian I like to do some episodes just for the sake of fun and laughs. Every now and then I like to improvise stories with lots of tangents and different characters. They’re basically long shaggy dog stories. The most well-known one is The Pink Gorilla Story – and there’s part 1 and the sequel, part 2.
    125. The Pink Gorilla Story
    400. The Pink Gorilla Story 2
    173. The Curse of the Lambton Worm
  • Travelling stories. Whenever I go away on holiday somewhere I usually do an episode about the experience and they often involve some story telling, bits of history and general reflections on the different culture. I’ve done ones about Japan, Thailand, California, Indonesia and France.
    443. The Trip to Japan (Part 2)
    377. Holiday in Thailand Parts 1 & 2
    209. Travelling in Indonesia Part 2

So, that’s a selection of recommended episodes, but really – I hope you just have a look at the episode archive and pick whatever seems interesting to you and have a listen.
Remember, this podcast is primarily for people who don’t have English as a first language, although I try to make it as entertaining as any other podcast out there.

If you like it – great! If it’s not your cup of tea, no worries!

But if you do enjoy it then I hope you listen regularly and really get into it. Join my community of listeners – you’re all welcome, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
I do have native speakers listening to this as well, which I’m very happy about!
Anyway, thanks for listening.

Technical stuff – moving to a new audio host

It’s time for me to leave Audioboom.com They’ve been great hosts. I like their service a lot. Their embedded players look fantastic and I have had hardly any problems with them over the years.
But for one reason or another it’s time for me to move on. I want to be able to offer more things for my listeners, so I’m moving to a new podcast host.

This is going to be a bit more expensive for me, but I think it’ll be worth it.

I’m moving to Libsyn which is probably the biggest podcast host online. The cool thing with them is that I get a lot more control over the things I can do. This might not mean a lot to you, but essentially I can start controlling my catalogue and I can also launch an LEP app for Android and IOS, which could include bonus content only available in the App, as well as premium content and more. So, hopefully things will develop in a good way over the coming months.
This podcast has gone from strength to strength every year, and I want that to continue. In 2016 I got about 9 million downloads. This year I already look set to smash that number. My listening figures are more than double what they were this time last year. It’s brilliant.
So, watch this space!

Moving to a new host might cause a few technical problems, so if you experience anything, just hold in – it should all be fixed soon.

Those 17 Expressions

Remember at the beginning I said I’d pick out 17 expressions and explain them?
Why 17? No reason.

Did you notice any language that you think I would be explaining?

Here’s my list – and the only criteria for me picking these expressions is because I think you might not know them, or they’re just idioms or fixed expressions which I think are useful and you could add them to your vocabulary if you want.

If you know them already – excellent, but that’s only about 30% of the battle won – you also have to be able to pronounce them properly and use them correctly in a variety of ways (e.g. in different tenses and so on).

  • to bring you up to speed (on something) = give someone all the updated information about something, so they know the same as everyone else. If you come to something late, you’ll be behind everyone else, you need to catch up with everyone. If I tell you all the info that you’re missing, I’ll bring you up to speed. “Let me just bring you up to speed on what we’ve done so far.” “Could you bring me up to speed on this?”
  • to stand a chance of + ing = to have a hope/likelihood of winning or being successful. “I wouldn’t stand a chance if I had a fight with Anthony Joshua or Wladimir Klitschko.”, “They didn’t stand a chance, the attack came without warning.”
  • it’s a long shot (but it might just work!) = something that’s unlikely to succeed but it’s worth trying anyway
  • to be up against some pretty stiff competition = up against competition (competing with people), stiff competition (difficult competition)
  • to be/feel blown away = impressed, shocked (positive)
  • to be/feel over the moon = delighted
  • to be buzzing = feeling happy and excited, with a really good feeling inside.
  • to feel pretty good about yourself = it’s quite clear, but the construction is worth noting – feel good about yourself
  • to be/feel on top of the world = delighted
  • to be/feel flattered = pleased about something because it makes you feel important or special. It’s also a slightly embarrassing feeling. It’s how you feel when people say very nice things about you. “Don’t flatter me” “You’re flattering me.” “I feel very flattered” “That’s very flattering, thank you.”
  • to be/feel immensely proud = you know the word proud, but how about immensely?
  • to be/feel smug = (negative) feeling pleased with yourself to the point it becomes unattractive
  • to be/feel self-satisfied = smug
  • to be/feel pleased with myself = smug, sometimes not negative
  • to be backed up by (evidence, research) = supported
  • off-the-cuff = unprepared (apparently it comes from the idea that if you did a speech which wasn’t fully prepared you had to write notes on the cuff of your shirt)
  • to think on your feet = think without any preparation – to react to things in the moment

444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election 2017

Politics is back on LEP as I talk to my Dad about recent developments in the UK, specifically the General Election which is due to take place on 8 June.

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Introduction & Summary Transcript

Last week something surprising happened. The British PM Theresa May announced a “snap general election” – meaning, she called an election earlier than expected and with a short time between the announcement and the date of the election. That’s what a ‘snap’ general election is. In this case the general election is going to happen on 8 June this year.

So this is a general election, which means that all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons in Westminster, London could change. I don’t think they will all change but we will see a different arrangement for sure, with parties either losing or gaining seats, and the government could change as well. The House of Commons is where all the MPs sit. Each seat in commons represents a different part of the country – the different constituencies. People will go out to the polling stations, vote for an MP for their constituency and the one who wins the most votes in that constituency gets that seat. The party which gets the majority of seats in the House of Commons has the right to form a government. At the moment that’s the Conservatives since they won the majority of seats by a fairly small margin in the last general election we had, which was in 2015, i talked about it on this podcast. How is our parliament and our government going to change with this election? How’s that going to affect the direction the country goes in?

So, politics is in the news (as it always is) so I think it’s time to talk some more about this subject on this podcast, so let’s talk to my dad Rick Thompson again. My dad is a journalist who worked at the BBC for years and he’s also a visiting professor at the University of Central England. Generally he’s a well-informed and articulate person and certainly he’s the one I always ask when I want to know all about something that’s happening in the news. So, let’s talk to Rick Thompson about this snap election, what it all means, and how it relates to this ongoing story of Brexit and politics in the UK.

Before we do that I think it might be necessary to give you a bit of a summary of the story so far, in terms of British politics. This will take about 10 minutes but it’s important context.

I’ve been covering politics in the UK since the 2015 election, doing episodes every now and again about the political situation and events, attempting to talk about them in a balanced way while also giving my personal take on things. You can go back and listen to them – since summer 2015.

In any case, here’s a brief summary of British politics over the last couple of decades to just make it as clear as possible because context is everything. Without context it’s just a bunch of big sounding words and events that might not seem to have any significance. Also, it’s a good chance for you to hear some of the language of politics that you might have heard on this podcast before.

You can read this introduction and summary on the page for this episode. Watch out for certain terms and language relating to politics. There’s some nice vocabulary here and you can pick it up and use it when you discuss this subject too, because I’m sure many of you are discussing these things – politics in Europe but also politics in your countries. A lot of the language is basically the same.

A Summary of British Politics – The Main Parties

So we have two main parties in the UK and some other smaller ones which are still important, especially today.

The Conservatives – centre-right to right wing
They’re often described as the party of the rich. They tend to promote free market capitalism with the belief that allowing business to flourish benefits society as a whole because the money trickles down to everyone else through the creation of jobs etc. They believe in the private sector as the solution to society’s problems and that introducing competition in the marketplace between companies seeking profit will create the best conditions in all services, rather than the government stepping in and controlling things with regulation. So the Tories believe in small government. They’re the party that says they support hard work and dynamic entrepreneurialism – the idea that you can build a business yourself and if you work hard and have good ideas you can get rich and do great things and this benefits society in general. They’re criticised for not caring about ordinary working people, just supporting their friends at the top, being out of touch with ordinary life. They currently are the governing party.

Labour – centre-left to left wing.
Believe in supporting working people and creating conditions in which everyone can have a decent life. They believe that the government needs to support people in all areas by providing welfare, guidance and regulation to keep things balanced for all. The public sector has a responsibility to take part in many areas of life in order to constantly protect the interests of all people. More public spending, and re-distribution of wealth through higher taxation on the rich and higher public spending for services for the poor, equal opportunity programs etc. Criticised as being soft, idealistic, the ‘liberal left’, politically correct, tolerant of radical islam, incapable of managing the economy due to high levels of public spending and taxation which damages business. Being too controlling, too much influence in all areas of life like in people’s business concerns, the nanny state trying to control everything and stifling entrepreneurial instincts. They are the opposition party at the moment, struggling with their leader Jeremy Corbyn who is popular with Labour voters, but unpopular within the MPs themselves.

Liberal Democrats in the middle – they almost never get power and just sit in this kind of lukewarm water where they pick up voters who don’t really agree with the other two big parties. Considered a bit vague and untrustworthy considering they made U turns on many principles in their time in coalition govt with the tories and lost loads of seats in the last election. These days they are one of the the only major parties in England which is anti-Brexit.

Green party to the left of Labour – don’t get a lot of votes because they’re just too left wing even though their policies are about fairness and environmental protection. The left is criticised for being idealistic because they believe in high public spending, and “where’s the money going to come from?” Essentially they are a bit anti-capitalist because they’d make businesses pay for their programmes.

UKIP on the right of the tories – always focused on getting out of the EU and cutting immigration. Many members deny climate change, blame immigrants and the EU for all our problems and like to think they are the party for people who are sick of the political class.

SNP – the party for Scotland. Focused on protecting Scottish interests. Generally left wing policy for Scotland. They want independence.

Smaller parties include Plaid Cymru for Wales and several parties in Northern Ireland.

British Politics Since WW2

Over the years our country has generally swung between The Conservatives and Labour.
Following WW2 a Labour government set up the Welfare State – the state took control of the big institutions and utilities like the National Health Service, the railways, water, electricity, coal, steel etc that were like massive pillars of British economic and social life. This is what the country looked like in the decades after ww2.

In the late 70s and early 80s Thatcher (Conservative) totally changed the country by pushing liberal free market economics and beginning the dismantling of the welfare state. She oversaw the privatisation of state owned institutions, letting the markets and the private sector dominate our economy, making it very hard to go back.

The left wing was badly hurt. Partly due to failures in the pre-Thatcher era with the country being dominated by the labour unions and with a lack of growth in the economy. THatcher did revitalise things but she also damaged a lot of the working communities that relied on industries like coal mining. She pushed the country towards liberal economics like Reagan in the USA and we’ve been following that ever since.

Left wing was a bit stuck for a long time, nearly 20 years of Tories.
Tony Blair in the mid-nineties revitalised the Labour party by re-branding it “New Labour”. He took a centrist position, known as the ‘third way’ or Blairism.

Essentially this was the social position of the left with the economic position of the right.
Free-market capitalism was allowed to flourish, but with redistribution of wealth, high public spending on welfare services, progressive policies.

A lot of it was funded by the financial markets, banking ‘trickery’, credit, lending and so on.

It was like a Thatcherite economic model but with the heart of the left – he claimed to represent ordinary working people and wanted to create a level playing field in society to give everyone an equal chance. He was popular in the beginning and won a landslide victory in 1997. Generally he was quite good, but it all slipped when he took the country to war in Iraq and there were questions about the way he justified that.

Also the reckless manner in which the financial markets were allowed to play with our money led to a banking crisis as all the lending backfired when basically people couldn’t pay back all the debt and banks lost a lot of money.

It came from a culture of risky investment and frankly dodgy debt trading, which is kind of what happens when you let the markets just get away with anything.
Because our society is utterly dependent on credit, our economy took a big hit, just like it did all over the world.

Tony Blair handed over to his partner Gordon Brown who inherited this mess and tried to solve things with a mix of quantitative easing and other policies. Lacking the charisma of Blair and arriving at a time when everyone was a bit sick of Labour. Brown is remembered as a bit of an unpopular guy who also had to deal with the fallout of the Blair years.

Labour took a big hit in the 2010 election and lost.

Voter apathy and general distrust in politicians led to low voter turnout in 2010. The Conservatives got more votes than the other parties but not enough to form a government so they formed a coalition with Liberal Democrats who took the opportunity to play a role in government.

The government pushed an economic policy of austerity. The Liberal Democrats compromised a lot of their principles because the govt was basically led by the tories. They lost a lot of public support.

Scotland had a referendum to leave the UK but the vote ended up being to stay, but the SNP gained a lot of support and Scotland still might vote to leave the UK in order to remain in the EU.

The Tories continued to push austerity as their solution to the economic crisis.

The next election saw a surprising win for the Tories. They managed to win an outright majority. This is mainly because the SNP stole votes from Labour in the north. The Lib Dems lost loads of seats because people had lost faith in them. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband just wasn’t convincing enough. People probably felt that the Conservatives had a plan for the economy which they had to finish. Also the usual voter apathy meant that a lot of people didn’t vote and as a result only a portion of the population got what they wanted.
So the Tories carried on with their policy without the influence of the Lib Dems. No more coalition, just the tories.
Their policy: Cut public spending and yet relieve pressure on businesses to stimulate the economy. It also looked like they were making working people pay for the economic crisis caused by rich bankers who were also their friends.

Labour, in opposition, looked for a new leader. Surprisingly an old member of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, was chosen. He’s quite radically left wing. He’s popular with the grassroots voters, but not popular with the more centrist members of the party, including many Labour MPs and the party is quite split.

Meanwhile the economic crisis, unemployment and increasing immigration caused more competition in the job market and the cut in public services caused a lot of frustration among middle class and lower class people. UKIP gained more support by campaigning to reduce immigration and make Britain great again by getting out of Europe. They posed quite a big threat to the Conservatives both among voters and within the party. David Cameron the PM and Tory leader faced quite a lot of pressure from this growing Eurosceptic faction.

He came up with a plan to satisfy those Eurosceptic members of his party and prevent UKIP from stealing too much support from them. He had to be seen to be addressing the EU situation, taking a tough position.

He called a referendum on Europe while also planning to try and renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. I think he believed he could use the referendum as a bargaining tool in Europe to get a better deal with more control of immigration and more control of business rules.

He thought the EU would say “ok you can have what you want, just don’t leave us!”

Dave imagined the referendum would be a choice between a better deal with EU or out.

He didn’t get the better deal he wanted, and you know how the anti-EU supporters campaigned hard for a leave vote by making lots of untrue claims, promises they couldn’t keep, presenting Brexit as the solution to all of the UK’s problems.

Surprise surprise, the country voted to leave the UK. 51.9% voted leave, 48.1% to remain.

Cameron, who had campaigned to remain promptly resigned, suggesting that he wasn’t the right man to lead the country into Brexit. There was a slightly messy leadership campaign, with Boris Johnson ultimately stepping down because he made a fool of himself with his leave campaign – too many promises he couldn’t keep and false claims. Theresa May was chosen by the Tories as the next leader. She was officially anti-Brexit during the referendum campaign, but she was chosen as the PM to lead the country through the Brexit negotiations. Crazy times.

A lot of people were angry with Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leader because he did not argue against Brexit strongly enough. As the leader of the left, he didn’t seem to care about Brexit that much and this probably damaged the remain campaign. It seems he doesn’t like Europe much. He lost a lot of support from shocked remain voters.

There was a high court claim by various people which argued that the government didn’t have the right to trigger article 50 (start Brexit process) without Parliament voting on it first. The claim was a success. Parliament voted to trigger article 50. In March Theresa May triggered Article 50. She also promised many times that she wouldn’t call a general election, and that “now wasn’t the time”.

Then, wow, she called a snap election and here we are. It was a surprise because we she didn’t need to do it until 2020.

Another general election on 8 June 2017.

Why has this happened? What’s the significance of this? What does it mean?

Let’s talk to my dad and see what he has to say.

 


What happened?
Theresa May has called a ‘snap’ General Election, to take place on 8 June 2017.

What does this mean?
That voters in the UK will be choosing new MPs in the house of commons.
We’ll get a new government, new arrangement in Parliament

Why did Theresa May call this election? She didn’t have to do it until 2020.
She says it’s because the country needs a united government. May needs a ‘mandate’ from the people to be able to oversee Brexit.
But really, this is just an opportunity for the Tories to grab more power because the opposition is a disaster.

How is this possible? How often do we have elections in the UK?
We have elections every 5 years more or less, but the government has the right to call elections whenever it wants. In the case of a ‘snap’ election like this, Parliament votes on it and it needs a ⅔ majority to go through. That’s going to happen because Corbyn has said Labour will back the snap election.

Why is Corbyn backing this election when it’s pretty certain that Labour will lose seats?
He’s in a Catch 22 situation. If he says no to the election it’s like admitting defeat.

What is going to happen?
Tories will gain a bigger majority, Labour will lose seats, Liberal Democrats will gain (because they’re the only ones fighting against Brexit so remainers will switch to them). But, anything can happen in politics, so let’s wait and see.

How is this related to Brexit?

What about the 48.1% that voted to remain?
Who do they have to vote for? Corbyn basically agrees with Brexit so the only party left is Lib Dem and they’re just not strong enough to win this. The Tories are bound to make big gains.

  • Some vocabulary
  • U turn
  • Voter turnout
  • Voter fatigue
  • Campaign
  • Televised debate
  • Polls
  • Brexit negotiations
  • Mandate

 

440. This Pile of Books on my Desk

In this episode I just want to talk to you about this pile of 16 books I have on my desk. These are (mostly) books I haven’t read yet but which I picked up recently. I have lots of piles of books like this lying around and I must read them all but I can’t find the time! Anyway, I think they’re really interesting. I either received them as presents, was recommended them by friends and family or I bought them for myself when visiting book shops over the last year or two. I love books, and browsing bookshops is one of my favourite things. If only I was a faster reader!

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Part of the reason I’m doing this is because I just want to encourage you to read more and I would like to arouse your interest in books. Perhaps I can give you some encouragement to read a copy of one of these books, or perhaps this will encourage you to pick up a book (in English) from the pile of books that you probably have in your home too, and start reading it.

In any case, I hope you join me on this little exploration through this pile of books I have on my desk.

Here’s the list of books I talk about in this episode (also in the picture)

The Xenephobe’s Guide to The English, The French, The Japanese
The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson
:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman
William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Mo Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The Call of the Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Sartori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
David Bowie: The Last Interview Various journalists and publications
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unleard What You Have Learned
Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back Therefore I Am
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes graphic novel)

books

439. Reading Books to Learn English

Here’s an episode for you to listen to while I’m on holiday. I’m recording this the day before I go to Japan. So by the time you’re listening to this I’ll be on the other side of the world, trying to remember how to speak Japanese.

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Introduction

This episode is all about reading books in English. I probably won’t upload another episode for a week or two. That little break will give my listeners a chance to catch up on the recent episodes. Also, there are loads of episodes in the archive that you might not have heard yet and you might want to listen to if you are suffering from LEPaholism and you can’t get enough.

Every episode of LEP is available in the archive on my website, even if you can’t see them all on iTunes. They’re all still here. Just go to teacherluke.co.uk and click “Episodes”.

Just before we get started let me just remind you of several things:

  • Please vote for Luke’s English Podcast in the British Podcast Awards. I need every single one of you to vote. If you are next to a computer or you have your phone just go to www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote and vote for LEP.
  • If you’re in Toyko on 13 April, come to Gamuso in Asagaya for my comedy show. I will be performing comedy there with a few other people. It’s free to get in. Doors open at 7. I expect the comedy will start at 8. No idea if it will be busy. You can’t book in advance, so just turn up and get a seat!

Books

This episode is all about books. I’m going to recommend some self-study books for learning English, talk about the value of reading books in English and then go through some of the books which I have in a pile on my desk and talk to you about them – just to inspire you to do some more reading this year, in English of course!

Hi Luke! My name’s Matias, I’m from Uruguay, South America. Also, I’m a British English lover haha. I’ve been studying the language on my own for 7 or 8 years maybe, and English culture as well.
I found your podcasts just a few months ago and you gave me a whole new perspective on the language and I really appreciate that.
I emailed you because I want you to recommend some self-study books. I’m already using English Grammar In Use and doing exercises almost every day. What other books could I use?
Thank you a lot for all of your work. Have a great day!

Some self-study books for pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar

You’ll find the names and authors of all these books on the page for this episode on my website.

Pronunciation
Ship or Sheep by Anne Baker (minimal pairs) CUP
English Pronunciation In Use series – CUP
Work on your Accent by Helen Ashton (Collins )
Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill (Macmillan) – for the teachers

Vocabulary
The ‘In Use’ series is good – English Vocabulary in Use
They also have Professional English In Use – different titles.
Practical Everyday English by Steven Collins
Also Advanced Everyday English and High Level Everyday English

Grammar
Grammar for Business by McCarthy, McCarthy, Clarke & Clarke
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (reference book)
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy

Writing
Email English by Paul Emmerson

The value of reading books

I did an episode all about this a couple of years ago – you should listen to it. It includes a list of recommended books. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/2015/02/01/reading-books-in-english/

There’s also a reading list on my website which includes every single book I’ve recommended or mentioned on the podcast. Check it out here teacherluke.co.uk/useful-websites/the-uks-favourite-books/

  • Practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
  • You can go at your own pace
  • It’s seriously relaxing – certainly compared to staring at a screen. Try reading for 15 minutes before sleeping, it’s very good for you. Also you can take a book anywhere.
  • Vocabulary and grammar development
    Perhaps the best way to work on your grammar and vocabulary is to see it being used in context. Reading gives you access to the living language. Simply interacting with it by reading it is a great way to learn it. You can practise being mindful while you read, which is a question of noticing features of the language as you see it. This can be more efficient than reading grammar explanations.
  • Often the most useful parts of grammar study are the examples where they highlight certain bits of usage. Grammar is often unsatisfying because ultimately there aren’t always logical reasons why the language is the way it is.
  • Stop looking for explanations and just accept it. Let the language flow through you and get to know it. Don’t expect it to follow the same rules as your language or to be logical.
  • Grammar books are great for reference and self study. So, if you notice a pattern or a feature of the language you don’t understand – you can check it out in the grammar book, like “Practical English Usage”. The same goes for vocabulary and a dictionary. But by interacting with the written word you will find that the grammar goes in as a consequence.
  • Exposure = developing your instinct for the language. Reading an entire book is very good for your grammar. Imagine all those sentences that pass before your eyes and go through your brain. It’s a great way to study structure without even studying it really.
  • The importance of visualising the written word
    A word exists in many different dimensions – the way it sounds, the way it feels when you say it, all the meaning associations you have with it, the way it looks and the way it feels to write it by hand or on a computer. You should get to know every single side of a word and that means reading a lot in order to fix the visual side in your mind.
  • Educational value
    Learning about the culture of the language you’re learning is vital. It helps you get into the mindset of the language so you can get a sense of the rhythm, but also the humour and how certain things are suggested, hinted at, referred to and so on. Also you just learn some information that will help you. It’s not just a question of learning the words, but learning the whole culture within which those words exist.
  • Books can be a great way into a culture.

How to choose the right book for you

  • Not too old (think of the style of language – although old fashioned English is rather beautiful – watch out, anything written before about 1800 is going to sound pretty outdated and might be difficult to follow.
  • Not too long – obvs, you want to finish it
  • Something you’ve already read in your own language
  • Something that just appeals to you – it’s vital that you like the book, so go with your gut.
  • Something with fairly ‘normal’ English e.g. beware of something like The Martian – it contains loads of technical language – but then again it’s also quite a riveting page turner. But be aware of the type of English you’ll be getting.
  • Go for page turners – remember, your objective is to read as much as possible and to get the satisfaction and motivation of having finished the book. Don’t be afraid to read some trash. It doesn’t have to be the most high-class book.
  • Consider graded readers, like the Penguin Reader series – and choose the advanced level books. They’re shorter, easier versions of brilliant novels in English. There are various versions of readers – but check out readers.english.com/readers for more info.
  • Consider reading graphic novels. They’re easier to read and the visuals help to move the story along. It’s a bit like watching a movie but with all the advantages of a book.

How to learn English from reading books

Study
You read with a notebook and dictionary with you. When you come across a new word you check it and make a note of it. Remember to write more than the translation. Write an example sentence and a mnemonic if possible. You could highlight the word in the book too and come back to it later.

Enjoyment
Don’t bother checking words all the time. Just read the book because you’re interested in the story. Focus on getting through the story because you want to know what happens next. You will naturally start picking up new words as you encounter them. But try to be mindful when you read – every now and then you can just slow down a bit and focus on some language. Perhaps read a quick passage again and think about the grammar you can see. Why is it written that way? What kind of grammar is it? What’s the effect of writing it like that? What about these words? Do you know them? Could you use them yourself for something in your own life? Ask yourself these questions and then continue. Feel good when you’ve finished the book. Take time to reflect on it. Think in your head, speak aloud, talk to your language partner or write in a diary your thoughts about the book. Move onto the next one!

Next episode: This pile of books I have on my desk

Your comments: What books in English can you recommend?