Category Archives: Writing

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

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

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Notes & Transcriptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synchronic not diachronic method.

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

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

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

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

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

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

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

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

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

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Episode Introduction

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

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

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

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

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


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

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

The Future

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

Tips for students of Linguistics

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

English Syntax

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

Language and Psychology

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

Language and culture

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

The Influence of Technology

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

Advice for learners of English

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

 


Outtro

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

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

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

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

430. Discussing Language Learning & Life with Fred Eyangoh

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is the first thing that we talk about.


Recap – What Fred said about Learning English

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

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

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

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

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

Join the mailing list!

Speak soon, bye!

Comedians Fred Mentioned

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

Here are some of the comics Fred mentioned.

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

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

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

fred

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

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

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Measure your progress – test yourself

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

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attitude

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

Be positive!

Yes we can!

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

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

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

Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can/want to/will:

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

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

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

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

Step by step

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

Repetition

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

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

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

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

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

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

Grammar

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

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

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

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

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

Writing to get through the Plateau

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy it 

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

Here are some motivational quotes

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

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

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

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

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

mountain-climbing-768813_1280

 

385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

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

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234. Making “Choons” with My Brother

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LEP Anecdote Comp is almost closed. It closes today. Any entries I get after midnight today (CET) won’t count, and remember you only have 5 minutes. I’ll upload an episode v soon about that to tell you what’s going to happen next, and you’ll be able to listen and vote for your favourites.

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

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

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

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

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

What is intermediate?

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

CEFR B1 descriptions

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

CEFR C1 descriptions

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

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

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

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

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

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

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort zone.

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

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

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

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

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

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

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

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

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

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

Challenge

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

Habit

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

Exposure

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

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

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

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

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

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

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

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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164. Transcript Collaboration

Information about a transcript writing project which I’ve set up using Google docs. Transcript available below.

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Please take part in the LEP Transcript-writing collaboration!
Click here to see the list of google documents for the transcript collaboration.
Click here to see a list of episodes which already have complete transcripts.
ukulele-soprano-debutantIf you like ukulele music, listen to the end of this episode!

Transcript for this episode

Hello, I’d like to tell you about transcripts, and to invite you to take part in a transcript writing collaboration which I have set up using Google documents.

I have many different types of listeners to the podcast, with different levels of English. Some like to just listen and pick up language that way. Others like to be able to read what I’m saying too. For them, being able to read a transcript is really useful. I know how important it is. You can read new words that you don’t understand. It helps to bridge the gap between spelling and pronunciation and so on.

The problem is, I don’t usually transcribe my episodes before I record them. This is because I prefer to keep my speaking natural and authentic. I’m trying to train your ear to hear real English as it is spoken. If I’m reading from a script (like now in fact), it’s not quite the same kind of English. It’s not as natural.

In some of my episodes I do write a script first, but that’s just because for those particular episodes I need to do more careful research, or I want to plan my words carefully. So, how can I get transcripts for my listeners?

Sometimes I write them myself. I sit there at the computer with headphones on and transcribe. But, it takes ages! Frankly I need that time for other things, like producing episodes of the podcast, and ultimately I truly believe it is a much more rewarding task for you, my listeners. It would be good for your English.

So, I invite you to get involved in a transcript writing collaboration in which you transcribe a few minutes of a podcast and help to build a set of fully transcribed episodes. It’s already happening in fact. Right now, listeners are working on transcripts on google documents. I can see the words being added, live, on the screen in front of me.

So, how does it work?
I’ve put google documents of episodes online. The documents are open. Anyone  with the link can open them and write text there. It’s like an online shared document that we can all edit. You just need a gmail account to read/edit them. You can find the google doc links on my website. Go to the Transcripts Collaboration button in the transcripts menu. Mouse over the word TRANSCRIPTS and then Transcripts Collaboration (click here). You can’t miss it. You’ll find all the links to transcripts there. So far, 3 episodes have been done and 9 episodes are being done. If you want me to open a particular episode just let me know and I’ll do it.

So, click a google doc and you’ll see a message from me and the rules for the collaboration. It’s really simple. Here are the rules:

  • Don’t edit other people’s writing without permission.

  • When you start typing an extract, write the time-code for your extract (e.g. 2:14 – 6:20) – this will prevent people writing the same section.

  • When you choose an extract to transcribe, check that other people haven’t transcribed that extract already.

  • Let’s use Arial size 11, not bold.

  • I suggest that you download the episode you are working on. This makes it easier to control the audio, and the time codes will be more accurate.

I will make text green after I have checked and corrected it :) So any green text has been given the Luke Thompson seal of approval. 

You don’t have to transcribe a whole episode – it takes ages. You can just do a few minutes. Check where the episode ends and just add 5 minutes.

Some episodes already have a full, unedited script that was generated by voice-to-text software. You can use that as a starting point. Just edit it.  Some of that computer generated text is hilarious. Computers are not very good at listening. For example, it hears: “Thanks very much for listening to Luke’s English Podcast. Don’t forget you can visit teacherluke.podomatic.com for more information” (of course it’s not podomatic any more, it’s wordpress), and the software writes: “Thanks very much for listening to music which bodes. Don’t forget you can visit each loop dogmatic dot com for more information.” which is just total nonsense.

When you’ve finished transcribing, just exit the document. Don’t forget to add time codes. It saves automatically.

I suggest you download an episode and use Windows Media Player or Quicktime. It’s easier and time codes are more accurate. I’ll eventually correct and publish transcripts.

You might be thinking, “why?”
It’s very good for your English – it’s very intensive practice:

  • It forces you to focus on every single word.
  • You’ll be more aware of connected speech.
  • You’ll pick up new words you didn’t realise you were missing
  • You’ll improve your spelling.
  • When I’ve corrected your work you’ll see what you missed and then close gaps in your knowledge.
  • You’ll benefit from intensive practice.
  • Other listeners will benefit a lot from the transcripts, so you’ll be helping lots of people and saving the world ;)
  • It’ll help me because I’ll be able to improve my service, so it’ll be like a way of paying me back for hard work I’ve been doing for free.

Don’t feel obliged to do it. No pressure. You can just listen if that’s what you like. But if you’ve got a little bit of time and you’re up for getting involved, go to the website and contribute 5, 10, 15 minutes of transcription. It’ll be very very very very much appreciated!

Some episodes are already fully transcribed. See the list here.

Phrasal Verbs
Also, I’ve been doing a phrasal verb a day and adding them to my website, with transcripts. Go to the phrasal verb menu and you’ll find them all. There’s an RSS feed for them, so you can subscribe. There are 20 episodes already.

That’s it!

To play this episode out, I’m going to play you a tune on the ukulele that I got for my birthday last year. I hope you like it. Here’s a video of my playing it. Thanks for listening.
[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGfTw3Z81xE&w=500&h=281%5D

69. Common Errors / Typical Mistakes (and their corrections)

Learn to avoid some really common errors, and fine-tune your English! This episode is about typical mistakes that learners of English make when they speak. Do you make any of these errors when you speak?

Right-click here to download this episode.
Luke’s English Podcast is an audio download for learners of English as a foreign language.

Common errors made by learners of English, and their corrections
Recently I made a list of some of the most common mistakes I hear from my students of English. Here they are, with corrections.
Listen to the audio above to hear me explain the corrections in more detail. This is not a blog article, it’s just the text which accompanies an audio podcast episode. :)

ERROR: I am agree
CORRECTION: I agree

ERROR: I said you something
CORRECTION: I told you something

E: Luke told that…
C: Luke told us that…

E: If I will…
C: If I go… I will…

E: If I would go…
C: If I went…

E: If I would have gone to university…
C: If I had gone to university

E: A present to someone
C: A present for someone

E: to buy a gift to someone
C: to buy a gift for someone

E: Let’s have a coffee to that cafe
C: Let’s have a coffee in that cafe

Rise = to go up “taxes rose by 5%”
Raise = to make something go up “The government raised taxes by 5%”

E: I am living here since/during 1 year
C: I have been living here for 1 year

E: a girl who she lives in Brazil
C: A girl who lives in Brazil

E: What do you do tonight?
C: What are you doing tonight?

E: Tonight I will go to the pub
C: Tonight I’m going to the pub

E: go to shopping
C: go shopping

a holiday = a vacation ( a week or two with no work)
a day off = one day in which you don’t work
a public holiday / a bank holiday = days when everyone in the country has a day off, e.g. Christmas Day or Easter

E: almost people in my country
C: most of the people in my country / almost all of the people in my country / most people in my country

E: I explain you something
C: Let me explain something (to you)

E: I haven’t any money
C: I don’t have any money / I haven’t got any money

E: some advices
C: Some advice / some pieces of advice

E: some informations
C: some information / some pieces of information

E: a new
C: Some news / a news story

E: question – /kestchun/
C: question – /kwestchun/

E: I had learned that when I was at school
C: I learned that when I was at school

E: I don’t know what means this word
C: I don’t know what this word means

E: Can you tell me where is the station?
C: Can you tell me where the station is?

E: In the next years / in the next months / in the next weeks
C: In the next few years / in the next few months / in the next few weeks

E: a four hours journey
C: a four hour journey

E: a £1m pounds cut
C: a £1m pound cut

E: I forgot my book at home
C: I left my book at home / I forgot to bring my book

E: I backed to my country
C: I went back to my country

E: Are you from England, aren’t you?
C: You’re from England, aren’t you?

E: I feel myself sick
C: I feel sick

E: I bought me an iPod
C: I bought myself an iPod

lend = give (temporarily)
borrow = take (temporarily)

E: I went to home
C: I went home

E: I went by walk
C: I went on foot

at midnight = at 12.00
in the middle of the night = from midnight until sunrise

E: I came to London for study English
C: I came to London to study English

E: You are the same like me
C: You are the same as me

E: Popular sports as football and tennis
C: Popular sports such as football and tennis / Popular sports like football and tennis

E: women /womens/
C: women /wimmin/

E: in spite of he was tired, he did the washing up
C: in spite of the fact that he was tired… / despite the fact that he was tired… / although he was tired… / in spite of being tired… / despite being tired…

E: We are used to live in a cold climate
C: We are used to living in a cold climate

E: What is he like? -He likes football
C: What is he like? -He’s a really nice guy

E: We have to wait during three weeks
C: We have to wait for three weeks

E: Finish the report until Friday
C: finish the report by Friday

That’s it! Don’t forget to donate to help me keep doing these useful podcasts. Have fun!

30. The Mystery Continues


[DOWNLOAD] [LISTEN TO PART 1] [FREE AUDIOBOOK OFFER]

Part 2 of the strange story from the last episode. Use this podcast to improve your listening, reading, vocabulary and pronunciation. You should listen to it after listening to the previous episode “Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses”.

This episode of the podcast is continues the story of the last episode. Find out the answers to the mystery of the strange Doctor.

This podcast includes:

  • Lots of very descriptive language – learn how to describe people, places and feelings
  • Complex sentences and examples of effective use of narrative tenses
  • Clear pronunciation in a couple of slightly different accents – raise your awareness of connected speech and intonation
  • Some amusing cultural information about London’s heritage – learn more about the culture of the language

How to use this podcast to improve your English:

I recommend that first, you listen to the podcast and just follow the story. Second, listen to pick up language – use the tapescript if you like. Third, pronunciation – use the script to copy sentences from the story. Fourth, record yourself telling the story, and try to make it sound really interesting, and alive and funny. Listen to yourself and do it again, focussing on the weak points from the first time. You will improve more quickly, and develop an instinct for the structure of the language, which helps you make quick decisions about what is right and wrong in English. There is no other way to do it: exposure to natural English is very important in learning the language.

So, now! Enjoy the story…

The Man & The Moon, part 2…

When I arrived home that night, I immediately wrote everything that had happened into my diary.
“I could make a great podcast out of this”, I thought to myself…

The next day I told my friend what had happened.

“I know just the person who can help you!” he said, “There’s a man who lives in Baker Street, in the centre of London”, he said.

“Yes, I know where Baker Street is – it’s quite a famous street y’know”

“Yes! Anyway, this man is the best detective in London! He’s the most brilliant mind there is. The police have to use him to solve all their crimes, and some say that even the Queen asks him for help when she has lost her TV remote control down the back of the sofa! You should go and visit him. I’m sure he’ll be able to help you.”

I took the address and immediately went to Baker Street on the underground. I took the Picadilly Line from Hammersmith, and changed at Green Park station, but the Jubille line was closed, so I had to get back on the Picadilly Line and then change at Leicester Square onto the Northern Line, but that was delayed due to engineering works and a signal failure at Waterloo station. But finally, after an hour an a half on the underground, I arrived at Baker Street. I found the address: Flat number 21b and knocked on the door. An elderly woman answered.

“Yes?” she said.

“Umm, hello, I’m here to get some help. A friend told me to come”

“Alright, come in then.”

We walked through into the hallway. I could smell pipe tobacco, and what sounded like a cat being murdered in the next room. Then I realised it was a violin being played, very badly.

The woman knocked on the door of the front room, and the violin stopped playing.

“There’s a man here to see you” “Yes, yes, I know” said a loud, commanding voice from inside the room. “Show him in Mrs Hudson, thank you”

Mrs Hudson stepped aside, and I walked into the room.

I immediately felt nervous and awkward. There, standing at the fireplace was a very unique looking man. He was tall and thin, and old. I’m not sure how old he was exactly. His hair was going grey, and his skin was wrinkled, but his eyes were bright and youthful. He could have been as old as 80, but he had the spirit of a much younger man.

He was wearing a brown suit, with a waistcoat, and long leather winter boots. In his hand, he was holding a Stradivarius violin, of very fine quality. On the mantelpiece next to him was a smoking pipe.

“Umm, my friend Smith recommended you. He said that you would be able to assist me” I said.

“Smith? Hmmm?” said the man. “And…?”

“Oh, and, well, the thing is, I need your help… it’s…”

“Well, what do you think Watson?” Said the man, quickly, and only then did I realise that there was a third person in the room. To my right, in a dark leather armchair, there was a red faced man, probably about 65 years old. He had a large brownish red moustache which covered his top lip. In his hand was a large glass of Brandy, and in his other hand, a cigarette. He seemed very comfortable, as if he had just woken up from a lovely sleep by the fire”

“Huh…? Oh, hello! How do you do?” he said, smiling at me and yawning.

“What do you think Watson?” Snapped the man with the violin.

“Oh, err… a student? Perhaps a waiter… erm… ah! An unemployed librarian!”

“No no no! Watson. Completely wrong! Don’t overcomplicate matters! Now, let me try…”

I stood there, feeling confused. The tall man looked at me. “Your name is Thompson, am I right?”

“Well, how on earth did you guess…?”

“Not a guess Mr Thompson… Not a guess… Allow me to demonstrate something for you, if I may”

I stood in silence. I was in the presence of a great mind, I could understand that now.

“Let me see…”

He looked me up and down for a second.

“I would say that you are an English teacher… of no more than 10 years experience, but no less than 5. Let’s say 8 and a half years.”

I was gobsmacked.

“You worked in the far east, didn’t you?” “In Japan?”

“yes! Yes I did!”

“Kanagawa prefecture?”

“Oh my god, yes!”

“Now, I suppose something happened to you, near the river, which you don’t understand, and you need answers, so your friend told you to come and see me so I could sort it all out for you, is that right?”
“Oh – My – GOD! How did you know…? It must be magic, or … a trick!”

“Alright, I’ll tell you” he said, with a bored look on his face.

“Using simple empirical methods of observation and deduction, the truth will almost always reveal itself to you as the most reasonable answer. You just look at the evidence, and think logically. Usually, the simple answer is the best.”

“Would you like a cup of tea? He might take a while” It was Mrs Hudson.

“Oh, yes please” “two sugars”…

The man continued… “One simple look at your hands revealed your occupation. Your nails are badly chewed and damaged. This must be due to stress. A common problem for any teacher, but especially one that has to deal with demanding students from different countries who all want to know about the difference between all the past perfect continuous passive conditional verb tenses, and adjectival noun phrases and reduced non defining relative participle clauses and such matters.” I looked at my fingers, he was right. The nails were a terrible mess… “I saw also that your hands are very dirty with blue and red ink. This must be from using whiteboard marker pens. You write on the board, and in your haste you make a mistake, and then quickly rub it off with your hand, hoping that no-one notices…”

“Umm, yes, that’s true.”

“That’s the evidence which told me that you must be an English teacher.”

“Wow!” I said

“Yes, that and the fact that you’re holding a copy of New Headway Upper Intermediate Teacher’s Book by Liz and John Soars, which kind of gave it away… oh, and Watson googled you before you arrived, but anyway… On your face I noticed wrinkles – around your mouth and eyes. This is from smiling all the time, to keep your students happy, is it not?”

“Yep. Well done. Right again”, I said, sipping my tea, getting a little impatient. “Umm, sorry but could you hurry up a bit? It’s just that this is going to be a really long podcast, and I don’t want anyone to stop listening…”

“Yes yes! I counted the wrinkles on your face, and estimated that since graduating from university, you have been smiling at students for exactly 8.5 years. Simple: Count the wrinkles on the face, divide by 5 (the average teaching hours per day) and the result: 8.5 years.”

“Fair enough” I said.

“And when you entered the room, you bowed slightly. This must be body language which you picked up while living in Japan.”

“Yep. Well done… very good”

I was getting annoyed and impatient. I gulped down my sugary tea.

“OK, you’ve convinced me, you’re a brilliant detective. Now, will you help me out please, Mr…?”

“It’s Holmes, Sherlock Holmes, and this is my companion, Dr Watson”

“Wow, it really is Sherlock Holmes”, I thought. “I’ve read so much about him, but I never thought he was real! And his faithful companion Dr Watson! Fantastic!” I looked again at Watson. He was fast asleep in his chair.

“WAKE UP WATSON!” shouted Holmes, throwing a chess piece at him. It bounced off Watson’s head, and he woke up suddenly, and smiled at me sleepily. “So, how can we help you then Mr Simpson?”

“It’s Thompson you fool!” Shouted Holmes quickly” “And we must hurry to the riverside in Hammersmith immediately! There’s another mystery to solve! Come Watson!”

“How did you know it was Hammersmith…?”
“Oh, never mind…” said Holmes.

The three of us jumped in a cab on Baker Street and drove to Hammersmith bridge. On the way there, I told Holmes about how I’d sat down by the river the night before, how it had been a full moon, how a green monster had nearly grabbed me, how I’d heard weird noises and seen a strange blue light and how I’d been saved by a mysterious man called The Doctor. When we arrived I took Holmes and Watson to the spot where everything had happened. A cold chill ran down my spine as I remembered it all again.

“This is where it happened Mr Holmes” I said.

“Excellent” Said Holmes, a magical light shining in his eyes. “Stand back! I shall investigate the area.”

“He always does this” Said Watson. “He’ll be busy for an hour or two I reckon.”

Holmes was bent over, studying the ground next to the river with a magnifying glass. Occasionally he stopped suddenly, and picked something up and placed it carefully in his pocket. He walked close to the water and looked in. He looked up at the sky and down at the river again. He sniffed the air with his big nose. He picked up a stone and dropped it into the water, and then went back to look at the steps where I had been sitting the night before.

Watson yawned, and said to me “There’s a pub over there, fancy a pint while Holmes does his investigation stuff?”

Watson pointed at a pub called The Black Lion. “Umm, alright. Yeah, why not!?” I replied.

“We’re just off for a pint in that pub” shouted Watson.

“Hmmm” said Holmes, as he studied some markings on the ground.

Watson and I sat in the pub next to the fire, and made small talk.

“So, you’re a doctor, are you?”

“Yes, that’s right”

“Hmm, that’s interesting…”

“Yeah, it’s alright, I suppose. Most of the time I just hang out with Holmes to be honest. Do a bit of writing. That sort of thing. It’s pretty boring really. I like a quiet life, you know?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. The man I met last night said he was a doctor. You don’t know who he is, do you?”

“A doctor? Doctor who?”

“I don’t know, he didn’t say his name. He just said ‘you can call me The Doctor…’ and then he disappeared. It’s really annoying…”

ly: ‘book antiqua’, palatino;”>Just then Holmes burst into the room.

“Come with me Watson, we must walk up the river bank and investigate the mud near the sewage outlet for evidence!”

“Umm, do we have to? I mean, why don’t we just stay here in the pub, and you go and look in the mud near the sewage outlet? How about that?” said Watson, sipping another pint of beer and warming his feet by the fire.

“Oh Watson, you stay here then, if you must. Your love of the local Chiswick ale will be the end of you Thompson, what about you? Fancy getting up to your knees in mud??”

“Erm, I think I’ll stay here with Watson actually, if that’s all right.”

“Fine, stay here, both of you! I shall return within one hour.”

59 minutes and 59 seconds later, Holmes returned. His leather boots were covered in brown mud, and he had a grim look on his face. He suddenly looked much older, and tired. I was a little bit worried about him.

< /p>

We took a cab back to Baker Street and Holmes remained quiet and moody for the whole journey. I stared out of the window and dreamed about the present perfect continous passive tense. Watson fell asleep.

When we got in, Mrs Hudson brought us some cake and Watson opened the drinks cabinet. “Brandy anyone?” he said, pouring himself a large glass.

Holmes ignored him, and sat in his chair, smoking his pipe.

For what felt like 2 hours, Watson drank brandy and nodded off by the fire, while Holmes sat silently in the chair surrounded by clouds of his own smoke, his face tight with concentration. The sun went down, and Holmes stayed in the chair, and his pipe smoke stretched outwards across the room, running along the ground and wrapping itself around my legs like claws. The moon shone in through the window, and I began to fall asleep.

Suddenly Holmes jumped out of his chair, a young man again. The room seemed brighter.

“THOMPSON! I have solved your mystery!” Shouted Holmes, confidently!

“Wow, that was quick!” I said. I looked over at Watson. He was fast asleep.

Holmes proceeded to walk around the room, rubbing his hands and laughing to himself.

“So! What’s it all about??” I asked, impatiently.

“I have read about cases such as this before Thompson, and I have been very much looking forward to having the opportunity of working on one myself. And this Doctor of yours… well, I never thought I would be lucky enough to…”

“To what?? I asked… just tell me what’s going on, please! This is going to be such a long podcast, and I’m really worried that all my listeners will be really bored, and they’ll stop listening, and, there’s not enough pedagogical content, and…”

“ENOUGH!” Shouted Holmes. “I will explain everything. You would be wise to listen carefully. I have looked at the evidence, which has been presented to me. There wasn’t much, but there was enough. First, you told me that this happened near the river. Inspection of the riverbank revealed several things to me.”

“I discovered some vital clues. I found two green hairs, which must have come from the ‘monster’ which you talked about. I checked the hairs, and they perfectly match hairs which have been discovered near the Thames before. They are hairs from a lunaris goblarmunas – a moon goblin!”
“Yes, I already know that! What the hell is a Moon Goblin!”

“Oh, it’s a monster which lives in the water, and which comes out when there’s a full moon to eat people. They worship the moon, and some people say that they are aliens which once lived on the moon, but they escaped to earth millions of years ago when the moon lost its atmosphere.”

“Oh, right… wow, I never knew about that. How did they travel to the earth, through space”

“Oh, err, well, they’re actually robots”

“Robots, what do you mean?”

“Oh never mind, it’s too difficult to explain…Yep, it’s true, there’s loads of them in the Thames. They’re responsible for a lot of stuff actually. The Queen knows all about it, so does the Prime Minister…”

“They do?”
“Yeah. Anyway, when I investigated the mud up the river, I noticed that there were lots of goblin footprints. They’re very active. In fact, there’s many more of them than I first thought. I will have to tell her majesty all about it. She will want to know.”

“I’m sure she will… Anyway, what about this Doctor guy…”

“Oh yes, while you and Watson were having such a lovely time in the pub, I inspected the area near where you were sitting last night. I found some very interesting scratches on the ground. They were blue scratches. They must have been caused by something very heavy, blue in colour, and square in shape.”

“What, like a big blue box?” I said.

“Exactly Thompson! Exactly!” I estimate that it was similar in size to a telephone box. It must have been there for a moment, and then it moved away quickly.

“So you’re telling me there was a big blue telephone box there one minute, and then the next minute it was gone?”
“Precisely”

“I also found some footprints near where the box had been. Those must have been the footprints of your Doctor. The size of the feet match the description you gave me. I also found this lying on the ground, near where the blue telephone box had been”

He showed me a silver ticket. It was a concert ticket, made of an amazing shiny material. It said “Prince Michael Jackson II – Live in Concert – Wembley Arena September 16th 2021”

“Oh my god! Prince Michael II? That’s Michael Jackson’s son! But, how is this possible!? How can the doctor have a ticket for a concert from the future?”
“Let me explain. Look at the evidence. The goblins from space, the blue ‘telephone box’, the strange sound, the blue flash of light, the man who called himself the doctor who appeared and disappeared out of nowhere, the thing he pointed at that goblin, the special knowledge he had about the moon goblins, the ticket from the future. It all means one thing.”

“What!? What does it mean?!” I demanded.

Holmes stared at me with dark eyes. Watson snored in the corner of the room.

“There is no other answer. The Doctor you told me about. Well, he must be a Timelord.”

“What? Is that your answer? What the hell is a Timelord?” I asked him.

Holmes stood up, and said.

“If you want to find out, then YOU’LL HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE NEXT EPISODE OF LUKE’S ENGLISH PODCAST!!!!”

I sighed with frustration.

“Don’t worry Thompson.” Said Holmes. “I know an expert on Timelords, and he will tell you everything he knows about The Doctor. Just wait for the next episode of the podcast, and you’ll learn everything.”

I left 21B Baker Street wishing I had never gone there in the first place. Holmes wasn’t quite the brilliant man I thought he was, but I was still determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. I had managed to get some answers: The Doctor was a Time Lord who travelled around through space and time in a blue telephone box. That explained the strange light, the sound, and how The Doctor appeared and disappeared so quickly. But who was he really, where had he come from and what on earth was going on?”

With the address of the Timelord expert in my hand, I jumped on a number 27 bus towards Hammersmith, desperately hoping to get some final answers to this mystery, and silently hoping that none of my listeners got really bored with this stupid Sherlock Holmes story and stopped listening and decided to unsubscribe from Luke’s English Podcast because it’s gone a bit strange, and where are the phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions that he said he would teach us…? I decided that I had to end this mystery as soon as possible, and then I could go back to teaching useful expressions and pronunciation… But before that, I was determined to find out about Timelords, and The Doctor… I arrived at the address, and went inside to meet the Timelord expert who Holmes had recommended…

To be continued…


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